Bright Lights, Late Nights and Hard knocks at the Hardrock

Alan Miller remembers the growing anger in the crowd at The Hardrock in Stretford as they were awaiting Chuck Berry to take to the stage on the evening of Thursday 18th January 1973. Alan says that “we were oblivious to the chaos that was unfolding behind the scenes. Chuck Berry was due on stage at 9.30 and he ended up coming on at 11. He was going to have to come up with something special after that and he didn’t”. Former Red Issue columnist Mister Spleen remembers that “Chuck Berry got bottled offstage after turning up late and only doing half an hour”. What caused the delay was Berry’s now notorious practice of demanding payment in cash, prior to the show. The main problem was that the management of the Hardrock had no idea of this until the night of the show. Chuck Berry was going nowhere near the stage until the money turned up and they didn’t have the required cash to hand. Old Trafford swag stall holder Malcolm Hancock says that “they had to plead with the manager of the local Midland Bank to open up and give them the cash. It’s just as well they did, there would’ve been a full scale riot otherwise”. Charlie Darlington, an Urmston red who grew up idolising Johnny Berry and a lighting engineer at the Hardrock said that “Chuck Berry is one of the most arrogant and ignorant people I’ve ever heard of”.

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The Hardrock opened its doors as a venue in the summer of 1972 and November the 8th saw the 40th anniversary of its closure, before the building was converted into a DIY shop (which itself is due to close imminently). Over its three years, giants of the rock music world, such as Led Zepellin, Paul McCartney, David Bowie and many others played the venue.

Prior to being a music venue, it was the Top Rank, a bowling alley which was a mere hundred yards from where Tommy Taylor lived. Red News writer Roy Cavanagh also remembers it being a favourite place of George Best’s when he first came to Manchester in the summer of 1963. Roy explains that “I used to go there with George on Tuesday and Thursday nights”. Jamie Rennie, a Manchester City season ticket holder from Old Trafford has similar memories. Jamie told Red News that “When it was the bowling alley, we used to play football on the car park and some of United’s younger players used to turn up and join in. John Fitzpatrick and Francis Burns were regulars. Sometimes even George Best played with us”

Soon after opening in September 1972, David Bowie played two nights at the Hardrock on his now legendary Ziggy Stardust tour. Steven Morrissey, who lived nearby on Kings Road saw Bowie on the 3rd of September. In a 1991 interview with Katherine Diekmann, Morrissey said “I first saw Bowie in ’72 and it was an amazing vision. At that time, he was despised, which made him absolutely lovable to me”. Alan Miller remembers that halfway through Bowie’s first stint at the Hardrock, the electricity went off. Alan says that “somebody obviously forgot to put 10p in the meter. While this was going on, Bowie just picked up his acoustic guitar and sat at the front of the stage playing his songs. I wasn’t big on Bowie before this show but I walked away awestruck by him”. Malcolm Hancock also remembers the Bowie concerts. “The first show hadn’t even sold out. It was just before his now famous appearance on Top of the Pops, so while Bowie had fans, his popularity hadn’t exploded. That was a week or so away. By the time he came back in December, he’d moved from being a pop star to a superstar”.

The second show that Malcolm is referring to was on the 29th of December, a Friday night. A show which had recognised classics like Moonage DaydreamLife on Mars and Changes in the set. Karen Robb of Old Trafford said “I remember the lighting as you went in. It made your clothes look like they had bits all over them”. Diane Molloy of Salford was also at the David Bowie concerts. She said “at the first Bowie show, there were a load of long haired loon wearers, sitting around with their legs stretched out on the floor. The next time Bowie was there, the mood had changed and everybody was rushing to the front”.

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Russell McKee and Malcolm Hancock in the Hardrock for Led Zeppelin in 1972

December 1972 can now be looked upon as a seminal month in the history of the Hardrock. Along with Bowie playing there, Led Zeppelin had a two night residency earlier in the month. They played three songs off their next album (Houses of the Holy), which itself wasn’t released until the following March. Malcolm Hancock said of the Led Zeppelin concerts that “with such a low ceiling and the volume being so intense, you thought the building might collapse as it was so powerful.”

Eight days before the Led Zeppelin show, Malcolm saw Status Quo play The Hardrock. Malcolm said “Quo didn’t sell out. When something like that happened, somebody from the Hardrock would come around to the Quadrant and give away tickets. We’d get them, then walk up Greatsone Road and sell them outside.” While this enterprising practice would be roundly applauded nowadays, it didn’t impress everyone in 1972, as Malcolm explains. “I remember being outside with loads of tickets and it was the first time I’d come across the old school of ticket touts. I got to know most of these lads pretty well later on. Frank Hall, people like that, but that night, they weren’t happy that we were treading on their toes.”

