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This article is taken from the Middleton Guardian
From hip club to dancehall dinosaur
ONCE the place to be, now not so welcoming. The once popular Hippodrome.
TO those under a certain age, or not in the know, the rotting concrete hulk on Corporation Street is just another building waiting for the bulldozer to put it out of its misery.
But when the contractors move in to begin work, there will be a fair few 30-odd-year-olds sad to see one of Middleton’s cultural icons disappear forever when it finally makes way for the planned new Tesco.
The only clue that it was once an attraction is the vandalised plastic letters bearing the legend “Hippodrome” – some of which have not been able to stand the test of time.
In its day the Hippodrome, affectionately known as Hippo’s, played host to some of the best known names in music, including one of the biggest bands to come out of Manchester and two much lampooned crooners from a bygone age – who wouldn't be happy with the association.
The club, formerly the Empire Cinema, didn’t have the most auspicious of starts after a row with club king Peter Stringfellow threatened to overshadow the opening night in May 1988. The long haired one threatened legal action if the concert and dance hall didn’t change its name so as to avoid confusion with his London club.
Once that row was resolved – the owners even considered calling it the Thunderdome and cheekily inviting the man who has a penchant for leopard skin to the opening night – it was down to business.
Star guests Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn) and Foo Foo Lamarr partied on until the early with around 1,000 or more revellers. The only hiccup was two would-be bouncers were arrested for trying to get jobs while subject to a curfew.
Essentially a disco venue, Hippo’s once hosted a little known band called Oasis as they began their rise to the top. On that night though they supported Peter Hook’s band Revenge, a venture which didn’t last long before he wisely made the decision to rejoin New Order.
Things were nicely ticking over until the rave scene arrived in Middleton, then things really took off as the club embraced this new style of music from the second summer of love. Smiley faces and hooded tops – before they became synonymous with crime – were everywhere and a Guardian reporter of the time observed that the club’s bar was doing a roaring trade in lollipops as loved up ravers deserted beer. I wonder why?
Cllr Eric Noi, who was involved in the running of the club, said: "We were getting coachloads from all over the north, Stoke, Sheffield and even the Isle of Wight, coming into town for a night out.
“The Prodigy, The Orb and all the major dance acts played here. The DJ Carl Cox launched his career here.
“Hippo’s was part of Manchester’s cultural map. And one of the reasons it was so popular was there was no trouble.
“People still talk about the nights they had in Hippo’s even now.”
Such was the demand to get in, that club promoter Colin Boulter came up with a novel idea to get rid of people hanging around outside
Des O’Connor and Max Bygraves songs were piped out of a sound system to disappointed ravers who had been turned away. And the ultimate deterrent had the desired response as people sloped away into the night.
Around the same time that Des was making another impact on the nation's youth, 30 years after his first brush with fame, the club also was used as a backdrop for the Middleton set Ken Loach drama, Raining Stones.
Many locals doubled as extras and Bruce Jones, a former fireman, who was later to find fame as Les Battersby, took one of his first roles in front of the camera as the leading man.
But then the music abruptly stopped.
As anyone who has ever been involved with clubland knows, it can be a fickle place.
As musical tastes change quicker than fashion, one night you can be the “in” place, and the next a dancehall dinosaur.
In November 1992 the place closed, after rumours had circulated for months about its demise. Then, a year later, two South Yorkshire based businessmen with big plans bought the club and announced it would re-open the following February after a £250,000 facelift.
But the place, that probably brought many Middletonian couples together, went the same way as the more famous Hacienda, once and for all in 1997.
A council sub-commitee rejected an application for an entertainments licence amid fears the re-opening of Hippo’s as a cabaret club would contribute to a rise in public order offences in the town centre. Many locals blamed a perceived upsurge in town centre trouble arrived when the club went down the rave avenue and vowed never again.
Since then it has lain dorment and no-one else has come in with a rescue plan.
Eric said: “It’s real shame how it has been left, but it just went the same way as other clubs.
“I don’t know how long Hippo’s will be there because I think it has been compulsory purchased under the plans for Tesco.
“It would be great to have one last night in Hippo’s before it went, you never know, eh?”
First published by the Middleton Guardian