Saturday, 11 September 2010
In April 2010, the city of Manchester lost a piece of its musical soul. Jilly’s Rockworld (aka simply Rockworld), a nightclub that specialised in alternative music, closed its doors for the final time.
When I heard about this I simply didn’t believe it. Regrettably, the rumours were true and I am deeply saddened by this travesty.
When I first moved to Manchester in 1984 at the tender age of 22, I was keen to explore the city and sample all aspects of Mancunian life. I found myself in the same situation as other young professionals moving to the city for the first time and in order to become acquainted with the place, we found ourselves venturing into the city at weekends to appraise the nightlife.
Manchester has always been a thriving city and after the pubs closed there was always a fair choice of venues to carry on the festivities. Unfortunately, most of these places were traditional nightclubs with bouncers who wouldn’t let you in the place unless you were dressed in smart clothes with shoes, trousers and a shirt. Jeans, trainers and T-shirts were outlawed and the wearers of such garments were treated as pariahs; people like me had to dress up and pay a small fortune to enter these establishments only to discover that the music they played was absolute rubbish.
I was lost in a desert of bland, boring and banal music.
I was a young man who loved rock music, heavy metal and alternatives to the monotonous drivel that was infecting the spirits of people my age. In the 80’s, I considered the youth of that day to be sheep, following the rest of the flock and listening to chart music that was peddled by idiotic radio DJ’s who used words like “fashion” to entice others to buy the drivel on their playlists.
I rebelled and chose to move away from the bilge that they tried to force me to consume. The problem was, there was no outlet for my insurrection on a Saturday night.
I was forced to become a sheep for the night, wearing the conventional uniform that other partygoers wore. Bouncers were like regulators, making sure that everyone conformed to the rules laid down by peddlers of shit music. I entered nightclubs and drank to relieve the pain and numb my senses to the same old crap that the majority of sheep followed blindly.
There was no hope – only despair.
And then I discovered a shining beacon; an oasis of wonder in a desert of despondency.
On Oxford Road stood Rockworld – an alternative nightclub that spat in the face of convention, gave a wedgie to Mr Stock, Mr Aitken and Mr Waterman before hurling them into the gutter with all the other destroyers of modern music.
I had found a sanctuary - a place where rock guitars shattered the night, sticking two fingers up to Radio One and the establishment that tried to brainwash youth.
I had found hope.
With other like-minded friends, we planned a night out in this temple of rock.
“What should we wear?” I asked naively.
I needn’t have worried. The only thing that you couldn’t wear was the established uniform of the drones who sought mind-numbing dance music. Ties were taboo, shirts and trousers were beneath contempt. Denim, leather, and any alternative uniform were actively encouraged.
Even better, the bouncers on the doors of Rockworld actually refused entry to anybody who was dressed up for a night out with the sheep in a dance club. I remember laughing a mate of mine who was turned away for wearing the uniform of the dance club sheep.
"You're overdressed," said the bouncer, turning convention its head. He had to go home and I had no sympathy for him at all.
I loved Rockworld, from the moment I passed through the doors on that first night and heard an Ozzy Osbourne record played loudly to a dance floor full of adoring head bangers. I had found salvation. I was home.
Rockworld didn’t just play heavy metal; if it was taboo then it would be played. Lovers of heavy metal rubbed shoulders with Goths and punks. There were several rooms that played different genres; somebody like me who enjoyed classic rock could venture into a room and listen to Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. If I fancied something a bit more cutting edge I could stroll into the main room, where they played a variety of styles and listen to Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, Metallica and various other artists. A third room offered more alternatives such as Sisters of Mercy. If you liked alternative music the chances are that you would love the diversity of Rockworld.
In fact, that diversity made Rockworld more than just a venue for enjoying cool music; it actively encouraged people to dress to express.
Long haired heavy metal head bangers wearing leather trousers and black T-shirts would stand next to punk rockers with wildly coloured mohican hair and Goths wearing dog collars and painted white faces. There were pierced people, perforated with pins in the most unlikely places and caring not one jot what others thought of them.
It was a fascinating place and if you liked people watching then you were in paradise.
I have nothing but great memories of the place – well when I say “memories” I mean hazy recollections of incidents as seen through bleary eyes caused by a little too much alcohol. You see, the only times I ever visited the place were after I had been to a rock gig or when out for a night painting Manchester a deep shade of crimson with like-minded friends.
On that very first trip way back in the 80’s, I was awe-struck by the place, so much so, that I sat at a table watching the bizarre people who were enjoying the fantastic music. I had never seen anything like it. Goths walked past, chatting and drinking as if looking like a dead person was completely normal.
I was dressed in a concert T-shirt and scruffy jeans, sitting proudly in my legendary leather jacket. I was clutching a pint of beer and struggling to stop the room from spinning around. My mates were all on the dance floor moving haphazardly to the driving rock music.
A woman sat next to me. I almost dropped my pint. She was dressed in a white and very tight dress that left very little to the imagination and thigh high leather boots completed a dream image. Her hair was jet black and her eyes were so vividly made up that I could barely take my own eyes off them.
“Are you on your own?” she asked.
“Glerg blugruth splurge,” I said, before rediscovering where my tongue was.
“Sorry about that,” I clarified. “No – my mates are trying to dance over there.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she repeated. “Are you actually WITH anybody?”
