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Do you remember Northgate Arena's legendary music concerts?

Morrissey, Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene and Levellers all graced the stage

Manic Street Preachers kicked off their tour in Chester in 1998

During the 80s and 90s Chester’s Northgate Arena played host to some of Britain’s best loved bands and solo artists.

Morrissey, Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene and Levellers were among the musical giants to take to the stage.

Over the years thousands of music lovers turned out to witness the landmark gigs in the main hall of the city’s sports centre.

Today we turn the clocks back a few decades and reminisce with some of the bands and fans who witnessed the arena shows.

A step back in musical history

Northgate Arena leisure centre was built in 1977 on the site of the former Chester Northgate railway station on Victoria Road.

For many years it was the focus of sports activities in the area and boasted swimming pools, a gymnasium and several sports halls.

Despite its size and capacity it was not until the early 1980s that the arena became the venue for popular musical acts.

Northgate Arena was built in 1977 on Victoria Road

On August 20, 1981, British punk and new wave singer-songwriter Joe Jackson, nominated for five Grammy awards, was the first to hit the stage.

Four years later the arena hosted its next acts, English rock band The Damned supported by The Fuzztones on July 6, 1985.

Welsh alternative rockers The Alarm, formerly known as punk band The Toilets, then went on to perform in Chester on December 18, 1988.

But these acts turned out to be just tasters of what was to come as it was the 90s that were truly the heyday of musical performances at the arena.

1991 was a busy year with three bands coming to Chester beginning with Wirral electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on October 29.

On December 16 there were sets from West Midlands rock band Ned’s Atomic Dustbin closely followed by Yorkshire rockers New Model Army on December 18.

Levellers

Brighton’s Levellers are famed for happy hit What a Beautiful Day

In 1992 Brighton’s Levellers, famed for happy hit What a Beautiful Day, were the sole headliners supported by punk pop band Back to the Planet on May 12.

Levellers bass player Jeremy Cunningham reminisced with the Chronicle on the sports centre gig which he remembers fondly.

“I remember the Northgate Arena well. Levs played there a few times back in the 90s. Was exciting time for us, going from theatre shows up to sports centres.

“That said, at the time, we were more interested in the pool!

“Our first time in ‘92 we had Back to the Planet as opening band and as I got off our tour bus they were already heading in for a swim.

“Sounded good to me - even more so cos I was desperate to impress their singer, Fil. Anyway, a good couple hours later, I still hadn’t impressed her and was absolutely knackered.

“Come show time Back to the Planet were also not quite as energetic as usual. But when I got up there for our gig I realised why. Swimming may be good for you, but not before a gig!

“I was like a kind of pathetic elastic version of my normal self. Crowd 10, me nil. Lesson (kind of) learned!”

N-Trance

N-Trance hit the charts with Set You Free

In a surprise u-turn from the traditional rock acts, the arena hosted British electronic group N-Trance on April 16, 1993, who hit the charts with Set You Free.

Group founder and frontman Kevin O’Toole told the Chronicle: “I remember the Northgate Arena gig well, as it was the first time we performed Set You Free live.

“Up until then we’d performed as an instrumental duo with a rapper.

“It was a huge crowd at Northgate Arena and we were very naive with our sound check. On stage the PA system was drowning out our monitors and half way through Set You Free we all lost our cue points as the crowd cheered over the middle drop section of the song.

“It seems funny looking back now... but at the time it was sheer panic on stage.”

It was back to the indie hits in 1995 when Fairport Convention, an English electric folk band formed in 1967, performed at the venue on January 26.

1997 was a huge year for Chester when the infamous Morrissey of indie rock band The Smiths gave an incredible solo performance on December 11.

Morrissey has received critical acclaim for his lyrics and unique performing style and hit the top ten of the UK Singles Chart on ten occasions.

Mansun

Paul Draper and Dominic Chad performing with Mansun

Just days later Chester’s very own alternative four piece Mansun, famed for Wide Open Space and Legacy, played for their home crowds.

Chronicle executive editor Michael Green said: “I ended up seeing Mansun about half a dozen times during their brief but glorious existence but there were two things special about the Northgate Arena gig - it was the first time I saw them live and the only time I saw them on home turf.

“Sadly, I have to say that was about all that was memorable about the event. The Northgate Arena is a fabulous leisure centre but was a lousy concert venue.

“The sound system was dreadful and did not do justice to the melodic subtleties of Mansun’s music. It was basically just a huge wall of sound in which one song was barely distinguishable from another.

“It wasn’t until I saw them at the MEN Arena and Leeds Festival that I was able to fully appreciate just what an amazing live band they were.”

Paul Draper, Stove King, Dominic Chad and Andie Rathbone went on to grace the stage at the arena again on October 30 and December 18, 1998.

Manic Street Preachers

Some incredible acts played at the Northgate Arena in Chester

One of the most memorable performances at the arena was on September 16, 1998, when Welsh political rockers Manic Street Preachers came to Chester.

The band were set to begin an 11 date small venue tour following the release of their number one album This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours just two days prior.

Following a support set from Scottish post rock band Mogwai, they opened with If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.

The band went on to perform hits Australia, Motorcycle Emptiness and You Love Us among others before closing with A Design for Life.

NME and Guardian music journalist Daniel Martin from Chester recounted his memories of the concert to the Chester Chronicle.

“Manic Street Preachers were always my favourite band, the first band I truly ‘got’ and to this day informed how I see the world,” he said.

“You don’t need me to tell you that Chester is not a regular spot for touring bands, so for them to open the tour for This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours in our city was mind blowing.

“I remember bringing my ‘cool uni friends’ over from Manchester, and feeling a sense of civic pride I never had before or since.

“In 1998 they had their first number one with If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, which was ostensibly about the Spanish civil war.

“Looking at the Trump and Brexit world today, that song sounds horribly potent once again.”

Completing the era of musical performance were number one selling Birmingham rock four piece Ocean Colour Scene on April 22, 1999.

They returned for the arena’s final gig on February 22, 2002.

Do you have any Northgate Arena gig photos, videos, memories or memorabilia? Send them to us at cheshire.news@trinitymirror.com

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