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Charlie Darlington with Status Quo at the Star and Garter in 1999

As well as the old school touts working the Hardrock, another practice beloved of reds, jibbing, was tried on the Hardrock. According to Malcolm though, it wasn’t very successful. He explains “In comparison to the usual knuckleheads in town, the doormen at the Hardrock were pretty switched on. There was only one main door and they had fire exits at the sides, but they always had two people on each door to stop people opening them and letting their mates in, which was common practice at cinema’s in those days”.

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Maggie Day saw the relentlessly energetic and prolific James Brown play the Hardrock on Friday 2nd March 1973. Maggie said that it was an “Amazing show. I’ve never seen as much sweat come off one person”. Former Radio 1 DJ Andy Peebles also saw James Brown at The Hardrock. In 2006, Peebles told the Daily Mail that “I was working at the Hardrock when James Brown was touring the UK. He was the greatest soul performer around. From the moment I encountered him, I was entranced by this fascinating character. He came and did two shows with one of the best bands he ever worked with and it was stunning. His assistant would come on to the stage, wrap him up in a cloak and help him walk off and then he would throw off the cloak and come back on to the stage and the audience would love it. It was a remarkable theatrical show in addition to the music”.

Two months later, Paul McCartney made his first appearance in Manchester since The Beatles break up, with his new band Wings. Like Led Zeppelin, this was a two night residency and Wings were touring their recently released Red Rose Speedway album. With no Beatles originals played, most of the fourteen song set was drawn from thaEmbedded image permalinkt album. Daniel Donnelly remembers “when Linda McCartney came on stage, some women started screaming and booing at her”. Charlie Darlington remembers McCartney fondly. He said “Wings did a great show and went down really well. In those days, we would put a couple of coats down and play football around the back of the place. Paul McCartney was kicking about with us, he was dead friendly and down to earth”.

Of all the figures who played at the Hardrock who were famous and indeed loved for their excesses, perhaps nobody trumped The Faces, who appeared there in the summer of 1973. Veronica Saunders of Brooks Bar was at the front row the night The Faces played. She says that “They were right at their peak, very, very loud and a brilliant show. It was also fantastic to see a band like The Faces, virtually on my doorstep”.

However, not everybody at The Faces show was positive about the Hardrock. In the Melody Maker, reviewer Mark Plummer said “The Faces can always be relied upon to produce a good show, but the Hardrock was just unbearable”. Mister Spleen agreed, telling Red News that “it was a horrible space, low ceiling and oppressive atmosphere. It got as hot as hell once there were a few hundred people in”. Richard Belfied in the New Musical Express in August 1973 said that “After the show, Rod Stewart threatened that the Faces would never play Manchester’s Hardrock again”.

Charlie Darlington was in charge of the lighting for The Faces show. He remembers them vividly. Charlie said, “The Faces brought their own lighting with them. Their tour manager, said that he wanted two guys on stage with the house lights and zoom in on Rod Stewart. So we’ve had him moving between four spotlights, two on the back and two on the front. Rod came on and I was right next to the stage. On the other side of the stage, The Faces had a table there with all the drinks on it and God knows whatever else. After the show started, it became obvious that Kenney Jones, the drummer, could hardly sit at the drum stool because he was so pissed. He’d drank two bottles of Courvoisier. It must’ve been about a hundred degrees in there, so after three or four songs, Kenney collapsed and an ambulance was called. While all this was going on, I was shining the light on Rod as he walked towards stage table.  He shouted back ‘don’t fuckin’ shine the light on me you cunt, when I’m hoovering’. Before the show, I was told to follow him, but there were obviously times when we should’ve put the light elsewhere and going to the table was definitely one of those times for Rod. While all this was going on, a shout goes out from the stage- Is there a drummer in the house? This kid comes out of the audience, he turns out to be Gavin Sutherland, a guitarist for the Sutherland Brothers who could also as play drums. He played the rest of the gig with them”. Charlie also believes that another moment of fate happened that night. He explains,“maybe it’s a coincidence but Rod’s first major hit after leaving the Faces was Sailing, a song written by Gavin Sutherland. I’ve often wondered if that chance meeting between Gavin and Rod triggered Rod into singing that song”

The same year, Faces bass player Ronnie Lane was at the Hardrock miming a performance of his solo single How Come for the Granada show, Rock on With 45. This was a short lived programme that competed with Top of the Pops and was presented by David Jensen. Charlie remembers Ronnie’s wife, Kate, was there with him. “She was wearing this ballet dress and was dancing at the front of the stage. As Ronnie finished the song, she threw her tutu over her head and stuck her arse right in front of the camera. She had a skimpy pair of knickers on and all the cameramen zoomed in on it. Meanwhile, Muriel Young was in everybody’s headphones screaming “cut, cut, for fuck’s sake cut. We can’t have that on a Saturday morning with all these kids watching”. They had to do the song again and Kate did the same thing again, only this time, she’s got a massive pair of bloomers on. Unfortunately, I can’t remember if that was shown on the telly”.

