This Friday (Dec 3rd) see’s Furry Indie night’s 10th birthday celebration. To mark the event, IP1 decided to ask Furry’s creator Ed Barnes to put into words what 10 years of Furry means to him:
Furry started 10 years ago in the now long gone and legendary club The Attic. For those of you who didn’t experience it, it was a bit like the Loft in Hollyoaks although it was a lot dirtier and smelt a lot like weed. A then youngish promoter Ed Barnes spent a year watching and learning from the greatest club manager he has ever had the pleasure of working with, Mr Dave Davies. The man was an absolute legend and helped Ed craft the night into what it is today. The night was originally booked when Ed had a chat with Dave when he was absolutely slaughtered. He woke up the next day with a dim recollection that he had booked a night at the Attic and figured he couldn’t let Dave down so got on with it. The drunken finger of fate had pointed to an Indie night!
When Furry first opened its doors in December 2000 it instantly did two things that had never been done in Ipswich. Firstly, they were playing Frank Sinatra in the back room. No one had ever done a REAL swing night in Ipswich before and this was it. Secondly, Furry was the first club night of any sort in the area to embrace the Internet and use an email database. This may not seem like much today but it was cutting edge back then, like Pokémon or Napster. Furry sold out on its first night.
The original DJ at Furry wasn’t Ed. Ed opened the night but decided to work as a promoter so he could concentrate on getting bums on seats. The plan really worked well and Furry continued to pack out for months. But this plan did have its down points the music was straying from the original policy and after a situation involving one of the DJs being sick in the bogs whilst the other was playing “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader, it was decided that they should part ways. Ed then took up the reins as the DJ and things soon took off but it wasn’t all his doing
Just like now, the late 90’s and early noughties were having a real drought of good Indie music. They had got by playing classics like The Cure, The Smiths, Blur, Happy Mondays etc but there was nothing new coming through. Then, in the summer of 2001 a song was dropped at Furry that would change everything. It was the middle of the night and the dance floor was packed. Peak time. Time to play the ace. You build your whole set for this moment then POW! ‘Hard to Explain’ by The Strokes. The dance floor emptied and only 4 people danced: Ed, Matt (the guy from HMV who sold Ed the CD) and two others. The four of them went potty as the club looked on… it had begun. The next month when they played it again people went nuts. I mean seriously nuts. People screaming the lyrics at Ed through the metal bottle guard of the DJ booth (think Blues Brothers chicken mesh crossed with your gran’s garden gate) a table getting smashed over with drinks and glasses going everywhere and Indie kids just losing their shit over this incredible tune. It was a massive release.
The new club night was attracting a lot of attention. Lots of it good but some of it not so good. As the numbers grew at Furry, other promoters got a bit narky. This was something Ed was going to have to get used to over the years, as the club night industry is a funny old game. First up was another club night’s name being painted on the walls in the toilets of the Attic. Nice red paint and shit handwriting. The Furry crew giggled and figured they must be doing something right! You get shot at whilst you’re on top right? Right. All good. Then a few months later it got a bit weirder. At the end of the night, Lounge DJ (Ed’s brother) Phil, was looking sheepish as Ed walked into the toilets. Then the cry of “Bloody hell!! Check this out!” came from the lavs. Phil had already seen it but Ed had just spotted it “ED BARNES IS DEAD” carved into the wall with a knife. It all fell a bit quiet for a minute as it sunk in what had happened. Someone had carved a personal death threat to the promoter into the walls at his own venue. “Well, don’t just stand there, get the fucking camera!” said Ed with the biggest grin on his face. Ed still has the framed photo of him grinning like a cheshire cat next to his first death threat on a bog wall.
The bands just didn’t stop coming… Indie music soared and the night was so busy…. think 350 people in a venue for 200…. and it was going brilliantly. Then they got sideswiped. The Attic was to close at the end of the year. It was to be demolished and turned into flats. Actually, in hindsight, this is an even worse idea than we originally thought! (Flats!??!! Sure! We need more of those…) Ed had several meetings with Dave to see if he could personally keep the club open longer but it was to no avail as the property had been sold. (It tragically stood empty for 3 years. Where was the sense in that!?).
There was no way Furry was going to end. It was a great night and deserved to continue but where?
