As part of the Ghosts Project we have been running workshops at venues across Manchester, making use of the interviews and photographs the Project collected. The following is work written during some of these workshops.
A Night At The Reno
I first visited the Reno nightclub when I was all of thirteen years old. A little young to be going to a club you would say, but the Reno was like no other club I’ve been to, then or now.
I was Moss Side born but not bred, having left the area a little under a month after I was born. My mother was white, from Manchester, and my father black from Sierra Leone. After they divorced I was raised by the white side of the family, living in various areas of Manchester which were then all predominantly white.
In those days my brother and I were called half-castes, the term being ‘legally used’ to explain mixed race people. I knew next to nothing about being black. Most of the schools I went to were all white, and I had no black relatives in England other than my father. My last comprehensive school was entirely white, me being the only non-white there.
However, as I got older I would visit Moss Side regularly because Manchester City’s ground was situated there. Usually I’d go with friends who were white, and whereas they felt at odds in the area I didn’t. My having an afro hairstyle lead to me going back there to a local barbers. I’d travel almost twenty miles on a two pence bus ticket, then pay fifty pence for the haircut.
In my early teens I ended up playing for a local football team in Moss Side. It felt odd having team mates who were all black compared to the teams at home. At first they called me Two-Tone, a mix of my name and my parentage, but that soon stopped.
I spent a lot of time in The Moss at that time; I felt comfortable there compared to home. At the time I was living on the outskirts of Manchester, which whilst it was exactly rural had hills and the countryside on one ‘side’ and built up areas on the other. It was the 70s, a time of the National Front, which was an issue in places like Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and as I lived in close proximity to all three I felt it most.
At home it was all niceness and pie during the day but at night-time you’d get abuse from drinkers and passing vehicles. It was not quite the sundown towns of America in the years of racial segregation but I continually had to be alert once it went dark. Moss Side was the only place I felt safe after dark as a teenager.
The Reno was different. I wasn’t scared as I was with my black football mates, who were local lads. At the time the place had the feel of not being legal, it felt run down, and the mix of people there was eye-opening! If I recall correctly it cost me about a pound to get in – put it this way, I put my one pound note in and got no change!
Once inside it felt tight, there were bodies everywhere; men, women, lads and girls; and it was all mixed – black, white, a few Orientals, even Asians. We got there about 2 a.m. and it smelled of sweat, smoke, perfume and aftershave. The pungent sweet sickly smell of cannabis was everywhere – it wasn’t new to me but to have so much in one place was different, it was as if that was oxygen!
We thought we were dressed cool in our Levi cords and Slazenger jumpers , but inside I was blown away with what I saw. People were dressed up, and down; men in suits of all colours, designs and materials; women in dresses and skirts. There were hat galore, especially on the older men, and the women all had various hairstyles. To be honest it felt like a cross between Saturday Night Fever and Shaft because of the shirts, shiny, opened to show off medallions, and the leather coats, long and short. To me, I’d only ever seen stuff like it at the pictures or on TV. Everyone looked so cool, while one or two looked like pimps off Starsky and Hutch.
And the music was so loud it was as if you had to shout to be heard, and it was all black sounds- – from disco to reggae, and soul to early hip hop. It wasn’t what we listened to at home, nor was it in the charts as such. The thing is everyone was moving to the music, either vigorously or just rocking, and most were drinking at the same time. I didn’t drink at the time, nor smoke, but trust me, it felt as if you were doing both as the fumes seemed to be everywhere. I felt so light headed it was unreal, like I was riding a wave of sorts. The whole experience, that first time was surreal. I was in another world, literally. It wasn’t all love ‘n’ peace but it had a stressless atmosphere. You were aware of who was dealing, or who was ‘dangerous’, so you avoided them; and, for me at least, it felt as if I’d only be in any trouble if I went looking for it – which at the time was a novelty as it usually found me!
After leaving at about 6 a.m. I recall hitting the street feeling as if I’d visited another world totally. In time I’d only go about four or five more times but it still had the same effect and appeal to me. I could never persuade my mates from home to go though, they had that fear of Moss Side that most outsiders had if they weren’t black.
I felt lucky because although I was raised mainly in a white community I was able to cross what was at that time a sort of social and cultural divide, kind of getting the best out of both worlds.