Croc’s Glamour Club

The Essex-based antidote to exclusivity of London’s futurist club scene, Rayleigh nightclub Croc’s is best remembered as the birthplace of Depeche Mode

“Spandau Ballet came one night, stood in a huddle for an hour and left in a huff as no one acknowledged or hero-worshipped them,” remembers John Fatman, original DJ at Croc’s Glamour Club, a refurbished former Tesco store on Rayleigh High Street. “If you wanted to pose you went to The Blitz, Hell, Heaven or The Mud Club, for a great night out the same people came to Croc’s.”

As a consequence, Steve Strange, Stephen Linard, Boy George, Kirk Brandon and a host of other scene faces were prepared to embark on a perilous 45-minute rail journey on the Southend line out of Liverpool Street station to Rayleigh. Upon arrival, London’s music and fashion elite would duly shlep up Crown Hill in their most impractical outfits to trot a mean foot to Kraftwerk, Bowie, Tuxedomoon’s ‘No Tears’, Harry Thumann’s ‘Underwater’ and Lime’s ‘Your Love’ at Croc’s. 

Culture Club famously chose Croc’s for their live debut in October 1981, but the venue is remembered for being the launchpad for Basildon boys, Depeche Mode. 

Back in the early 70s discotheque boom, El Padrino was the first nightclub to occupy Rayleigh’s old Tesco premises before entrepreneur Anton Johnson took control and changed its name to Croc’s in recognition of the live crocodiles that occupied a purpose-built enclosure between the back bar and toilets. 

Croc’s was originally a soul club featuring DJs Tony “Shades” Valence and Don Williams, a mainland equivalent of Canvey’s famous Goldmine club, but by the mid 70s, change was in the air.

“Much of the Essex punk scene was made up of followers of soul, reggae, Latin and jazz-funk who frequented Croc’s and the Goldmine,” says Fatman. “It attracted people from all backgrounds, with diverse tastes and styles both in music and fashion. Croc’s was the place it all came together under one roof.”

The origins of The Glamour Club date back to 1979 when, inspired by the energy of punk and an enduring love for dance music, seven like-minded DJs hired a room at The Elms pub in Leigh-on-Sea (known as Barons) and hosted sell-out sessions spinning an eclectic mix of mod, reggae, blue-beat, electro, punk, rockabilly, funk, disco, Bowie and Bolan. Their “anything you can dance to” policy worked, and after a downsize to two regular DJs and a stop-gap move to roomier premises at Southend’s Cliff, Fatman, along with fellow DJs Gary Turner and Lawrence Dunn approached Anton Johnson at Croc’s. 

As luck would have it, regular Saturday night DJ David Rodigan was about to move on. The Glamour Club crew’s opening night at Croc’s was supposed to be a demonstration of what they could do. An evening that was due to be shared with Rodigan’s final show didn’t quite go to plan. 

“We pretty much ended up doing the whole night,” explains Fatman. “Many of the Essex crowd were also Blitz kids, the forerunners of the new romantics. The same crowd that had graced the floor at Croc’s and the Goldmine years before. So just by word of mouth, over 400 preened, immaculately dressed and made-up members of the alternative music scene arrived through the doors that first night.”

Fatman’s fellow DJ, Gary Turner – who also ran Pin Ups, a clothes shop catering to the alternative community in Southend – booked Basildon synth quartet Composition Of Sound to play at Croc’s on 16 August 1980. He knew the band’s vocalist Dave Gahan from nights out clubbing in London and as a regular Pin Ups customer. 

“They blew the roof off,” says Fatman. 

Two weeks later, Composition Of Sound returned as support to Soft Cell, playing what Marc Almond has since described as their “worst gig ever”, a situation exacerbated by the ovation accorded Composition Of Sound, who Almond remembers, “went down a storm with the audience baying for more”.

By now, the reputation of Croc’s had spread. Punters were queuing an hour and a half prior to opening time, coaches were arriving from Chelmsford, Manchester, Sheffield and Wales. 

“We’d become known as the place to dress to impress,” says Fatman of night’s cross-partisan door policy. “There wasn’t a single group unrepresented: punks, skinheads, rockabillies, glamour kids, futurists, you name it… except for casuals. We didn’t have casuals.”

In this stylistic fusion, where proto-goths danced with flat-topped rockabilly rebels as the snakebite and Special Brew flowed (leather caps, from Hardcore Leathers in the King’s Road, were also big in the Essex of 1980 thanks to the cult popularity of William Friedkin’s ‘Cruising’ starring Al Pacino), the live bands were just as important as the eclectic floorfillers.

“It made us unique.” Fatman continues, “Nowhere else in the UK had as many bands on a club night as we did. They were an important part of the club.”

And no band was quite as important to the club as Composition Of Sound who were already gaining quite a reputation, thanks to a set that featured covers of The Everly Brothers-via-Bryan Ferry hit ‘The Price Of Love’ and The Crystals’ ‘Then He Kissed Me’ alongside original compositions like ‘New Life’ and ‘Dreaming Of Me’, . 

For their fourth Croc’s appearance on 24 September, they were to unveil a new name: Depeche Mode. After six more shows, Depeche Mode outgrew the venue, returning just once more, on the 21 June 1981 to film a segment for ITV’s ‘20th Century Box’. 

“The energy in the room that night was unbelievable,” says Fatman, “It was the final piece of the jigsaw they so richly deserved that shared them with the rest of the world.” 

The ‘20th Century Box’ showcase didn’t do The Glamour Club any harm either. Queues grew longer still and the bands got bigger. But nothing lasts forever. Croc’s closed its doors on New Year’s Eve 1983 and following a refit, reopened in 1984 as The Pink Toothbrush.

The crocs themselves, which were actually alligators, were duly rehomed at Colchester Zoo, who’d regularly checked on their welfare throughout their show business careers, which mainly involved lying there, snapping occasionally at chunks of chicken and rabbit, as night creatures far stranger than themselves gazed on in drunken wonder.

So that was Croc’s, where, according to Fatman, “80s music and fashion royalty went when they wanted to let their hair down. No one cared who they were. No hassle, no autographs, just music, dancing and maybe the odd snakebite”. 

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