Steve Rastin talks about his often chaotic tenure as gig promoter at Vegas Bar in Rhyl
Before I start this tale, I would very much like to thank Robin and Sandra, doorman Baz, The Bistro Chicks, all the other staff, the bands, but most of all every single customer who contributed to the Vegas story. Back in what now feels like a very dim and distant past, Rhyl enjoyed a golden age of original live music.
From the 1980s when the Bee & Station Hotel regularly let its back room out to a deranged mix of old folkies, gonzo bikers and speed-fuelled punks, through the 90s heyday of the Bistro and later on the Breeding Ground and into first decade of the 21st Century when Bar Blu and the Dudley Arms held sway, there was always at least one venue putting on regular live shows that served as an antidote to the covers-bands-in-pubs scenario that was the more generally available fare.
The almost simultaneous loss of Blu and the Dudley are generally held up as the moment when the music died in the town, but there is one other live music venue that followed on in the early 2010s that is still spoken about with warmth and reverence, but which seems to have been forgotten about in most narratives.~
It was called Vegas, it was on Bodfor Street and for three or four years Thursday nights there were unmissable for a generation of alternative music fans from all along this particular stretch of coastline.
2008/ 2009 were fallow years for the town’s live music scene following the closure of Blu in January ’08 and the gradual decline of the Dudley following the death of the much-loved bar manager Brian and the subsequent loss of interest from the owners. The Dudley staggered on for a year or so, whilst the end of my tenure at Bar Blu heralded a two year period where I wandered Moses-like through a rock n roll wilderness that took in abortive attempts to resuscitate the live scene at the likes of Rain, the Grapevine and Caskeys with less than encouraging results.
Rain started OK, but a combination of regular damage to the upstairs railings and a drop in attendances for just a couple of weeks around Download bought it the bullet, the Grapevine was wildly inconsistent attendance-wise, while Caskeys was run by the most terrifying landlord I ever worked with.
It was in the aftermath of the landlord’s (very) sudden departure from Caskeys that I received an invitation from Nicky and Yvette (AKA The Bistro Chicks) to get involved with the newly opened Vegas bar where they were managing the night times.
I had no other offers but was the proud owner of some questionably acquired and ill-matching PA gear, so the decision was made to give Thursdays a go and see how we got on.
My gut feeling was that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of things working there – the venue was split into two rooms, both of them smaller than most living rooms and with a layout that was hardly conducive to putting on a minimum of three bands per gig.
What I hadn’t factored into my calculations was the fact that there was a very strong alternative fan base who were almost as destitute as I was, with only Speaker’s Corner in Colwyn Bay at weekends to cater to their needs, this being done despite determined efforts by the police, the licensing authorities and the neighbours to put an end to these horribly attired hordes listening to the devil’s music; efforts that ultimately proved successful for them.
Thursdays in Vegas catered very much to that same crowd – the 1.15am Bangor train on Friday morning was regularly full to capacity with drunken reprobates from the Bay, Llandudno and the surrounding areas preparing their excuses for tardiness or non-appearance at work and college that day.
Blessed with such a bunch of willing sinners, we were able to turn our hands to the task of making the gigs work despite the limitations placed on us by room size, layout, dodgy PA equipment and the frequent over exuberance of bands and punters alike.
The most regular victim of all of this was the ceiling which was of the low, suspended variety and made up of fibreglass tiles hung on a metal frame, and how busy a gig was could be judged by the damage suffered by the ceiling during the course of the night.
I suspect that the first time it was damaged was due to a genuine accident, but that ceiling was doomed to weekly abuse and destruction once people realised how easy it was to bust the tiles, so much so that my Friday morning ritual consisted of me getting a text off bar owner Robin at 8am saying; “WTF have you done to my ceiling?”, me texting him back saying; “Look at the till” and him texting me back saying; “OK”.
We were fortunate that we were able to rely on a bunch of bands who would draw a good crowd in their own right and who would still be present as part of the crowd when they weren’t playing – names like Sleazy Wednesday, Ugly Fashion (pic left), Ugly Harmonies and Kickstart Kitty are as much as part of the Vegas story as the ceiling demolitions, the Bistro Chicks hatred of the dubstep nights I introduced and my party trick at the end of the night of cueing Territorial Pissings on my playlist, climbing onto the bar and (very messily) trying to chug four bottles of blue WKD simultaneously before Kurt’s vocals kicked in.
In a sense Vegas became a victim of its own success – I took on DJing the Friday and Saturday nights there – and the mix of indie, punk, ska, old skool soul, metal, classic rock and reggae meant that a lot of our Thursday crowd became our weekend regulars as well, so much so that we literally outgrew the place.
The last night at Vegas – held somewhat bizarrely on a Tuesday – was toplined by ska-punksters Loaded 45 who were playing the final night of their UK tour before heading back to Colorado.
The ceiling suffered new levels of destruction that night, we all ended up roaring drunk and maudlin after the band brought two one-and-a-half litre bottles of JD from the tour bus, poured the whole three litres into shot glasses which we had to drink before we could leave. Myself and Yvette then had the awful task of trying to clean the bar and rebuild the ceiling before Robin handed the keys into the landlord.
Despite the hangovers, it was a fitting way to say “au revoir” to the place, but it was time for us all to move – it was time to Go North, young man, Go North ……………… but that’s a story for another day.
Steve now hosts regular gigs, events at The Late Lounge / Front Room in Rhyl.