In Haunt

Digging up a now disused nightclub in the Moss Side area of Manchester was the idea of artist and playwright Linda Brogan, determined that “everyone should be able to tell their own story”. Titled ‘Excavating The Reno’, this is one of Linda’s most recent projects – not only excavating the site of The Reno itself, but inviting people to share their memories and going on to collaborate with The Whitworth gallery in a vibrant living exhibition that still can be visited today.

Why The Reno?  Located on the corner of Moss Lane East and Princess Parkway, the building started life in 1962 as a Salvation Army hostel used by African seamen, before going onto become one of the most welcoming spaces in the city for mixed race Mancunians of all ages.

Linda Brogan

Whilst the Nile Club was in the upstairs part of the building, The Reno itself was located underground, with a bar, a performance area for live music – and, of course, plenty of space to dance!  The club’s heyday of 1971-81 saw it as ‘the place to be’; with visits from the likes of Tony Wilson, snooker champion Alex Higgins and even Muhammad Ali.

“I personally never had a problem about being mixed race,” says Linda (pictured above, at the excavation site of The Reno) who grew up in Chorlton On Medlock and then Moss Side from the age of four.

The Reno"But the first night I ever went down to The Reno, there were many mixed race people there, I hadn’t seen anywhere else like that – it felt like ‘my place’. Everyone has a place that has made them feel like that, and for me, it is The Reno. The music was always absolutely rocking… it was really hard NOT to dance. This was a place where you’d hear records every night that got you moving!

“Moss Side was thriving, and I want to recognise the importance of that community. There were greengrocers, newsagents, everyone knew all the shopkeepers – a takeaway was rare. People looked out for each other too; when we were kids, someone’s mum was everybody’s mum! People played out. I think people miss that… and a big part of the project is to encourage people to talk about their memories, the past and what they learned from it.”

In 2016 Linda set out to collect people’s experiences of The Reno and filmed a range of Reno memoirs. People from across the country and beyond contributed with written and visual accounts of their time there– often talking about the friendly atmosphere and sense of connection.  After all, The Reno was a space to socialise, a place to be oneself – vital at a time when mixed race people still often faced the injustice of discriminatory treatment.

The fascinating stories of community and culture attracted Reno regular Linda, who had previously considered writing a play about it. However, on her website, she reflects on her decision not to opt for a theatrical approach: ‘I’ve been tempted to write a Reno play for many years. What held me back were the intricacies of the nuances. My way around that was to harvest the Reno itself’.

But how did she go about harvesting The Reno? She decided to  collect its memoirs and dig it up – literally.

Excavation

Visiting the former site – for many years simply lying as a patch of land at a Moss Side crossroad – Linda noticed poppies growing; standing out as a symbol of hope. Beginning September 2016 she collected Reno memoirs, going onto secure Arts Council funding and went onto the excavate The Reno itself with Salford University Applied Archaeological unit: in a dig that lasted for three weeks in October 2017. A fascinating reality was soon revealed; that The Reno had not been completely destroyed when it was demolished in 1986 – instead, it had just been filled in. Therefore, the dig could uncover the club itself, including personal pieces of the past found there such as bottles, combs, makeup – even a pair of flared trousers! Many of these items are now on display as part of the exhibition.

Members of the community and Reno regulars from far-and-wide came together to get involved in the excavation. It even involved a party, inviting former club DJs to play once more in the space. Although the hole where the dancefloor had been was too unsafe, it was lit theatrically for the event and DJs played in marquees close by – with attendees including the legendary DJ Persian, who occupied the decks in the years 1968-1983.

As The Reno was uncovered, Linda recorded the process – all the time encouraging people to continue sharing stories and to discuss issues around representation, class and race in the city. This provided a platform for diverse discussion and creative expression – celebrated initially with an event at The Whitworth on the 23 November 2017, forging the idea of a sustained relationship between the Reno and the gallery. The project also went on to be the finalist in an impressive eight awards in 2018 - and the impact did not stop there. (Image below: Fountain of Youth Exacavated Reno lit like Pompeii) The Reno Lit Up Fountains Of Youth

 2019 has seen The Reno project take up a year-long residency in Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery, occupying a large upstairs space with collective memoirs of The Reno and material from the excavation. Titled ‘The Reno @ The Whitworth’ it is intended as space for developing further ideas. Linda encourages anyone to visit, talk, contribute their own clubbing and community memoirs – whether of The Reno or elsewhere, and learn from the experience.

