Tick, tock! Tick, tock! The clock is counting down on a venue that has provided essential entertainment for the people of Manchester way beyond the time that has passed between two solar eclipses. Who would have imagined that a dive bar called O’Hara’s would evolve to become a cauldron of musical talent for over 20 years? That original dark, dank and dismal nightclub closed down, allowing John McBeath, then Katie Mountain and Steve Lloyd to set up and establish the Roadhouse.

Whilst there may now be a plethora of neighbouring venues available for nascent talent to develop – Soup Kitchen, Gullivers, Kraak and the Castle, to name but a few – 20 years ago this northern section of central Manchester was pretty much a backwater to be avoided after dark. Midweek gigs were only usually available to touring bands with at least some level of public recognition. A local band might be lucky enough to be in with the promoter and get the nod for a support slot, otherwise being consigned to midweek unsigned music bills.

It was also the era of the pay-to-play promotional scheme, which presented bands with the task of selling their own tickets in order to break even, just for the privilege of playing live – a scheme fervently fought against by the likes of local promoter Jay Taylor (now at Ruby Lounge). There were some truly splendid one-gig wonders though. I’ve got memories of an American band named Salaryman wiping out the backing tracks on their synths five minutes before going on stage, then having to wait an hour as they re-loaded the data. They needn’t have bothered.

If any band from the 90s made it big, there was a very good chance they played at the Roadhouse. The image of Gary Lightbody, in the then relatively low-profile Snow Patrol, lying on the stage whilst playing guitar to an audience measured in tens is a favourite. Similarly, the urgings of sound engineer Paul Fleischman to “catch a band called Coldplay before they really make it big” seemed to blur into the growing list of “next big things”. On that theme, does anyone remember Gay Dad playing there? Even Noel Gallagher, who was at the gig, asked, “What’s all that about?” And I still think The Kills were overrated based on their appearance on 10 March, 2003. Mind you, I don’t think Jamie Hince wants to trade places.

The venue’s top quality sound system made the Roadhouse a place to party. All genres have been encouraged and supported. The ManchesterMusic.co.uk duo of Jon and Mike found fertile ground to nurture their visions of gigs under the Chairsmissing banner, where people didn’t go to watch bands at a distance in comfort. They wanted an interaction between the performers and audience, not a barrier between the two, and firmly set the ball rolling for a resurgent Manchester live scene.

The venue didn’t just cater for the indie crowd, although nights like Underachievers Please Try Harder were fun and added to the calendar. The environment had the ability to go from one extreme to another. Take Hoya:Hoya, a Unabombers club night, to the scenes at Norvun Sunday last Christmas (no, Wham didn’t play), when someone came round to ask if you would like a full dinner brought to you for only a fiver. The sleeping musician next to me suddenly sprang to life when informed of this offer as he was due to play in a few hours and could do with some nourishment. This type of familial atmosphere has typified the welcome running though the club since the days of the late John McBeath, who originally established it.

Perhaps it is the cruel passing away of Steve last year that provided the impetus for Katie to re-evaluate the future of the club. Having put more than 20 years of your life into a venture, why not move on and do something different? It will be missed and fondly remembered.

Elbow

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Elbow

Photos by Ged Camera.

Ged Camera / Jon Ashley