Running a club in Manchester, the city which once pioneered acid house, demands a siege mentality. Which of the city's armed gangs regards your venue as their territory? Can your doormen keep them out? Are your doormen gang-affiliated? If so, which gang? Get it wrong and there will be trouble. Kick the gangsters out and they may come back and shoot you. The problem closed Most Excellent, Home and finally, The Hacienda - even Fantazia suffered in October. Now, with the gang structures breaking down and the police seemingly unable to help, Manchester's gang law is out of control. We have been waiting five years to run this feature: now it's time for the real story of Manchester clubland...
Writer: Oliver Swanton
Photographer: Simon Norfolk
NOWN trouble-makers turn up at your club. The doormen step in to turn them away. They're livid at this apparent show of disrespect. During the ensuing face-off they threaten to return and shoot your doormen dead. Several hours later a car drives by and it all goes off. Gunfire. Pap, pap, pap, pap. What do you do? This isn't a hypothetical question. This isn't even downtown South Central Los Angeles or New York's Bed-Stuy. This is Manchester and this is the kind of trouble clubs are facing. On May 1st 1997, three youths drove by a Manchester club, slowed to a halt, took aim with an automatic pistol and attempted to murder the doorstaff. Their first two shots whistled between two doormen's heads, shattering a large glass door behind them. As everybody hit the deck the car sped off and the remaining shots peppered the brickwork. The youths had waited several hours for the crowd to file inside before driving by - not because they were worried about hitting innocent members of the public but, it is assumed, because they wanted a clear shot. They were not recognised gangsters or big-time drug dealers. The shooting was not part of a door war - a fight between rival gangs for the highly lucrative job of club security. It was a potentially lethal outburst from three teenagers angry they had been refused entry. The doorstaff immediately dialled 999. Twenty minutes later a patrol car arrived. After three quarters of hour an armed response unit turned up. A spokesperson for the club said: "How much more serious can it be than a shooting outside a club with hundreds of people in it? Our doormen are risking their lives to protect our customers. They're working on the front-line without adequate back up. Not surprisingly they're scared. I wouldn't be a doorman in Manchester." And neither will Tony any more. He used to work at another Manchester club. In mid-July 1997 he was followed home from work by two youths in a Golf GTI. As he filled up his car at a local 24-hour garage they screeched onto the forecourt and shot off several rounds, wounding him in the leg. The only reason Tony wasn't killed there and then was because of his quick reactions - when he saw the gun being drawn he turned his body sideways to cut down the target area. He says he felt and heard at least one bullet fly past his chest. The police believe the two youths were angry that they, or associates, or possibly their girlfriends, had been turned away from the club.
gangsters walk fantazia door
Manchester's clubs are under siege. In the last two years, extreme levels of violence have helped close three high-profile venues, including The Hacienda. Promoters are blaming Greater Manchester Police (GMP) for failing to protect them and their businesses and their customers. On Hallowe'en of last year, Fantazia threw a 12,000 capacity event at Manchester's G-Mex. Clubbers, who had travelled from all over the country, endured queues of up to three hours as everyone, without exception, was strictly searched with hand-held metal detectors. Manchester's reputation had preceded it and the Birmingham-based security team were running a tight ship. In any other city the night would have gone off without major incident. Manchester is not any other city. Because the G-Mex is not regularly open no one gang regards it as their territory. Coupled with the fact that the various security teams were from out of town, the all-nighter was always going to attract serious attention. Gangsters from Cheetham Hill, Salford, Moss Side's Gooch and Doddinton (there are loose gang groupings named for all these Manchester districts) and all the smaller affiliated and non-affiliated crews inbetween turned up. A formidable bunch of characters to contend with when they have no intention of paying, let alone being searched for weapons. "I watched gangsters just 'walk' the door," recounts one eye-witness. "The security might as well have not been there. When one of them did wrestle with a guy, an arm went up and bam, he was wasted out cold on the floor. All the others started jumping over the barriers, people falling all over the place, security getting smacked to fuck. It was over and done with in about 30 seconds." Other crews went through the fire exits, the stage doors, or had "walked" the main entrance earlier in the night in smaller numbers. Some were said to have simply told security which gang they came from and that they would return and shoot anyone who got in their way. Andrew Gallagher, for Fantazia, said in a statement that the company was aware that there is a gang problem in Manchester when planning the event: "A 12,000 capacity dance event in one of the most notorious cities in the UK is definitely going to attract undesirable attention. We took every possible step to counter these problems and as a result Fantazia '97 was an enormous success. The G-MEX has since offered us another date for the near future."
why clubs can't win
Manchester's permanent clubs suffer the attentions of these sort of characters every week. Talk to almost any of the city's owners or promoters and the story goes like this: the fact these so-called gangsters feel they shouldn't have to pay to get in is not an issue. Neither is the fact they often feel they don't have to pay for expensive rounds of drinks. Both would be a small price to pay for a quiet life. But owners say there's no quiet life to be had if these characters are in your club en masse, getting their feet warm. Not only do they intimidate your customers and staff, they attract the attention of the police. Ultimately, if the problem is not dealt with, they cost you your licence and your livelihood. Refuse them entry at the door though, and they're likely to start taking pot shots at your doormen: this in turn will attract the attention of the police and could lead to you losing your licence and your livelihood. And although GMP have consistently stated that nothing licensees tell them will be used against them, you still fear that if you go to the police for help you will ultimately lose your licence and livelihood. Running a club in Manchester involves adopting a siege mentality. Vital energies are exhausted on security. Which gang regards your venue as their territory? Are they likely to turn up at your night? If so can your doormen keep them out? Or, more realistically, do they have sufficient respect for your doormen to behave? Are your doormen gang-affiliated? If so, which gang? Get it wrong and there will be trouble - your venue will attract persons of bad character and that might put your licence at risk. Independent black music promoters believe they have borne the brunt of this catch 22. So bad is the problem that the largest black music promoter in Manchester doesn't even organise dances in the city, choosing instead to run coaches out to provincial clubs. Tarred with the gangster brush, they claim they have effectively been run out of town. Certainly Manchester's city centre hosts no regular black music nights. The first to go were soul and r n' b. Rap and hip hop quickly followed in the fallout. Then for years it was impossible to establish a jungle night in the city for fear of gang violence which would lead to police retribution. The latest sub-genre to suffer the Mancunian kiss of death is speed garage. It makes Manchester's clubs conservative and backward: an extremely sore point for a city that once proudly pioneered acid house.
a promoter's story
Alexander (name changed) as been promoting clubs for ten years. He's been pushed out of more venues than he cares to remember. As a youth he used to run with a very serious local gang. By the age of 21 he'd seen three associates shot dead. His son was three and he wanted to see him grow up. He says he made a conscious decision to become a legitimate businessman. When Alexander organises a party he likes to man the door himself so he can take a personal responsibility for the safety of his customers. Recently, several youths arrived with no intention of paying and every intention of causing maximum grief. Alexander's seen it all before of course, but says it's getting worse. When people try it on with him and threaten to resort to gun play to get what they want, he says he feels "emasculated". "I can't push it as far as I'd like to because what's gonna happen on my door? Pure shit gonna go off and all people inside are gonna hear is gunfire - pap, pap, pap, pap," he mimics. "Then that's it, my night is over and done with, police are in and it's all over three fucking quid. "I've got three faces in my head right now, three faces who've pushed it too far and I'm ready to deal with them," he spits, grabbing a shot gun cartridge from the table and tossing it up and down. "That is the level I've got to go to protect my business. But I shouldn't have to, I'm a DJ and promoter and I left that gangster shit behind a long time ago."