Brief history of Rock City


LeftLion Editor In Chief Jared Wilson talks you through 30 years of Rock City

 Rock City 30th Anniversary

When you’re a young person growing up in Nottingham then you either lack a developed sense of musical taste or you spend a lot of time at Rock City. These days most cities have a decent-sized club and live music venue (usually some sort of corporate and sydicated ‘academy’ affair) but it’s not always been like that and there is something about ‘City’ that singles it out from the rest. Maybe it’s the fact that it remains staunchly independent? Maybe it’s because it consistently brings in great live acts? Maybe it’s because you always hear great new tunes at its club nights? Or maybe it’s a mix of all these factors and more…

Rock City is one of the biggest names on the UK club and live music circuit and has been since it fi rst opened its doors three decades ago. To put its longevity into perspective the venue has been alive for longer than either Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix managed. It’s been open for more than twice as long as it took Bill Gates to go from being a college geek to the richest man in the world. It’s more than four times as long as it took Axl Rose to make Chinese Democracy!

On Thursday 11 December 1980, the day Rock City first opened its doors, Abba were at number one with Super Trouper, John Lennon had just been shot, The Empire Strikes Back was still on its initial cinema run, Margaret Thatcher was just a year into her reign as Prime Minister and a packet of 20 cigarettes cost less than 40p!


Rock City - photo by Video Mat
Rock City - photo by Video Mat

So how did it all start? Well, before it was called Rock City, there was a venue on the same premises called The Heart of the Midlands. It was the kind of place that put on ‘variety acts’ and comedians who told mother-in-law jokes, to punters with chicken-in-a-basket meals. Eventually the building was taken over by local bookmaker George Akins (senior) and Sammy Jackson (who ran a club called the Retford Porterhouse) and turned into a full-on rock palace. Sammy had already booked the likes of AC/DC, Motorhead and The Clash at his smaller venue and fancied moving up in the world. George, ever eager to break into new markets, saw the opportunity and bankrolled it.

The first band scheduled to play at the venue were Iron Maiden, who were on their way to becoming the biggest metal act on the planet. Sadly the gig had to be postponed as the electrics were not finished. So instead The Undertones, led by Feargal Sharkey, stepped up and fi nished the first ever Rock City gig with a rendition of Teenage Kicks – officially the best song ever according to a certain Mr John Peel (RIP).

During the 1980s the place became a haven for music-lovers from Nottingham and beyond. It would be rammed out with new-romantics one night as people fl ocked to see Duran Duran, The Smiths or The Human League then hip-hop heads would descend upon the place another night to see the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J and Public Enemy. But the place always kept its balls-out rock credentials too and the likes of The Ramones, Faith No More, Guns and Roses, REM and The Pixies played some of their fi rst UK gigs here. 

Like all good venues it moved with the times and the nineties saw appearances from grunge and punk royalty like Nirvana, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Janes Addiction, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Foo Fighters and The Offspring. Then just as Brit-pop kicked off the likes of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Ian Brown, Supergrass, Ash, Black Grape, Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and The Charlatans used it as a regular pit stop too. 

Since the turn of the millennium things have become even more eclectic. During one fi ve day period in late October 2002 DJ Shadow, Death in Vegas, Doves, the Coral, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Libertines, The Vines, The Streets and Blackalicious all played back to back. On some nights you might walk in and see Thin Lizzy, Motorhead or the Rollins Band, but on others you catch The Flaming Lips or Lee Scratch Perry, Basement Jaxx or Scissor Sisters. 

Basically Rock City is all things to all people. There’s never really been a golden era, because it’s continued to evolve all the way through the years – keeping in touch with new music trends as they happen – while also inviting old friends back to play every now and then. I’m no longer a teenager, but I still feel like one every time I walk through those hallowed front doors on Talbot Street. Here’s to another 30 years of great nights out in Nottingham.

Jared Wilson
Rock City Regular 1994-Present

Click here to read more about Rock City's 30th Anniversary

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