Whether you were a Northern Soulie, a casual shuffle dancer or an all-out raver, chances are you paid a visit to one of Wigan’s nightclubs back in the day. We’ve rounded up some of the best to bring back those hazy memories of booze, DJs and, er, dancing girls in the 70s, 80s and 90s, back when the drinking age was more a suggestion than a rule.
Wigan Pier Nightspot
First opened in the late 70s, Wigan Pier Nightspot didn’t fully hit its stride until the 1990s, attracting around 800 clubbers every weekend. Featuring bright red pillars and curved leather couches, the spot was popular with revellers hankering for a drunken night out they’d forget by the next morning.
Wiganer Paul Gore remembers the music at the Pier Nightspot being briefly paused to premiere the music videos for Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes at midnight.
Visitor numbers unfortunately fell in the early 2000s, and Nightspot closed its doors for good in 2011. It was demolished in 2014 and redeveloped into a green space.
The greatest club in Wigan, or the world? Pemps was more than just a club – it was an institution. With formidable owner Barbara Calderbank’s discerning gaze turned to a mob of punters clamouring to enter, access to the ‘members only’ venue was highly coveted – and for some, impossible to acquire. Barbara took her mysterious entry criteria to the grave.
Formerly known as Puffers due to the proximity of the Puffing Billy steam trains occupying the nearby railway, the club eventually evolved into Pemps, a haven for Northern Soul lovers, punk rockers and pop fans alike. Classic playlists included Brass Construction, Fatback Band and Earth, Wind & Fire – even a bit of Bowie. The night would usually draw to a close with the romantic instrumental ‘A Touch of Velvet, a Sting of Brass’ when the bar closed at 2am.
Pemps was also a notorious haunt for Wigan RLFC players and club owner Maurice Lindsay, who could often be found holding court by the bar on Sunday nights after the match.
Pemps eventually closed for good in 2005 and was later demolished.
Wigan Casino opened its doors for the first time in 1973 in the former Empress Ballroom (affectionately known as ‘The Emp’) site. The venue was ruled by DJ duo Russ Winstanley and Ian Fishwick, who were known for their notorious record collection and US imports. DJs Kev Roberts and Richard Searling later joined the team.
The club was renowned for its Northern Soul all-nighters, which lasted until 8 in the morning. Nights – or early mornings – always ended the same way: with the 3 Before 8. Wigan Casino’s final three songs were Jimmy Radcliffe’s ‘Long After Tonight is Over’, ‘Time Will Pass You By’ by Tobi Legend, and ‘I’m on My Way’ by Dean Parrish.
Wigan Casino closed its doors for the final time in 1981, after 500 successful all-nighters. The last song ever to be played there was ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ by Frank Wilson; a vinyl picked at random by Russ Winstanley to break the spell left by the usual 3 Before 8, which played three times consecutively at the end of the event.
The Casino building burned down a few months after its closure, and the site is now home to the Grand Arcade. The original DJs still host regular Northern Soul all-nighters for anyone missing the iconic atmosphere.
Cassinelli’s & Henry Afrikas
Popular on the jazz/funk scene, Cassinelli’s in Standish had a lot going for it – not in the least Kiss FM founder George Power’s tenure as resident DJ.
The venue opened as Cassinelli’s in early 1979, with DJs Colin Curtis, Billy Wildman and Barry Maleady stepping up to the decks. It ceased to operate as Cassinelli’s in the early 1980s before reopening as Mirage, based out of the Almond Brook Hotel, in the 90s. The building is now Standish’s Britannia Hotel.
Afterwards, stumble across the road to Henry Afrikas, a fun, tiki-themed bar with plenty going on. Whether you were cowering from Jason’s Horror Show with its snakes and coffins or ducking from the giant hands poking from the ceiling, you were always in for a good time over at Henry’s.
Maghull resident John Kelly remembers meeting his wife at Henry Afrikas: ‘I was on stage, having been called up to assist a 6ft DJ in drag, with a large snake round my neck, a black box on my head and a fire-eater setting fire to the box. Just a normal night out!’
Mention a plastic palm tree to any Wiganer around in the 70s and they’ll probably have flashbacks to Tiffany’s. The club first opened to the public in the mid-1970s, but underwent a full makeover in the 80s to add UV lighting and modernised features. Geoff Bom remembers celebrating birthdays at the club – bringing along 10 people awarded you a bottle of bubbly; bring 20 and you’d get bubbly and a cake! Needless to say, Geoff and his mates had ‘birthdays’ most weeks.
The club on Standishgate briefly became known as WN1, then Maximes, which hosted a full roster of rock and dance music. It was finally named Cube Nightclub before closing for good, and the building was left abandoned.
Initially the Las Vegas, Sloopies opened in the early 1970s and was situated on the top floor of the King Street West building, around the corner from the old Pemps building. A few Wiganers will remember – but perhaps deny – seeing the strippers on stage on boozy worknights.
By the mid-70s you’d find Trucks on the ground floor; an almost exclusively punk venue containing a full-sized flatbed truck to house the resident DJ. Visitors were free to dance in the bed of the truck to artists like Iggy Pop and Eddie & the Hot Rods, with live punk bands also taking to the stage.
The building later became Angels nightclub and is now known as Indiependence Wigan, playing the best of indie music.
Wigan’s 3-tiered dance venue spanned genres and floors alike. With different music played on each level, you didn’t know whether to head for the jukebox in the basement or take a gamble on the higher tiers where live bands would take to the stage. One stand-out factor was the red telephone box in the ground floor hallway which housed a lingerie-clad mannequin – certainly a talking point if you could remember it the next morning!
The Blutos building backed onto All Saints churchyard, and the Market Street site is now home to Lloyds TSB.
Reminiscing on the most iconic Wigan clubs is sure to bring a few drunken memories swimming back; back to a more innocent time, when venues were packed out by 10pm and closed by 2am! What was once a wealth of venues scattered across the town, from the Pier area to Standish, has become a congregation of clubs on King Street. Perhaps the sobering walk along cold Wigan streets back then helped to reduce the friction that seems to be commonplace on today’s King Street?