A timeline

A timeline

Pre-Zap – 1972-1980
1972 – Neil Butler, Pat Butler and Dave Reeves meet at Brighton College of Education.

1978 – The Expressive Arts Course is established at Brighton Polytechnic, which turns into a breeding ground for many of the cross-media artists that become involved in the Zap Club ethos, amongst them Ian Smith, ‘Birds with Ears’, Billy Cowie, Liz Aggiss, Steve Edgar and Roy Hutchins.

1979 – Ian Smith meets Neil Butler.

1980 – Alan McGowan starts promoting the new alternative comics from the ‘Comic Strip’ at the Pavilion Theatre. Dave Lavender presents Karl Valentine’s ‘Komic Kabaret’ at the same venue giving Neil the idea of mixing art and entertainment in a cabaret format that was to become the programming model of the early Zap Club. Many years later Dave Lavender sets up the Komedia.

‘The Golinski Brothers’ band starts taking cabaret packages from Brighton to small London clubs like Moonlight. Performers include Sergeant Stone’s Punch and Judy, Ian Smith, Lyn Thomas and Binky Baker.

Before the arches – 1982-1984
– On 20th April, the first gig is organised by Neil and Amanda Webb at the Brighton Belle, Oriental Place. Ian Smith is recruited as compere and the evening includes poet Roger Ely and local band ‘The Eliminators’. The event is positively reviewed by legendary New York journalist and biographer of Dylan, Robert Sheldon.

The club begins on a monthly basis, but soon takes place fortnightly, then weekly, with an anarchic mix of performance, poetry, comedy and music. The club starts attracting performance students from Brighton Polytechnic who use the club to experiment with new ideas.

The Zap quickly outgrows the New Oriental and moves to the Royal Escape basement.

Ian Smith remains the regular compere with ‘Extremists in an Igloo’, the irregular house band, alongside ever more extravagant shows involving film, performance art, installation and, on occasion, a twenty piece choir and special effects.

A performance surfing event takes place – one of the first major events to take performance outside.

Channel 4 ‘Ear to the Ground’ is filmed at the Royal Escape, profiling Ian Smith.

1983 – Zap moves to the upstairs of the Richmond Pub and continues to thrive. Choreographer Liz Aggiss and musician Billy Cowie invite Neil to join them and Ian Smith in the ‘Wild Wigglers’, a lunatic Bauhaus influenced dance performance group.

Zap attract a wide range of artists to perform in cabaret. Chris Coco and Lene become regular performers with music and super eight installations. Writer Kathy Acker performs regularly.

Ian Smith is featured as the contemporary entertainment ‘face’ of Brighton alongside Dora Bryan and Douglas Byng in the BBC documentary ‘The Last Resort’.

Angie Livingstone becomes the fourth director of Zap.

The Zap Club Years – 1984-1997
1984 – Architect Anthony Browne converts two of the Kings Road arches on the seafront into a performance arts space. Staff and artists volunteer labour, from digging out foundations alongside the builders, to painting the damp walls with waterproofing.

The Zap is marketed to members as a “club for artists, run by artists who understand performers and their needs”.

On 1st November the Zap Club finally opens its doors, seven days a week, fifty weeks a year.

Until 1989, Ian Smith acts as ‘the public face’ of the club and hosts ‘Performance Platform’ on Tuesday nights (later ‘The Silver Tongue Club’ on Sunday nights).

The ‘Tuesday Night Veterans’ allows for a truly eclectic mix of musicians, poets, stand-up comedians, artists, dancers, theatre groups and other acts that defy categorisation to perform, including Steve Zen-Zen, Evrol, Marcusa, Monty the Moron, Toad Squad, Garry Hawk, Captain Stupid. Occasionally, more experienced artists appear incognito – famously Robin Scott, who brings a huge fairlight computer onto the stage to present some of his more experimental tracks.

The Club hosts multiple other club nights, live music, cabaret, theatre and dance events, nights that often spill out onto the beach to continue until dawn.

‘The Punter’ is launched to promote Zap events.

1985 – More musicians to play at the club include Marc Almond, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, James and Wet Wet Wet. John Giorno, the leading New York poet also performs.

Following demand for gigs and productions outside of the club, Zap Productions is launched with an additional director, Robin Morley.

An art reach project is set up to provide outreach entertainment for community groups across the city.

The Brighton Urban Free Festival takes place.

Free performances are held outside on the beach, with ‘Sonic Youth’ playing in November.

Zap sets up a record label and releases ‘Live at Zap Club’.

1986 – Pantomine ‘The Santa Claus Killings’, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, is directed by JJ Waller and perfomed at the Zap.

