CarWash was a club night named after the track by Rose Royce from 1976; it was an antidote to the acid house nights which dominated Manchester in 1989 (and which soon got boring if you didn’t take ecstacy.)

Trafford and Alf were the DJs, following on from their Brazil night. Trafford was older than us and his record collection was full of 70s funk and disco which wasn’t being played in the clubs in town back then… except perhaps in some of the gay clubs. I knew 70s chart disco from ‘Top of the Pops’ and the radio when I was growing up. But even in the late 80s, disco was a guilty pleasure because in the 70s we were conditioned to believe that punk was ‘cool’ and disco was ‘cheesey’ and that view still prevailed.

I found an article about Brutus Gold, a.k.a. Nigel Wanless, a club DJ from Stockton-on-Tees; he also reacted against acid house when he created his Love Train nights, but he took his project to another level, creating an on-stage persona and a touring stage show in the process:
The Northern Echo Archive/Confessions Of A Love Machine.*

Trafford, a.k.a. Jeremy, adopted the considerably more embarrassing name ‘Trafford Lovething’ around this time, but the boundaries between himself and his persona were not clear-cut and there was nothing ironic about the CarWash music policy.

Evelyn Champaigne King – Shame (1978)

‘Shame’ was Danny Henry’s favourite disco track; he came down to the Man Alive every Thursday and inspired everyone with his amazing dancing. He had been a regular at the jazz-funk nights at Rafters in the late 70s and early 80s and danced on The Hitman And Her along with Trafford in the early 90s.

CarWash music ranged through 1970s disco and funk, 80s soul and eventually 90s ‘acid jazz’ by bands like The Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, The Young Disciples and Barrie K Sharpe. Some of my favourite tracks from the night were:

Gwen McCrae – All This Love That I’m Givin’ (1979)

Tom Browne – Funkin For Jamaica (1980)

Patrice Rushen – Forget Me Nots (1982)

Cheryl Lynn – Encore (1983)

Trafford was determined to use posters to publicise CarWash because he thought Brazil had suffered due to relying on flyers. He took a DIY approach to save money, making posters using A0 sheets of paper, car spray and stencils; the design included a cartoon of his vintage Morris Oxford car! He and Alf then embarked upon a ninja-style fly-posting operation. Sadly I have no photos of the posters, but I have found an ad from City Life, advertising Carwash at ‘Archies Bar’ (now The Thirsty Scholar under the arch where New Wakefield Street meets Oxford Road.)

From City Life Issue 131, Aug-Sep 1989

Very soon after, Carwash became the weekly Thursday night at The Man Alive Club on Grosvenor Street.

Before long, the night was so successful that word of mouth and local listings were enough to keep it ticking over; CarWash ran continuously at The Man Alive Club for almost 7 years. I loved most of the music but I was never too keen on ‘Car Wash’ by Rose Royce; I think I just heard it too often.

The Man Alive Club was a basement club on the corner of Grosvenor Street and Upper Brook Street. The entrance, which was a small extension added onto the original building, is just visible in the centre of this picture from Google Streetview:

Also at the Man Alive, Alf worked FunkyMutha on Fridays and Trafford worked Pure on Saturdays during the same period. All three nights finished when the owner Roy sold up and moved back to Jamaica around 1996. As far as I know, no current club nights of the same name have any connection with the original Manchester CarWash night at the Man Alive.

‘Trafford Lovething’ still DJs occasionally at Funkademia at The Mint Lounge in Manchester: http://www.funkademia.net/.

* From The Northern Echo Archive Monday, 24 April 2006

Confessions Of A Love Machine

He became a legend in Leeds and has entertained the likes of Tina Turner. Now Nigel Wanless (aka Brutus Gold) is bringing Lovetrain, his 70s-inspired show, to a nightclub in Sunderland. Women’s Editor Sarah Foster meets the king of kitsch.

HAVING been beaten to the door by his cherubic son, nine-year-old Rocco, the towering bulk of Nigel Wanless comes into view. He greets me in his Teesside twang – all warm inflections and flattened vowels – and with old-fashioned courtesy, invites me in. The more I see – the tasteful decor, the pictures of Rocco on every wall, especially Rosanna, Nigel’s stunning half-Italian wife – the more my preconceptions fade. I realise that far from being a playboy, my host is actually rather normal. And surprisingly refined.

We sit down in the airy living room and as he drinks his espresso, I’m struck by what a bundle of contradictions Nigel is. His craggy face and bouncer’s frame suggest a real tough guy, and yet he oozes paternal pride; he wears a wig to work, and yet he’s modest and unaffected; he speaks like Bryan Robson while sipping coffee like Sacha Distel. In short, I don’t know what to make of him.

