Heaven was a nightclub that ran from 14 June 1985 to the end of 1987 in Johannesburg at 165 Marshall Street. Many will know this address as being that of the original Doors nightclub that opened in 1990 and operated there for many years before moving to Edenvale. Between Heaven and The Doors, two other short-lived clubs called BLUES and BANGS opened (and closed) on the premises.
Heaven was my first proper nightclub experience. I somehow managed to get in on old years eve in 1986 thanks to a friend’s brother who worked at the bar who passed me off as his little brother. As I was tall for my age, some strategically applied eyeliner finished off the illusion. I spent the night upstairs next to the DJ box absorbing the music, watching the crowd and more importantly – watching the DJ.
The music was a mixture of High Energy, Eurobeat and Italo Disco with current radio hits, classics club tracks and disco mixed in. The DJ, Andrew Wood (ex SCANTS), was also responsible for mixing and releasing the popular High Energy series of 2LPs. He compiled and mixed from Vol. 5 right up to Vol.14. At the time of my first visit, Vol.7 or 8 was out and many of the tracks from those compilations were played on any given night.
Andrew worked for Principal Records and became assistant editor at Top 40 music Magazine around the time the two companies joined to become World Of Music (WOM). He only started at Heaven in March 1986 after finishing up a residency at The Res (in Abel Road, Berea) and The Dungeon (Old Three Castles Building also in Marshall Str). DJ Wessel worked at Heaven for the first 9 months.
There was also always a good dose of Depeche Mode, Marc Almond/Soft Cell, Yazoo, DAF and New Order as well as some lighter alternative stuff like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and Billy Idol dropped in later in the night.
Back then, the only way you got to hear proper club music was via the limited compilations, buying the actual 12″ singles or getting a tape recorded by a DJ at the club. These tapes were like gold and were copied widely. The club bought their music from Moolla as well as from a close friend of Stan’s who was a flight attendant on the London route. He would go over with lists from Andrew and bring the records back almost weekly.
Heaven was owned and run by Stan Herson and Bruce Kennedy who previously owned SCANTS which was at 180 Fox street. SCANTS closed down after the block it was on was sold for redevelopment. There was a 6-month gap between SCANTS closing and Heaven opening.
Before Heaven, the building, known at the time as Stirling House, was used by a car part distributor called Stirling Accessories. In the early 1900s, there was a warehouse on the stand listed as GRO WHSE. in 1937, the stand was listed as vacant. A guess would put the current building date as early 1940s.
Around the time of SCANTS circa 1984, there were some issues in clubland around gangs, violence and constant police raids. Stan told me he still has buckshot in him from a drive-by! When Heaven opened, he was adamant that these things would not have an effect on Heaven. The law was laid down on opening (see opening night flyer below) and after one or two minor issues in the early weeks, there was never any further trouble.
Heaven never had a liquor license so used to charge R14 entrance (a fortune back then). The upside was that all your alcohol was free. All you paid for was your mix. It was 50c for coke and the like, 80c for orange juice and R1 for a Dom Pedro (whiskey milkshake from the little bar upstairs). If you drank beer, straight spirits or shooters, you just went to the bar, ordered and drank until you fell over.
Friday nights were guys only. Saturdays and New Year were open to all.
One Saturday night in late-1987, I snuck out of the house (leaving a dummy in the bed) and walked, as I often did, from Kensington to town with a pocket full of cash from a few weekends worth of saved up gardening money. When I got to Heaven, the queue was around the block and you could feel the thump of the bass filtering out of the building. It was one of those nights where everything fell into place. I walked up to the entrance and my friend’s brother who worked at the bar was at the door. He ushered me in ahead of the massive queue and got me stamped (without having to pay).
Walking into the main club from the double doors at the entrance I was hit by the crystal clear sound and rib-shaking bass of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. Above my head were twisting planes of flat laser light sweeping through the smoke and bodies on the wooden dance floor. It was magical. The closest I’d come to seeing lasers was on that Billy Ocean video for ‘Loverboy’. The club also had a re-paint. It used to be a dark blue and yellow but was now purple and red with strategically placed yellow & black chevrons.
According to Stan, the lasers cost the equivalent of R90 000 back then. He bought the unit in the UK and shipped it over with a technician to install it. It was installed at SCANTS first and then moved over to Heaven. One of the quirks of the laser was that it was water-cooled and had to be connected to the mains. When Heaven opened, there were water restrictions in place so instead, they built a water tank on the roof. Some ingenious refrigeration components and circulation pumps were added so the tank could be kept relatively small while the water was kept cool while being also being recycled.