The Zap Tent opens during the Brighton Festival. ‘The Rail’, a piece of Canadian theatre is perfomed in a warehouse on the Freshfield Industrial Estate, built over the top of the old Kemp Town railway station. Audiences, seated on either side of the railway embankment, look on as the action takes place along the track in the middle.

1987 – Rory Bremner, Tom Robinson, Hank Wangford, Blow Monkeys, Roger McGough and Brian Patten all perform at the Zap Club.

1988 – DJs Damian, Chris Coco, Danny Rampling, Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold all begin playing nights at the Zap Club.

Club night ‘Frenzee’ begins at the Zap.

Comedy show ‘Monsters from Outer Space’ comes to the Zap in Spring.

‘The Rhythm Sisters’ perform in June.

Pantomime, ‘The Last Temptation of Scrooge’ is directed by Andy Cunningham and performed at the Zap in December.

Dick Witts becomes the fifth director of Zap.

1989 – Soup Dragons, Edwin Collins, The Shamen, Flaco Jiminez, Pere Ubu, Andy Shepherd and Ted Hawkins all perform at the Zap.

Club Shame, the influential gay club night is founded by Paul Kemp at the Zap club on Wednesday nights. ‘Gay Times’ called it “the blueprint of gay clubbing for the 90s”, with its unique combination of performance art and rave music.

‘Hamlet the Panto’ directed by JJ Waller is performed at the Club.

1990 – Eddie Izzard, Annie Nightingale, John Scofield, YES/NO People, Stomp all play and perform at the Zap.

Pantomime ‘What’s up Dr Jekyll?’, directed by John Dowie, plays at the Zap.

Zap Productions brings ‘Archaos’, the anarchic alternative circus to Brighton. The show is forced to relocate to Stanmer Park after it is deemed too dangerous by authorities and is banned from showing at the Level.

1991 – In January ‘Manic Party’ is hosted by DJ Annie Nightingale.

Teenage Fanclub, Manic Street Preachers, Wedding Present, Paul Weller, Jeremy Hardy, Sean Hughes and Mark Steel play at the Zap.

1992 – The Zap’s 10th anniversary reunites John Dowie, Ian Smith, Laurie Booth, Liz Aggiss, Tony Hasse, JJ Waller and more.

1993 – ‘Brighton Cock’, a play about male prostitution is performed by AIDS Positive Underground Theatre.

1994 – Prodigy, Credit to the Nation and Moby play at the Zap.

Brighton Rocks Festival is produced by Zap and Radio 1 with bands like Echo Belly, Sleeper, and the Auteurs all performing and Annie Nightingale broadcasting throughout the night.

1995 – Zap opens the first Brighton cybercafé, in the Zap Club.

‘Streets of Brighton’ is launched during the Brighton Festival. It develops into one of the biggest and most vibrant celebrations of all street festivals in the UK as well as becoming a key component of the Brighton Festival programme, yearly, to this day.

1996 – ‘Club Bent’, a gay and lesbian club night begins at the Zap Club in May.

‘Chemical Brothers’ play at the Club.

After the Zap Club – 1997-present
In November the arches are sold and Webb Kirby Ltd become the new owners of the Zap Club.

1998 – With a grant from the National Lottery, Zap Productions initiates a three year ‘National Street Arts Festival’ programme to build upon six existing festivals – ‘Streets of London’, ‘StreetFeast in West Midlands’, ‘Streets of the South West’, ‘Streets of the South’, ‘Streets of Brighton’ and ‘Streets of the East Midlands’.

1999-2000 – Zap Directors become event directors of the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations in Aberdeen (Robin) Brighton (Dave) and Glasgow (Neil). Brighton holds its biggest ever street party in the Old Steine, with street performers and live music. At midnight £15,000 of fireworks are launched into the sky above the sea.

2000 – Zap Productions organises ‘BBC Music Live’ events in Brighton.

2002 – The eighth Streets of Brighton includes ‘A little More Light’ from pyrotechnics Groupe F.

In conjunction with the Brighton Festival, Brighton Circus Festival takes place, bringing Moscow State Circus to Preston Park and Circus Baobob to England for the first time.

The Waterfront Festival takes place in June, with water sports and entertainment stretching from Brighton Marina to Hove Lagoon.

2003 – Zap celebrates its eighteenth birthday with a party hosted by DJs Tim Deluxe and Paul Woolford.

Directors close Zap Productions, which is replaced with Zap Art, a charity already in existence since 1990. Streets of Brighton continues under Zap Art.

2004 – Streets of Brighton has its 10th anniversary. 100,000 people attend and the acrobatic musical finale ‘Transe Express’ draws a single crowd of 20,000.

