The annals of rock ‘n’ roll stars reveling in scandal and over-the-top hijinks in hotels are legion, often quite tedious, but a few places have had similar dubious honors and then became hotels. Far fewer of those, but one celebrates the 40th anniversary of such an event this very week.
LONDON—On 4 June, 1976, 40 years ago this week, a concert—well, more a ramshackle outpouring—was performed at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, U.K.
It featured the then-unknown Sex Pistols—supported by a progressive rock band called Solstice—and essentially started the punk music movement. No one at the time really knew who this London-based band was, but the gig might just be the most analyzed, written-about and talked-about music event of all time.
It is very well celebrated, as is the very small audience who turned up, which included members of bands that formed seemingly the very next day afterwards—Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, Buzzcocks and The Fall (whose vinyl output I collect somewhat obsessively), all of which now stand very tall in the annals of pop music history. Tickets cost 60 pence (87cents), and fewer than 30 were sold, although probably 100 attended. Presumably most did not pay, which is very punk, or so I’m told.
Anyway, I mention all of this because the concert hall is now a hotel, the 263-room Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester.
No mention of this historical event is on the hotel’s website. Well, why should it? Playing host to John “Rotten” Lydon and his bandmates was the building’s former use, not its current one, but it makes you wonder what has happened in past decades and centuries in all the hotels we’ve ever stayed in.
I wonder how many of this hotel’s present guests realize any of this history. They might, as inside the hotel there are traces of many performers who played at the hall. Of course, many simply wouldn’t care, although it’s always fun to bunk down in a building buzzing with history, scandal, intrigue and controversy.
(Another controversial gig at the Free Trade Hall/Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester was Bob Dylan’s 17 May 1966, performance in which an audience member heckled Dylan with the cry of “Judas!” for Dylan’s use of electric guitars in the second half of the show. That was almost 50 years to today, and it, too, is still being obsessed over.)
History abounds in hotels. Celebrated guests, important meetings and gatherings, even the odd scandal or two, but the former uses of buildings also tell of fascinating stories, parallel histories to the famed hotels that now occupy those spaces.
The Free Trade Hall from the outside essentially remains the same, as it is a listed building that cannot be altered.
There are other examples of buildings that have rock star connections and since have become hotels. Of course, there are many, many connections of rock stars going to hotels and acting abysmally, but of the first sort, former jails seem to feature prominently. And what is it that makes law-abiding guests today want to stay in former prison cells, however wonderfully revamped they might be?
An example is Clink78 in London, one of the new generation of glam-hostels and where two members of punk band The Clash—Paul Simonon and Topper Headon—were sentenced, when the building was Clerkenwell Magistrates Court. Their crime was shooting pigeons (avicide, no less!) with air rifles, a piece of history the hotel does make a splash about.
Another almost replica example is London’s Courthouse Hotel, which today is a high-end hotel but clearly does not hide its less salubrious history behind a different name. Rock ‘n’ rollers hauled to this building when it was the Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, included The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and The Beatles’ John Lennon, but I cannot see this mentioned on the hotel’s website.
Nonetheless, by rock ‘n’ roll royalty standards, that’s a pretty good double-header of musical history with which to fall asleep.
Just don’t forget to pay your bill on the way out.
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