People from the era tell their stories.
» Chris Damico
CHUTES - The Chris Damico Story
The club opened in July 1976 & closed a few weeks before the Be Stiff Tour gig at the Exhibition Centre on the 6th October 1977.
I have no reference material for 1976 but I'm sure that we opened with such a bang that live music was an afterthought. Once the initial impact had worn off and there was no longer a line out front as a 'dance' club, we started booking live music on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays.
Of the bands mentioned in www.bristolarchiverecords.com my 1977 calendar shows The Cortinas played (9th March and 19th July), Gen X (27th June), Chelsea (30th July), The Only Ones (8th June and 28th July) and Uncle Po (22nd June). There was also Rat Bites from Hell Reunion (22nd August).
I booked the Cortinas at the request of our very persuasive bar girls. Their rational was that they were so cute and they were getting London gigs, very unusual at the time for a Bristol band. I took a chance despite not having heard any of their or having a reliable reference source.
The drummer, Dan Swan was very young & I insisted his Dad was there to avoid any liquor license hassles that might occur. It was a good idea because on the first night that they played, a very polite Police Inspector was good enough to point out that there was huge Black Mariah parked just around the corner “just in case!”.
Since this was our first venture into the world where mosh & gob were terms of endearment, I thought it prudent to address the exuberants.
I requested that they all take notice that their bevies were served in glasses not plastic cups. (This was a long standing sore point between the club owners and me.) I said at the first sound of breaking glass, I would pull the plug and they'd have to find a new playpen.
I had used the same message with the local Hells Angels Chapter who had managed to get themselves banned from every respectable place within miles. I explained that if one got barred, they were all barred. Once they were on their ‘best behaviour' they became a solid line of support against any trouble occurring.
But back to The Cortinas…At the sound of “1234” the thrashing started. The Head bouncer, Mr. John Quirk, came to me with a confused look on his face…. ‘If our usual crowd was carrying on like this then I would have waded in within a second??'
After about three tracks I was again summoned to the door to see Inspector Rozzer. He obviously had some confederates amongst the rabble who must have reported a ‘Riot Going On' inside the building.
I took great pleasure in yelling at this guy (due to the volume, not out of any disrespect, mind you) that everything was well in hand and if he and the posse round the corner would like some tea then I would be able to accommodate them irrespective of the chaos going on behind me.
I would have to say by the look on his face he would have to start attending church more often. He knew his world was obviously coming to an end and it probably forced him to move to Belgium.
When Gen X played Billy Idol was the front man and above the club was a photographer's studio. We would allow the bands to use this area as a dressing room. It had a large mirror with the lights all around the edge just like in the movies but the problem was the walls were all pure white so when I went up to pay the band I couldn't help notice the four foot black letters spelling Gen X on the wall.
When I brought this to Mr. Idol's attention he lamely told me that “the groupies” had done it! I explained that if his dog had taken a shit in the middle of the room, it was HIS dog and he would have to clean it up. I told them they could come back the next day and re-paint the wall or I would deduct the costs from their fee at the end of the night.
I'm glad to say that the incident with Gen X was the only problem I ever had with any of the bands and acts that played at the club.
In mid August 1977 I contacted Stiff Records to try to book Elvis Costello for Chutes. Paul Conroy became my contact and promised me first refusal on the 5 band ‘Be Stiff Tour'. Knowing that the gig would be way too big for the 'Chutes' (capacity 150) I approached the Exhibition Centre down on the water front.
Whoever I spoke with, either the owner or manager at the time was very resistant to having live music in the building. It took weeks to convince him that concert goers wouldn't hurt his lovely building. I think he may have also had reservations because of a glitch with a Stranglers gig where they cancelled at the last minute.
A couple of guys, Pete & Steve (sorry no last names in my notes) were operating under the name SAP or something like that out of Ashley Rd, St Pauls and wanted to promote reggae shows at the Exhibition Centre. Pete, Steve and I knew that the Granary & Colston Hall were punk & reggae shy but there was definitely a market but it would swamp The Dugout or Chutes. The Exhibition Centre would fill the bill nicely.
In the end I was able to convince Mr. Exhibition Centre via Chris, his secretary who was enamoured with my American/New York accent and he helped me conspire to get my foot in the door.
I needed the SAP guys to supply the security and we shared the expense of scaffolding construction and rental for the Be Stiff gig and their reggae show which was promoted very soon afterwards.
There is a back-story here. Chutes was a partnership between a local group of 'businessmen' and a dog food and flour conglomerate. The local guys had owned more than one business in Bristol but Chutes was the only one they shared. It had been a full-blown poncey disco prior to promoting rock bands with a huge white grand piano shaped DJ 'booth' on the dance floor which we took great pleasure in demolishing on our opening night.
As it happens, the local businessmen were having major repairs done to their other locations, but making the bills out to the Chutes, Park Street address - where of course there was no work was being done. We were therefore a "money pit" on their books, even though there were lines in the street to get in and we were two deep at the bar.
One night someone from the Big Boys main office dropped in for a surprise visit and as we had a strict "no ties" policy (they had to be checked at the coat booth, along with suit jackets, to keep out the travelling businessmen that would troll Park St.), he was barred from entering and Adrian, my co-manager, was summoned to the door.
This guy could not believe his eyes. He was there to discuss the poor financial showing that was being reported back in town but saw that something didn't jibe. He wanted to shut it down on the spot, but was persuaded to wait to verify that some 'mistakes' had been made within the main office figures.
Needless to say they pulled the plug the next day and the local douche bags wanted their money back for the Be Stiff tour deposit, which I had been promoting with the club's prestige and funding. Since the promotion was well underway, I was able to buy them off and proceeded with the show, but from that day forward Chutes was no more.
I was reminded of this during this research as I came across an edition of the Bristol Evening Post (16th September 1977) where Adrian and I ran a goodbye advert to our patrons.
I am proud of my time at the club and we were getting reviews of bands appearing regularly in the NME and the Melody Maker. I think they had all just signed on West Country reporters.
Towards the end of the clubs run I had been in touch with an extremely paranoid Malcolm McClaren in an effort to promote S.P.O.T. S. or ‘Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly'. They needed to call themselves this after misbehaving around the UK on a grand scale.
He was so freaked out he said he wanted to stop using the phone and communicate BY MAIL! It was all I could do to get him to understand that if he thought his phone was tapped, he sure as shit was going to have his mail read. As you can imagine that gig did not materialize!
At the end of the Be Stiff gig, I was 'settling up' with Jake Rivera and Dave Robinson and they gave me the impression that they were very enthusiastic about having "another Roundhouse" in the West Country. Alas that was never to be as I was summarily "invited" to leave the United Kingdom very soon thereafter.
But that's another story!
Chris Damico - December 2010