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Malcolm Hancock saw Bob Marley and The Wailers play there on 20th July 1975. Malcolm says “even though we all knew Ska and Bluebeat records, this was like nothing we’d ever heard before. With the amount of skinning up going on, you didn’t need a drink, you got stoned just walking in the place”.

Charlie Darlington remembers that “The Wailers were mad on football. We had a kickabout with them, they had some cracking footballers with them. They leathered us. After the kickabout, they wanted some weed scoring so a mate of mine went to this place in Moss Side and got them two ounces. The Wailers and their entourage smoked the bleedin’ lot before they went on stage. You should’ve seen the spliffs they built. The ends of them were like ice cream cones and there was more weed in them than baccy”.

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Jamie Rennie also saw Bob Marley that night and he was similarly impressed with them, but ten days later, he saw what he believed to be the best show he ever saw at the Hardrock when Chris Farlowe played. Jamie says “His big hit was a cover of The Rolling Stones Out of Time. A few of us went but the overall turnout was really poor. You could see he was really disappointed but he just told us all to come to the front of the stage and said; right, let’s have a really good party”. Charlie Darlington was also at the Chris Farlowe show and he believes that the low attendance was down to the doormen. Charlie said “Chris Farlowe was a big lad and there was a big disagreement between him and the bouncers before the show. The bouncers were going to set about him. After that, out of spite, the bouncers turned people away and told them that the place was closed just so they could have an early night. This was outside as people got to the door. They’d get there and the bouncers would tell them to go home. Nobody was doing anything about it. That was the way the place was being run by then”.

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On the 19th October 1975, German electronic group Tangerine Dream played what turned out to be the last ever show at The Hardrock. Graham Massey of 808 State told The Quietus in 2009 that Tangerine Dream “were promoting their new LP Rubicon. I’d never seen so many keyboards and synths gathered in one place. The image became imprinted on my mind”. The 8th of November saw the official closure of The Hardrock.

Charlie Darlington said that “as the Hardrock was closing, there was a query from the Manchester United Supporters Club, about the possibility of it being a place for reds to have a drink before and after the match. They were looking at renting the venue, but they were scared off by the £25,000 a year rent.”

That was that. According to Charlie Darlington “the Hardrock closed due to there being too many people being on the take, it was drained eventually.” A piece of land behind the cricket ground, that had the likes of George Best, Tommy Taylor and other major figures in United’s history playing football within its boundary, a piece of land that had luminaries such as David Bowie, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, The Faces and many, many others of similar stature playing their music, became a DIY store. The Hardrock had many a famous if not notorious figure playing there, with many a story to be told. That bland and soulless looking building has had many an eye popping incident occur there. Next time you’re walking down Greatsone Road from the Quadrant en route to Old Trafford, look at the DIY shop and just remember the legend of what had taken place there many a year ago. Then look behind it, see the cricket ground, think of Shane Warne bowling out Mike Gatting in 1993, think of Jim Laker taking nineteen of the twenty Australian wickets in an Ashes test of 1956 and realise how blessed we are to be where we are.

This article was originally published by Red News, Issue 229, in November 2015. For subscriptions to Red News, click here

Many thanks to all interviewees and to Malcolm Hancock in particular, for sharing his ticket stubs.

Dedicated to the memory of Terry Bowen

3 thoughts on “Bright Lights, Late Nights and Hard knocks at the Hardrock”

  1. Munphy

    What do you doing ?

    This blogging is nothing with football?

    I am make the journey for Liverpool away – can you get one spares tickets?

    Salut Bro

    J

  2. I see Charlie Darlington now, still a song and dance man in his dotage. I saw Melanie at the hardrock and Manassas, a band with nils Lofgren and Stephen Stills. Their guitars talked. Great days even when it was a bowling alley

  3. One of the all time greatest shows I saw at the hardrock,was ike n Tina turner,amazing moment when ike performed a few blues numbers on his own on stage.you could here a pin drop! Then Tina turner full blast with her ikettes,roaring out river deep mountain high.blood n sand the building shook.super memories indeed!

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