2005 – Streets of Brighton takes over the old Municipal Market to emulate French Creation Centres and creates a number of circus shows for Streets of Brighton.

2006 – The twelfth Streets of Brighton festival takes place featuring ‘Groupe F’ pyrotechnic display and ‘Souterrain’ landscape theatre by Wild Works.

Comments about this page

  • I still have my membership card (hologram of theatre muses) No. M102 expires 31st Dec 86 — scan available. The best gig I went to was John Giorno, beat poet.

    By Roy (09/12/2006)
  • Oriental Place is in Brighton, not Hove.

    By Peter Bailey (10/12/2006)
  • I have in my possesion various flyers badges and my membership cards plus photos of the infamous shoom night. Robin Scott was not in M People and where is the mention of Sonic Youth playing on the beach outside The Zap?

    By The Perv (17/02/2007)
  • I remember a fantastic New Years Eve party, 1988/1989, dancing little boxes to great house music…eg Promised Land. Everyone kicked out onto the beach at about 2am, but everyone given a little membership ticket to allow you back for a “private party” that carried on till the morning! It was an absolutely awesome night after a summer of love…

    By acidpod (19/02/2007)
  • I remember first going to the Zap in 1988. Coming from Worthing, this really opened my eyes! The Zap was just two arches and acid music was starting to get big. The music and the people were just amazing. I remember dancing into the early hours in my bandana, dungarees and smiley T-shirt! That’s what I liked about the Zap – you could wear what you liked, dance how you liked, nobody judged you. And I also met some really cool people. Like the late Andy Crock. I still have the odd night at the Zap, but am a bit old now! But it will always hold great memories.

    By Mark Searle (27/02/2007)
  • I’ve been a DJ at the Zap for nearly 8 years most weekends. You’ve not mentioned the people who made the Zap what it was. There’s a lot of good people you have missed out. The Pussy Cat Club in the old days could not be outdone.

    By Neil Roden (19/06/2007)
  • From opening night of the arches in 1984 through to 1992, I worked at the Zap as performer, DJ, promoter, barman, poster designer, organizer, pantomime actor, bill-posterer, cashier and cleaner of toilets. I remember spending many a night sleeping on the stage on a bed made from the foam pulled from the speaker cabinets. Weirdest Zap assignment was walking on the beach wearing a sandwich-board and a snail costume handing out leaflets.

    By Jonathan Lemon (29/10/2007)
  • I sent a tape to Kate Bush who kindly wrote back encouraging me to play live in a club: the Zap tuesday night was my chance and it was there I met Captain Sensible and as a result (eventually) became keyboard player in the Damned. Gawd bless the Zap and all who sailed in her I say!

    By Monty Oxymoron (29/08/2009)
  • For me it was Paul Weller playing a pre-tour gig after splitting up the Style Council.  He played Jam songs for the first time since the Jam split. Every time he launched into one his face lit up, which is not something you see from Weller very often. Shame the Zap is just like most clubs now.

    By Dave U (11/10/2009)
  • What year was ‘James Bond – The Panto’? It starred Louise Rennison, as I remember.

    By Nick H (28/07/2010)
  • Anyone remember me?

    By Michael Livingston (23/11/2012)
  • I fondly remember going down to the Zap on Tuesdays for performance nights in 1984/85 and getting in free for performing under various names such as Kevin and the Anoraks and The Pink Trug, and accompanying The Dancing Chicken on stage. My favourite performer was Captain Stupid, who simply commented on things he had recorded and then played from the radio. The oddest performance was a Japanese woman who breast-fed her baby on stage. Afterwards there was an excellent “disco”, which was basically a mix-tape of seventies songs.
    And then, one night, as we were waiting for the disco, we were asked to leave because a coach-load of Londoners had come, having booked the Zap for an evening of the new “Dance Music”. When we complained we were allowed to stay, but the people were all boorish and the music RUBBISH, so we left.

    By Raymond Russell (02/05/2016)
  • 1985/86 Tony from The Unbelievables ran a night (on Thursdays I think) called Heretics. Loads of great hardcore punk bands played including Swans, Big Black, Scratch Acid, Sonic Youth and Laibach. I used to go most weeks and interviewed the bands for Turn It Up (youth show on BBC Radio Sussex if anyone remembers that). Tony also got the Neo-Naturists down for an appearance at the Zap in 85. Quite a wild night.

    By Mike Bradshaw (12/07/2016)
  • I remember going to see The Mighty Lemon Drops in late 1988/’89. Great atmosphere, and it also reminded me of our local school pub The Brewster Arms in North Kensington which had polystyrene ‘cave’ walls.

    By Tony Fellowes (14/10/2020)

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