The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Interview with bartender Justin Colman

Justin Colman

Justin Colman worked at The Marquee Club as a bartender from 1987 to 1988 under the management of Jack Barrie.

What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the words Marquee Club?

The dark, the sticky floors, the terrible fake copper, sharp and dangerous bar-top, the completely unreliable coke-dispensing guns with a tendency to explode mid-poor! Tomato Sauce flavour crisps, the dilapidated 'bomb-blast' decor and the unmistakable dirty smell of Rock 'N' Roll!

Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club?

The very first time I walked in to The Marquee on 90 Wardour Street, the first person I saw was Joe Strummer! He was sitting in the seating area to the right of the bar as you walk in to the first room, tuning his guitar. I knew I was in the right place!

As there was no one else to be seen in the place it was down to him to answer my obvious question as to where the manager could be found (I was looking for Bush or Paul). So instead of asking him all the questions dying to leap from the mouth of an impressionable young music fan (ie 'Sandanista' - what was all that about Joe?), I ended up basically asking him directions. He was very genial and polite, even wishing me luck with securing the post of barman, my intended goal upon entering the club. Turns out he was playing with his new band that night and hence providing the soundtrack to my first evening behind the bar in The Marquee.

Can you remember how did you get the job at the club?

Yes, I was working for TFA Stage Sound but there was no real connection between them and The Marquee. I got the job purely by chance in that I was walking past the club one Saturday afternoon with my mate Jez and we saw a sign on the door saying: 'Help Wanted' or something like that. I knocked on the door and some guy said come back at 6 that evening. So we walked around town for a while and then I went back to the club, which is when I walked in and met Joe.

What kind of work would do and how was a typical working day at The Marquee?

My job was that purely of barman. I would typically do three or four shifts a week - something like Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and some Saturdays and Sundays. The shift would start at 6 and end at whenever we finished which was usually 11:30 to 12:00. I was often able to get the last tube home. If not, there was a night bus service. So the job was simply serving drinks behind the bar(s). At the beginning of the shift we'd decide who was working on which bar.

The front bar was always busier and quieter but the back bar was actually in the auditorium so was fairly loud and the punters had to shout to be heard. Obviously, if you liked the band it was good to be in the back bar and vica versa. At the end of the night we'd clean up and go home - and that was it really in terms of what I actually did. What made it was the bands, the characters and the atmosphere of the place.

As a member of the audience at The Marquee Club, is there any band that you remember especially?

I think my most treasured memory from that time was seeing Guns 'N Roses for their first ever gigs in the UK. They did a couple of shows at The Marquee and had been eagerly anticipated.

At the time, Soho was awash with the glam rock and poodle hair look from across the pond with bands like Poison, Ratt, Pretty Boy Floyd, Tiger Tailz, etc. being the bands of the time. But to see these dirty rock 'n rollers tear the place apart was quite a spectacle. They were so much more like a punk band in attitude but doing AC/DC covers and the like. I saw so many lame so called 'hard' bands but with Guns 'N Roses - I definitely remember thinking that this was like something I'd never seen before, they had so much power on stage and were so together although off stage they seemed really un-together as people and a bit of a mess really. Quite pleasant really and before the show we kind of thought they were harmless buffoons but on stage they totally transformed in to a band that were truly as a whole, greater than the sum of their parts.

It wasn't all good though and I can remember two acts that stood out at the time especially as being just totally incapable and lacking any ability at all, down to the point where the guitars weren't in tune, the singer was way off and they forgot the lyrics/chords etc. A cacophony of aimless noise and feedback. They were a band called Transvision Vamp and a singer called Terence Trent D'arby. Admittedly, I saw them in their earliest incarnations but I just remember them being so staggeringly awful that I found it unbelievable that they went on to have a limited form of success.

During the time you worked at The Marquee you witnessed many of the infamous secret gigs from famous bands, such as the shooting of Marillion's video clip “Incommunicado��?. Do you remember about it?

Fish was a really nice bloke and he drank in the manner of his moniker and I distinctly remember his drink. -Something like 4 measures of brandy in a pint glass with ice and filled with coke. This he drank all night and he's a big bloke, that's a lot of drunk man to be careering around the relatively small Marquee stage. They took shoot after shoot and each one was worse and worse, problem was that everyone in the band and crew etc. seemed to be drinking at the same inane speed so no-one could really tell except us the bar staff! Think we got out of there at 3 or 4 in the morning, something like that. Complete train wreck. 7-.

Marillion's Keyboardist Mark Kelly played the roll for the bartender at The Marquee. Were you featured in the video?

I wasn't in the video but one of my co-workers, Justine, was although only briefly. She was a lot better looking than me after all.

Is there any other secret gigs that you specially remember?

There was a kind of tradition of having secret or fan-club only type gigs over Christmas and the new year period. I remember The Sisters Of Mercy playing but have forgotten a lot of that as I went in on a night off and was drinking.

Brian Adams did a secret show there once and I remember it being so hot people were fainting and all the walls were wet with sweat and condensation, it was so packed that no-one could move. God knows how many times we doubled the fire-capacity limit, don't know if we even had one!

Ronnie Wood used to come in and play sometimes unexpectedly as well.