The one thing that’s clear is Nigel’s success. Since starting Lovetrain, a 70s spectacular with all the trappings of a West End show, he’s found his niche as Brutus Gold, the cheesy compere. Such is his fame throughout the world that he’s been booked by Tina Turner and as entertainment for this year’s World Cup. Next month, alongside Michael Bubl, Nigel and his team will strut their stuff for George Clooney at a private party at Lake Como. For the ordinary bloke from Stockton, it’s all pretty mind-blowing – he can only laugh when he describes sitting in a First Class lounge on his way to Dubai. When he speaks of his childhood, I realise just how far he’s come.

“It wasn’t a brilliant time,” he says ruefully. “We were just a bunch of kids who had to fend for ourselves. We didn’t get much support. I was very rarely at school and I had no qualifications. I think I’d had 21 jobs by the time I was 25 – everything from a shelf-filler in Asda to working in a scrap yard to being a bin man – and I didn’t want to do any of them. I always thought I was better than that.”

In the late 1970s, Nigel, now 45, became a DJ, working in clubs throughout the region as ‘Funky Nige’. He has fond memories of these halcyon days. “That was the birth of dance music in the North-East,” he says. “I was quite a well respected DJ at that time. I was doing stuff that was groundbreaking, playing a lot of American disco and funk. I used to have a break dance crew and I used to do break dancing in the town centres and hold competitions at Middlesbrough Town Hall.”

But house music, which rose to prominence in the 1980s, left Nigel cold. Without a market for his tunes, he became despondent. “I’d had a great time playing my music but I didn’t have anything in common with the drug generation, and that’s when I packed in DJing,” he says. “I was down to my last £25.”

Then he had a brainwave: why not play old disco, the kind of songs he’d grown up loving? He describes it as an epiphany. “I went to bed one night and came up with the idea,” says Nigel. “When I was young, I used to watch Starsky and Hutch and Columbo – to me, a lot of the American programmes were escapism from dreary old England in the 70s. I had the crazy idea of playing that kind of music.”

Thanks to his good name, he was given a night at the Kirk in Yarm, along with a regular slot at Annabel’s in Sunderland. Despite the novelty of his act, it soon became clear that he was onto a winner. “I used to go round Stockton and Middlesbrough in a mini bus and ask people if they wanted to listen to Abba and the Bee Gees,” says Nigel. “At that time, it hadn’t even reached the ironic point. It was just, ‘what on earth are you on?’ – that’s the type of answer I was getting. Then all of a sudden there were ten people, then 50 and so on. After eight weeks, there were about 500.”

From simply playing the tracks, Nigel began affecting a US drawl. Then came the loud shirt and the afro wig, and spontaneously, Brutus Gold was born. Nigel feels he was destined for the role. “I think performing comes naturally to me,” he says. “When I was at school, I used to have the whole class in stitches. I always found macho men funny – people like Charles Bronson, Paul Newman and Burt Reynolds, and Brutus is a spoof of them, but not in a derogatory way.”

It was the emergence of his alter ego that really gave the show an edge. “I immediately found that it created some magic in the room,” says Nigel. “I knew I was onto something absolutely massive. It was almost like opening a box and seeing something special inside – I knew the potential.”

Seeking a wider audience, Nigel took his act to Leeds, where, after being spotted by a scout, he was given a night at the Town and Country Club. His weekly show – Brutus Gold’s Lovetrain – became a legend, selling out at the flagship venue for seven years. Now based in Manchester, Lovetrain is still firmly on track, and from this Friday, it will be back in Sunderland. According to Nigel, it’s in a class of its own.

“The show itself is a fantasy recreation of what it might have been like in a New York nightclub in 1978,” he says. “It revolves around the ‘host with the boast’ – Brutus – and 15 characters including Willis Hardy Freeman, Beverley Hills, Alberto Balsam, Carmen Rohla and Pippa Dee. I don’t play Abba and cheesy stuff anymore, I play classic disco, and in the show we teach people how to do the hustle. It’s not a show you watch, it’s a show that you take part in. It’s like being at the theatre, being at a rock concert and being at a disco. It’s bizarre, but it works.”

Where Lovetrain transcends the tackiness of standard 70s is in its scale and authenticity. The shoes are handmade – Nigel’s Cuban heels cost £1,500 – and even the make-up is movie standard, with Guerlain bronzer giving Brutus his orange glow. Tailor-made clothes that seem more Biba than bad taste complete the look.

Yet behind the glitz and glamour lies a simple formula: to coin a clich, good clean fun. Nigel expounds on this with touching zeal. “There’s a massive lack of feel-good entertainment,” he says. “People have forgotten how to enjoy themselves. They like escapism and that’s why they go along with the whole thing. Brutus and the cast seem to have the power to unlock people’s inhibitions. It works with black, white, gay and straight people – anyone in the world.”

From a personal point of view, the show has totally transformed Nigel’s life. “I think the key reason why I’ve been successful is that it’s something I do for the love of doing it,” he says. “That’s brought me more success and happiness than anything.”

Brutus Gold’s Lovetrain will be at The Point, in Sunderland, from 10pm to 2am on the last Friday of each month, starting this week. Tickets cost £5 in advance and for students or £7 on the door. For more information, visit www.brutusgold.com