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Rock City is 30

December 11 2010

MINE was being woken at six in the morning in the downstairs room because my snoring was disturbing the rest of the lock-in. Then being helped on to a city bus home.
At least that’s the strongest memory I have of Rock City.
The gig that stands out was David Bowie in 1997, where I first had a conversation with the woman I’d end up marrying. Bowie’s date, during his brief flirtation with drum n bass, came at the end of a golden period of bookings that saw Oasis, Blur, Radiohead, Pulp and the Manic Street Preachers. Even Robbie Williams is worth a mention, on his first solo tour, fat and bitter about his Take That sacking, spewing venom during his punk interpretation of Back For Good.
I was too young to have seen U2 or The Smiths and away from the city at poly when Nirvana rolled up. The same for Public Enemy’s 1989 gig, described in Mojo as one of the 40 most important events in music history.
There were Guns N’ Roses and The Cure, Iron Maiden and Ozzy, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against The Machine,The Killers and Arctic Monkeys.
Some of you will recall the first Rock City gig on December 11 1980, when Orange Juice opened for The Undertones. Feargal Sharkey did, though it wasn’t a pleasant memory.
“It was there that I first heard New Order’s Blue Monday,” says The Undertones’ frontman.
“It was the first time I’d heard a drum machine and it made me feel pretty low. I could see that it was going to be the future for music, which spelled disaster for a little guitar band from Ireland.”
Bassist Michael Bradley added: “Until Rock City opened, we never had the chance to visit the city of Clough, Gemmill and Hood. We were in the middle of a short tour, marred by the news of the killing of John Lennon.”
It should have been Iron Maiden or the Human League but Rock City opened a week late.
So it would be The Undertones, followed the next night by, erm, Shakin’ Stevens, then Echo and The Bunnymen, Steve Harley, The Kinks, XTC and Gary Glitter. There’s a funny story about him coming up.
“One of favourite memories was when Ozzy phoned up one Monday morning and asked if he could play that Friday night,” says George Akins Jr, 35, who as the chairman of DHP is effectively the venue’s governor.
“He was trying out a new guitarist but he didn't want it advertised. He just turned up on stage and started playing during the Friday Rock Night. It was something else.”
Metallica has planned to do the same, an unannounced warm-up for their Monsters of Rock appearance but pulled out at the last minute when drummer Lars Ulrich got tanked up on ale.
It was his dad, also George, who opened Rock City, which had been a popular variety club called The Heart of The Midlands, hosting the likes of Ken Dodd and Cannon & Ball.
His vision, with north Notts club boss Sammy Jackson, was to create a new live venue for the city to cater for the exploding punk and rock scene. The idea was to call it The Porterhouse II, a sister venue to Jackson's popular Porterhouse club in Retford, which had hosted AC/DC and The Clash.
It was a London agent called John Giddings who suggested Rock City.
“The name of the club never really reflected the variety of bands we put on here,” says George Jr.
“I bet a few people will be surprised to know Steps have been on our stage.”
Steady on, we’re still trying to get over Shakin’ Stevens... 
Jackson left after two years and Akins, already building an empire of casinos, betting shops and property, drafted in his eldest son Alex to manage it.
Alex is now an established theatre actor and husband to Bond and Outnumbered actress Samantha Bond. George Jr took over as manager in 1994 when he was just 19.
The club has been at the heart of every movement in youth culture: Punk and new wave, new romantic, indie, Madchester, grunge, Britpop, hip-hop, nu-metal, the classic rock revival, art-rock...
Many have passed through on their way to the top. Duran Duran were paid just £1,000 to play in July 1981.
That same month a local DJ called Dale Winton was bunged £100 for a slot.
Were you one of the 500 folk who went along to see a little-known Australian act called INXS in November 1986?
A year earlier Simply Red had attracted even fewer. 
Others, like Blur, David Bowie and The Cure came back for intimate shows when they could well have filled the Arena.
Some of the stand-out stories from over the years include the time Gary Glitter lost his wig and refused to go on stage without it.
Or the time Ozzy Osbourne locked himself in his hotel room, refused to go on and, says Andy Copping, the promoter who had booked him: “the crowd went berserk and trashed the club.”
When Guns 'n Roses rolled up, Axl Rose couldn't get in the club because he'd lost his pass and wasn’t allowed in because the security didn't recognise him.
Blur were late on stage for their 1997 show because Damon Albarn wanted to clean his teeth and a member of staff was charged with running around the city to find a late chemist.”
The 30th anniversary has been marked by a month-long series of gigs by old favourites such as Madness, Fatboy Slim, The Saw Doctors, Ian Brown and Fear Factory. Tomorrow night, after Spear of Destiny, is the 30th anniversary all-nighter.
The 1750 capacity venue is still DHP’s flagship but over the years they’ve added other key venues to the portfolio. As well as the downstairs Basement and The Rig, are the Rescue Rooms and Stealth, both part of the same complex. Across the city is The Bodega.
Added to that are the festivals - Splendour and Dot To Dot. And they’re moving in to band management (see Dog is Dead on page 6).
Says George Jr: “One of the keys to our success is that we’ve never allowed ourselves to get stuck in a rut.”

The Rock City 30th Anniversary All-nighter, Saturday December 11, 10pm, £5. Call 0845 413 4444 or visit

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