By Liam Barnes
It may no longer be living after midnight, but what was once Manchester’s premier rock club fights on beyond the realms of death.
A charity night – organised by ex-DJ Simon Calder – was held at the Ritz on Friday to commemorate the first anniversary of the club’s closure.
Jilly’s Rockworld, once of Oxford Road and now one of many Tesco shops in the city centre, held its last night on April 10th last year, and just three days later was put into receivership, along with its sister club Music Box.
Starting off in 1970 as Fagin’s and Rafter’s and famous for being where producer Tony Wilson spotted Joy Division, it was a focal point for rock in the city centre.
However, what was once the exciter of Manchester’s rock scene had become a victim of changes, and dwindling numbers continued for years before their eventual demise.
Nerissa Ferguson, an ex-DJ who also maintains the Jilly’s Rockworld Facebook profile, said: “There is still much feeling surrounding our closure – as evidenced on our Facebook page.
“Numerous nights have started up to fill the gap, but those I talk to miss the venue, especially in that there is nowhere that brings so much together in one place.
“Now nights are much more niche rather than the melting pot that was Jilly’s.”
Some rock nights, such as Rock Bottom every Friday at Retro Bar, do still continue, but the loss of an iconic venue has had a significant impact.
“I think that Jilly’s closing has led to the scene splintering,” added Matt Rogers, a promoter for The Ritz and for Jilly’s for three years.
“None of the big rock nights seem to be doing that well, people are going to smaller nights that cater for the sub-genres they prefer.”
For many the closure was bad enough, but the opening of another Tesco store has angered many in the rock community – some had even gone as far as breaking the law and daubing anti-Tesco graffiti, though this has since been removed.
“I know people who have shed a tear when they’ve seen Tesco’s,” said Nerissa.
Councillor Mark Ramsbottom, a Liberal Democrat representative for the City Centre Ward, said he had received many complaints from residents about the new store, but economic trends forced the issue.
“I know it [Jilly’s] was popular,” he said, “But the likes of Tesco can pay any price.”
Matt – who said Tesco had gone hell bent for leather trying to gain the site from as far back as 2005 – was much less emotional than many people connected to Jilly’s in discussing its demise, and was not as critical of the closure as hardcore fans.
“It’s a shame in a way, but the rock music is less popular than it once was, Jilly’s was getting pretty quiet by the end, and the club couldn’t sustain itself.
“I got out in 2006 as I thought that was going to happen, the club survived longer than I anticipated!”
Several serial attendees were quick to air their grievances when confronted at the charity night.
Mikee Diablo, a DJ on the night and until 2005 a tune-picker in Jilly’s main room, said: “Everyone was gutted when it closed… Everyone I know, the thing they miss the most is the community vibe.”
Ben Whitworth, 22, said: “I loved Jilly’s because it was a place where you could just be yourself and meet just about anyone.”
Joe Dillon, a 23-year-old customer service advisor from Swinton who first went to Jilly’s on his 18th birthday, said: “You could turn up and be whoever you have wanted to be and no one cared – if Jilly’s came back I would be so happy.”
There is an element of disenfranchisement, particularly among the classic rock/heavy metal fraternity, since Jilly’s closed, and certain people are screaming for vengeance against what they see as a touch of evil.
“I have been lost on a weekend since Jilly’s closed down,” Neil Langson, 41, said, “Everyone laments its closure – Rock Bottom fills the gap but it’s not the same.”
Jonathan Mitchell, 25, an ex-Manchester University student, said: “There is nowhere else to go – where will I freak out to ‘Green Manalishi’ now?”
There is however, hope, as a group of self-styled defenders of the faith are united together to see this Judas rising again.
As well as another anniversary night at the Retro this Friday [April 15th], a Facebook group – Jilly’s Back From Hell Street Team – is a co-operative recruiting volunteers with the aim of founding a new rock club for Manchester city centre.
A ‘Back From Hell’ night has been arranged at Legends on Whitworth Street for Friday May 13th, with the organisers hoping for better luck this time around for a potential new club.
With efforts such as these attempting to galvanise the surviving schisms in the scene and reunite the rock and metal Diaspora, there may be a chance that the metal gods will reign once more.
PS – We’ll give the first one to spot all the Judas Priest references a fiver. [13 in total]