Carnage Nights on Fifth Avenue – from £1 ‘quad vods’ to Chuckle Brothers ‘pandemonium’ and a mechanical bull
“One of the most surreal nights I can remember was watching a drunken tune outside on Halloween,” recalled writer and Radio Manchester presenter David Scott.
“You had Dennis the Menace battling Kermit the Frog while Captain America took on Shrek. It was like a low-budget college Avengers movie.
Few memories could better encapsulate the alcohol-fueled fervor of the Princess Street Fifth Avenue nightclub, the institution that the Manchester Evening News revealed this week has closed for good.
READ MORE: Manchester’s iconic nightclub closed for good
For many who grew up in its cavernous underbelly and came back down at 4 a.m. to witness scenes like this, it’s a sad day for the city.
While the more self-proclaimed “trendy” nightclubs might have looked down on the carnage bubbling inside, for many – students and locals – parties at Fifth Ave were a rite of passage.
“People I’ve met, I’m friends for life. My groomsmen were all from there. I wouldn’t have met my wife now if I hadn’t worked there,” Lee Earnshaw told MEN.
He worked behind the bar on Fifth Avenue from 2008 to 2013, among the club’s longest-serving staff.
“People met and had kids working there. So many people have met as customers or employees of Fifth Ave,” he continues.
“When I was there it was the pinnacle of the indie experience so the music was all Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, theme parties, foam parties. Some nights we had a mechanical bull It was a fun time working there.
“My uncle was working there too, in the early 2000s. So I’m, like, the second generation.
Fresher’s Week is long remembered for its legendary carnage.
“We would be open seven nights a week and be full to capacity every night,” Lee says.
“As bar staff, we would be at the bar, but we would also be working during the day. We had an open top bus and we were dressed up as different disguised characters, shouting at the students to get down in the club.
“We didn’t really sleep. At 18, there was nothing better, job-wise.
“But few people stayed longer than three months, to be fair.
“Some people just couldn’t hack it. We’d have 1,000 people in one night. 15 checkouts, 30-person crew on a full night.
“We were a big family and you work until four in the morning, so even on your days off the only people around are the ones you work with.
“You would see more than you would see your own family.
“You couldn’t drink in the club after it closed, so we would go to Seven Oaks because it would be open until nine or ten in the morning. We all loved it.
“We wouldn’t change a thing.”
Matt Iceton, who managed the venue for a decade, leaving in 2017, remembers finding himself in some unusual situations.
“We had a great time there. The night we booked the Chuckle Brothers was pandemonium,” he says.
“It was absolutely crazy. They had made a single with Tinchy Stryder, and they played it on stage.
“People were shouting ‘Here! Yours!’ and then they took pictures with people. They took 700 pictures that night.
“We had the Cheeky Girls, but we also had people like DJ Lethal from House of Pain.
“We had a Tuesday night called Made In The 90s, which was probably the biggest night we threw while I was there. We were filling the club and turning so many people away.”
He continues: “It’s a shame because it’s such a big part of Manchester nightlife.
“A lot of other clubs would look down on us a bit, because we had a high turnover and competitive drink prices.
“There was sometimes a snobbery. But other clubs came and went, and we had a sustainable business.
“But it was always going to get harder and harder for them, noise-wise. It was hard to deal with people on the street outside, traffic noise, club noise.
“There were just a lot of noise issues and disturbances in general.
“But it’s really a shame he’s gone.”
The drink promotions (quadruple vodka and Red Bull for £1 anyone?) and the hurricane drunkenness of its years as Fifth Avenue, and lately, after a rebrand, simply Fifth, were a thing.
But before the indie nightclubs, the Cheeky Girls and the Chuckle Brothers, the basement at 121 Princess Street was called Legend (before that it was an air raid shelter), and it was a whole different animal.
In fact, without him, Manchester’s chapter in club music history might have been very different.
Musically, Legend was an essential forerunner of the Hacienda, while being among the most sophisticated nightclubs in Europe. He even had his own restaurant.
Greg Wilson was the resident DJ for several crucial years in the early 80s, as imported disco, electronic music from Europe and underground music from New York morphed into what would later become acid house. .
Wilson, who has also DJed at Wigan Pier, was resident for the ‘Electro-Funk’ party on a Wednesday.
He not only laid out the plan for the Hacienda, just a 10-minute walk from Whitworth Street, but also drew a predominantly black crowd from the Hulme and Moss Side areas, a rarity for downtown clubs in the ‘era.
“It’s hard to put what Legend was into context now because you just don’t see clubs like this,” he told the Manchester Evening News.
“If they opened that same club now, it would blow people away. In terms of sound and lighting, it was on a whole new level.
“They had half a mile of neon lights on the ceiling, a laser system, mirrors everywhere. I remember A Guy Called Gerald, who really went there when he was a kid, a teenager, he said he just liked to dance on the floor there.
“They would whitewash the place, so with smoke and white lights, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of you.
“They were a phenomenal club, they won international awards and people came from all over the world to see them. You could count the number of clubs like this on one hand.
“It was the first club I ever saw that used Technics turntables, and they had three of them. They were way ahead of the curve.
Wilson’s Wednesday nights saw him play funk, soul, and early electro to a mostly black crowd, an unusual situation for a downtown club at the time.
“It was a predominantly black crowd, and that was extremely unusual,” he continues. “That you have the black public in this incredible club. If there were nights like this, for this audience, it would be in rundown, ramshackle places that might struggle to get someone in. It was like that.
“But the Thursday night party, futuristic, new romantic, new wave that was really huge too, which was started by Souxie and the Banshees. Much of the crowd on those two nights would then have gone to the Hacienda.
“It was just a real phenomenon. When the Hacienda exploded into this ‘cathedral of dance’, it in many ways obscured clubs like Legend and what they had done to create it.
“People thought for many years that the Hacienda was the start of the dance scene in Manchester. But it benefited from those who came before it and this line of clubs that played black music.
“Nothing happens in isolation, they need those stepping stones.”
After Wilson left the club in the mid-80s, it lasted. It served as the backdrop for the videos for the singles Happy Mondays Wrote For Luck and WFL.
Iconic DJ and producer Paul Oakenfold launched the northern outpost of his acid house party Spectrum at Legend in 1989, with the Hacienda’s Mike Pickering joining.
But by the time Legend was shut down and the venue became Fifth Avenue, it wasn’t the same place for Wilson.
All of this visionary gear, which would have required significant and ongoing upkeep, has been ripped out entirely to make way for its next chapter. A guy called Gerald even pinched one of the disco balls from a jump.
Although a place is never just bricks and mortar, what this corner of Princess Street has done for the city is hard to measure.
“The Legend provided an environment for specialty, alternative, and independent music to flourish,” says Wilson.
“It gave us an idea of the future. It was a very futuristic place, a taste of what was to come. But clubs never last forever. These things are supposed to have cycles.
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