ELECTRIC CIRCUS – Manchester’s Premiere Punk Venue


– Manchester’s Premiere Punk Venue

Did you know that Warsaw played their first show at the Electric Circus?
We all know by now that Warsaw went on to become Post Punk icons Joy Division, but maybe we don’t know enough about the Manchester venue that house their first live performance. London may have been the capital of the Punk scene, but so much of Punk’s growth and history had its roots in the northern city of Manchester. Now that lies in thanks to likes of Tony Wilson, but also thanks to venues like the Electric Circus or the Lesser Free Trade Hall. They were intrinsic to the scene’s expansion, offering the safe space needed for subculture to propagate.⠀

The interior remained very much a visual metaphor for the city at the time: bleak, rundown and a little dingy. The perfect setting for alienated youth to congregate and create. Opening in October 1976 in the rougher area of Collyhurst, Punk was already burgeoning underground in the UK, but the Electric Circus originally opened as a hard rock/heavy metal venue. Early gigs included John Cooper Clarke, Mott the Hoople, AC/DC, Motorhead, The Enid, Scorpions. Punk nights on Sunday began to appear, but were usually less popular than the other hard rock acts. Moreover if you even offered the faintest whiff of spiked hair and safety pinned clothing, you were likely to be rained down on hard by the locals, who totally begrudged their presence. But the moment that re-routed the venue’s destiny took place in December 1976- the Bill Grundy show. You may recall that this moment comes up a lot in our posts- as it really marked a massive U-turn in the lives of many Punk followers. Midway through their Anarchy in the UK tour, the Sex Pistols were subsequently banned from performing at a number of venues. One of the only venues open to having them play was the Electric Circus, so they played two shows that month, supported by The Heartbreakers, The Clash and Manchester openers Buzzcocks. It’s written that the Buzzcocks signed their record deal on the bar. From this moment, the Electric circus became one of the most important Punk venues in history. ⠀

Manchester became a safe haven for Punks… though only if you discount their adverse rivals the Perry Boys lurking in the city.
Some of the more dreamy line-ups to take the shabby stage include the Ramones, supported by Taking Heads. The week after was yesterday’s anniversary, a line up of Warsaw, Penetration and Buzzcocks. Other shows to daydream over include gigs from The Damned, The Adverts, Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Magazine, The Stranglers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Slits… the list goes on. These names cemented the legend and lore of the Electric Circus in Punk history.

Sadly, as most of these stories go, Punk began to fizzle and spit out, and the Electric Circus’ fire went out too in almost a year after it had opened. It briefly attempted a renaissance as The Venue for a month in late 1977… but the frenzy had passed. It was sadly demolished not long after that.
Though less than reverential, the loss of the venue that offered space for punk opened up space for something new to grow. Though many thought that this marked the end for music and subculture in Manchester, in actual fact it marked the beginning of it’s most legendary moments in cultural history. It wasn’t long before the golden years of Manchester began to emerge.

Photos by Mick Middles