The Roadhouse: The End of Our Road
One of Manchester's best-loved venues, The Roadhouse, will close its doors for the final time in June – we catch up with owner Kate Mountain to discuss the ins and outs of the decision
If you’re a resident of Manchester, you’ve probably heard that the Roadhouse is closing in June. As venues go, the dark, dingy and slightly grotty basement setting has achieved local legendary status over the past 15 years by hosting all manner of gigs, parties and general debauchery. We spoke to current proprietor Kate Mountain to discuss the ins and outs of the decision, the highs and lows of her time in charge, and to find out what’s next for 8 Newton Street.
“I was general manager back in 1999,” explains Mountain. “My boss at the time, John MacBeath, had filed for bankruptcy and handed the staff his two weeks’ notice. I had no plans or ambition to work anywhere else. But I also knew the venue had a lot of promise.”
With potential in her sights and no intention of seeking employment elsewhere, Mountain signed for the venue’s lease alongside Steve Lloyd, who had the required trade references. With that, the building was now theirs. Little did they know that one signature would pave the way for one of the UK’s finest independent music venues for years to come.
While the recent news of its closure has provoked a degree of mourning among regular patrons, let’s treat this as an opportunity to capture the essence of what made the Roadhouse such a unique and special venue for music fans far and wide. As Mountain herself says, “No nightclub should last forever.”
Let’s start with Elbow. The Mercury Prize-winning band from Ramsbottom spent many of their formative years at the Roadhouse. “The boys were part of the furniture back then,” says Mountain when quizzed on witnessing their meteoric rise. “We worked and played together for several years and most of my staff were musicians so very little special attention was paid.”
It’s no shock to hear that a band of such stature weren’t given any special treatment. A major factor in the Roadhouse’s success was its down-to-earth attitude coupled with a discernible family vibe – qualities rarely seen in the modern-day world of super-venues running on corporate sponsors.
Ironic, then, that a lot of bands who once graced the Roadhouse’s humble stage now headline plush arenas worldwide: Coldplay, Biffy Clyro and Muse, to name a few. This is something the venue is evidently and rightfully proud of, their website boasting a list of over 250 acts that have played the venue. However, in true salt-of-the-earth style, those big names aren’t necessarily what make Kate Mountain beam with pride on reflection of her 16 years in club ownership.
In March last year her business partner and co-owner of the Roadhouse, Steve Lloyd, sadly passed away after being diagnosed with cancer. The whole venue’s crew simultaneously dealt with their own grief and continued to work hard for the following few days, all while accommodating an influx of Steve’s grieving friends.
“That was probably my proudest moment, but it I think it was also the least favourite moment of my life. In terms of my favourite moments, I remember when one of the staff gave another member of staff’s rucksack to a cloakroom customer instead of their own, containing a rather large amount of weed – priceless. Or the time when a punter ran away with £30 in an impromptu theft and on the same day slipped it back under the door attached to a note penned with guilt. The honesty!”
“NO NIGHTCLUB SHOULD LAST FOREVER” – KATE MOUNTAIN
During their reign as club owners, Mountain and Lloyd also had their fair share of what-the-hell-were-we-thinking? moments too: “I think the Hellfire club may have been a dubious decision. A queer fetish night. We all tried to style it out but none of us were quite prepared for what we got! There’s also the tale of the Carling 24-Hour session. We were the first show of the day; I Am Kloot went on stage at 8am or earlier, after a 4am load in and after we had all been drinking the night before until late. The only way through was to carry on drinking and their show was brilliant, considering, but then XFM who were broadcasting from the club asked me to do a live interview! Fear sobered me up instantly. In general, music venues have had to start becoming much more professional these days.”
Maybe so, but it’s stories like these that are the essence of what will be missed about the Roadhouse. A venue that isn’t afraid to show off its chips and scratches, but still brings in the punters, is a rare commodity these days. Mountain is right, times are a-changing; so, is there still room for an intimate, rough-around-the-edges music space in 2015?
Admittedly, she confesses that people are looking for “newer, fresher environments with nicer toilets.” The level of competition has certainly increased in Manchester; with the likes of the Deaf Institute, Islington Mill and Twenty Twenty Two all either opening or going through refurbs in the last eight years, things are far more difficult at 8 Newton Street than they were when she became boss.
On a slightly sad note, increased pressure from city-centre dwellers in new luxury flats, bursting to complain as soon as music is audible after 11pm, were also becoming a huge obstacle. You only have to look at the debate surrounding Night & Day for an example of how detrimental this can be.
It’s the very prospect of luxury flats that edged Mountain closer to her decision: “I expect in the not too distant future my building will be developed into flats, which has been one of the contributing reasons to decide to close now.”
So, what are the other reasons why the Roadhouse has come to meet its end?
“I’m 42 years old and while I will never tire of being a hostess I do now require a slightly different clientele. I remember the original owner John MacBeath, in his late 40s, complaining that he felt old when he used to come in to the club and I never understood why. You can only educate so many seasons of freshers in how to behave in a nightclub without eventually wanting to do them some damage, so before that happens I need a change!”
By the end of this year, Mountain will re-home a new restaurant venture by Aumbry's Mary-Ellen McTague into the existing space at the Roadhouse with the ultimate dream of owning and running a cabaret/supper club, the type of club popular in the early 20th century. But while the booze and sweat makes way for quail soup and goose liver there’s still a month of musical proceedings to send the setting off in style. This includes one last Electric Chair, Revolver and a few more Hoya:Hoyas. There's also a fund-raiser on 27 May for the late Steve Lloyd, which will be soundtracked by Jimi Goodwin, and to wrap things up there will be an invite-only affair which only ends when the last one stops standing. Check out the remaining calendar dates for more details.
No doubt into the early hours of 1 Jun, feet will dance, barrels will be drained and tears will be shed, but once its doors shut let’s use the legacy of Roadhouse as a blueprint of how to keep music venues true and honest – it’s the only way to ensure Manchester keeps on producing word-beating bands and hosting word-class talent.