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The Scarborough Music Scene - A Retrospective

Written by Paul Deyes.

It's very easy to view the past through rose-tinted spectacles, but has the music scene in the Scarborough area actually progressed or stagnated ? Well, let's review what the past had to offer.

Although I was born perhaps a year too late to have experienced the legendary venue that was the Penthouse, I am aware of the importance that particular club has in the musical heritage of our town. Many bands that have become household names have played in the St Nicholas Street rooms in the seventies and early eighties.

The Sex Pistols, one of the many 'big names' that appeared at The Penthouse in Scarborough
The Sex Pistols, one of the 'big names' that appeared at The Penthouse
It opened in 1969, and the list of luminaries that graced its boards makes staggering reading. David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Police - the fact these massive international acts chose to play in a little Yorkshire seaside town is testament to how much the place was loved by performers and punters alike. Just wish I'd been born a little earlier...

Not many people remember, but the Taboo club on Huntriss Row also played host to a future globe-straddling little band called U2 in 1981. I even managed to procure a badly-recorded cassette copy of the gig whilst I was in Northern Ireland, of all places ! The club itself had more of an indie vibe than most other places, but again was very popular.

The Lemon Tree (later called LT's) saw one of the earliest incarnations of perhaps the most famous Scarborough musical export ever. I was witness to a band called Mr Thrud, who if my (admittedly time-addled) memory serves me correctly, appeared onstage in tuxedos and proceeded to play (amongst others) Led Zeppelin covers.

Anyone with a scant interest in local live music will know this band as the all-conquering Little Angels. The late eighties saw the Angels being lauded by the rock press as the new young saviours of British rock. Indeed, they even went down well in America, where the likes of Def Leppard had already made inroads. They recently reformed for a farewell tour. A great band, who were just down to earth blokes who hung out at the Cask Inn on Valley Bridge.

Two fabulous venues linked by their rather talented landlord were the Stage Door and the Talbot Hotel. Mr Paul Toole always had an eye for a good band, and with his contacts in the music business managed to persuade the likes of the Buzzcocks to play at our favourite watering holes.

The Talbot Hotel, Scarborough
The Talbot Hotel, Scarborough © Copyright All rights reserved by johnmightycat1
Other notable local bands I had the pleasure of seeing at these venues were Cockroach, The Rhythm And Groove Experiment (RAGE) - whose ever-grinning guitarist Mark "Eddie" Woodward, whom I had known since school, tragically passed away a few years ago, a great loss - and, erm... Grandads Don't Indicate! Mr Toole is still involved in furthering people's musical education, playing his funk, soul and gospel to appreciative audiences, including this year's Glastonbury. Not sure if he enjoyed Metallica's set, though....

But live music wasn't the only thriving scene in Scarborough in my adolescence. The town also had (and still has) its own rock guru, in the form of Mr Paul Murray. I remember buying rock albums from his portacabin shop on the station forecourt, before he launched several quality night spots. The first I remember was Victoria's (upstairs on the site that is now Matalan). Every Friday Screwy would D.J. to a throng of "tired and emotional" rockers, and the dancefloor would be a kaleidoscope of flailing hair and air guitar poses. Great days.

Paul also promoted some great bands at Murrays (formerly Pavilion Vaults) at the Westborough lights. Limehouse Lizzy made me deaf in one ear there, The Bryan Adams Experience packed the place every time, and with Paul's never-ending love for the antipodean boogie merchants, there was never a shortage of AC/DC tribute acts to enjoy.

Scene One & Two in Scarborough
Scene One & Two in Scarborough
I don't have the space (or memory!) to include every act or venue from my formative musical upbringing in my home town, and I apologise for any glaring omissions, but Bacchus, The Silver Grid (a very scary place for a teenager in the eighties, located above what is now Pizza Hut), Chaplins, and Scene One and Two must all hold fond memories for those of us of a certain age.

As we progressed through the nineties and into this millenium, some of the venues mentioned fell by the wayside, and more pubs began promoting local talent as a way of fending off bankruptcy brought about by the smoking ban, the ridiculous taxes levied on alcohol, and the burgeoning greed of the big brewery chains.

The old pub crawl route of Victoria Road/Castle Road changed with the opening of the no-music Lord Rosebery and the three big bars on St Nicholas Street. Now I have friends who work for these establishments, so I'm not going to bad-mouth their employers here, but suffice to say these places have added nothing to the town's musical development.

