The Manhattan Club, Bradford
Part Two: Keeping Going
With my gigs at Bibi’s I was determined to create a venue which offered some of the best, most exciting and most inventive post-punk bands. I’d no idea whether Bradford audiences were ready for this, probably not, but if you’re booking bands you’ve got the choice between two extremes. The first is to book the lowest common dominator commercial shit. The second is to go out on a limb by booking whatever you think people ought to like. I greatly prefer the excitement of the latter, although it’s too often a bad financial choice. If you do this, in order to keep going, you need to intersperse the risky gigs with ones you know will work. And the challenge there is do so without booking bland garbage. I hardly ever did that!
When The Warehouse chucked me out, which is basically what happened, I simply moved the club to Brannigans, changing my already-successful punk nights there to a Wednesday night and moving my punk nights at Palm Cove in Bradford to a Thursday night. Thus I ran my post-punk gigs in Bradford and Leeds, respectively, on Monday and Tuesday nights, and my punk gigs in Leeds and Bradford on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, I was approached by a fifth venue. This was Fagins, a Bradford nightclub which wanted bands on a Wednesday night. They didn’t have much of a budget so I booked them a range of reliable local bands and artists, knowing that many of them would bring their own core audience. I’ve no memory of those gigs because I was never there. I only booked and publicised them. My Wednesday nights were spent at Brannigans in Leeds.
For Fatal Shocks at Bibi’s I continued to book emerging bands. My first in my new Monday/Tuesday pairing with Brannigans was an excellent double bill of Liverpool bands. They were The Icicle Works and Come In Tokyo.
The Icicle Works was a brand new group fronted by the now legendary singer-songwriter Ian McNabb. They became good personal friends. Indeed, they booked me as one of two support acts when they launched their single, ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’, in a Liverpool discotheque later that year. The other support act was a solo singer-guitarist from London who’d just left the army and had self-release a debut album. He also became a personal friend. He was Billy Bragg.
Come In Tokyo (fronted by Phil Wylie, brother of Pete Wylie of Wah!) was another highly-rated band at the time. Indeed, the two saw each other as equals and so had me headline Come In Tokyo at Bibi’s and The Icicle Works at Brannigans. Although these two bands put in memorably impressive performances, attendance at both gigs was embarrassingly low.
The following week Sex Gang Children, supported in Bradford by local post-punk band Requiem, drew a big crowd, as they did the next night in Leeds when their support was Cannibal Feast. However, the gig a week later featuring a long-forgotten band called The Box (a five-piece from Sheffield, three of whom had been in Clock DVA) fared badly. Their support at both gigs was local outfit, Ik whose guitarist, Mick Mitchell, had once been in my band, Ulterior Motives, and their frontman, Bill Byford, was later in The Rhythm Sisters and now fronts Heath Common. Performing in virtually empty clubs, the two bands made the best of a bad job.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d booked two truly brilliant bands for the following week. The Room from Liverpool had released a string of good singles and a well-reviewed album and had done three Peel sessions. Banbury’s Play Dead had just had single of the week in both Sounds and NME. In Bradford they played to a mere handful of people. In Leeds, the next night, no one came and I had the embarrassing task of paying them as little as they’d accept to pack up and go home without even doing the gig. Now that was a horrible experience.
It was around this time that one booking fell through which I still regret. At the start of the year, I’d booked two bands from Liverpool as a double bill. They were Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Dead Or Alive. The dates were confirmed. They were coming to Bibi’s and Brannigans. I was about to get the flyers printed when I had a phone call to say the gig was off because one of Frankie Goes To Hollywood had been beaten up and hospitalised in a homophobic attack. Within weeks both bands were far too big to play my venues… some you lose.
Attendance was little better the following week for B.B. and Da Gamba. The former included ex members of Tom Robinson’s short-lived band Sector 27 and had just finished a stint as tour support to Kim Wilde. Da Gamba had been getting enthusiastic write-ups in the music press. I was slowing being taught that, although I took risks, my audiences didn’t!
52nd Street, were a super-cool jazz-funk outfit signed to Factory Records. They drew a disappointing turn-out in Bradford supported by Sheffield’s Ipso Facto, doing only slightly better in Leeds where they were supported by popular local band The Three Johns.
Things improved the following week with Bradford’s own New Model Army supported by The Shakes from Keighley. A good attendance at last! That was repeated the following night in Leeds when they were supported by another Keighley band, The Skeletal Family.
The first track I ever heard by Australia’s indie giants, The Go-Betweens, was Cattle and Cane, released as a single taken from their album Before Hollywood. It’s still one of my all-time favourite songs. I’m proud to have put this band on. They were supported in Leeds by local band Volume II and by Mr Soft, and in Bradford by East Of Eden (a band featuring guitarist Robin Simon from Halifax who’d previously been in Magazine, Ultravox! and Visage). The two gigs generated a very modest attendance and so lost me money. The Go-Betweens were stunningly good at both venues.
The next gig, set to feature two new bands – The Daintees and Hurrah – both with singles out on the cool Newcastle label, Kitchenware, would have been another badly-attended one. However, the bands not pulled out and the gig never happened.
These two weekly clubs were clearly struggling, primarily due to the diversity of new acts that I’d booked. As a direct consequence, I failed to generate an essential regular core audience. Instead, each gig had to rely on attracting its own audience. I knew I was booking exciting bands, but no one else did!
The Adicts and Panorama In Black live on stage at The Manhattan Club, 9 April 1983
The following week was therefore the last for both Fatal Shocks in Bradford and 1984 in Leeds. Headliners were The Dancing Did from the Vale of Evesham, a good but relatively unknown act who’d just released their second album. They were supported in Bradford by The Three Johns and in Leeds by an up-and-coming Sheffield four-piece, Ipso Facto. Neither gig drew many people. I was learning the hard way that no matter how much I believed in acts, if I didn’t have an equally enthusiastic core audience, the gigs would not be viable.
I’d lost too much money to continue and so, by the start of June, was down to just two gigs a week, one at Branningans in Leeds, the other at The Palm Cove in Bradford. At both venues I focused on featuring punk bands because I knew that, properly promoted and organised, these would bring in audiences. Within weeks, it became clear that the Leeds gigs were doing far better than the Bradford ones and so I also gave up promoting at The Palm Cove.
There was, however, one last gig at Bibi’s on 9 May. It was the first full-on punk gig that I’d promoted there and the wild behavior of the large audience greatly alarmed Bibi and his staff. Here’s how it came about. I’d booked a couple of extra gigs at Palm Cove on the Monday and Brannigans on the Tuesday for The Adicts and Panorama In Black. They were doing a UK tour, had those dates free, and had asked me to find them gigs. When The Palm Cove then proved unavailable on that date, I moved the gig to The Manhattan. The turn-out was excellent, the bands went down a storm and the whole event was filmed for video. Watch the footage of the set by The Adicts carefully and you’ll spot (a) Bibi and a friend attempting to subdue an enthusiastic crowd and (b) me, dressed like a dork, going from the side of the stage into the audience. That was, however, a tense gig all round. The band and the staff of the club didn’t get on at all well. And, though I maybe visited the club a couple of times after that, I ran no more gigs there.
Bibi, who’d long had heart trouble, was admitted to Bradford Royal Infirmary in April 2007 where, aged 75, he died. Hundreds attended his funeral (at St Joseph’s Church on Manchester Road). He’s buried in Scholemoor Cemetery.
Nick Toczek, July (amended in September) 2018