Photography by Harry Potts
Sarge Guilfoyle has been one of the most familiar faces in and around Manchester’s music scene for the last five decades. The security company boss has provided stage door and front of house security for the Apollo, worked the doors for many of the city’s music clubs and provided band security for some of the biggest names in the music business. Sarge’s tough exterior and no nonsense professional approach to his job, has given him legendary status within the Manchester music and entertainment community.
Sarge & his trademark tattoos
Sarge on tour with Peter Hook
Born in Withington in 1953, he moved at the age of five with his two brothers to live with his grandparents in Blackley, North Manchester.
Sarge's first association with music was with the punk band The Drones in the late 1970s, this led to security work in Manchester at Virgin Records on Market Street, Jillys rock club and his long running association with the Manchester Apollo. Soon after, he was touring with The Buzzcocks, looking after their security. Joy Division supported The Buzzcocks in 1979 and it was then that Sarge began his close friendship with Peter Hook. After the death of Joy Division’s frontman Ian Curtis, the newly formed New Order invited Sarge to join them to provide band security on their world tours and he continued to do so until Peter Hook left the band in 2007. He continued to work with Hooky’s new project 'Peter Hook and the Light' up until Sarge’s retirement in 2019.
We are playing at The Apollo in January in a Sold Out show! I should be over the moon, but I am not. You see, Sarge was 'The mainstay' at The Apollo for years and years doing the security. He has now retired and the thought of being there without him breaks my heart - Peter Hook
Sarge with the Buzzcocks
Passes from the Maine Road shows
Sarge formed his own security firm ‘Star Security’ in the late 80s and worked with numerous artists and provided the security for Maine Road stadium, which hosted some of the world’s biggest acts: Queen; Pink Floyd; David Bowie; Fleetwood Mac; The Rolling Stones and Prince. Star Security also had a contract with Manchester based Kennedy Street Promotions and provided the personal security for visiting music artists to the UK including: Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Billy Ocean, Chippendales and Meatloaf.
He really is a Manchester institution and a rock that I and many others have hidden behind for years. He always makes you feel completely safe and I am so happy my great friend is being celebrated in Manchester’s history in this way. He 'SO' deserves it! He was there from punk right up to the present day and I miss you mate! Love Hooky;)"
THE SHOOT: Brixham, South Devon
Where Sarge now lives in retirement
Q & A with Sarge
Q: Where does the name Sarge come from?
A: Now that’s a difficult one to answer… I can’t really divulge that sort of information, but it’s nothing to do with the army or the police, that’s all you need to know.
Q: Your Association with the Manchester Apollo stretched over 40 years, what are your memories?
A: When I started providing security at the Apollo back in 1977, I got £5 a night wages in my hand, there were no crowd barriers or health & safety. The visiting bands loved the Apollo they’d come in and start playing and say, 'the acoustics in here are amazing'. I would talk to many of the big stars and get on brilliantly with them. I was often told, 'don't approach them, don’t speak to them', but they often just walked up and wanted to chat to you about normal stuff… I’ve had some memorable conversations with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Debbie Harry, Billy Connolly and Billy Gibbons. 99% of the artists are just normal people.
Q: What range of artists did you provide personal security for?
A: I looked after Barry Manilow on all of his UK tours and you were always on call. If he wanted to go and get something to eat at say 1am in the morning so be it, we’d go with him. Meatloaf would always ask for me when he came to the UK and this was in his early days when he liked a drink… he was a lot of fun. We also did a hell of a lot of work with Take That, I got on really well with Robbie… a nice guy.
Q: Many rock fans know your face from your many years on the door at Jilly's Rockworld. How did that job come about?
A: During the time I was doing security for the Apollo and Virgin Records, I would meet the same fans from the Apollo when they came in to Virgin to buy records. The people that ran Jilly's came to the shop and offered me a job. At that point I had never worked a nightclub door and again I would meet those same people who would go to the shows and Virgin, so it made sense. As my work with Star Security grew something had to go, my work at Virgin went and then Jilly's went. Around the same time the Apollo was under new management and decided to bring in their own team, but I was sub-contracted to do their backstage area security. This gave me a bit of leeway to go and do work with New Order for instance because I could depend on my team to look after the Apollo.
Q:You must have had a few scary moments in security. Do any incidents come to mind?
A: I used to work with the Chippendales who at the time were bigger than most rock bands and at one stage, they had four troupes out on tour overlapping each other. We would do 3 months then have a month off, the Chippendales were taking fortunes, doing seven shows a week… they were really driven. I remember them performing in front of 8000 people at The Point in Dublin. Ireland had never seen male strippers perform there before and we had to call the Garde to secure the backstage because there were that many women trying to break in. You’d sooner be in a football crowd than be at a Chippendales' show… it was scary.
Q: You retired in 2019, was it a difficult decision to make?
A: Retirement came as much as a shock to me as to everyone else. Over the years my ears have taken a battering. Working on stage and in front of a stage with no ear defenders took its toll. The specialist told me it ain’t gonna get better, its only gonna get worse. So I was given hearing aids and I went back to work at the Apollo and ironically Motorhead were one my first shows back, but I coped ok, it was loud but bearable. But then came the problem of the arthritis in the hands and in both ankles, it was getting so painful I decided to take time out and go for tests. The consultant told me the arthritis in my feet was too advanced and he suggested a change of lifestyle. A result of being on my feet in all weathers I guess?
Q: You now live in Devon, do you miss Manchester?
A: I met my wife Caroline through my work, she was doing the catering and I was doing the security at a Rod Stewart show at Old Trafford in 1991. She moved to Brixham when she was small and has lived there most of her life. I’m Manchester born and bred, a proud Mancunian, but it’s a totally different way of life down here in Devon, more relaxed… it suits me fine.
Q: How do you now look back on your career?
A: People say that’s a great job, you get to see the world, but people who have done personal security all say the same, ‘You sit outside a hotel room or outside a dressing room, it doesn’t matter where you are, you could be in Brazil or at the Apollo… it’s the same. We are the friendly face that the band know, they trust what you say and what you do… it is hard work, but that’s the deal.