Beached Festival Poster
So where are we at today? Well, we had eight years of free live festival entertainment on the beach with...erm...Beached. A fabulous concept that ran from 2001 to 2008, giving local artists a platform alongside more established acts. The Fratellis, The Libertines (sans Docherty), Thunder, The Quireboys, The Kaiser Chiefs (then known as Parva), The Bluetones and The Hoosiers all played to hugely varied audiences. Sadly, the event ceased after 2008, although a smaller event was staged at the Open Air Theatre in 2011.

Acoustic Gathering at Peasholm Park has grown since its inception, the event being the brainchild of Mr Steve Dickinson (who also played keyboards in the aforementioned RAGE, amongst other local bands). However, the event is taking a hiatus this year.

Rock In The Castle, Scarborough
Rock In The Castle, Scarborough
In September 2005, one of the great musical experiences of my life occurred in the Castle grounds. Rock In The Castle was an all-day festival at our most prestigious edifice, and the line-up had me running to the computer to buy my tickets soonest. Hanoi Rocks, Terrorvision and the greatest band on the planet (in my humble opinion) - The Wildhearts. A superb day, spread across two stages, and featuring diverse and local acts, gave way to a glorious night, with my heroes giving a tremendous performance. Pity hardly anyone got paid....

The re-vamped Open Air Theatre has been going a couple of years now, and the calibre of the acts it is attracting (although I'm not really their target audience) is quite impressive. Still think it needs a rock festival, mind...

'Seaside' Danny Wilde
The pub live music scene is still thriving, whether it's stalwarts of the town such as Jessie Hutchinson, "as seen on TV" Danny Wilde (think it was Crimewatch for his stage outfit - only joking, Danny !), my friend and musical genius Paul Tilley, the perennial punk pranksters Snatch, the leviathan rock of Aftermath, the fun times of Bongoman and his Bongomaniacs, or the Irish lunacy of the Shamrockers, there is usually something to cater to most tastes. There's even a couple of jazz clubs....nnnice !

The Spa on Victoria Road has some interesting and talented acts, and has reinvented itself as a music pub. The Tap & Spile still has an eclectic mix of bands and singers, continuing the good work started by Ian - the previous landlord - thanks to Mick and his main man Jon.

The Commercial and The Ship have both been overhauled and now have some cracking acts performing. Mike at the Indigo Alley also gives a chance to local talent. The Merchant (formerly the Jolly Roger) also has many new young bands to check out. There are numerous Open Mic and Beer Jam nights popping up all over the town. And we have a Rock Night at the Black Lion every fortnight - sorry, had to slip in a plug !

All in all, there is still a great deal of muscal talent for us Scarborians to be very proud of, and long may it continue....
The Scarborough Music Scene - A Retrospective Reviewed by Editor on 21:45:00 Rating: 5


  1. Great article, shame you missed the Penthouse it was fantastic in its day, I remember watching nine below zero there one new year, the best live band I've ever seen. When it closed (or was it some anniversary ?) they gave away a poster with all the bands that played there over the years.

  2. Don't forget the music that the Pavilion Vaults put on itself, which was starting to attract some very good original bands before it's demise, and the Stage Door, home to Hawkwind and many, many more...

  3. The Beatles played at the Futurist.

  4. Hey Paul, nice retro-review of our music history over the last thirty or so years. I came to Scarborough just as I turned into a teen (not giving my age so don't ask, hehe) and my slightly older-than-me best friend would smuggle me into nightclubs on a regular basis, so I only just remember the Penthouse but... at the apex of my 'going out' career I can remember NINE nightclubs I would frequent (in no particular order) : 1.Taboo 2. Rudies (above H.M. Samuels) 3. Dammet Garm (PoW Terrace) 4. Bacchus 5. The Lemon Tree 6. The Bees 7. Scene One & Two 8. Victorias (or The Other Place) 9. That little one tucked away in the Balmoral centre - Champers?
    Pretty much the heyday of the music/nightlife scene in Scarborough and probably never to be repeated with today's society. I think kids these days are missing out on not being as sociable as we once were. Too much time spent in their own company, we have raised a bunch of ME-obsessed, whiney and self absorbed individuals. Ah well, their loss.
    Now that Boleyn's has been closed, it seems that there's only Bacchus left, so I guess that answers your question. Luckily, there are still some pubs where live music is encouraged, such as the Tap and Spile, the Cask and a few others but with downloadable world music at everyone's fingertips, can there ever be a need for a venue that would satisfy everyone's tastes at once? I doubt it.


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