“We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do, and we wanna get loaded and have a good time. That’s what we’re gonna do; we’re gonna have a good time, we’re gonna have a party!” – Loaded, Primal Scream.
You might know Slough from The Office, or maybe because it’s right next door to Eton and Windsor. Perhaps you’ve seen it in an episode of Road Wars. I know it because it’s my hometown (and I’m proud of it). That may be the case, but this colossal industrial town that lies just to the West of London was the epicentre of a musical revolution back in the late ’80s and early ’90s: the rave scene.
Punk was well and truly dead, the Summer of Love a distant memory and for the working class, things were looking pretty bleak. People were searching for something new: an escape from the shackles of the mundane and a movement to move them – and a bunch of blokes singing love songs in spandex trousers wasn’t going to do the job.
In 1987, four pals from London ventured over to Ibiza, discovered a little-known club called Amnesia, came home with heaving hearts and glazed eyes – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Between 1987 and 1994, rave intoxicated the veins of the nation, and the youth had something to live for once again. Empty fields, warehouses, leisure centres, and derelict shitholes were transformed into fortresses of hedonism and ecstasy; places where souls would meet to get sky high and move their bodies to tribal beats; spaces where the people were free and DJs were Gods amongst men.
Now, at one point or another, we’ve all been in our late teens, kicking our heels round looking for a place to belong. Unfortunately in most towns, all you really get are sticky floors, fusty old locals and juke boxes filled with Now compilations. Trying to find a real venue is a nightmare.
When I was 17 I used to go to a place called the Litten Tree. Everyone upstairs was underaged (apart from a the odd lecherous middle aged bloke salivating over the young girls in tube tops), chart music and UKG crudely blared from the pub’s dire sounds system and someone got bottled every single weekend. It was hell on Earth, but we could get served. It didn’t make it good, nor did it make the place memorable for any of the right reasons.
Not long ago, I was speaking to my uncle about Slough back in the day and he told me triumphant tales about the rave scene and the place where people could escape; a place where you could get free and lose yourself in the music.
I’m not sure how it happened, but a non-descript leisure centre (simply called The Centre) on Slough’s Farnham Road became one of the most iconic acid house hotspots in rave history. Ravers from all over the country would pelt it down the motorway almost every weekend to get their fix of The Centre and get lost within its four walls.
For the local youngsters of the time, that place meant a great deal, and now, the mere mention of The Centre stirs up a strong sense of nostalgia in those Slough ravers, the likes of which I’ve never quite seen before.
To find out more about what it was really like in The Centre circa 89, I caught up with my uncle, Rob Stout, former DJ and one of The Centre’s most devout faces back in the day. Here’s what he had to say:
“I went to The Centre from 1989 to around 1992 and saw the best DJ’s in the world. At the time, people didn’t face the DJ as they were dancing – they danced with each other – it was one for all.
Some of the DJ’s involved were Carl Cox, Andy Weatherall, Danny Rampling (my favourite), Colin Dale, Fabio, Grooverider, Marvin Connor, Martin Madigan, and the rest.
The dealers were allowed to operate freely within the building – in fact, it was better for them as they could get nicked outside; it was also better for the customers as you could get your gear inside, rather than venturing outdoors. There were bouncers on the door but they only gave you a pat down, if they did find drugs, they would sell them on to a dealer inside, most of the dealers worked in loose partnership with the security.
Unless you were in the VIP area, you couldn’t get any booze, only soft drinks, but to be honest, you didn’t need alcohol: the pills were super strength, and you only needed one or two for the whole night. From 11 pm to 5 am, you were riding the crest of the wave – and we were paying anything from £10 – 15 per pill at the time.
Often, I was given VIP passes but, to be honest, I didn’t like it in there, it seemed to me that people were only in there to try and look good and give it the large one as they walked in. I preferred it in the middle of the dance floor!
At times, the building was so packed, you literally couldn’t move, but I never saw any trouble in there. I’m sure this was because of the lack of alcohol and the strength of the pills.
I remember once my mate B.R was out of his head, lit a fag, went for a snort of amyl nitrate and ended up setting his jumper on fire in the middle of the dancefloor. I pissed myself laughing for weeks; we still tell the story now.
Another time a mate of mine got hold of the keys of the council swimming pool directly behind the centre. 20 to 30 of us crept in there at around 6 am, stripped off and all went swimming – it was great, and we set up a rope swing on the roof. The only downside was having to put our raving clothes back on afterwards – they were soaked through with sweat!
There were other clubs we went to, but The Centre was it for us – not because it was so local but the vibe was so much better than the clubs in London. People used to travel from all over the country to queue for an hour to get into a grotty building in the middle of a manky trading estate – the toilets were awful, and all drinks were warm – it was boiling and a death trap fire-wise, but we loved it.”
Former Slough raver, promoter and Tribes contributor Keith Davis tells us about what rave and The Centre meant to him:
“It was almost like I had found what I had been searching for my whole life. We went all around the M25 looking for the big ones, but we always carried on going to the Slough Centre.
Inspired, I eventually started putting on my own smaller club nights (Menace) and then opened up three smaller record shops to get the music out there.
I am now a father of three and I feel blessed that I was the right age at the right time to be part of this thing. I can’t personally see anything else topping it or the joy it gave to thousands.”
Beneath the thick smoke of the industrial estate and under the ashes of musical triumphs that came before, stood The Centre: a true Mecca of rave.
The Centre still stands today, it’s just used as a gym and swimming pool now, but I’m sure if you listen closely enough, the shuffle of feet and the sound of acid house loops still faintly echo in the hollows of the sports hall.
Many of us weren’t lucky enough to connect with a venue so special during our youth, we had to hop up to the major towns or cities just to get a taste of something with some musical substance – but surely places like The Centre give us all a glimmer of hope for future generations?
The original rave scene has been and gone, and sadly, the powers that be have just taken Fabric away, but with the summer approaching, I feel it may return – after all, there are plenty of derelict buildings in this country just waiting to be filled once more.
All we have to do is make it happen.