In the early noughties, when people had spare money and the clubs were full, it was very difficult to hire a venue on a weekend night for one major, stupid reason. Dress code. Even then, if you went clubbing in shoes in NYC you would get laughed at. You can’t dance in shoes! But London hadn’t even cottoned on; let alone Ipswich so no one was willing to let Ed have a night in a venue at the weekend where they could wear trainers. This was a big sticking point and simply wasn’t going to be compromised. After getting turned down by EVERY club in Ipswich it was off to the council. The Corn Exchange had two rooms downstairs that nobody used and no one had ever used as a club. This was about to change as Furry along with its new sister night “The Riot” were to blast open the doors of the Venue.
Now there’s no way around it, it was like a school hall. It lacked the character of the Attic and didn’t feel the same. They set out the tables and chairs for the first night, set up the brand new PA system that they had taken out a bank loan for and crossed their fingers. The first night at the Venue was a nightmare. They had lost half their crowd and it just wasn’t The Attic but the hardcore regular punters had followed and had kept Furry alive. They turned up when the doors opened and didn’t stop dancing and drinking until we kicked them out at 3am. They were legends and kept the night afloat in troubled times. They didn’t care if it wasn’t the Attic. It was the music they loved and it was away from all the other c@#%s in town and that’s what they wanted. Bliss. The Riot was doing its bit too. With no history of The Attic to live up to, the rock/metal night opened with a bang and sold out on its first showing. The Riot was bankrolling Furry.
The Lounge room however, was all of a sudden being the place to be. The main room at the Venue may have been a bit of a barn dance but the lounge room retained its atmosphere and the lounge room had one thing that it didn’t have at The Attic. A dance floor. And boy oh boy did this make a difference. Firstly the party always starts in the kitchen. And the lounge room was Furry’s kitchen. It was small, atmospheric and had a bigger bar than the main room. It had the vibe. Lounge DJ Phil blossomed into a lounge DJ colossus as people started coming to Furry just to hear him and not just for the Indie. It became a massive attraction and for five years it became, in Ed’s words “the greatest, bravest room of music this town has ever seen.” Where elsewhere you going to hear funk versions of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious or the theme from the Milk Tray advert? Now THAT’S ballsy!
As time went on, three things happened which cemented Furry down at the Venue. Firstly the Lounge room was kicking ass. Secondly the memories of The Attic died out and people started to accept the Venue, especially as The Riot was there also. It made it feel like a regular place to go. And thirdly the hits just kept coming. Indie music was pumping them out and Garage rock was ruling. The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Vines, The Datsuns to name but a few were dropping bombs all over the dance floor and it became irresistible to the Indie ears of Ipswich. Then in April 2002, after over a year of rebuilding, Furry packed out the Venue to its capacity and went on a 5 and a half year run of lockouts, something no other club night in Ipswich has ever done to our knowledge. Good times.
It may have been a bit of a school hall, but it was our school hall. The place would get trashed every time and it was amazing to see. People having an absolute party every time they walked in though the doors and every week at least one of the following would happen:
1. Someone would throw up on the dance floor/bar/venue staff.
2. Someone would get kicked out for some form of sex act either on the dance floor or in the toilets.
3. Someone would pass out due to the booze.
4. Someone would knock over a speaker stack.
5. Someone would set off all the fire extinguishers.
6. Ed would blow a speaker/amp/light from riding it too hard.
7. Someone would take a shit behind the piano in the lounge room. Seriously.
It wasn’t a club night, it was a fucking DIY party and it was brilliant. Every Saturday morning both Phil and Ed couldn’t speak because they had been singing/screaming the lyrics to every song they played the night before at the top of their voices. Considering their dad was an opera singer, this really did take something. It was a monster and was dragging more people into the Corn Exchange on a Friday night than a lot of the clubs were; yet the clubs still didn’t want to know about it. But did they care? Hell no. Furry was very much at home in The Venue and all was good.
Now whilst all this was going on, The Great White Horse was also putting on some great nights. Brilliant venue and very busy. To give you some idea of how busy the town was, they would be packed and Furry would be packed on the same night. Ah… credit crunch, what have you done? Eventually the White Horse was busted because it didn’t have a late night drinking license and the cops stormed up there during one of its school disco nights and closed them down and that was that. A real shame but Furry continued at the Venue and continued to provide Ipswich with its Indie hit.
Then, in a flash two things happened which meant it was time to up sticks.
