Manchester: A rock ‘n’ roll guide

Where to see music

The Ritz

The Ritz

Put together by architects Cruickshank and Seaward and completed in 1928, the Grade-II listed The Ritz initially served as a dance hall in its early incarnation, before becoming one of Manchester’s most renowned music venues.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s pop and rock ‘n’ roll had found a welcome home at The Ritz, with Liverpool’s The Beatles and US crooner Frank Sinatra among those to stop, by along with a host of other big names.

The club also hosted a popular Dancing In The Dark night throughout the 1950s and 60s, hosted by a man named Phillip Moss who was the band master for 17 years and widely known as ‘The King of The Ritz’.

By the mid 1980s an early 1990s when the city was the focus of much world attention due to its thriving music scene, The Ritz welcomed the likes of The Smiths and Happy Mondays onto its stage as well as many other up and coming artists and bands.

In 2011 it received a welcome £2 million refurbishment, though thankfully maintaining its legendary old curved, bouncy dancefloor.

In recent times The Ritz has hosted major bands on world or UK tours such as R.E.M., Arctic Monkeys, Adam And The Ants, The Weeknd and Johnny Marr. It also hosts frequent club nights popular with the city’s student population.

Location: Whitworth St West, Manchester, England M1 5NQ


O2 Apollo

O2 Apollo

The O2 Apollo Manchester started life out as a multi-purpose cinema and variety hall, and has had several incarnations and corporate owners in its close to 80 year existence.

Nonetheless, it has become one of the premier entertainment (and rock ‘n’ roll) venues in the city.

The Art Deco styled, Grade II Building on Stockport Road in the Ardwick Green area of Manchester was officially opened on August 29th 1938 and has attracted many a major artist to its venue from home and abroad, including in recent years New York hipsters The Strokes and Irish noise gods My Bloody Valentine.

Indeed, the venue is a common stop of point for many a major rock, pop and comedy act currently on the road. Local favourites The Courteeners played a five night stand in 2015, becoming the first band ever to do so.

It boasts both a fully seated area and a part-standing section, with a capacity of 3,500 people in total.  A decent venue with impressive acoustics that is well worth a visit should a major or indie rock band roll up.

Location: Stockport Rd, Ardwick Green, Manchester, England M12 6AP


Band On The Wall

Band On The Wall

The not-for-profit venue Band on the Wall is one of the best places in Manchester to catch the latest up-and-coming indie band before they progress to the bigger stages.

 Run by registered charity Inner City Music, its mission statement is to “present the best music from around the world and support our main stage events with a dynamic education programme which operates throughout the year –  both in the venue and in the community and at local schools.”

The building Band on the Wall now inhabits previously served as a public house, in the shape of the George and Dragon. It was utilised as a music venue too from the 1930s onwards before eventually dropping its public house status and becoming a full-time entertainment venue. The historic building has taken in over 200 years of Manchester cultural life.

Well regarded local bands such as The Fall, Joy Division and Buzzcocks have all entertained the Manchester public at some point in the venue’s history.

The popular venue is located right in the heart of the city’s bustling Northern Quarter – 10 minutes wander from Piccadilly Gardens Bus Station and 15 minutes or so from the Railway Stations serving Manchester.

Location: 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, England M4 5JZ


The Ruby Lounge

The Ruby Lounge

In the heart of the Northern Quarter stands the Ruby Lounge, a tight 375 capacity spot that has become a live music venue of some repute in Manchester.

It might not look much from the outside (in fact it appears downright ugly and run down from the front entrance) but the Ruby has an endearing interior, boasting a lounge and performance area that is split by a bar for thirsty punters.

The Ruby Lounge has a real rock ‘n’ roll spirit, with bands and performers booked to play most nights of the week. Just some of the international musical luminaries that have graced the stage here include Can vocalist Damo Suzuki, sultry pop chanteuse Lana Del Rey, French electro pioneer M83, Aussie psych-rock heroes Tame Impala and Canadian oddball indie band Wolf Parade. Not a bad list at all.

The venue also offers the city’s young (and old) a selection of club nights, and can be opened out and extended into a 600 capacity club space when necessary.

Location: 28-34 High Street, Manchester, England M4 1QB 


Manchester Academy

Manchester Academy

The home of the University of Manchester’s Students Union, the Manchester Academy venues on Oxford Road and within the University complex have hosted – and continue to host – some of the biggest named artists and bands who visit the city.

Between them from 1963 onwards, the four concert venues erected here have hosted the likes of The Who, The Yardbirds, The Small Faces, The Cure, AC/DC, Blur, Oasis, Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers, The Libertines and Queens Of The Stone Age to sample just a small amount of the luminaries who have played here.

The main venue is now often referred to as Academy 1, and can house up to 2,600 paying punters. The other 3 are considerably smaller and more intimate but still can fit up from 600-900 people for a gig or club night.

Manchester Academy has gained some acclaim for both its quality as a live venue and also its green credentials. It was labelled the UK’s “greenest venue” in 2010 after a good proportion of its £3.5 million refurbishment budget was splashed on minimising the environmental impact and increasing the sustainability of the venue, alongside substantially improving facilities for disabled music fans.

