A Cellar Full of Soul | Preserving The Legacy of Moss Side’s Legendary nightclub – The Reno.

By Paul Wright

In 1987 Moss Side’s late-night soul and funk club The Reno was bulldozed. The previous year Manchester City Council had deemed the building which housed the venue unsafe, and along with its sister club (The Nile) the venue on the corner of Princess Road and Moss Lane East was no more.

An important and often overlooked part of Manchester’s cultural history, The Reno began life in 1962 and soon became a social haven for mixed raced Mancunians. Many of its regulars came not just from Moss Side and neighbouring Hulme, but from Wythenshawe, Ancoats and many other parts of the city.

The Reno circa 1969. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

It was at The Reno where they found sanctuary and a place to escape the backwards racial oppression that they often faced. One former Reno regular recalls being refused entry into city centre nightspots for having a large Afro hairstyle and being told it was a fire hazard. Corrupt police would hassle young black and mixed-race youths on a daily basis, abusing the stop and search ‘sus’ laws to harass and intimidate them.

A popular song of the era was ‘Dem a Sus (In the Moss)’ a great reggae track by local band Harlem Spirit that called out this discriminative behaviour by the local police.

Reno owner Phil Magbotiwan with friends. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

1971-1981

During the clubs heyday between 1971 and 1981 it welcomed a great mix of characters. From the everyday regulars to flamboyantly dressed girls, streetwise kids showing off their dance moves, frustrated artists, weed smokers, Manchester City’s ‘Kool Kats’, through to the older heads, the sharply dressed men in the gambling room playing cards and dominoes. It was a unique place with its own set of rules. It even had its own successful football team known as Afroville.

Yes, it may have had a reputation at times for being a bit rum and let’s say notorious, but regulars remember it as being ‘like one big family’. Respect was earned and lifelong friendships and relationships were cemented here.

Afroville – The Reno’s successful football team. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

Music

At its peak The Reno was one of the top clubs for soul & funk in the country. DJs over the years included its legendary residents Persian and Coolie, fellow DJs Hewan Clarke and Chris Jam and Tomlin (Aka Jam MCs).

DJing until five or six in the morning, they would have the dance floor packed, playing the latest US imports straight off the shelves of Manchester’s Spin-Inn records. As it was an unusually late night club many more would head back to The Reno after the city centre clubs had closed their doors to carry on the party, or have a smoke until the early hours.

Resident DJ Persian in The Reno, 1982. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

Muhammed Ali famously visited in 1971, as did actors and sports people of the era, Ray Winston, Clive Lloyd and Alex Higgins to name a few. Factory boss Tony Wilson had his stag do here (later poaching DJ Hewan Clarke for his new club The Hacienda) and it was even rumoured that Bob Marley visited, possibly around the time he played Stretford’s Hardrock in 1972.

Reno regulars and friends during the late 1970s. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

Excavating The Reno

Linda Brogan is an multi award winning Jamaican-Irish playwright who was a former regular at The Reno between 1976 and 1983. Linda conceived the idea to dig up the site of the former club as she wanted to tell her own story about the place along with the people who lived it.

The project ‘Excavating The Reno’ began when Linda interviewed former Reno regulars and collected their memoirs in 2016. After securing funding from Arts Council England and with partners Manchester City Council and Salford University’s Applied Archaeological Unit, Linda and the team of former regulars dug up the grassed over wasteland where the club was situated and excavated the site over a three week period.

A Teenage Linda Brogan during her Reno going days. Photo © Linda Brogan\@excavatingthereno

As well as the physical items recovered during the dig, Linda is collecting and archiving memories, photographs and stories from anyone associated with The Reno. There is also a memorial wall remembering those from The Reno who are sadly no longer with us.

For a club that was such an important focal point for its mixed race communities, the amazing work Linda and the team are doing is instrumental in ensuring The Reno’s historical and cultural importance is documented and preserved for future generations.

Reno Memorial Wall at The Whitworth. Photo © Paul Wright

The Reno at The Whitworth is currently showing at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery until March 2020. You can find more information here.

Find out more, get in touch and share your memories of The Reno via the Excavating The Reno blog and website

You can follow Linda Brogan and the project on social media
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