I was taken up to the DJ box and introduced to Andrew and Jannie (who did the lights). I stood between them while they worked their magic. Jannie showed me how to operate the lights using the effects and sets to work in time with the music. There were scanners of all colours, strobes, dice balls, helicopter lights, spotlights, neon flashes and mirror balls in addition to the lasers.
Heaven was always packed. A trip to the toilet could take 10 minutes squeezing through the crowd. Its capacity was around 650 and around 1000 people could make it through the door during a busy night.
I only went to Heaven a few more times after that before it closed its doors at the end of 1987. The lease ran out and Stan sold the club to Jimmy, who owned Masquerades (the old Dome of Carlton). Stan had started opening clubs as a hobby. They certainly paid off financially but after doing this for a few years, the nightlife starts to have an effect. After Heaven, Stan focused on his other car rental business and left clubland ownership behind on a high.
Over time I became friendly with Andrew and we eventually worked together in 1989 when I came to BANGS (same venue as Heaven) on opening night. I was working at Fat Franks in Braamfontein and one of my colleagues told me that Heaven was re-opening. I rushed there after my shift to find a full (but dark) club with Andrew in the DJ box. There was only one red dice light working. I got into the DJ box and started fiddling with the wiring and switches and got most of the lights working again. As a result, the new owner hired me on the spot. I worked there on weekends and on the special party nights over Nov 89 – Jan 90. The pay was about R100 per night plus a bar tab. It was then that Andrew taught me how to mix and I would come in hours before the club opened each night to practice on the SL1200s . More importantly, it was gaining the confidence of playing to, and keeping, a full dancefloor. The rubbish mixes (or horse races) didn’t really matter. It was about the music selection and building up the night without playing all the big tracks all at once. These are lessons I’ve never forgotten throughout my 20+ years of DJing.
Admittedly, BANGS didn’t really work out. After New Year, the crowds stayed away in droves. It was then I saw the plans of what was to become THE DOORS. I didn’t think it would work at the time, but those early Doors days would introduce new alternative DJs who played some of the most groundbreaking tunes that became dancefloor staples for many years (for another post). Between Heaven & BANGS, my personal music tastes changed quite dramatically. While I had (and still have) this love for High Energy et al, the other music I was listening to started taking over: Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend, The Cult etc.. I started going to Le Club a lot around 1988 (I worked at the Pizza Hut in Smal Street) as well as The Junction in Bree Street. Both clubs introduced me to so much of what I still listen to and use as a benchmark today. It all set me up for my first proper full-time DJ gig at Bella Napoli (downstairs) about 2 years later in 1991. That’s definitely a story for another post.
As luck would have it, I managed to secure (and hold onto after all these years) a set of tapes from Sat 24 October 1987 of a recording of almost a whole night at Heaven. Over the years, TAPE 1 has gone missing, but I managed to transfer the remaining three to MP3. I wasn’t there the night the were recorded but remember having to catch four buses after school on the Friday after to collect them from Jannie’s house in Belgravia. They didn’t disappoint and capture a moment in time of 80s Johannesburg club land.
I won’t spoil the surprise with tracklistings for the tapes, but below are playlists and links to my definitive Heaven tracks – the ones that whenever I hear them take me right back in time to nights filled with Dom Pedro’s, tequila & orange, poppers, beams of light, waxy smoke, pretty girls and bone-shaking bass followed by a Sunday morning sunrise walk back home with ringing ears. It was a very different time.
*UPDATE March 2017*
Here are Mixcloud players for four new tapes I got from Stan that cover selected Friday and Saturday nights between 1985 – 1987. Keep in mind that these tapes are 30 years old and other than a few minor edits and level changes, they are exactly as they were recorded. There are some naturally occurring glitches and audio artifacts.
Here are links to playlists of my favourite Heaven tracks on Deezer and Spotify
These are links to the tapes from the night of Sat 24 Oct 1987 from the original post
Click to play. These are some of the tracks on the tapes.
In 2008, Sassquatch (Ben Rausch), King of Town (Paul Holden), Beroldski (Richard Berold), Young Smuts (Tymon Smith) and I threw our ‘Electric Affair’ party which was based on our combined love for old disco, High Energy and Italo. I got to play a whole bunch of music I’d only ever danced to. I did a mix for it and DJ Fresh played it on the 5FM ULTIMIX@6 to some scathing reviews. Stream it here. I’ve just noticed that the date of the Heaven tapes and the Electric Affair party are exactly 21 years apart.
Thanks to Andrew Wood for letting me use all his old photo and flyer scans. Updated thanks to Stan Herson for all the additional old photos, background information and the unearthed tapes.
Besides the tapes, I only managed to hold onto one miserable Heaven flyer…and an ashtray.