Magnum Leisure Centre, Irvine

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Before we begin, this blog entry from Craig McAllister concerns the Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine on the West coast of Scotland. Although he remembers it here mostly as a music venue, it also used to house a cinema. According to Cinema Treasures, the Magnum Film Centre opened, along with the rest of the Leisure Centre, on 18 September 1976. It was a 323-seat arthouse cinema initially, due to a tie-in with the Glasgow Film Theatre, but moved to more mainstream fare. Contributor Dave Simpson says that the final film shown there was The Hulk, on Sunday 17 August 2003. The former cinema auditorium is now used as a live theatre.

That’s the local-historical preamble. Over to our correspondent, Craig McAllister

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The grand old Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine is being pulled down as I type. Local politics and whatnot has seen the building fall gradually into disrepair, an eyesore too far gone for a quick cash injection and 60 minute makeover. They’ve opened a spanking new place in the town centre. It’s impressive ’n all that, but like for like, it doesn’t come close to what the Magnum offered.

A fixture on Irvine beach since 1976, the Magnum played a formative part in most Irvinites’ growing up. Beyond Irvine, it was known as the place where you were bussed on a school trip; to swim, to skate, to watch the latest blockbuster in its plush 300-seater theatre. If you were that awkward age between being too old to stay in on a weekend night but too young for the pub, the Magnum was your saviour. There’s no-one I know who didn’t go there. Even oor ain Nicola Sturgeon mentioned it on her Desert Island Discs, recalling Frosty’s Ice Disco skating sessions with a misty-eyed fondness.

The Magnum had something for everyone. The Scottish Indoor Bowls championships were held there. Every pedigree dog in the country was shown there at some point. Girls and boys danced at regional shows. Gymnasts tumbled and twirled and twisted their way around the main hall. 80s fitness freaks squashed while the half-hearted badmintoned. All manner of variety shows were held there and crucially, all manner of big, proper, touring bands poured through the doors as quickly as they could be accommodated.

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Irvine in the 1980s was a popular place for all your favourite bands to play; The Clash, The Jam, Big Country, Thin Lizzy, Chuck Berry, The Smiths, The Wonder Stuff, Madness … the list is endless, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Willie Freckleton, the local Entertainments Officer who offered up what was at the time the largest indoor concert hall in Europe to the promoters and band managers who deigned which towns were important enough to play. Willie offered the hall rent free, which proved to be the clinching factor most of the time. Amazingly, most of the bands would include Glasgow and Irvine as part of the same tour, something that, since the building of the Hydro on Glasgow’s Clydeside, is now unthinkable.

There are a multitude of stories connected to the Magnum, from local folk who were so familiar with the warren of corridors and passageways in the changing areas that they could sneak from the ice disco into the UB40 gig without paying, or the young fans who found themselves receiving mohawks from Clash roadie Kosmo Vinyl after they’d played a terrific London Calling-era ‘Greatest Hits’ gig, not that The Clash ‘did’ greatest hits, but you know what I mean.

I remember the day The Jam came to town. Too young for the show (I didn’t even know it was on) I happened to be at the front of my house as scooter after scooter after scooter buzzed past on their way from Glasgow to the Magnum. A multitude of mirrors, parkas and girls riding pillion, it was just about the most impressive thing I’d seen at that point in my life, something only equalled when I saw The Clash in Irvine Mall on the day of their Magnum show. Four alien-looking guys in denim and leather and black shades, surrounded by a scrum of older folk I recognised from the years above at school. “It’s The Fucking Clash!!!” is what I remember hearing, even if I was unaware exactly who The Fucking Clash were at that point in my life.

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Spandau Ballet, photo by Ross Mackenzie*

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Willie Feckleton once told me a great story about booking Chuck Berry, his idol and the musician he was most thrilled at having landed to play in Irvine. Chuck, a musical giant who was right there alongside Ike Turner at the birth of rock ‘n roll, a man who is responsible for fashioning the DNA of the rock guitar riff was, by all accounts a thoroughly unpleasant human being. In Irvine he wouldn’t play until he’d first been handed his fee (paid in American dollars, of course) in a brown paper bag in the dressing room before going on stage. The anonymous support band was also Chuck’s backing group and when Chuck eventually came on he played on about only six songs. He let the other guitarist take most of the solos, looked super-bored throughout and disappeared offstage fairly quickly.”

Coming off after the set Willie approached Chuck enthusiastically. “That was great Chuck! They love you out there! How about an encore?

