Friday, 18 April 2014

Va Va/Pips/Rotters/Space City/High Society/Kiss/Club Liquid

The entrance to the cellar at Elizabeth House, the entry to a night club that had six different names over a period of 20 years.

When Elizabeth House was built on Great Moor Street in 1971 it was decided to lease the cellar premises to a company who wanted to open up a nightclub. The Va Va club opened that year, the club’s name coming from the French word for ‘go’ – The ‘Go Go’ club, in other words.

The Va Va became well-known throughout the north in 1973 for its all-night northern soul sessions. Local DJ Wick Barrett (nowadays a civil servant in Cardiff) invited another DJ, Richard Searling to help him out at the 12-hour sessions which began in April 1973. Richard had just returned from a trip from Philadelphia and had brought back with him a large number of obscure soul records and took up Wick’s offer. The first few hours at the Va Va’s Friday night sessions would be the pop hits of the day followed at 1am by ‘rare soul’ – the term which the genre later known as ‘Northern  Soul’ was initially known by – until the club closed at 8 the following morning.

The Va Va had a capacity of around 400 and by the summer of that year was attracting around 300-400 people every Friday night from all over the north of England, partly helped by the management advertising in Blues & Soul magazine.

But as always seems to be the case in the case of night clubs with what could be termed a ‘cult following’ drugs were instrumental in its downfall.

As Richard Searling puts it:  “During a casual look around the club drugs were found and the management, quite understandably, became worried about their relations with the Police who had discovered the 'Pills'.  Nothing was said on that Friday in August, but on the following Wednesday I received a phone call from the manager saying that the Va-Va all-nighter was no more”. [1]

After just four months the all-night sessions were dead, but for an event that lasted such a short space of time the sessions are still fondly remembered. The Va Va is mentioned in the same breath as the King Mojo in Sheffield, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton and the Room at the Top in Wigan as clubs that helped pioneer Northern Soul and the club is remembered with a great deal of affection both locally and by aficionados of the genre from further afield. A simple Google search for ‘Va Va Bolton’ digs up a whole host of  memories on blogs and forums from people who attended the events in those heady days of the summer of '73.

A month after the Va Va ended its Northern Soul all-nighters, Wigan Casino began theirs. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Va Va endured two name changes before the seventies were out as the owners went for a more mainstream audience and tried to compete with other nightclubs in the town such as the Palais, Scamps and the Cromwellian/Maxwell’s Plum. It changed its name to Pips nightclub and became Rotters in 1978. However, it closed after a fire in 1979 and remained empty for over a year.

Space City Bolton

In December 1980 the premises re-opened as Space City. The club licence had gone but Space City promoted itself as a pool hall and amusement arcade specialising in ‘space invader’ games that had recently become popular.

The popularity of ‘space invaders’ began to wane as the eighties wore on and in the summer of 1984 Space City’s management began to put on heavy rock discos following the demise of rock nights in the Swan Hotel’s cellar bar the previous year. It was a strange choice. While the Swan’s cellar was dank and wet the inside of Space City still looked like the trendy nightclub it had been in the seventies complete with mirrors and disco balls. Even so, the Space City rock disco ran for four years until the venue's owner Roy Savage sold up in 1988. Like the Northern  Soul events over a decade earlier, the rock nights are still remembered affectionately by those who were there, but the rockers moved on to yet another cellar bar, Sundowners in Mawdesley Street (later J2 and now Level) where they remained – in a club re-named Sparrow’s in 1989- for the next eight years.

The premises that once housed Va Va and Space City then became High Society, before being renamed the Kiss night spot from 1992 and Club Liquid in 1997. This closed soon after the turn of the millennium.

Moves were afoot around 2004 to re-commence rock nights in the Elizabeth House cellar, but police objections centred around the manning of resources away from the Bradshawgate/Deansgate area and it looks unlikely ever to re-open as licensed premises.

The Bolton Council list of empty properties as at September 2014 has Heineken UK Ltd as its owners.

[1] Rumworth Soul Club. Accessed 17 April 2014.
[2] Wikipedia entry for  Northern Soul. Accessed 17 April 2014.


  1. Have some brilliant memories as a 16 year old with all my heavy metal friends from school at Sundowners then later as it became Sparrows :0)

  2. I remember Space City, I was there every week, not so sure about Sundowners though, was that across from the gym? (I think it was called Bolton Health Studio).

  3. Right on both counts. You must remember the narrow steep stone steps? If you went to Sundowners then you came past me on the door :D