Gentleman Mike leaves behind Cat's Whiskers legacy in Burnley

A Burnley nightclub boss who transformed Cat's Whiskers and 'put the town's nightlife on the map' has died.

Mike Connolly transformed Cat's Whiskers into a clubbing mecca. (s)
Mike Connolly transformed Cat's Whiskers into a clubbing mecca. (s)

Mike Connolly lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday morning at the age of 70.

Known by friends as MC, he saved former nightclub Cat’s Whiskers from closure in 1977 and transformed the Centenary Way venue into a clubbing mecca which attracted celebrities to the town from all over the North-West.

Mark Murray, a former employee of Mr Connolly, said: “It was as synonymous with Burnley as the football club in the 1980s and Mike was the greatest manager the nightclub business has ever seen.”

The venue was on the verge of losing its license when Mike and assistant manager John Wood took over.

But it was transformed into a hotspot for both Coronation Street stars and Manchester United footballers and even attracted international celebrities like Miss World, with party-goers queuing up to get in as soon as the doors opened at 7pm.

And when Miss World Cindy Breakspeare (Miss Jamaica) visited his club in Manchester in 1976, Mike was the one who received and gave her the news that her superstar boyfriend Bob Marley had survived being shot.

John said: “Mike touched so many lives, with many couples meeting at Cat’s Whiskers and going on to marry.

“He was my best friend and taught me everything I know. He did a lot for Burnley town centre and made everyone’s lives happy.”

Mike grew up in Oldham and began working with entertainment company Mecca in 1972 before rising up the ranks to become its youngest ever general manager.

At Cat’s Whiskers, he and John treated the public to family fun days at their venue for those who could not afford a summer holiday and offered fairground rides, donkey rides and coconut shacks.

They hosted the Mayor’s Ball every year and held 999 nights for police officers, nurses and fire fighters at their second Burnley club, Annabella’s.

Mike also owned The Groves Hotel, Nelson, which was home to wine bar The Willows and Hawthorne’s nightclub.

His brother, Brendan Connolly (54), said: “He was a real gentleman, a man of his word and a straight-forward person.”

Mr Connolly leaves behind his wife Dolly, daughters Michelle and Sarah-Jayne, son Mark, stepdaughter Clare and grandson Tyler.

Mr Murray added: “When he moved to Burnley, his family fell in love with it too and all moved over from Oldham and married people from this area and settled here, where they still live today.

“Unquestionably, he made Burnley a better place to live.

“His legacy is just astonishing and the gravitas he brought was phenomenal.

He was an extraordinary individual and the best of the best as a boss, who inspired everyone he worked with and had a knack for bringing out the best in people - and as a result his staff have all gone on to do great things.”

“He’d say, ‘I’m not here to educate but to entertain,’ and he did it better than anyone else.”

The funeral will be held on Wednesday, May 23rd at 10-30am at St Mary’s RC Church, Yorkshire Street, Burnley, and 11-20am at Burnley Crematorium.