Club veteran visits his old night haunts
Buy this photo » The former owner of the Brunel Rooms in Swindon John Norman pictured with the new directors of the club Jason Ranford and Helene Simpkins
AN ORIGINAL founder of the Brunel Rooms and its revolving bar laid bare the reality of running the giant club when he met the new owners yesterday.
John Norman took over the club in 1973, and was in charge of booking the impressive line up of bands who came through their doors in the 1970s.
His brother came up with the idea for the infamous revolving bar, which John said was based on a rotating cattle feeder.
“There was a company in the area called Algo Engineering and they used to design farming equipment,” he said.
“They had a cattle feeder which would rotate so that all the cattle got enough feed.
“We decided to take the top half off that idea and use the base to create a revolving bar. The problem we found was getting electricity and water to it. We ended up sourcing them from a central pillar.
“It was quite a feat to pull off but it ended up quite unreliable. Over the years we had a lot of problems with it.”
John said he had some great times as a director, but it was an extremely tough venue to manage.
“I wish the new owners well,” he added.
“It is a difficult market to make a success out of. Even when I was there from 1973 it was difficult. That was because most of those pubs along Fleet Street all turned into these bars which were mainly nightclubs, which all nibbled away at our trade.
“The problem with the Brunel Rooms is it is such a big venue, and it is hard to fill.
“If you get 600 people in that is fine, but any less it starts to look empty. So the pressure is on to fill the place every night.
“When we were running the place every night was like a mini festival. They were wonderful times, and it would be lovely if they could recreate them.
“I used to be in charge of the bookings, and the highlight was definitely Jimi Hendrix.
“If anybody was to ask me the best band I booked it would have had to be 10CC. They were absolutely magnificent. The problem we had with them was they wanted to turn all the lights out for part of their set.
“If you can imagine a hall full of 1,200 people in complete darkness, you can understand our reservations. But we agreed and it went brilliantly well.”
The new directors of the club were happy to welcome John back, and said his advice had strengthened their resolve to return the venue to its former glory.
Helene Simpkins said: “He told us it is all about the people who come in and create the atmosphere. He said it felt exactly the same being back, and that these four walls have seen so much over the years.
“John had owned clubs in every region, but he said none of them were like the one here.
“He said there was a saying in his days that it is just the way of Swindon, if you didn’t live here and know what the people are like, you would have no chance of opening a club.”
“He told us you have to devote your life to the whole thing, and it isn’t just glamour, the job is also sticking your hand in the toilet. We are prepared for that, and what he has told us about his time here is exactly the same reason why we wanted to take it on, to bring it back to what it used to be.
“We showed him the old sign, and he was shocked to see it back in its home.”
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