In the 80s, Newcastle’s city centre nightlife was opening up like never before. Gone were the old men sitting with their cloth caps on and bottles of stout and whippets (although they’re still around in the CIU clubs), playing dominoes and talking about the hard time they get from their wives.
Nah, the 80s meant big hair, tight denim… and that was just the blokes! Seriously though, times were definitely changing. We had that Loadsamoney North-South divide, but we still saw our economy booming. The dolly birds had arrived and the bars were bouncing. Money was flowing in and in them days you never had drinking areas such as Jesmond, the Quayside, Ouseburn or The Gate – the Bigg Market was the heart of the party and anyone who was anyone was there. It was not unusual to see 50 or 60 people queuing up to get into pubs and there were more licensed premises than any other city centre in the country. We even had a floating nightclub on the Tyne! Early on in the decade, we had The Tube being shot at Tyne Tees on City Road with Jools Holland and Paula Yates bringing massive household names from the music industry, flying the flag for the Geordies. The downside? There wasn’t one, really. Unless you call groups of blokes battering the living daylights out of each other on a night out a downside. You see, cities will always be evolving, but men will always have that side to them that’s never going to evolve: that side of us where we fight. Whether you’re hard or not, a man just has an innate capacity for a scrap. It’s in all of us no matter how much you try to bury it in your psyche. The clubs were full to the rafters and tough guys were making a reputation for themselves. This was the time when anything went. You could get away with so much naughtiness because technology hadn’t evolved either and was nothing like it is now – no CCTV, no smartphones, social media and, in many respects, nights out and the control of bars and clubs was a lawless area. It was the time when you could invent the rules and there were a few people who were starting to emerge on the scene as the rule-makers; people could muscle in, take over bars and security and power struggles were inevitable.
There was one man that stood out amongst them all – not just by his physical size but also his ability to instantly knock anything he hit spark out unconscious, which he did on a regular basis. He was a good amateur boxer: very strong, 13 and a half stone was his fighting weight until he came across a man called Andy Webb. What Andy doesn’t know about bodybuilding is not worth knowing. If anyone can take credit for giving Viv his strength and size it was Andy. Andy roided Viv up with around four stone of muscle in all of the right places, which changed Viv from being extremely dangerous into a lethal weapon. Viv earned a reputation for battering anyone who stood up against him.
I first met him at Wheelers nightclub in Gateshead, where he started working the doors under the watchful eye of Paddy Leonard and a bloke who went on to become a mentor to him, big Billy Robinson. It was easy to see how different Viv was. Even back then. It was inevitable that he’d end up in a position of power. And, as his reputation and power grew, it was sadly inevitable that he’d end up in an early grave as well. Newcastle has had plenty of tough fighting men over the years but Viv seemed to tick all the boxes. I would go as far to say the only person who resembles shape, size and was as equally effective with their hands was Mike Tyson. I’m not saying that Viv would do Tyson… what I’m saying is if Viv hit Tyson or anyone else on the jaw they were going to sleep, such was the power of that man. Viv’s name kept getting mentioned to me all the time saying he had beat this one up or he had knocked this one out. He seemed to have done everybody.
The westenders were certainly not afraid to stand up to him, but who’d even want to? There was a massive divide between the West End of the city and any doormen. We didn’t like any person in a position of authority – especially when they weren’t from the West. That was it for us: we didn’t like getting told what we could and couldn’t do by anyone in a uniform. Whatever you were wearing – a blue one with a silly hat or a penguin suit when standing on a door – to us lot that signalled conflict and we always reacted to it. No fucker told us what to do. In Elswick, we ran the place. It was ours – always had been and always will be. We rule it all and we take that mentality with us wherever we go. Don’t give us a dodgy look as we walk in past you or we’ll take your face off. Don’t dare attempt to stop us going in because you’ll get hurt and don’t ever try to get heavy- handed with any of us because we stand firm and we stand together. So, for a number of years, there was plenty of stories of westenders clashing with doormen and when violence was used, both sides suffered casualties. And if the West End were involved you could always guarantee there would be weapons used. The doormen couldn’t stop them, so work flooded in for the likes of Viv and his associates. The only way to deal with it was fight fire with fire and that’s what Viv would do. He was a bloke who stood for no shit in any of his pubs or clubs. The westenders didn’t like that approach at all. And in return, he didn’t like the westenders. It was conflict all the way: beatings and retaliation would go on all the time. We brought the Wild West wherever we went. There was no doubt about it; Viv had a firm grip over a lot of Newcastle city centre. The way we saw it was that we ran Newcastle and he ran the doors in Newcastle. Technically we were on the same side, but we were on different sides in many other ways. We all had fierce reputations and there’d always be talk of rivalry because of it.
When you’ve got a few people with big reputations, that kind of talk goes without saying. There’s always been families with reputations where each generation is born into it and that’s what you stand for. Each and every time you saw off a challenge, you moved up a rung on the ladder. As we saw it, we were three brothers who stood our ground from being kids and having the back-up of a big family and friends. In that sense, we built our reputation early and quickly. You don’t just become a ‘name’ by accident.
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Don’t miss next SUNDAY for the final installment.