I couldn’t believe it. I was being chatted up by a gorgeous rock-loving temptress. I think at this point I gurgled again.
“It’s just that my mate over there REALLY fancies you," she added.
“Over where?” I said straining my eyes in the direction she was pointing. The place was so smokey that I could barely make out the dance floor.
And then my conscience emerged from my alcohol-fuelled haze and informed me that I was married. My ego was wildly inflated but I did the right thing and let her down.
“I’m really sorry, but I am married," I said proudly.
“Oh,” she said, looking disappointed herself. “That’s a real shame. He’s really good in bed.”
“What?” I asked. “Did you say HE?”
“Yes – my friend over there.”
And then I saw him – a tall leather clad Goth guy, waving at me.
That was a shock but it didn’t put me off the place. Rockworld was full of people who refused to conform.
One time, I persuaded Mrs PM to visit the place. This was in the honeymoon period of our blossoming relationship in the late 90’s when we were pushed aside our intolerance of each other’s musical tastes.
Mrs PM wore jeans, a tight T-shirt and boots. She looked fabulous. However, she was unprepared for the sight of an older couple who were oblivious to their surroundings.
The guy was in his fifties with long black hair streaked with grey cascading down his back. He was receding badly and had no hair on his crown at all. He was a drinker – his enormous beer gut gave that away. He wore a black leather jacket and tight jeans. His cavernous belly hung over his belt.
His woman was in her fifties too but she was a Goth. Her hair was jet black and her clothes matched her hair. Her face gave her age away and her bounteous bosom was surpassed only by her own gut that hinted to an equal love of beer. The two were drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, which was a favourite tipple in Rockworld.
They were a bizarre couple, make no mistake, and Mrs PM stared at them in disbelief. And just as she was about to scream her comments in my ear above the loud heavy metal music, the couple shocked her one last time. They embraced in a massive snog that you only normally see in people in their twenties. And they really went for it, hugging each other with such ferocity that I thought they were going to burst. It was mesmerising in a weird kind of way and I smiled because that one act of passion illustrated exactly what Rockworld was – a place where people didn’t care about their appearence or their behaviour.
Mrs PM was appalled and yelled something incomprehensible to me before walking away in disgust. She still talks about them today.
Every night club has a dance floor and Rockworld is no exception. I have danced to my favourite music, completely oblivious to the opinions of others. Where else could I have danced to Nine Inch Nails and Deep Purple?
I have stood opposite stunning long haired and beautiful women, swinging their luscious locks around, wafting my face. I have played air guitar to numerous rock songs, along with other head bangers who stepped out of reality for the duration of these songs to become Joe Satriani, Kirk Hammett, Ritchie Blackmore or Angus Young.
One friend of mine, was so drunk one night that he was falling asleep slumped in his chair. I asked him if he was alright when a Metallica song exploded out of the speakers. He loved Metallica and leapt up almost knocking me out of the way to get to the dance floor. As he danced to the song, it became clear that the mind was willing but the flesh was weak.
He slowly but surely backed up against the wall as he danced.
And then he leaned against the wall.
And then he closed his eyes.
And then he fell asleep.
To this day he is the only person I have ever met who has managed to fall asleep while dancing.
The staff were equally rebellious. Of course, it was their duty to look after us all, serve drinks, play music etc. but that didn’t stop them from expressing themselves. In many cases the bar staff dressed more outrageously than the punters. I still vividly recall one guy who had a metal moustache. He had pierced his entire upper lip about fifteen times and meticulously inserted a stud in each hole. He looked amazing.
Rockworld also had its legendary “Friday Night All-Nighter” where you could party until 7am. I never managed to stay later than 2am sadly.
As well as being a night club, Rockworld also held concerts. I managed to get to see four gigs there.
I saw a band called Dare in the 80’s, a melodic rock band fronted by Thin Lizzy’s Darren Wharton. The place was so cosy that it was the only gig I’ve ever been to where I have stood on the front row not more than a foot away from the band; I even shook hands with Darren Wharton as he was singing.
I also saw Ten, a local Manchester band who I love but have only ever been famous in Japan. It is a travesty but alas that is the case. It is the only time I have seen them live.
Another mate persuaded me to see a metal band called 3 Inches of Blood where they sang about swords and crusades and fighting. It was weird but different.
And finally I saw a band called Slunt, fronted by a wonderfully sexy female lead singer.
Unfortunately, as I got older, my ability to stay up, drink and dance the night away faded. My last really big party night at Rockworld occurred in the last century (apart from two of the gigs above), although I did revisit Rockworld sometime after 2000 for a brief nostalgia trip. I stood in the classic rock room and watched young people dancing to old favourites and nodded my head in approval as I gently sipped a pint of bitter. I left at around 12:30 am and only returned for a gig.
Had I known that Rockworld was in danger of closing I might have been persuaded to dig out my old leather jacket for one last night to celebrate the joy of Rockworld. Alas, it shall never be.
The good news is that Rockworld’s legacy lives on and there are other places that spit in the eye of convention.
I shall leave you with a couple of songs by the bands I have seen at Rockworld. They sure bring back memories.
Dare – We Don’t Need A Reason
Ten – The Name Of The Rose
Slunt – The Best Thing