Walking along Shakespeare Street in Nottingham and on the way to work at 8.15am, I noticed an unusual aroma in the air. Not the usual traffic or industrial smells that fill the air in most large conurbations but an unmistakable and undeniable smoky legacy of a major fire. Talking briefly to a colleague on the way to my assignment, she confirmed to me that there had been a serious fire in the vicinity of Goldsmith Street, adjacent the university’s main entrance. That minor inconvenience seemed inconsequential however when I realised that the Rescue Rooms venue had been evacuated of 1400 people on a ‘student night’ and that the famous ajacent venue, Rock City, could easily have gone up in flames.
Nottingham’s Rock City is not a world-renowned auditorium, nor does it have a history that traces pre the 1980s, it is however extremely well regarded by knowledgeable UK music fans and gig-goers. It also has a back catalogue of live acts that is truly remarkable which includes the likes of U2 and REM.
I had the good fortune and possibly foresight to attend the newly-opened Rock City back in it’s seminal days after being converted from a ‘chicken in a basket’ nightspot called The Heart of the Midlands as was popular up and down the country in the 1970s. In those days the city of Nottingham really suffered for a decent rock venue. It was largely after the days of many a famous act at the boat clubs at Trent Bridge and before the days of The Royal Concert Hall. Apart from the very odd gig in the old Albert Hall, practically the only opportunities to watch live bands were in city centre pubs such as The Hearty Good Fellow on Maid Marion Way and The Imperial Hotel’s ‘Cooler Bar’ on St. James Street. The latter of which I had many a memorable evening at.
Many of the gigs I attended in those day entailed travelling to Leicester’s De Montfort Hall and Granby Hall where I saw many big name acts such as The Who and The Rolling Stones and some who were to achieve levels of greatness such as The Jam and Elvis Costello.
If my memory serves me correctly, the first gig I attended at Rock City was to watch The Kinks. The great 1960s band and genius songsmith and lyricist Ray Davies were probably past their peak creatively but still a big draw, being major players in British rock music’s heritage and one of the most exciting bands of the sixties. Many other entertaining gigs followed in those early days such as The Darts, long forgotten now but tremendous fun live and SAHB – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Alex was completely on form that night with his buccaneer jacket on, one boot up on his famous treasure chest, holding the ecstatic Rock City faithful in his gaze. A classic moment was when the band went into the opening bars of Framed when a leather jacket clad Alex assumed his Don Corleone gangster role by ripping a packet of lady’s nylons from his pocket and stuffing his cheeks with them to imitate the Mafioso ‘Godfather’ ‘Am-a-gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse’ ‘Ah wuz fr-a-a-med – Ah niver did nuthin’
There were so many nights, and everyone will have their own view and memories of them but perhaps the most astonishing night for me was on attending a Bad Manners gig. The ska men were ripping into a fantastic set with the audience apparently having a great time when suddenly all hell was let loose with a pitched fight in the crowd and a hail of glasses being thrown. The police were called that night and the gig discontinued.
Many big bands point back to early Rock City gigs as some of their most enjoyable. Nobody will ever point to the venue as being salubrious or well appointed, but what was never in doubt was the extraordinary atmosphere generated in the Nottingham venue. Long may that continue.