For my 100th blog post thought I’d flag up another personal anniversary this month.
Everyone has heard of The Haçienda, but not many people know about Legend, which could well be described as Manchester’s other club of the ’80s – I was fortunate enough to be associated with both.
No matter where I am in the world, people will ask me about The Haçienda – it’s a magical name for so many. They’ll say ‘wow! The Haçienda must have been really something’, and always seem surprised when I tell them that it wasn’t so great, for a variety of reasons, back in ’83 when I was there. The best Manchester club by a long shot at that point in time was Legend, and what a club!
It’s thirty years this month since I took over the Wednesday night there – this would prove to be the defining moment in my DJ career.
My debut night was August 12th 1981, and I’d play every Wednesday up until the end of 1983, when I retired as a DJ. This was with the exception of one night in May ’83 when I was in London for the Blues & Soul awards, where I was named North’s Top DJ, and, to complete a clean sweep, Wigan Pier & Legend, my weekly residencies, placed 1st and 2nd in the club category – I brought in a young DJ called Chad Jackson to cover for me that night. Chad would later go on to be crowned DMC World Mixing Champion in 1987, and score a big hit single with ‘Hear The Drummer Get Wicked’ in 1990.
There were only about 80 people there that first night, almost all of whom were black kids seriously into their music and dancing. The night, originally launched when the club opened almost a year earlier, had previously been successful with Nicky Flavell and then John Grant at the helm. John Grant was one of the big names on the Jazz-Funk scene up North back then, right up there with Colin Curtis and Mike Shaft, who hosted the Piccadilly Radio Soul Show, ‘TCOB’ (Taking Care Of Business). When John Grant defected to a joint Blues & Soul / Piccadilly Radio promotion called The Main Event, that was also held midweek in Manchester, at Placemate 7 (previously seminal Soul venue The Twisted Wheel), the bulk of the audience, which had averaged around the 300 mark, left with him. So, given the success of my Tuesday sessions at Wigan Pier (owned by the same company), I was given a crack at halting the slide before it was too late and all was lost – it was very much last chance saloon for the Wednesday at Legend.
During those first few weeks I would have played a selection of mainly US imports, with some choice UK Jazz-Funk releases thrown in for good measure – for the spotters out there, these would have included: Al Jarreau ‘Roof Garden’ / ‘Easy’ (US LP), Archie Bell ‘Any Time Is Right’ (US 12”), Bob James ‘Sign Of The Times’ (US LP), Central Line ‘Walking Into Sunshine’ (UK 12”), Denroy Morgan ‘I’ll Do Anything For You’ (US 12”), Donald Byrd ‘Love Has Come Around’ (US 12”), Inversions ‘Loco-Moto’ (UK 12”), Keith Diamond Band ‘The Dip’ (US 12”), Level 42 ‘Turn It On’ (UK 12”), Morrissey Mullen ‘Slipstream (UK LP), Rahmlee ‘Think’ (US LP), Richie Cole ‘New York Afternoon’ (US LP), Roy Ayers ‘Land Of Milk And Honey’ (US LP), Shock ‘Let’s Get Crackin’’ (US 12”), Unlimited Touch ‘Searching To Find The One’ (US 12” remix), Vaughan Mason ‘Rockin’ Big Guitar’ (US 12”), War ‘Cinco De Mayo’ (US LP) and Wish ‘Nice And Soft’ (US 12”).
As the above list illustrates, a wide selection of black music was played on the Jazz-Funk scene back then – Soul, Funk, Disco (or what would later be termed Boogie), Jazz-Funk and Jazz Fusion. It was basically the best of the various black music genres (with the exception of Reggae), covering a wide tempo spectrum. These specialist Jazz-Funk nights were as upfront as you could get; meaning that this was where you’d hear stuff that other DJs wouldn’t pick up on for weeks, sometimes months, often never – many of these tracks weren’t ever played outside of these nights (and the All-Dayers that were such an important element of the scene), some were never released in the UK. If you had serious aspirations of being a black music specialist in the North there was only one shop to buy your records from – the legendary Spin Inn on Cross Street in Manchester, who imported direct from the US.
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! The lighting was even more impressive than Wigan Pier, which was an achievement in itself. Legend’s own brochure boasted; “A circular dance area raised above the general floor level peppered with 2000 Tivoli lights forms the focal point of this new futuristic disco club, enhanced by the most up-to-date light show tailor-made to the overall design, it includes numerous par 36 lamps, scanner spots, jumbo and scatter strobes, mirror balls, half a mile of neon and a five colour computer controlled laser…The catalogue of lighting effects and laser technology with a full array of 12 channel American control boards gives the light jock plenty of scope to practice his art. The various effects include ‘tumbling’ neon rings on the shiny steel pillars which dominate the standing area, a pin spot light curtain, diversity arms spreading from the centre of the dance area ceiling and principally the 4 watt argon iron laser with an additional dye laser”. Talk about blinded with science!
