HUNDREDS of musicians and rock fans will gather in East Oxford tonight, to mark the passing of the city's premier live music venue.

After 12 years of playing host to some of the world's biggest bands, The Zodiac closes its doors for the last time tonight.

The Cowley Road club will be partially rebuilt as part of a £2m expansion project, which will see it open in September as three separate venues.

The revamp follows the club's sale to the Academy Music Group, last year. The total capacity will increase from 750 to 1,150 - much of that catered for by a new main venue, capable of holding 900 people - to be called The Carling Academy Oxford.

The Zodiac's name will live on, however, in a smaller upstairs venue. There will also be a bar at the front of the building, which will host emerging talent.

The closing party, which sold out weeks ago, will feature a selection of local bands which have shaped the city's music scene, and helped establish The Zodiac as one of the UK's best independent venues Headlining are Candyskins - one of the first bands to play the club after it opened in November 1995.

Although the band have long since broken up, frontman Nic Cope, his guitarist brother Mark lead guitarist Nick Burton bassist Karl Shale and drummer John Halliday will be coming together for one night only.

They will be joined by co-headliners Smilex, The Nubiles, Dustball, The Relationships, Winnebago Deal, and The Epstein, from Binsey, who are already warming up for a set at next month's Glastonbury Festival. Party-goers are being encouraged to enter into the spirit by donning fancy dress - coming as rock stars.

Promoter Alan Day, of East Oxford-based TCT Music, is organising the party.

He said: "The venue will be bigger and better when it re-opens, but it won't be The Zodiac.

"It is the end of an era, but we are going out in style. Everyone is really looking forward to it."