In Haunt

People may readily associate the Bee Gees with worldwide stardom and over 220 million record sales – and yet it was in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton that the iconic Gibb brothers first performed, in a building that is now under threat.

The Gaumont –a former cinema which has housed Co-op Funeral Care for a number of years – will turn 100 years old in 2020 and marks the place where the Gibb brothers’ first band The Rattlesnakes played in 1957. So The Gaumont is in fact a building ‘before the Bee Gees’ – and yet this fascinating heritage is at risk, as it faces being sold off and converted into flats. Now a volunteer group Chorlton Community Land Trust (CCLT) are determined to help keep the building Stayin’ Alive and have launched a fundraiser of the same name, with until Saturday 9 November to raise the £250k needed – open to public pledges (link here). 

Stayin Alive

"Bee Gees fans from all over the world come to have their pictures taken outside - even though it's a funeral home!” According to Chris Peacock, of the CCLT.

The CCLT's Stayin' Alive campaign to save the venue and celebrate the Bee Gees' heritage has already attracted widespread support, but more is needed to ensure the building is saved. It is after all a crucial part of the Bee Gees’ South Manchester story and it is somewhat of a hidden history that Chorlton itself is where the Gibb brothers - Barry, Robin and Maurice - spent a significant part of their childhood, later emigrating to Australia.

Although the Isle of Man of the 1940s was their birthplace, it was in 1955 that the Gibb brothers moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy in England: the hometown of their father Hugh Gibb. Here they lived on Keppel Road and attended Oswald Road Primary School, with The Gaumont – then a local cinema and venue – just a short distance away.

But what about the building itself? A historic location in its own right, located on the corner of Nicholas Road and Manchester Road, it first opened as a cinema called The Picture House in 1920. It saw a number of name changes over time, re-named the Savoy Cinema just a year later in 1921 and became one of the original cinemas to be part of the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain in 1928. It was not until 1946 that it was taken over by Gaumont/PCT and became The Gaumont.

Credit to Manchester Libraries

Although in the 1940s the Gibb Brothers were still in the Isle of Man, the decade of the 1950s saw them make their mark in Chorlton, spending nearly eight years there altogether. It was during this time that they formed their first band The Rattlesnakes, a skiffle-influenced rock and roll group started by Barry, with the younger Robin and Maurice joining as vocalists, and heir friends Paul Frost (drums) and Kenny Horrocks (tea-chest bass) being later additions. Considering that the boys’ influences at the time would have been the likes of the iconic Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, the rather grand Gaumont perhaps seemed like a fitting, exciting venue for The Rattlesnakes’ first show. Their debut public performance took place here in 1957 and included a cover of ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ by The Everley Brothers. Reports suggest that the audience enjoyed it!

In 1958 however, The Rattlesnakes came to an end – the same year that the Gibb brothers moved to Australia. It is in Australia itself that The Bee Gees were formed, and in more recent years Bees Gees Way was created in the Moreton Bay Area, Queensland, close to where they lived – celebrating that musical heritage. Now CCLT is hoping that Chorlton will also celebrate its musical past and history.

It is perhaps little wonder that CCLT's Stayin’ Alive campaign to save the venue and celebrate the Bee Gees' heritage is a highly significant step, attracting support from fans around the world, as well as the Bee Gees' cousins, Hazel and Justine Gibb. At a CCLT campaign meeting in September, Hazel and Justine spoke of how the Gibb family - including surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb - are all in support. Simon Hooton from CCLT reflected:

"Time is critical to save this landmark building - we have just a few days left to persuade the Co-op to change course. It is an important part of Manchester's historic music scene, so we want to preserve it and celebrate the world-famous Bee Gees and encourage more visitors to the area." (Image below: the interior of the building currently, awaiting its fate - taken by Christopher Peacock)

Stayin Alive

In addition, CCLT have exciting plans for the preservation of the building, as part of their approach to work with local residents as well as developers to celebrate Chorlton as a vibrant place for the community and visitors. This includes planning to convert the old cinema building into a market-style food hall with flexible scope to also be a performance space; as well as the potential of a GP Practice, gym, community space and some affordable housing on the site. The campaigners are also keen to create a new public square outside the building, aiming to integrate the upcoming re-development of the Chorlton precinct.

As the drafted plans have been drawn up, the campaign have been liaising with Manchester City Council and also the Co-op. In turn, CCLT have been given until this Saturday 9 November by the Co-op and want to raise £250k. So far, £55k has been raised in the first few days, but more is needed to ensure the building is saved.

The #StayinAlive crowdfunding website is now up and running. Follow the link for the campaign video, more information and to make a pledge:

Image 1 - campaign image. Image 2 - Copyright: Manchester Libraries. Image 3 - with thanks to Christopher Peacock. 




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