Firstly the Venue decided that it was going to go non-smoking a year in advance of the rest of the country. To this day, there has never been such a baffling decision made by Ipswich Borough Council. When it was common knowledge that the entire country was going non smoking the next year, why the hell would you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage for an entire year before hand? Idiots. Secondly, this decision came just as the 24hr drinking laws were coming into effect during November 2005. Everyone had the chance to open up his or her venue to the late night drinking crowd. Now at this point, the Great White Horse had been closed for over a year and everyone had pretty much forgotten about it but the penny had dropped with Ed. No licensing laws means no problem with the Great White Horse. In one brief meeting with the new management at the Great White Horse changed everything and Furry left behind the non smoking Venue for the smoky, atmospheric, theatre-esque Great White Horse. This was a clever move.
We had all thought Furry had peaked at the Venue but we hadn’t seen anything until it got to the Great White Horse (GWH). Furry continued its run of good form and was packed out to the rafters. It was too much so the night went fortnightly and people were still queuing round the block to get in. Indie music had gone ballistic! The charts were full of amazing tunes… The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Hot Chip and many more were exploding onto the scene and every Furry brought new tunes to the dance floor. Live music was on the cards too with amazing performances from Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Immune, The Mescalitas, These Monsters, Rosalita, James Severy, Frank Turner and many more graced the stage of Furry and every one was PACKED! The Get Cape Wear Cape Fly gig sold out within 30 minutes of opening the door! They were the golden years. Furry at the GWH was attracting people all over town and was busier than nearly every club in Ipswich at the time. The Christmas specials attracted 600+ people and we had to turn hundreds away… it was immense. The GWH was like a commune too. All the staff lived there and it was an incredible place to be. The GWH got a new manager in Michael and he did everything he could to help us make it work. Anyone who was involved with the GWH at that time will tell you what a fantastic seedy, atmospheric den it was and that it was the venue that Ipswich craved and needed. Over 300 people crammed in every fortnight and it seemed like it was simply the greatest place in the world.
All was good in the world but the ugly head of nightclub promoting was soon to rear its head again. One night at the GWH whilst DJing, a bottle was thrown at Ed whilst he DJ’d. It wasn’t the best of throws as it missed, but it set the tone for what was to come later on that night. After the night had finished, they guys were packing up when they came downstairs to discover that someone had trashed Ed’s VW Camper Van. They had keyed it on every panel and scraped the word “Wanker” on the door. To quote the Pulp Fiction scene where Vince Vega’s car is keyed “They should be fucking killed. No trial, no jury, straight to execution” All this because of a club night. Sad, sad people. The van was repaired and life went on. The trouble continued when a few months later whilst Ed was at Furry a concrete slab was thrown though his living room window. This wasn’t going to stop the night and these incidents disappeared when the next grey cloud arrived in the form of the worldwide credit crunch.
Furry had not failed to reach its capacity in over five years when the recession started. In August of 2007 when the credit crunch was announced they were packed out, by September of the same year we weren’t hitting capacity and by January 2008 Ipswich was a very quiet place to be. Furry continued to push forward and still had some amazing nights (one in particular in the summer of 08 where the night turned into a full on Indie rave and everyone was half naked in a sweltering GWH. Incredible stuff and one of the greatest sets in Furry history). But after that summer the GWH was to close and along with a lot of other venues in the area, it would not open again. Furry limped along for the final couple of months and then came a leap of faith. We went to Pals.
With a lack of independent venues and not a single other alternative music night surviving the recession, Furry made a surprise move to Pals. The thinking was that if people had followed the night to the Venue then they could give it a try in the VIP room in Pals. This ended up saving the night and has taken Furry through to its 10th year. With a fantastic sound system, great bar staff (very alternative too which surprised a lot of people and made Furry very much at home) and the fact that it was 100% separate from the rest of Pals, it continued to make Furry a success. The reduced capacity was perfect for a recession hit town and whilst other clubs suffer, Furry has continued to shine. The Furry regulars have taken to Pals and they are very proud to call it their home. The main sacrifice was having to let the Lounge room go. After 8 years of Furry being a two-room club night it became just the one. Where the recession had closed all the other alternative club nights down, it had taken Furry’s Lounge room. But like a Furry lizard without its tail, it lives on.
Furry now feels like it’s gone full circle. A full generation have grown up with it. Some people who have met at Furry have gone on to get married and have kids. Now that’s a legacy! The music is pretty much in the same place it was a decade ago too. There’s not been any huge commercial success in Indie music for a couple of years now but with the charts becoming so bad and stagnant something will give. It always does. And when that song arrives, like “Hard To Explain” did all those years ago, then get ready for the ride.
Here’s to the next ten years!
Words: Ed Barnes
Edited by: Dru Watts
Photos: Dru Watts