End of an era as Crystals closes after 30 years in Newtown

Reporter:

Keri Trigg

‘YOU WENT to Crystals last night’ the stamp on your hand reads.

You can’t make out the words through blurred eyes, but you know what they are – everyone does – and after all, where else would you have gone?

Crystals, housed in the Regent Centre at the top of Newtown’s Broad Street, has been at the heart of Mid Wales’ nightlife scene since 1987. But after three decades, the club closed its doors for the last time on Wednesday night.

Those of us who grew up in the town, as well as many from further afield, know Crystals from school discos, 21st birthdays, and many a Mad Friday and New Year’s Eve.

We’ve all had our feet punctured by stilettos on the dance floor, had deep conversations with strangers in the loo queue and been rooted to the spot by the trademark sticky carpet.

And that stamp – a reminder of where you might have left your wallet and/or dignity – that lasts just long enough for your workmates to judge you on Monday morning.

But the history of Crystals stretches far beyond what those of us younger than the place know it for – once upon a time it hosted weddings, meetings and sporting events, cabaret nights, comedians and gala dinners.

Its closure marks the end of an era for the town – but for no-one more so than the man who made it all happen.

Gordon Davies was head doorman on the club’s opening night, September 17, 1987. By the end of that year he’d been made manager and, in 1998, became the proprietor.

Now 73, Gordon handed the reigns to grandson Luke Orehawa five years ago – but remained involved in the club and was still on the doors until his licence expired at the age of 70.

“I was here on the first night and I’ll be here on the last night,” Gordon pledged when we met him at Crystals last week.

Former proprietor Gordon Davies pictured outside Crystals last week.

“It’s been 30 years – a lot of places like this don’t even last 10 years. It’s been kind of an institution for this area.

“I would think most people’s memories are good – but there are always people who get launched out of here!”

Gordon was made manager in December 1987 and tasked with using his local knowledge to make the club Mid Wales’ go-to venue.

“Music-wise, we had some very successful 60s nights – the Searchers, Dave Berry and the Cruisers, a few of those bands.

“Then we moved on to house music and they still do have some of that now.

“Sonny Wharton started here spinning discs, as did a lot of local guys, and he’s gone on to international success.”

Sonny returned for one last set on Saturday night, posting to Facebook the next day that it was “a pleasure” to return to the place he began his career.

He was among the many DJs to excel under the mentorship of Crystals’ own Dave Cornish, who died earlier this year aged 57.

Gordon recalled Dave, whose involvement with the club began in its early days, as a “big influence on people like Sonny”.

Aside from the club nights, Gordon was keen to see Crystals establish a reputation for all manner of events.

He said: “In the early days Thursday night was a cabaret night. We used to have a few big names; we had Tom O’Connor, the famous TV comic, Brendan Shine and his show band from Ireland.

“We showed the live heavyweight boxing match between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno at 3am and the place was full, and we have also hosted amateur boxing.

“For a short while we had a wedding licence, and used to host many Christmas parties from November into January. We could fit about 150 people for a sit-down meal. We could turn it into a lot of different things.”

A sponsored line-dancing event gets underway at Crystals in the 1990s.

The building had already been a lot of different things, well before Crystals took over part of its upper floors.

Built in the 1830s as the Flannel Exchange, it quickly became a focal point of the local flannel industry.

Later it became the Public Rooms, used for concerts, exhibitions and auctions, before the front of the building was transformed into a Post Office.

The Scala Cinema opened in 1920, taking over the rest of the Grade II listed building when the Post Office moved to Shortbridge Street in 1937.

Throughout World War Two, it hosted shows by military entertainers for the troops stationed at Newtown’s army camps.

The cinema closed in the 1980s, and the building was bought by the two prominent local businessmen behind WR Davies and Evans’s. Under their ownership the Regent Cinema and Crystals opened for business, later followed by The Exchange.

Gordon said: “Downstairs was just basically a dump, full of rubbish. That was my brainchild, to put a pub down there.

“The pub opened in 1999. On a night out, a lot of people started downstairs in The Exchange, and then went around town before coming back up to Crystals.”

The Exchange was also well-known for its Sunday carvery, where Gordon could still be found carving the meat until the pub shut down at the end of October.

The closure of both venues marks the end of another chapter in the Regent Centre’s history, but Gordon is looking to the future.

“I think the type of business it is needs to move on now to do something different for a different generation,” he said.

“It’s been my thing and it’s quite upsetting that it’s closing, but I do realise that it needs to close. It’s time to let someone else come and move it on.”

Summing up 30 years of Crystals, Gordon said: “It’s been an interesting time, and a great ride.

“We’ve had some hard times, some rough times as well, but I wouldn’t have missed it.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Email:

keri.trigg@nwn.co.uk

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  • WasnotreallyFirebrand

    03:03, 29 December 2017

    Worked in the exchange and occasionally in here when I was 18 to 20. Was a great place to work, Gordon was super friendly. I live in another country now and very sad to know that by the next time I make it back it will be gone.

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