Location: Manchester University Students Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester, England M13 9PR


Albert Hall

The Albert Hall

A Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel in the city centre that lay dormant and neglected for over 40 years, the Albert Hall venue is now one of Manchester’s best live music venues.

The grand and ornate chapel has been restored and refurbished by Trof (the people behind Gorilla and The Deaf Institute), and re-opened in 2013 as a premier events venue, restaurant and bar.

The acoustics here are incredible, and the brilliant purpose built music hall is coming to be regarded as one the most atmospheric in the country.

Indie bands and artists such as The Cribs, Johnny Marr, Franz Ferdinand and Sparks have rocked up in recent times, and the growing Albert Hall venue is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Location: 27 Peter Street, Manchester, England M2 5QR

Places of Rock ‘n’ roll interest

Former Free Trade Hall

The building hosted many famous concerts

Manchester’s historic Free Trade Hall has its place in rock ‘n’ roll folklore more than well assured, the Grade II-listed building on Peter Street hosting a series of landmarks gigs well-known to rock aficionados around the globe.

Erected on the site of the infamous Peterloo Massacre, it opened its doors over a century and a half ago in 1856 and started life out as a public hall.

As well as hosting public announcements and speeches from prime ministers, the council owned Hall served primarily as home of the Hallé Orchestra (all the way through to 1996),  but less than one hundred years after opening it required major rebuilding work after being targeted by the Nazi Luftwaffe during the Blitz. Her Majesty the Queen officially re-opened by it in a ceremony in 1951.

Nonetheless, the building is best known for hosting a couple of famous – some would say infamous – gigs in rock music history.

The first was in a Bob Dylan show in May 1966 – a gig that signified the American troubadour’s split with the rigid folk tradition of acoustic guitar and harmonica. Beginning to experiment and expand his musical horizons on record and in concert, Dylan plugged in his guitar to play some songs electric, subsequently inciting audible cries of “Judas” from sections of the audience.

The second world famous gig was in June 1976, as the Lesser Free Trade Hall welcomed the band that would become the most infamous in Britain, punk rockers The Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and company played an electric gig to a tiny audience of around 50 punters that is widely heralded today as having kick-started the whole punk movement in the UK.

Furthermore, The Pistols were supported by talented local bands Buzzcocks and Slaughter and the Dogs, who would go on to have some success of their own.

Many other bands and artists in their prime have played the venue throughout its storied history, including The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

It also hosted a several sporting events, including the Tony Barlow and John McClusky bout in January 1967.

Sadly, The Free Trade Hall was sold by the council to private developers in 1997 and Hotel chain Radisson promptly took over to make it a Radisson Edwardian Hotel.

Location: Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, England M2 5GP

The Former Haçienda

The Haçienda was a legendary city venue

Dreamed up by music impresario and entrepreneur Tony Wilson and New Order manager Rob Gretton as a place for the Factory Records crowd to go in a staid city nightlife scene, the now world famous Haçienda venue opened in June 1982.

The unique venue – which featured three bars, a large dancefloor, a stage, a restaurant and a cafe – was designed by architect Ben Kelly at the suggestion of the Factory Records affiliated designer Peter Saville. It was even given a number like all the LPs and singles released by the label, officially know as FAC51 Haçienda.

The club soon developed into the hippest spot in Manchester, featuring the cutting edge in music at the time with the likes of New Order, The Fall, The Smiths, The Stones Roses and Happy Mondays frequenting the Whitworth Street property.

It also gained a reputation for dance music, particularly so-called “acid house”, and a host of soon to become famous DJs turned up to spin records until the early hours of the morning, as the “Madchester” and Ecstasy craze really took off in the late 1980s.

Nonetheless, financial mis-management, theft, drug dealing and violent gangs conspired together to end the club’s successful run, and it was closed in 1997 when its entertainment licence was revoked, before eventually being turned into flats.

The club was heavily featured in the film tracking the rise and fall of the Factory empire, Michael Winterbottom’s acclaimed 24 Hour Party People.

Location: 15 Whitworth Street, Manchester, England M1 5DE


Salford Lads Club

Creative Commons / apasciuto

In the Salford part of Greater Manchester lies this still up-and-running recreational club for boys (and now girls), which was made famous worldwide courtesy of its appearance on the inside cover of The Smith’s seminal classic The Queen Is Dead.

Photographer Stephen Wright and the band must have had little idea that the photo would become so iconic and inspire so many to make the pilgrimage to Salford.

Initially, the club did not embrace the link with Morrissey and company, perhaps not surprisingly given the album’s prickly subject matter of Vicars dressed up in tutus and intruders breaking into Buckingham Palace with rusty spanners to startle the poor Majesty.

But eventually the club has caved in, realising its own cultural relevance and welcoming many hardcore fans of The Smiths to the property.

And The Smiths are not the only band with links to the club. Members of the successful British Invasion band, The Hollies, were members of the club. Indeed, Graham Nash and Allan Clarke used the premises to practice their songs.

Location: St Ignatius Walk, Salford, Manchester, England M5 3RX


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