|George Akins - photos by David Baird|
George Akins has been running Rock City the last sixteen years. We put some questions to him about staying independent, his love of Rolf Harris and taking over the UK’s best known rock club at the age of nineteen…
What’s your first memory of Rock City?
I was about eight years old when my dad told me a story that people were making a big deal about Rock City not serving milk anymore. Even at that age I wondered why people would want to go out to a nightclub and drink milk. Maybe they were lining their stomachs or something?
When did you take over the reins?
My first show as manager was The Ramones on 26th September 1994. I’d worked here on the bar and cloakroom for a year before to get a bit of money together. I was in Australia about halfway through my travels when I got a call from the old man asking me to come back and take over as all the previous management had left.
So what’s it like to take over a massive music venue at the age of nineteen?
It was hard at first. I had to do interviews with the licensing police and pass a fit and proper persons test. Being that young and running the place was a massive challenge. There certainly weren’t many nightclubs run by people aged nineteen back then.
In fact there weren’t that many nightclubs in Nottingham at all. You had Ritzy (now Oceana), MGM (now Ocean), the Garage (now Lizard Lounge) and the Black Orchid (now Isis) and that was about it. But the mentality was different too – it’s changed a lot because of licensing laws. Back then at 11pm on a weekend you were guaranteed numbers through the door straight after the pubs closed. Now you have to work harder for it because people can just stay in the bar and drink instead.
So I guess you’ve grown up around a lot of rock stars. Is there anybody that you get star-struck by?
Well, although my old man owned the place when I was a kid he always had a manager to run it, so meeting famous people wasn’t that regular an occurrence. But obviously in my late teens and early twenties I met quite a few. Funnily enough I really got the jitters when I met Rolf Harris. He defi nitely played one of the greatest gigs we’ve ever had here and is just an interesting character. I grew up seeing him on TV for all those years and the great songs he played resonated with me. But you still get that every now and then too. I met Nick Cave this year when we had Grinderman in for a gig and I just thought ‘what a legend!’
Who are the nicest, most humble rock stars you’ve met?
Well Marcus Mumford (of Mumford and Sons) was a really nice and down to earth guy. Damon Albam was a really nice guy too – and Ozzy Osborne has always been lovely when we’ve put him on. I also get on really well with Huey from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals – he’s played here quite a few times and we always have a really good night out afterwards. But then you get the other side of people who have massive egos and can be a nightmare to work with.
Want to name any of those?
I suppose I shouldn’t but Yngwie Malmsteen was just an absolute dick to the staff and we wouldn’t ever want him back here! Michael Hutchence bought a lot of attitude with him too, although obviously I don’t want to speak too ill of the dead there.
So how do you manage to keep Rock City so fresh after all these years?
Well, I think one of the keys to our success is that we’ve never allowed ourselves to get stuck in a rut. From the name alone people always associate us with rock music. We did have a very successful rock club night for many years, but that’s not all we’re about. We’ve been good at moving quickly when things are obviously changing in the music scene.
The club nights have evolved regularly to match the climate and gig-wise we’ve always had promoters who are pro-active and don’t just hold a diary and wait for national promoters to come along and book shows in. We always try to keep the diary as full and successful as we can - and it seems to be working.
What other venues do you benchmark Rock City against?
Well, we’re one of the few big independents still around. You’ve got the Leadmill in Shefﬁ eld and Glasgow Barrowlands. But there’s not that many others that have stayed independent and the rise of the Academies in major cities has made it a much more mainstream thing to go out and see live music. The academies are okay, but the end of the day they all look the same and there’s not a lot of heart and soul in going to or playing in
a venue that’s part of a big chain.
What have been your personal favourite Rock City shows?
Well, I’ve already mentioned Rolf Harris and that’s at the top of the list. I still can’t believe how many people we had crowdsurﬁ ng at it - you’d expect it for Pantera or Slipknot, but not that gig. Other favourites include Queens of the Stone Age on their Songs for the Deaf Tour and the ﬁrst Ryan Adams gig. Adams forgot many of his lyrics during the set, yet still played brilliantly! Faith No More have played here loads, but early on they played a gig here on a club night in the middle of the biggest crowd they’d seen up to that point. It was a major turning point for them as a band and they credited ‘the people of Nottingham’ on one of their albums for it afterwards.
What bands have you never managed to get into Rock City that you’d like to?
There’s not many. We’ve had Iron Maiden a few times and we’ve had Bruce Dickinson in here solo too, but we’ve never had Iron Maiden with Bruce on vocals. Every time an anniversary comes up they’re the ﬁ rst band I put a call into to try and see if they’ll do it. It hasn’t happened as yet, but hopefully one day it will. I don’t think we’ve ever had The Strokes here either. We’ve had them at The Social when they were tiny, but we’ve not
had them in here as yet. It would be nice to sort that out.
Where do you see Rock City in another ten years time?
Hopefully doing similarly good things as an independent. Our club nights are really strong again at the moment, really connecting with people and I hope that can carry on for as long as I’m here and beyond.