Bristol's New Mecca Centre 1960s

Who can remember the Locarno ballroom? Bristol's premiere 1960s dance venue in the new Bristol Centre with its famous illuminated ceiling.

 

Bristol . . . entertainments capital of the South West, and one of the entertainments attractions of Europe. That was the talk of the town when Mecca moved into Bristol, splashed out a fortune and began building the New Entertainments Centre in Frogmore Street, towering over the ancient Hatchet Inn and the Georgian and Regency streets nearby.

 

The New Entertainments Centre wasn't just big, it was enormous and it was what 60s leisure and fun-time were all about, Mecca promised. Here, slap bang in the middle of Bristol, the company was creating the largest entertainment centre in the whole of Europe. A dozen licensed bars, an ice rink, bowling lanes, a casino, cinema, a night club, a grand cinema, asumptuous ballroom and, naturally, a multi-storey car park to accommodate all those Zephyr Zodiacs, Anglias, Westminsters, Minis, Victors and Imps etc which would come pouring into town bringing the 5,000 or so customers who would flock to the centre every day.

 

London might have its famous West End. Bristol had its Frogmore Street palace of fun and the opening night of the biggest attraction of all, the Locarno Ballroom, on May 19th was the Night To Crown All First Nights, the Bristol Evening Post proudly announced. Sparkling lights, plastic palm trees in shadily-lit bars, a revolving stage, dolly birds in fishnet tights and grass skirts . . . this was glamour a la mid-60s and Bristol loved it.

 

Everyone wanted to be there'on Night One but the guest list was limited. It was, the Post reported the next day: "... a date to remember last night for 800 Bristol and West Country VIPs who saw the splendour of Mecca's new Locarno ballroom.

 

"At the New Bristol Centre were the mayors, the business chiefs and the top socialites of the city and neighbouring counties. "Mecca, having spent £2 million on building, spared no expense in making the opening of the ballroom one of the gayest nights of the year. "There was a gift of a commemmorative Churchill crown for every guest, including the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Aid. and Mrs Tom Martin. "Aid. Wally Jenkins, chairman of the Public Works and Planning Committee, gave the ballroom Bristol's blessing in declaring the premises well and truly launched.

 

"When Mecca selected Bristol for their centre, they did not just do it with a pin, he said. "They knew that Bristol deserved and appreciated the best. Mecca had shown a swashbuckling and adventurous enterprise in providing it and Bristol would support it. "To tell the guests last night all they wanted to know about Mecca, there were half a dozen hostesses, including winners of the West Country heat of the Miss Great Britain contest—in plumes, fishnet tights and bikinis. "There were girls in grass skirts who brought on the pineapple confection for the buffet supper. "There was Sidney Jones and his Orchestra playing conventional ballroom music and Wilf Ray and his Orchestra— including an ex-member of the Cadillacs, one of the West's top beat groups—playing superbly competent swing.

 

"There was glitter and glow of myriad lights. "There was an atmosphere of rich opulent intimacy warming the place in a way not to be expected in a ballroom capable of holding more than 2,000 people. "Guests were served drinks in the South Seas climate of the Bali Hai bar, in the swish Le Club bar and by check-waist- coated, bowler hatted barmen in the Victorian bar".

 

That was just for starters. In mid- November the Lord Mayor was there to open the magnificent £100,000 ABC Cinema at the centre. A week later Miss World, a beautiful Indian medical student, Reita Faria, came to town to open the Craywood Club, the new casino. Bristol—Sixties entertainment capital of the West.

 

Bristol Ice Rink in Frogmore Street opened in 1966. Originally owned by Mecca they added an ice hockey arena in 1981. It is now part of the John Nike Leisuresport’s facilities offering skating lessons, junior ice hockey and ice karting.

 

The Mecca Entertainment Centre today - see link below

 

www.flickr.com/photos/89492733@N00/302833938

 

Bristol City Center Night Clubs of Olde - see link below

 

www.twiglet.com/town.htm

  • megane11 5y

    I was in the resident band there in the 60s and 70s. Happy days. All that optimism when it opened but it didn't last long really however was shocked to see it being demolished after such a short life for such a big investment.
  • cemeterybird 4y

    I can remember seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience live down there, although I am beginning to doubt my own mind because I cannot find any record on the 'net about this gig..... was I dreaming or can anyone else remember him playing there?
  • warren davies 2011 4y

    Jimi HendrixExperience played there on 9th Feb '67. I was dj at the Heartbeat Club upstairs from the Locarno. The trio cameup after their show and stayed 'til we closedat 2.00am. They came over and complementedme on someof the music I had played - particularly a Booker T set of six tracks. One of the tracks featured Booker T playing piano instead of Hammond, a track they didn't recognise. So we sat cross legged on the floor talking about Booker T until the manager wanted to lock the place at 3.15am.
  • leighsflickpics 3y

    Used to go there every Saturday night from mid 70s to early 80s
  • Billy Shears 2y

    I was Lead singer along with Joanne Justice In The Tommy Hawkins Showband 1n 1974. Fantastic place.
  • AzStu 9mo

    I ran a mobile disco in Bristol with my friend and resident Locarno DJ Paul Sharp. We also did work for Hospital Radio Broadcasts and we got to interview the stars who appeared at the Locarno and a few other venues. The interview recordings were later used on the hospital radio channel in 3 bristol hospitals for patients who could not get out. We got to meet many band members and was an amazing time. We spoke to Hendrix briefly backstage the night of this concert and then he took off for the Heartbeat Club where we followed him for some more taping. A wonderful time.
  • Marie Mulvey-Roberts 2d

    I want to use a photo of the Locarno Ballroom in a book on Literary Bristol can anyone - especially Paul provide me with permission and a high res photo. I am especially interested in the ceiling. Please email me on marie.mulvey-roberts@uwe.ac.uk
    Many thanks
    Marie
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Taken on November 21, 2007
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