“Having it at The Whitworth is a great opportunity and I want to big up Alastair Hudson, the Artistic Director: we have a  great relationship. I’ve been able to get used to the space and have been settling in since March this year,” says Linda. (Image below: The Reno @ The Whitworth - gathered archives)

But did she ever envisage the project reaching the scale that it has? Has that caused its own challenges? According to Linda, one the biggest challenges was starting in the first place:

The Reno at The Whitworth

“Collecting the memoirs – that was the brave thing,” she reflects. “Do I dare be an artist in Moss Side in front of my friends?

“At the very first meeting of people wanting to share their Reno Memoirs – which took place in the café at Alexandra Park – there were 15 of us. Yet within the first few months], over 45,000 had listened to our memoirs, more than 50 people had contributed, it really grew… and I was adamant that this would be a project allowing us to talk how we talk!

“Of course, it’s been a personal journey for me too. I’m not white and I’m not middle class. In 2002 I became a playwright and was already 43. I was already fully formed, my own person – and yet I felt that the ‘arts world’ expected me to give a certain story. Box-ticking is massive… and time in the ‘arts world’, it gets to you. That’s why, with this project, I was determined to engage with place through the voices of people who were there.

“Moss Side and the people there are often only represented in certain ways, certain stories are attached to them… and I want to challenge that. The ordinary stories don’t often get told: that we really laughed, had social lives, a nightlife scene… instead Moss Side has often been represented by others through horrible stories or ‘victim’ stories. Now we take ownership.”

The Reno

Linda is determined to celebrate people’s own account of their communities (image inside The Reno, above) and as part of the project she delivered a conference to other working class artists about what she has learned.

“Whoever has control of the narrative is the person telling the story – and this a project where people tell their own.”

“Letting people take control of their own stories encourages others to listen – it is an important relationship. For so long, many of us have not had the opportunity, so often we have been put down by other people telling their version of our stories. That’s partly why the project keeps on surprising me, people come forward all the time with things they have internalised for years.

“I did the project too because I wanted my voice back. For years, as a working class person in the arts, I felt like I had to keep asking the question ‘have I pleased you yet?’ to people who believed they were ‘above’ me. You know what I’ve learned? Turn round and say it to your own people! Working class people are missing a trick; there are thousands of us! Our voices and stories deserve a place just as much as anyone else’s. I was a ghetto girl, my voice was true and this felt like a way back to me – this has been a massive journey.” (Image below: The Reno @ The Whitworth)

The Whitworth

Celebrating the stories of people who may have been historically misrepresented matters to the project, as highlighted when Manchester Histories invited Linda to get involved with the 1819 Peterloo Massacre’s Bicentennial programme of commemorative events. The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 was a mass tragedy in which at least 18 people killed and more than 600 were injured when a peaceful protest of over 60,000 largely working-class people was brutally crushed by the authorities.

The Reno may not seem to have obvious connections with Peterloo – but Linda realised by turning the ‘1819’ date around, this creates ‘1981’ – the year of the Moss Side Riots, taking place just five years before The Reno was demolished. These riots saw large-scale discontent in the area, as unemployment became an increasing issue and the authorities were known for their harsh treatment of ethnic minorities.

In turn, Linda has reflected on the Moss Side riots and created a film that shares the different perspectives and voices of people who were there. One of those voices is of Melba Finni, who was 13 years old at the time– contrasted with the views of serving officer PC Ian Mack. Both will also give voice to the two different sides in the Peterloo Massacre – the peaceful protestors on one hand, and the Hulme Hussars, on the other.

“It was very hard to get a cop to talk!” says Linda “However, Ian did and I am grateful for that. Hearing different perspectives really matters.”

Peterloo 2019

The short film will be shown in public on 18 July 2 – 4-30pm and 13 Aug 5 – 7-30pm in the Manchester Central Library Performance Space, as part of Peterloo 2019

(the events programme led by Manchester Histories). Screenings will be followed by a discussion of the themes raised, which Linda will record on film and then archive at www.thereno.live, as well as incorporating into The Reno at The Whitworth Exhibit March 2019 to 2020.

Therefore, Excavating The Reno never ends; whether you were there or not. What it uncovers is a crucial celebration of our own stories and those of others; something we all can learn and grow from. Excitingly, 2020 will consist of working towards a 2021 MIF ‘musical’ with international artist Gecko.

 Find out more about Excavating the Reno online at http://thereno.live where Linda blogs weekly and the Reno memoirs can be easily watched, tagged on the right of the blog. Visit The Reno @ The Whitworth until March 2020, and for further details on the 1819-1981 film screening visit: https://peterloo1819.co.uk/event/1819-to-1981-2/  

By Emily Oldfield

Photographs:

Image 1, 3 & 5 thanks to professional photographer Karen Rangeley who documents the project

Image 4: thanks to Kirsty Lloyd

Image 6 thanks to Francis Pereira (his father is in the photograph wearing the beret)

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