I’ll bet 90% of people in Manchester have been to 5th Ave. Who you are and what your idea of a ‘good night out’ is has probably shaped your opinion of the place and was key in deciding whether you ever returned again.
Well, not many people would know of the history of the venue, from it’s inception as a ‘pre-cursor’ to The Hacienda in the 80’s right up until being recently voted “The Worst Club in the UK” – which it almost certainly isn’t – well, not for most people anyway.
But 5th Avenue as you now know it wasn’t always 5th Avenue – the club started life as ‘Legend’ a venue that managed to live up to it’s namesake thanks to an almost fabled line-up of resident DJs and nights – and a club that came to be known as “Manchester’s Other Club in the 80’s.”
Just so that you’re aware and we’re not all getting confused – that other club is of course The Hacienda – but that’s probably the last time I’m going to mention it. This is a story about Legend and 5th Avenue – so I’ll try not to mention the ‘H’ word (if I can).
The original Legend club opened up in late 1980, a club that boasted a state-of-the-art sound system and a legendary ‘laser’ system – which went hand-in-hand with it’s wildly impressive interior. It looked like a hall of mirrors, with some serious bling and extravagance thrown in for good measure. In fact, it’s almost impossible to explain so I’ll just show you – here it is…
Initially opened as a members club, the venue was open 6 nights a week, with a variety of different nights on each day, including the “Dancematic” night on Thursday and the now legendary “Electro-Funk” night on Wednesdays, run by DJ Greg Wilson. The club became wildly popular with the indie crowd, and students – something which has carried on through to this day.
Back in the early 80’s though, the term ‘indie’ certainly didn’t mean what it means today.
In what came to be one of the club’s biggest draws, Greg Wilson’s ‘Electro-Funk’ nights led the way at Legend, holding out on the cusp of a revolution in the underground black music scene in the North, bringing jazz-funk, and subsequently electronic sounds coming out of New York at the time to the streets of Manchester. It’s remembered fondly by Wilson as “the greatest night I’ve ever played.”
The night would see people travelling from all over the North and the Midlands, some even as far as London, 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.
Crowds from these predominantly black areas would head to Legend, which became one of the city’s safest havens for young black people, and somewhere where they could listen to the latest jazz-funk from the burgeoning scene from a dirty and dangerous Manhattan across the pond – all before anywhere else.
Greg remembers the night fondly, writing in his blog; “Legend (or ‘Legends’ as the black crowd always called it) was a phenomenal club – there’s nothing comparable nowadays, they just don’t make them like that anymore.
“A quite spectacular environment with its space age metallic décor (15,000 steel cans were spot welded together at different levels to form its unique silver ceiling), especially when the laser was bouncing about off all the reflective surfaces. The sound system was the best I’d ever heard in a club anywhere at that time, the sub-bass (another unique feature back then) would practically punch you in the chest!”
And the club’s influence on the city’s night scene and indeed music scene cannot be understated. The Hacienda put the city on the worldwide music map, but Greg explains how “its success owes much to Legend” with even Hacienda director and New Order bassist, Peter Hook proclaiming “Wednesday nights (at Legend) were presided over by DJ Greg Wilson, who later would also play a major part in shaping the Hacienda’s musical direction, educating audiences in a new streetwise sound.”
As with most things, the high of Legend was not to last forever, and as the popularity of The Hacienda skyrocketed, management decisions to change music policy at the club forced out many of its most sought-after resident DJs and the crowds went elsewhere.
As the funk-jazz and electronic scene started to die off, it was replaced by the Acid House that Manchester became synonymous with in the late 80s and early 90s.
Cut to 2016 and Legend was called 5th Avenue (well, it was actually just ‘Fifth’) and it achieved the accolade of being voted “The Worst Nightclub in the UK” by readers of youth and student culture magazine The Tab.
I’m not going to go out on a limb here to say that there is NO WAY that Fifth was the worst club in the UK – nowhere near, and I resent anyone who says that it is. And someone who says it was clearly never went to Scruples in Oldham back in 2002, or Oceania in Kingston-Upon-Thames for the whole time it was open.
Let’s rewind a little bit and get our bearings shall we. As Legends closed, the next iteration for the club was called 5th Avenue, and they took out all of the lasers and lights and neon and mirrors (and the sound system) and completely re-invented themselves for a new wave of ‘indie’ crowds.
Riding on the coat tails once again from music straight out of New York, 5th Avenue quickly became synonymous with a new, rock ‘n’ roll indie which saw a massive resurgence with the release of The Stroke’s debut album ‘Is This It’ in 2001.
Of course, the city was still awash with nights filled with the likes of The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Oasis and The Smiths, but after 6/7 years where pop ruled the roost, 2001 hit the indie scene with a bang.
The city saw a massive resurgence in the kind of indie/student night that we all know (and love), with local, young lads in bands with weird names like Arctic Monkeys, Courteeners and countless more were being played on repeat in places like 42nd Street, Venue, Factory and of course 5th Avenue.
Coupled with the seemingly endless cheap drinks offers, Manchester once again became a destination spot for thousands of people in the suburbs and regions – especially during the week when they would be packed out with students also.
This is where my first ever experience of 5th Avenue came in, when they put on regular Foam Parties on Bank Holiday Sundays, night which were obviously messy, thanks to the foam, but also thanks to the outrageous amount of booze people were knocking back and the ease in which it was to get off with someone.
To call it “The Worst Nightclub in the UK” though is a travesty, and one which I proclaim to be a complete crock of rubbish. A venue with that sort of legacy and history clearly deserves much more respect, and may it continue to please to great Manchester public for many years to come.
UPDATE: Today (Tuesday 15th November 2022) it was announced that Fifth would sadly close for good. I know, gutting. But even though it may be gone for now, its hazy memory will continue to live on in infamy.