New Road may have Worcester Cathedral. Chester-Le-Street, a 14th-century castle. The Oval, its iconic gasholders. Not to be left behind, however, is Old Trafford where, at certain times of the year and from certain angles, it is possible to view the building which, until last year, housed Stretford’s very own B&Q store. A rather nondescript building it may be – flat, part-corrugated, still bearing the signature colour of the DIY retailer and with a sizeable stick of grey, concrete celery protruding skywards – but what it lacks aesthetically it makes up for, rather surprisingly, in musical history.
Recently, a piece of Manchester folklore was imparted to me by a friend at work, just as an older colleague had passed it to him some years previously, like a guilty secret or the whereabouts of some hidden treasure or, with any luck, both.
The gist of the tale being that, should you find yourself in the above-mentioned hardware store, then pass by the nuts and the bolts, the brushes and the paints. Politely decline any offers of help from members of staff – unless, you are taking the opportunity to bring back that angle grinder your uncle gave you last Christmas – and make your way to the gardening supplies. There you will find the spot where Ziggy Stardust once stood. Striking a pose. Strumming his guitar. Right by the trellises.
On the 2nd of September 1972, the same day that Lancashire defeated Warwickshire at Lord’s to complete a hat-trick of Gillette Cup wins, David Bowie’s alien alter ego played the opening night of The Hardrock Concert Theatre on Greatstone Road. A show that would be repeated the following evening. Ziggy and his Spiders From Mars would infest the place, returning for two more appearances in December.
For a little over three years, Stretford would play host to a wide range of some of the most famous acts in the music world. Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Santana, Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin all made appearances in the first few months. Followed over time by the likes of Chuck Berry, Black Sabbath, Elton John, Fats Domino, Wings, Small Faces, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Slade, Cockney Rebel and Focus. In October 1975, Tangerine Dream were the last act to grace its stage before closure a month later, seemingly as a result of growing violence inside and out of the venue.
Since then, and somewhat surprisingly considering how little the building has apparently changed in the intervening years, it appears to have been largely forgotten. No picture seems to exist of it in either of its previous incarnations – originally conceived of as a bowling alley. A book is currently being written on the subject and has been for sometime, but until that sees the light of day, The Hardrock is little more than a one-hit wonder consigned to the ‘where are they now? file.’
A regular at The Hardrock during this time was a teenage Steven Patrick Morrissey, who grew up only minutes away on Kings Road and is the focus of a further anecdote of local legend.
Imagine being a 13-year-old in 1972. A band, who you will later profess your love for in the letters pages of the New Musical Express, are due to play not just your city, but, literally, round the corner from where you live. You have a ticket, you press yourself up against the front of the stage and you wait. Rather than said band, you are greeted by an announcement that their appearance has been cancelled following the death of their drummer, three days beforehand. Heaven knows how miserable you’d be.
This tale of woe was recounted during the 2004 Move Festival at Old Trafford, a stones throw from where its events took place. The former Smiths frontman, now known simply by his surname, having been preceded on stage by the very band he missed out on thirty-two years previous – the New York Dolls.
Echoing the lifespan of The Hardrock, the Move Festival would only run for three years before the lack of a sponsor put an end to further iterations. A demise which may have pleased the Lancashire groundsmen. Having seen how threadbare parts of the outfield looked in the aftermath of two concerts in the space of a week in 2016, one can only wonder at the state of the Old Trafford carpet after being trampled underfoot by thousands of revellers for up to four days in succession.
As well as Morrissey and the Dolls, the lineup for 2004 featured The Cure, Pixies and Jimmy Cliff. The year before had acts such as Manic Street Preachers, The Charlatans, Teenage Fanclub and R.E.M. whilst Move’s debut in 2002 included New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, Paul Weller and, whether by accident or design, as the headline act on the first night of that inaugural festival, almost thirty years after he performed the same duty at The Hardrock, ladies and gentlemen, Mr David Bowie.
Whether he recalled his earlier visits to the area is unknown – his mid-1970s excesses being rather, well, excessive – but I like to believe that, during a quiet moment waiting to go on stage, he may have slipped out of the cricket ground and into the hardware store next door. Passed by the nuts and the bolts, the brushes and the paints. Politely declined any offers of help from members of staff – unless, he was taking the opportunity to bring back that angle grinder Brian Eno gave him the previous Christmas – and made his way to the gardening supplies to stand in the same spot he did all those years ago. Ziggy Stardust, once more. Striking a pose. Strumming his guitar. Right by the trellises.