DEPECHE Mode are musical megastars now, but one of their old friends has fond memories of the band’s humble beginnings on the music scene in south Essex.

Basildon boys Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are marking the band’s 30th anniversary with a new album, Sounds of the Universe and a UK tour.

It’s been a rocky journey, filled with dramas, departures and dealing with personal demons. Early on, just after the band released its first album, songwriter and keyboard man Vince Clarke quit to collaborate with another local talent, singer Alison “Alf” Moyet, in Yazoo.

It might have sunk a lesser group, but Depeche Mode went on to huge worldwide success.

It’s a far cry from the early days, when Leigh man Gary Turner hung out on the local scene with Mode frontman Dave Gahan.

Gary, now 50, was there at the start, knocking around the local pubs and clubs with Gahan, as the band honed the synthesiser sound of Mode in the sweat-pit of Crocs nightclub, in Rayleigh.

He says. “We were good mates years before the band really got going in the early Eighties.

“I used to put on electronic-cum-David Bowie nights at venues like Crocs, the Hadleigh Suite and the Cliff and Dave would tag along.

“It was a time when trends were changing every five minutes. We were all old punks and soul boys, and it seemed the natural transition to move into the New Wave and New Romantic scene. There were a lot of loud clothes and haircuts, It was all about dressing up and style.

“We would hold our nights at places like the Cliff, in Westcliff, which was traditionally a gay bar. We went there because there was no threat from people because of what you looked like. There were a lot of straight people drinking there at the time!”

He adds: “I knew Dave, as he was going out with a friend of mine and he would regularly come to the events we put on.

“He was a fashion student at the Southend Tech College, a stylish guy, who was into the music.

“I remember the first time we went to see Depeche Mode play. It was at a little community hall over in Basildon. Even then, everything clicked. They looked good, had the rhythm. They had the beats.

“Dave really fitted into the scene, which was all about music, make-up, beers and girls – or boys in some cases. They were great days.”

One of Gary’s regular nights was the Glamour Club, run at Crocs – now the Pink Toothbrush – where Depeche Mode played some of their earliest shows on Saturday nights.

Gary says: “They played down here about seven times between 1980 and 1981. I used to pay them a few hundred quid, as they couldn’t command a big fee back then. They were just happy to see a crate of beers.”

It was an incredibly stylish scene. He recalls: “The whole club was fuelled by fashion. We had a membership policy which meant I could screen who was allowed to come in the club.

“I was running a shop in Southchurch Road, Southend, at the time, Pin-Ups, with stock from Malcolm McLaren, in London and fashion students at the town’s college, among other outlets.

“We would sell anything from leather outfits to a green tartan suit. Crocs set the trend and my tills would be ringing all day after the weekend showcase of our new ranges at the club.

“Depeche Mode, and Dave in particular, were a big part of this scene. It was Crocs which ultimately helped the band make it into the big time.”

A TV show called 20th Century Box sent a crew down to the venue, giving Depeche Mode their first small-screen break.

“It was an LWT programme which used to go around the clubs,” says Gary. “They came to Crocs to do an Essex programme when Depeche Mode were playing.

“Crocs was the place to be and we had all sorts coming here, like Boy George and Spandau Ballet.

“They sent Danny Baker to the club to carry out the interviews. I’ll never forget him posing for a picture next to the crocodiles, which were kept in a glass tank in the club. You wouldn’t get away with that now!

“It’s amazing now to think a little Rayleigh club helped some boys from Basildon turn into one of the most successful British bands ever.”

Gary took a media course at Southend College in 1990 and was still able to call on an old friend for a favour.

“I was running the college rag-mag, Vague,” he recalls. “I got in touch with Dave for an interview and front cover picture for the magazine.

“They played one of their earliest gigs at the college and it was nice to know for all their fame and fortune, they still remembered their roots.”

* Gary is holding a Crocs Reunion night at the Pink Toothbrush, in Rayleigh High Street, on Sunday, May 24.