Tuesday 05 Dec 2023
[@]Discover Manchester’s bustling Live Music scene
Published: Guide No.18 - August '23
From Oasis to Joy Division, The Smiths to The Stone Roses, the list of bands the city has spawned is endless and their impact on the world is immeasurable.
So if you’ve come to Manchester for its music scene, it’s impossible to be disappointed.
You could be part of the audience that attends the huge Parklife festival, held in Heaton Park, where wellington boots are essential, or Summer in the City at the Castlefield Bowl.
Yet while The Stone Roses may be able to sell out Heaton Park for three nights, and Oasis may be able to take over Manchester Arena or the Etihad Stadium, it wasn’t in packed arenas that these bands made their name.
It was in intimate, sweaty clubs, pubs and venues across Manchester, crammed with people and character.
Want to experience some of that ‘indie’ or ‘underground’ scene?
Then try clubs like the infamous Warehouse Project (WHP), get tickets for the long-running Funkademia, at the Mint Lounge (Oldham St) or try the Gay Village for a ‘camp’ disco.
Manchester also has a very successful classical music scene and is home to world renowned Royal Northern College of Music and the Halle Orchestra.
Read on to discover some of the best live music venues in one of the world’s great cities of music.
Our Guide to discovering live music venues across the City
You may still hear people talk about the now closed Free Trade Hall, where the Sex Pistols played and Bob Dylan was heckled, called ‘Judas’ for performing with an electric band!
Once you move past the huge AO Arena and the O2 Apollo, a converted 1930s cinema, you discover that Manchester is home to some amazing small and intimate live venues.
The choice and musical genres on stage each night could be daunting.
However, should you have a spare evening then check-out of our recommended venues for an authentic Mancunian live music experience.
Here you will find venues offering local and international touring talent for your entertainment.
All that said; the city has two places that have consistently brandished the torch of the undying Mancunian passion for live music.
Just off Piccadilly, where you can bump into people from every nationality and a fair few oddball characters, is Oldham St.
Walking north along it, for a minute or so, you arrive in the beating heart of Manchester’s music, art and creativity district, the self-styled Northern Quarter.
On your right is The Night & Day Café established in 1991, by a mad Dutchman, it is right next to the now closed Dry Bar (itself a part of Madchester music folklore).
The Dry Bar was a music venue of world renown with a laid back, unpretentious yet quirky ambience and established by Factory Records boss Toby Wilson.
For an authentic look at what’s going on in the Manchester music scene, often very out of step with the rest of the commercial pop world, head to Night & Day Café.
Oldham Street is also home to The Castle and Gullivers, both music venue bars, charmingly unique of character and enthusiastic about their live music. Each is likely to be presenting a night of great new music.
Fancy something more traditional? Then Matt & Phred’s, or another Jazz Club La Gitane on Bridge St, could be right up your alley, located only a stone’s throw away from Night & Day on Tib St.
It is a dimly lit, dive style Jazz club with a small black curtained stage and red painted walls giving the place a certain intimate romanticism.
It boasts live music six nights a week and like Night & Day it has also had its fair share of star performers such as Adele and Jamie Cullum.
Mainly a Jazz club and its events calendar can include Blues, gypsy, swing, soul, folk, electro and funk depending on the night.
Some nights Matt & Phred’s can get packed so booking a table in advance could be a wise move.
The place has a real style about it, and while it does take music very seriously it is not elitist or pretentious in so much as the only pipe smoking, waistcoat over a t-shirt,
flat cap wearers are usually the musicians themselves.
Its audiences are normally a mixed range of ages, testament to its popularity, and on busy nights people simply bunch their chairs together to get cosy.
Unlock's Recommended Live Music Venues
The grand and ornate Wesleyan chapel has been restored into a stunning music hall and is itching to become one of the most atmospheric music and events venues in the UK.
Its unusual stage has seen a very diverse selection artists and bands including Sam Smith and the Manic Street Preachers perform.
It is genuinely a Manchester marvel and its location on Peter Street sets in the heart of Manchester music history with the iconic Free Trade Hall, now the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, opposite.
Address: 27 Peter Street, Manchester M2 5QR
Band on the Wall
Situated on Swan Street in the Northern Quarter, Band on the Wall caters to all musical tastes, showcasing the best music from all over the world.
The club name dates back to the 1930’s when landlord Ernie Tyson created a stage for musicians high up on the far wall.
Originally called The George and Dragon it was built as a flagship pub in 1862, and was a popular spot for World War Two soldiers.
Converted into a jazz club in 1975 it later became part of the famed Manchester Punk scene with bands such as The Buzzcocks, The Fall and Joy Division peforming on its iconic stage.
Nowadays, it is a not-for-profit venue which was voted the Best Night Spot at the 2010 Manchester Tourism Awards.
Band on the Wall is also a music charity. Its aims are to develop creative talent, train musicians, music and lighting engineers and encourage young people to learn about and discover music.
Reopened in ‘22, following a £3.5m refurbishment, the venue has a new stage. bar and major building refurbishment.
This amazing community project continues to be hugely successful and Band on the Wall continues to be an important a staple of the Manchester music scene.
Address: 25 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JZ
The Deaf Institute
Around the corner from MMU, it is part of the Gorilla and The Albert Hall group sharing much of its distinct features.
And in case you were wondering, yes, the venue got its name as the grade II-listed building was indeed previously used as an institute for the deaf.
Its three tiers include a Ground Floor Cafe Bar, a Basement Bar and Upstairs Music Hall.
Gigs are predominantly held in the Music Hall, a venue with a capacity of 260 people. However, on club nights it can hold as many as 500.
Address: 135 Grosvenor Street, M1 7HE
A spot arguably as renowned for its bar and kitchen as its music, Gorilla certainly stands out from the rest.
With its eye-catching glass arch, Gorilla is just as quirky inside as out, featuring a stunning retro dining area with a mezzanine design.
Notable acts such as Mercury-nominated rapper Ghostpoet and the American indie rock band We Are Scientists have recently performed at the 600-capacity venue.
Gorilla also boasts a gin parlour and a pretty mean burger.
Address: 54 Whitworth Street West, M1 5WW
Matt & Phreds
One of the city’s busiest and longest standing Jazz venues this relatively small performance space and bar is tucked away on Tib St.
It is a popular stage for touring bands as well as local talent and it is pretty much open every day with at least one performer or group for you to enjoy.
During the annual Manchester Jazz Festival it is common to see long queues of people eager to secure entry.
The bar serves a good selection of beers, wine and its trade-mark pizzas are almost legend.
Whilst Matt Nickson has long left ‘Matt & Phreds’ he has recently opened Folk & Soul, round the corner on Thomas Street. This too is worth popping into should you fancy a getting your Jazz on.
Address: 64 Tib Street, M4 1LW
A relative new-comer to the Manchester music scene, YES was opened in 2018 and quickly became a venue of choice!
Its’ rooftop bar might just be the city’s finest vantage point to kick back with a cocktail and look out over the post-industrial city skyline. On long summer evenings, expect DJs on the roof. Just downstairs.
YES’ Pink Room is the venue’s main live music space. At 250 capacity, the Pink Room is home to common venue for established touring artists on newcomers on the way up!
Address: 38 Charles St, Manchester M1 7DB
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