I am geek and have never been inside a nightclub but here I am stood outside the former site of The Haçienda nightclub on Whitworth Street in Manchester. It opened in 1982 and Madonna did her first ever performance here in 1984.
It had been a yacht builder's shop and warehouse then, in the seventies, a cinema showing Bollywood films to the local Asian community. However its cult status (there was someone else taking photos when I was there) stems from its use of a nightclub and music venue when Manchester became “Madchester”, a musical kernel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The nightclub opened on 21st May 1982 and was conceived by co-owner Rob Gretton who was the known for being the manager of Joy Division (then New Order). He owned it with Tony Wilson who whom he ran Factory Records. Rob had been in warehouse-type clubs in New York and thought it would be a good idea to try in Manchester. On the opening night comedian Bernard Manning said in the microphone, "I've played some shit-holes during my time, but this is really something." The audience disliked him and returned his fee.
Many groups and musicians played there - The Smiths three times in 1983 and Madonna in 1984 - but it was made consistent losses. It gained legendary weight when DJ ‘house’ and rave nights were introduced (being a geek I don’t know what this means.) The house music scene (still don’t know what this means) was already healthy in other nightclubs but the club started pioneering acid house and trance nights. The place was packed and people started visiting from all over the country. In 1987 it was full every night and turned a profit.
What was inside?
Upstairs : a stage, dance area, bar, cloakroom, cafeteria area and balcony with a DJ booth.
Downstairs : three bars, The Gay Traitor (named after Anthony Blunt, a British art historian who spied for the Soviet Union), The Kim Philby and Hicks (named after Blunt's fellow spies.) At one point there was even a hairdressing salon.
As drugs taint most things they tainted the club’s upward trajectory. In July 1989 a 16-year-old girl died in the club itself, reacting badly to an ecstasy tablet give to her by her boyfriend. After this the police started to slowly suffocate the club though Manchester City Council didn’t agree as it attracted thousands of money-laden visitors to the city.
Where there are drugs there a guns and anxious trigger fingers. Many shootings ensued inside and outside the club and the licence to sell alcohol was in question. One day in 1997 the police and local magistrates visited to review things; they witnessed a man get bashed on the head with a metal bar then pushed into the path of an on-coming car. However the club imploded due to finances than illegal drugs and guns. It simply didn’t sell enough alcohol. It was last used of a nightclub was on 29th June 1997. Overall the club itself was a financial failure but it was propped up by record sales.
Later it re-opened as an art gallery before going bankrupt and closing forever. It remained empty but still loved for many years before Crosby Homes bought it is 2002 and demolished it. They built a high stack of glossy apartments. Whoever redeveloped the place was going to get the back hand of old party-goers and they must have smarted at the slogan in the glossy sales brochure, “Now the party’s over...you can come home.”
The club had made an affectionate mark though - in November 2000 the fixtures and fittings were sold at a charity auction. Enthusiasts from all over the world bid for radiators, tiles, a DJ booth box and emergency exit lights. The story of the club is told in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. Not far away from the apartments is The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry which exhibits a few pieces - the main loading bay doors from the club, props and posters.
I wasn’t sure if there would be a blue plaque outside the entrance. I crossed the busy road and, up on the wall, saw evidence that something had been on the wall…then torn off.
At the time of writing typical flat are for sale at £210,000 and rent out for £800 per month.
Wonder if I can touch a bit of history…………………………………………….yes!
Manchester band James played there…
Camera facing the wrong way. It missed seeing the person who stole the sign (note five blobs holes)…
The front and back…