When Sankey Soap opened in the mid-90s there was general excitement about this brave new venue popping up in Ancoats’ industrial hinterland. I was really impressed with the club back then, but its remoteness was always a worry… there were no nearby houses in those days.
One summer evening, I cycled there to a party on my own, and, finding the street empty and the doors shut, I knocked, probably with too much enthusiasm. A sidedoor opened… I gratefully approached and found a bouncer’s hand in my face…
I should have waited to be invited in, apparently. I had to wait for a friend to turn up and plead my case. Sankeys’ bouncers were absurdly awkward and if you couldn’t get past them, you were stranded… And leaving alone was a no-no – the club’s isolation put you too much at the mercy of other people, I always thought.
If you managed to cross the threshold, you found yourself in a picturesque cobbled courtyard bounded by mill walls:
Facing the other way from the photo, and further along to the right, a generous entrance led through to the main club – a huge barn-like room with a raised wooden dancefloor. The interior looked great – good quality natural materials complimented the original structure – or atleast this was my impression years ago.
The Sankeys I visited on Sunday – on one of its “Last Nights” – was a disappointing dump by comparison. We entered through the corner of Beehive Mill passing a little reception booth where the “computer system” didn’t work: forget barcodes… they couldn’t access their own ticket sales data. We then followed a dark winding passage to the main ground floor area which was much more oppressive than anything I remember. Everything appeared to have been painted a dark colour… there were no ‘design values’ observable in the interior… it was just a black pit with some bright lights above us.
The floor was unbelievably sticky. At £5 per small bottled beer, it was hard to imagine people carelessly throwing their drinks around so I could only conclude that the place was filthy. Later on, we noticed liquid dripping through the ceiling in several places… presumably from the toilets above… mmm.
Well-known college lecturer, Graeme Park, was playing when we arrived. Sound quality was dull and rudimentary – or perhaps that was the music – so we hastily moved upstairs where Hooky was holding court with Fonzo Buller in attendance (Snoop Cat). Large bald men and their cameras crowded the DJ box, so Fonzo’s antics provided some welcome respite from their earnest recording of the unspectacular proceedings.
Hooky’s set went on and on – most of it predictable. A high point was Underworld’s Born Slippy, but he didn’t play the extended percussive instrumental, interrupting the track before the five minute point.
Meanwhile, on the dancefloor, we were hemmed in by wannabe Ibiza chicks, intent upon filming each others’ every move; they would casually attack anyone who accidentally got in their way. We moved further back, out of the fray, and found more glue-like substances underfoot. The ceiling was so low that people could actually reach out and touch it. Which reminds me, another good bit of Hooky’s set was Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus – good because it was unexpected.
But then he played Blue Monday. Yes, it was supposed to be a ‘Hacienda night’ whatever that means… but I can’t recall ever hearing Blue Monday played at The Hacienda… it would just have been corny. (Nor did Hooky ever appear interested in DJing or dance music back then… he was a grumpy old rocker in a leather jacket who only darkened the doors of The Hac because he part-owned it… )
We went in search of the courtyard – now the smoking area – but it was hard to find. We had to cross the full length of the packed first floor, and then follow another narrow flight of stairs down, to reach it. This boasted a domestic wooden banister like one you would find in a suburban semi – very slick. How this club was voted Number One in the world by DJ Mag is hard to comprehend. Was bribery involved? And how did the first floor pass fire regulations with such restricted access?
The cobbles in the courtyard were hidden beneath garden decking tiles (B&Q?) and the old main doorway onto the street was screened off by a temporary barrier borrowed from a building site.
We eventually made our way back to the main downstairs room to find an inscutable Todd Terry playing Bucketheads’ The Bomb which lifted the mood somewhat, but before long even his set became tedious. He also felt obliged to play a version of Blue Monday – and finished up with Everything But The Girl’s Missing, his own mix, which I assume must be a career high-point. I would have enjoyed dancing to this one except that they turned on the lights after the first minute. It was 10.30pm.
Sankeys is in a sorry state, held together by layers of grime and black paint in time-honoured local tradition: there is such a gulf between the club’s reputation and the reality, even allowing for imminent closure. HarderBloggerFaster reports a rumoured repossession of the mill which would perhaps explain why basic maintenance hasn’t been carried out. Certainly the timing of the announcement at the end of the tax year suggests financial failure as the cause of closure.
The DJs on Sunday night did their best under the circumstances, but it’s hard to throw your hands in the air for the right reasons when there’s an unknown liquid, possibly piss, raining down on your head…