Do you have any particular memory about manager Jack Barrie?

What I do remember about Jack was him leering at the male bar staffs backsides whilst we were restocking the shelves and making lurid comments about and to us. All very jovial though and I got on well with Jack. When he was inclined to reminisce, he was a very interesting man and had had quite an interesting life. I can't think of The Marquee without thinking about Jack.

You also worked with manager BushTelfer and assistant Paul McAvoy. What is your memory about them?

Bush was OK, told some great stories. I believe he had some connection with some band like The Bay City Rollers or Sweet. Paul was quite aloof, quiet and had slicked back hair and leather trousers. He liked The Bolshoi (not the ballet!), an indie band of the time. Paul was generous, I remember that, and better at counting money at the end of the night than Bush!

At the bar, you worked along with Tim Wilkinson. What do you remember about him?

Tim and I kept in contact after The Marquee days and still have some contact up to this day. Tim was a very nice bloke, knowledgeable in the ways of rock and he started work at The Marquee the day after me, so we always got along. Tim had a straight job doing 9-5 and then came to work. We went to Reading Rock together and we spent many a night out around the haunts of the rock circuit in Soho: Gossips, St Moritz and The Lido Chinese restaurant that was open all night. We saw the humour in all the hair, make up and girly clothes and never took it too seriously. Great days.

Justin Colman at Reading Rock
Justin Colman with DJs Monty Zero and Martin Ball at Reading Rock backstage, 1987

During the time you worked at The Marquee Monty Zero, Martin Ball and Nick Henbry were the resident Djs. What is your memory about them?

Monty was the cool one in black leather jacket and blonde hair. He played more American and weirder stuff whereas Martin was more traditional and played a lot of British rock. That's how I remember it anyway!

Do you remember any other people from the staff at The Marquee?

Czar was the doorman, and probably still is! We always set aside a bucket full of Newcastle Brown Ale on ice for him that he drank throughout the night, every night. Jovial chap, probably had to put up with a lot of crap. He was good friends with Lemmy, if I remember correctly. As for the others, yes, I remember 'Donkey Paul' and Janice and Paul but really they're just names, I can't remember any real details.

Did you become friend with any of the musicians that were performing at The Marquee during those days??

Not really 'friends' as such but I would drink with Lemmy sometimes over at the St. Moritz club over the road after work. My mate Tim knew Dumpy of Dumpy's Rusty Nuts' "fame".

I also vaguely knew a couple of characters called Butz and Spike, they ran a rock night in Gossips and Spike was in a band called The Quireboys who had some limited success.

Justin Colman at Reading Rock
Justin Colman at Reading Rock backstage, 1987

You also got involved in Reading Festival, is that right?

Yes, Tim and I and few others went down as we had passes to go anywhere as The Marquee was heavily involved in organising Reading Rock. I don't think we actually did any work in the end but just spent the whole weekend 'ligging' as they used to say.

I loved going to Reading Rock, it was like a mini adventure. I remember driving down there at night with Tim in his car and the atmosphere when we arrived, even though it was dark just seemed electric. We saw Alice Cooper and loved it when some of our lot took the stage: Quireboys, Dumpy, etc. It was as if they were our team at this big event with acts from round the world.

Talking about ligging, how much is true about this legend about the groupies at The Marquee

Right, what can I say? If you think about it, you're working behind the bar at one of the coolest rock 'n roll venues in the city, it's a legendary place. So obviously there is a certain attraction there.

So yes, I received propositions of various activities, some of which I took up, others I didn't. Think I got a bit choosy! God if only I had that problem now! As a matter of fact I went out with a girl that approached me in the club for a fair while. A lot of people wanted their picture taken with you as well which was all a bit strange, often Americans. On the whole I don't think I abused my position, well no more than the next man anyway!

Is there any particular anecdote from The Marquee that always makes you laugh?

Many , but one I often tell is this, when the topic of 'drummer jokes' comes up: each night someone was assigned to look after the band and their back-stage needs; usually just their rider, the drinks etc. One night, I was backstage doing this with a band called Lords Of The New Church, part of the goth scene at the time but they were quite popular. Well, I went in to the dressing room before they went back out for their encore and one of the guys was on the floor looking like he was having a fit or something. So I asked if he needed help as they seemed to be ignoring him and the answer came back 'No mate, it's alright, he's a drummer' so I let them get on with it. Next minute he was up and behind the kit. Never found out what was happening to him, just took it on board that he's a drummer and that's what they do!

Did you ever visit The Marquee Club or keep in touch with people from the club after you quit working there?

I went back a couple of times when it moved to Charing Cross Road but it was getting more corporate and wasn't the same.

What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

Just sadness really that it was deemed more important for a restaurant to be there than a piece of London's history. London has many restaurants, it only had one Marquee.

If you had to define the effect that The Marquee Club had in your life, how would you put it into words?

Pivotal. A baptism by fire into the seedy underbelly of rock 'n roll London in the eighties.

My time there is precious to me and I shall never forget it. In those few years I saw hundreds of bands and it gave me a good ear. The sheer rush of being there whilst these bands played merely feet away was exhilarating. It was a treasured time.

Interview by K. Barroso, March 2008.
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