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Best of 2021: Photographer’s unseen ’80s nightclub images unearthed after 40 years

30 Dec 2021 4 minute read

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Have a look through the gallery of brilliant images of nightlife in the ’80s

David Owens

Back in the summer we ran a story that had everybody of a certain age revisiting their youth.

Photographer Martin McCabe had spent several months taking a walk down memory lane and lucky for us what he discovered was photographic gold.

His design agency business was put on ice by the pandemic, so the Cardiff creative spent much of his time working on a project that evoked many memories of his days as a DJ and photographer at the nightclub described as Cardiff’s answer to The Blitz.

Funktion Suite at Nero’s was the Saturday night favourite of the alternative crowd in the Welsh capital. The similarities between the hugely influential London club run by style trailblazer Steve Strange and Nero’s, housed on Greyfriars Road in Cardiff city centre, were obvious.

The early ‘80s saw a seismic shift in the nation’s cultural landscape; the flowering of British youth movements that would change the face of fashion and clubland – a coterie of young creatives – artists, designers, photographers, DJs and club promoters who were key components of a cultural uprising.

Clubber at the Funktion Suite DJ console requesting a track

Nero’s was a haven for young tribes exploring their own individuality who wanted to dance the night away, Goths, new romantics, punks, psychobillies, and everything in between, it was an alternative crowd and artistic expression a world away from the mainstream.

For 57-year-old McCabe revisiting those heady days of yore has been like unearthing a treasure trove of memories, many which had lay buried until he decided to dust down his archive and scan those long lost slides and negatives.

Martin, who was also a regular fixture at gigs in the city taking photographs at early ‘80s shows by the likes of Ultravox, Simple Minds, Japan and The Cocteau Twins, is not a 100% certain but he believes the Nero’s images were taken between 1982-1984.

“It’s all a bit of a blur,” he laughs. “I’m not great at identifying exactly when they were. I took so many photographs at the time.


“My day job was as a photographer, but I landed a gig DJ’ing at Nero’s when I met Anthony Feehan, who was the original DJ there. Anthony let me help out. He then left for London and then I took over.

“I wasn’t hugely into fashion, it was always the music for me,” he adds. “I would spend all my money on records at places like Spillers in Cardiff.

“I went through the punk stage with The Sex Pistols and The Clash and then moved into new romantic and alternative after that. I had quite a good collection of vinyl anyway. But of course, DJ’ing gave me the excuse to spend nearly all the money I made from the photography and DJ’ing to spend on records.

Friends enjoying a night out at Nero’s

As for recording the fantastical nightlife at Nero’s, he and a mate, reckoned it would be a lucrative earner.

“Well, that’s what we thought,” he laughs. “I worked in a photographic agency with a guy called Jonathan Moss-Vernon and we decided we would take photos of people at Nero’s on a Saturday night because of the way they looked and sell them the photos.

“I remember we didn’t actually sell many photos in the end, but we did end up with a fantastic record of images of the club, the people and the fashions at that time.

“Back then it was rare that people took cameras to clubs. Now, obviously, everybody has a camera on their phone and photograph everything.

“When I started to scan the Nero’s photographs, I put up a few of them on Facebook and I quickly realised that it was a thing that people loved. People love to reminisce and remember those days.

“I’ve got lots more to scan, so watch this space for more photographs.”

Find out more about Nero’s HERE

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