To celebrate the upcoming ‘Return to Legend’ night, which sees The Refuge revisiting one of Manchester's most iconic clubs, we met up with its most celebrated resident DJ, Greg Wilson, as well as the exuberant Colin Curtis to look back at the venues and the scenes that came together to create some of the most important music movements in Manchester.
Getting these two musical juggernauts together, we took a tour around the city, exploring all of their old haunts and venues which came to define the series of movements they were integral in curating.
Although the majority of them have now become either betting shops or just plots of soil and the occasional vole, there’s still enough there to remember and reflect on the importance of music in our great city.
Greg Wilson was originally known for disco and jazz-funk, but most notably remembered as a champion of electro – all staple sounds every Wednesday night during his famed residency at Legend in the early Eighties, a nightclub that featured, among other things “around half a mile of neon” adorning its walls.
His Mid-Week Electro-Funk Nights led the way in the early-80’s, there at the cusp of the underground black music scene in the North. The concept was to bring jazz-funk, and subsequently the electronic sounds coming out of New York at the time, to the streets of Manchester and it became a scene which he will always fondly remember as “the greatest night I’ve ever played”.
The night would see people travelling from all over the North and the Midlands, even as far as London to attend, but more importantly, it saw the predominantly young black community from Moss Side descend into the city and forever change the way people looked at clubs and how they could bring people from different cultures and scenes together.
Accompanying Greg was Colin Curtis, who recently celebrated 50 years of DJing and was at the forefront of the Northern Soul and Jazz-Funk scenes of the 70’s. Together they remember the big players and the key venues which made up these scenes in the city from the mid-70’s until the mid-80’s.
As you’d expect from a visit into Manchester’s music past, a trip to the Haçienda is on the cards, but Greg’s recollection of the venue is not as positive as many would think.
Starting in 1983, shortly after it opened, Greg hosted his Friday Night Funk evening at the venue, which he found “cold, big and with not enough people”, as Tony Wilson and the Factory team struggled to see their vision come to fruition in the early years.
Despite a few fantastic one-off nights, the club was considered a failure in its early days, but as we all know now, they stuck with their vision and a few years later, as Colin says; “the equation worked and we got the Haçienda everyone remembers.”
Further down Whitworth Street, The Ritz, which was a massively important venue for the city as it helped bring together the Northern Soul and Jazz-Funk crowds for the first time.
Originally a ballroom, with its impressively bouncy dancefloor, Colin and Greg were integral in bringing the Jazz-Funk and, subsequently, Electro sound to the venue in the late- ‘70s/early –‘80s. The Ritz’s legendary ‘All-Dayers’ took the biggest and best DJ’s from around the region and brought them all under one roof.
A mention of Northern Soul merits a visit to the old site of The Twisted Wheel Club, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of the scene, and holds fond memories for the DJs. Given exposure by London-based record shop owner and Blues & Soul writer Dave Godin, the venue was integral in bringing the rare, imported Soul records from the US right into the lives of the masses of Northern youngsters looking for an identity in often rather grim times.
With additional visits to old record shops, clubs including Playpen and Berlin, and a couple more betting shops, the pair manage to take you on a trip through some of the most exciting and influential times in the city’s past, scenes that they helped create and maintain right up until the early 90’s and the onset of house, electro and rave culture.