Sure,” drawled Chuck with his hands out. “Fo’ anutha’ five hun’red dollas … ”

It’s stories like those above that live long after the artist has left town and the gig is nothing more than a pre-smartphone blur of exaggerations and half-truths. Did Morrissey really dance with Brian McCourt’s umbrella when The Smiths played? Did Phil Lynott really nip up to George the Barber at the Cross for a quick trim of the ’fro, mid-tour with Thin Lizzy? Who can be certain if they did or didn’t? For cultural and economical terms, it’s a real shame that Irvine no longer has a venue that can be used to entice the big acts of the day to come and play and create memories for our young (and not so young) folk.

 

First published as Magnum Opus in July 2017 on the blog Plain or Pan, serving “outdated music for outdated people” since 2007.

*Thrillingly – according to Craig – Ross has snapped loads of bands at the Magnum. Sadly, this is all he could find!

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The Odeon; the ABC, Canterbury

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By Martin P

Growing up in small town East Kent, I was spoiled for choice with two cinemas. Two! One, the old Canterbury Odeon, betrayed its theatrical roots, with a balcony and actual stalls at the rear of the lower tier. It was by far my favourite place to see a film. The first I can remember seeing was the Walt Disney animated version of Robin Hood – I vividly recall being given a poster of the titular fox in the foyer afterwards, which I proudly took home and Blu-tac’ed to my bedroom wall. I also remember another time, going with my school friend Alex’s family to see a James Bond film, probably For Your Eyes Only. The film clearly was lost on me.

What wasn’t lost on me was the fact that my friend’s older sister, Denise, on whom I had a prototype crush, sat next to me. This may or may not have been a factor in what happened when, during the interval between supporting and main feature, a collection box for the Red Cross was passed around. Now although Alex’s family had taken me out, my parents had not wanted me to go empty-handed, or with empty pockets, so had packed me off with a crisp new £1 note. When the collection box came to me, I felt pressured to put something in, just like everyone else – it seemed the right thing to do, the grown-up thing to do. And I had no change. So the whole £1 went in.

Had I hoped to impress Denise? Maybe. Was I subsequently unable to buy a Kia-Ora? Definitely.

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Anyway, whilst the old Odeon is now the Marlowe Theatre in The Friars, the grubby old ABC is now the marginally less grubby Odeon, in Upper St George’s St. Though the Odeon was my favourite, it’s the ABC I need to talk about. I didn’t like the ABC as much. It felt a bit tatty. And whereas the Odeon has a circle and stalls, the ABC was just an enormous terrace of seats for its single screen. To give you an idea of how things were, my last visit there was in the ’90s for a late-night screening of Reservoir Dogs. They let the audience sit there for nearly an hour before cancelling and offering refunds because the bulb in their projector had blown and, incredibly, they didn’t have a spare.

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So, we’ve established I didn’t much like the ABC but in those days, when there was far less choice, you took what you could get. And what I got, one day, was The Waterloo Bridge Handicap.

Now IMDb tells me this film was made in 1978. If I Googled hard enough, I could probably find out what films it was shown as the support feature for in the years that followed. But I’m not too bothered about that; the very fact that I can’t remember what the main feature was tells me all I need to know. But The Waterloo Bridge Handicap stuck.

It’s a simple tale of commuters, haring over the eponymous river crossing in the style of a horse race, complete with commentary from a young Brough Scott. He’s not the only notable name on show either. Leonard Rossiter plays the lead, Charles Barker, whilst Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Gordon Kaye and Zoot Money all put in appearances too.

The reason this film stuck, and that I’ve been thinking about it lately, is that I now have a 10½ minute walk from where I park to my office. Note, 10½. Not 10, not 11. That’s how much I’ve refined the walking leg of my commute. And the thing is, if there’s anyone further up the path than me, I try to walk them down. I have a notional finishing line. I even talk to myself about it (in my head, not aloud – don’t panic). It becomes a little race for me. I know how that sounds, but when you walk the same 0.8 miles twice a day, every day, well, what would you do to make it interesting?

I’m going to embed the film now, courtesy of YouTube. Even if you think I’m a bit sad with my walk to work, this is worth a watch, partly for its time-capsule illustration of how much things have changed: in film, with the leisurely (pedestrian, you might say) pace of the opening; in London, with buildings and street furniture that are consigned to history; in transport, with British Rail rolling stock; and in people, not only in dress but in technology, with not a mobile phone in sight and people either talking to each other or, at least, looking where they’re walking. And if the Thames station ident at the start of the clip doesn’t get your nostalgia muscle flexing, nothing will.

Martin has been blogging on issue cultural, musical, cinematic, political and otherwise at New Amusements since 2005. This blog entry was first published there in May 2016. I include it with pleasure.