Like the Pier, it was one of the precious few clubs in the UK to place the emphasis firmly on its sound and lighting, and as such the DJ and light jock were regarded as the companies most valued employees. This was at a time when most clubs’ idea of a lightshow was a few coloured bulbs hooked up to a single sound-to-light unit, so they flashed along in time with the beats. If you were lucky there’d maybe be a handful of pin-spots, some ropelights, a splash of neon, a solitary strobe or a UV strip. It was then an accepted part of the DJs job to also control the lighting, and the Pier was the first club I’d worked at which employed a separate light jock. Don’t even get me started on how poor the sound systems generally were back then.
It’s highly likely that Legend would have turned to Mike Shaft in an attempt to revitalize the Wednesday night, but he was also tied into The Main Event so that was a non-starter. Instead they asked me, and I knew I had my work cut out if this wasn’t to be a short lived experience. Although there were so few people in the club, I was instantly aware that those who had turned out were serious music heads. They weren’t really interested in the microphone patter, which was the DJ norm back then in the UK, it was all about the music, and with this in mind I made what would turn out to be a pivotal decision. I resolved to change my approach more towards mixing the records that I played, taking advantage of the fact that Legend had three Technics SL1200s (the first I’d ever seen in this country). This was a bold move, but one I felt would completely suit the type of audience I hoped to attract. A state-of-the-art venue like Legend demanded a radical new approach to musical presentation and, if we were to turn the tide, it was vital that we not only promoted the club as the superior venue that it undoubtedly was, but that I also set myself apart from all the other DJs on the Jazz-Funk scene. It was following this that I became known as ‘a mixing DJ’ – this was at a time when no other DJs on the scene in the North were placing the emphasis on mixing, and only Froggy, who’d invested in a pair of 1200s for his Roadshow, was doing so down South.
The first few months at Legend were mainly about damage limitation, and we managed to stabilize the numbers around the 100 mark. I worked alongside resident DJs Paul Rae and Ralph Randell during this period, taking the night over completely when they moved across to the Pier on a Wednesday to launch a new Alternative / Futurist night (their Thursday Futurist session at Legend was a major success, and a whole story within itself – many of the original Haçienda crowd would have regularly attended this night). With Paul and Ralph gone I now worked alongside Pier light controller, Paul Vallance, playing every week from 9pm – 2am, and loving every single minute of every week.
The night would eventually take off in a major way, and by May ’82 right up to the time I stopped at the end of ’83 it remained packed to its 500 capacity. There were queue’s right up Princess Street every week, with people travelling in from all over the North and Midlands, and even as far as London – if you didn’t get there early you might not get in at all.
My status as a DJ was elevated from up-and-coming to central, and my controversial championing of the evolving Electro-Funk movement would turn the black music scene on its head, helping create a crossroads from which the old (Soul, Funk, Jazz-Funk) would branch off into the new (Hip Hop, House, Techno). My mixes for Mike Shaft’s Piccadilly Radio show would spread my name, and the music I played, to a much wider audience – things quickly snowballed for me. It was undoubtedly a hybrid era, and Legend was its key venue – Gerald Simpson (aka A Guy Called Gerald) would state that having now played around the globe he’d not experienced a club to rival it, adding that “the atmosphere was something I’ve never ever seen repeated”.
The Haçienda, as we all know, would put Manchester on the map with a worldwide dance audience, but its success owes much to Legend, and other city centre venues associated with the black scene during the ’80s, including The Gallery, The Playpen and Berlin. Haçienda director and New Order bassist, Peter Hook, would say “Wednesday nights (at Legend) were presided over by DJ Greg Wilson, who later would also play a major part in shaping the Haçienda’s musical direction, educating audiences in a new streetwise sound”, whilst Mike Pickering, the club’s booker during the early ’80s, and later half of the Pickering & Park DJ partnership from the clubs golden era, remembered “At the time Legend was the closest thing to New York”. It was Mike and New Order manager, Rob Gretton, who would approach me to DJ at The Haçienda’s first regular weekly specialist dance sessions, starting on Friday August 19th 1983, almost exactly two years since my Legend debut.
The tradition of black / dance music at Legend would continue throughout the ’80s, with DJs like Stu Allan, Colin Curtis, Mike Shaft and Chad Jackson having residencies at one point or another. The famous London Acid-House party Spectrum also held their Manchester events at Legend at the height of the Rave era, whilst the Happy Mondays recorded their videos to both ‘Wrote For Luck’ (1988) and ‘WFL’ (1989) in the club (and not The Haçienda, as many people assume).
‘Wrote For Luck’ & ‘WFL’:
The video for ‘Wrote For Luck’ had the theme of a children’s party, with a multi-racial audience, which seemed to sum up the cultural melting pot that had been stirring in the city for a number of years, whilst I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video to ‘WFL’ – this time the children had been replaced by a club full of what were now termed ‘ravers’. A brilliant visual representation of those early ‘E’ days, perfectly capturing the time and the vibe, this video obviously made a deep impression on me. Seeing the same dancefloor that had been packed with black kids on my nights earlier in the decade, now full of white kids, was hugely symbolic of the way youth culture in this country was changing.
Legend became 5th Avenue in the ’90s, and is still there on Princess Street, although the interior is very different these days:
Undoubtedly the greatest club I’ve ever worked in, Legend, as I’ve previously said, was the place where I experienced my ultimate DJ highs. It doesn’t get any better for someone like myself who started out with aspirations of being a black music specialist, and went on to live the dream.
For further info on Legend and the Electro-Funk era: