I’m always amazed at some of the history knocking about this city, and none more so than when I heard that an old B&Q in Stretford, right near my house, played host to a dazzling array of musicians in the early 70s, including David Bowie during his wildly popular Ziggy Stardust tour.
Anyone over the age of 50, or who lives near ‘The Quadrant’ on the cusp of Stretford and Old Trafford will have heard of THE HARDROCK – a gig venue which was massively popular during it’s short stint in the city, and one which is also famed for the way that its walls and floor actually moved – changing it from a rock venue into a disco venue in a couple of minutes flat.
The site later became a rather large B&Q, and isn’t even in use any more, but it originally started life as a bowling alley called TopRank, a place where Manc youngsters could go and have some fun, throw some balls about and perhaps cop off with someone you fancied from school.
Then in September 1972 it was transformed into a “concert theatre” – which essentially meant that they ripped out all of the bowling shite and presented it as a venue for live music and a disco all-in-one kinda thing.
With it being an old bowling alley though, the building itself was very long and had very low ceilings, making it especially shite when there were big crowds in.
The venue prided itself on its almost chameleon-like adaptability, where half of the week it was The Hardrock – a rock live music venue, and then with a flick of a switch – half the floor rotated and it became a disco, complete with florescent lights that made your teeth look white, toadstools for sitting on and a DJ overlooking the pulsating dance floor.
It was only open for a few years, which may explain the fact that there are zero photos of the place to be found on the internet, and a kind of collective amnesia for many that were around at the time. The place seemingly closed and then everyone just forgot all about it and moved on.
All I’m left with to go off this article is a series of posters from the events, a few grainy pictures of ticket stubs and the hazy memories of people who found themselves standing yards away from David Bowie at the tender age of 15 and 1) can still remember it and 2) can actually use the Internet to tell us about it.
Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust appearance was actually on the very first night that The Hardrock opened (what a booking!) in September 1972, and he returned to play it again later in the year too, so he must of had a good time. Or perhaps he was just trying to flog as many tickets to his gigs as possible to pay for his increasingly extravagant outfits?
His appearance in Stretford came just a couple of weeks after his now infamous appearance as Ziggy Stardust on Top of the Pops, which undoubtedly sent his stardom into the stratosphere and launched him as a true music legend.
Performing alongside the legendary Mick Ronson, who in David’s words was “the perfect foil for the Ziggy character… a salt-of-the-earth type… as a rock duo, I thought we were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash… the personification of that rock n roll dualism.”
It’s a legendary performance, but the gig a couple of months later at The Hardrock is noted for the fact that it wasn’t even a sell out, and due to some electrical problems halfway through, Bowie reverted to playing acoustic while the blokes behind the scenes blew on some fuses and turned everything off and then on again.
Then, straight after Bowie had finished, and presumably gone out partying or to The Clifton Grange Hotel down the road, someone flicked ‘the switch’ and turned The Hardrock into a disco where the legendary Edwin Starr was performing live! What a night that must have been.
The list of names that performed at the venue is long and VERY impressive. There’s Bob Marley & The Wailers, Judas Priest, Suzi Quattro, Led Zeppelin, Fats Domino, 10cc, Black Sabbath, Slade, Ike & Tina Turner, Lou Reed, Thin Lizzy, ELO, Traffic, Wings, Roxy Music, Santana, Elton John and even Chuck Berry, who famously turned up nearly two hours late, and only played for 30 minutes before leaving.
As I’m sure you understand, many bottles and a mini-riot ensued and Chuck presumably snuck out of the back door into the Manchester night, never to be seen again.
It’s a well-known fact that Berry’s 70s tours were all anchored on the strength of his early successes in the 50s, travelling the breadth of the country with just his Gibson guitar for company, confident that he could hire any band in the town or city he was visiting and no matter what – they’d know his music.
AllMusic said that in this period his “live performances became increasingly erratic, … working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances” which “tarnished his reputation with younger fans and oldtimers” alike. And so it was in Manchester’s Hardrock in 1973.
The Hardrock’s life was, alas, short-lived, and by the mid 70s it was no longer in operation. I can’t for the life of me find out what happened to it or why it shut down – so if anybody knows – send me over some info – I’m interested to know.
But it’s memory still lives on in pockets around the city and beyond, and it’s impact on the music scene of Manchester is undeniable – it was after all literally a few hundred metres away from Morrissey’s house – who undoubtedly popped down every chance he could get.
With a roster as impressive as that – I would have been there every single night of my life.