Troubled Co-op Live finally opens and I tested the food, drink, parking and wi-fi as Elbow delight Manchester

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After a farcical few weeks Manchester’s new £365 million arena is off and running.

Well, they finally did it. After all the hype, a disastrous few weeks meant Co-op Live was the talk of way more than just this town for all the wrong reasons. 

But Manchester’s new £365millon venue opened its doors officially on Tuesday night as home favourites Elbow took to the stage. 

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“Everybody that’s been working on this building has been so excited today, so nervous but so excited,” lead singer Guy Garvey proclaimed to his adoring crowd. “There was already electricity in the air before you lot got in today and now it’s thoroughly amped up. I hope you can feel it.”

Elbow ended up being the perfect opening act for the troubled Co-op Live arena. Picture: Sophie TraynorElbow ended up being the perfect opening act for the troubled Co-op Live arena. Picture: Sophie Traynor
Elbow ended up being the perfect opening act for the troubled Co-op Live arena. Picture: Sophie Traynor

With Peter Kay having his gigs twice postponed, the Bury boys being the first headliners was something of a happy accident for Co-op Live bosses who were in desperate need of a slice of luck. 

Truth be told, the jokes about the troubled venue and the trepidation about whether the arena would actually open at the fourth time of asking continued until the first fans flocked in at 6.30pm. 

At Manchester World we attended both Rick Astley’s test gig, where things started to unravel, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s attempt to open the arena when a piece of an air conditioning unit fell from the ceiling during the sound check. So when I arrived nice and early at 5.30pm, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure I’d be belting out ‘One Day Like This’ come 11pm. 

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Amongst many questions the arena has to answer is the one of travel, especially given its place adjacent to the Etihad Stadium. A greater challenge than opening night will come on Sunday when City could win the title just a couple of hours before Barry Manilow takes to the stage. 

The view from the 'blue' car park at Co-op LiveThe view from the 'blue' car park at Co-op Live
The view from the 'blue' car park at Co-op Live

There is a real drive to get people to the venue on public transport with extra tram services being put on and travel being included with tickets during the opening season. But here I have to apologise as on this given night, I chose to drive. 

It’s one of many things where the price has raised eyebrows - it costs £25 quid for a spot in one of the official car parks and needs to be pre-booked. In the ‘Blue’ section I was right next to arena and plenty of others seemed to have decided it was a decent option. Most importantly of all, I managed to get back on the road at the end of the gig inside 10 minutes with next to no queues.

Now the second confession, attending as a member of the press I was in the AMP Club - one of the exclusive set-ups that make up the second floor of the vast venue. So the prices and experience that follow are based on that particular perk.   

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Everyone attending in the opening week, and those going to rescheduled gigs, is getting a voucher for free food or drink. Mine got me a pint of Seven Bro7hers Easy IPA which would have set me back £7.95. A coke later in the night was £3.80. 

Settling down with the pre-gig pint and with some work to do, I delved into the settings of my iPhone to test out that all-important feature - the wi-fi. I’m pleased to report it’s free and on the concourse it worked a treat. Inside the bowl itself, you’re in something of a black hole - so you can grab those videos but posting them on TikTok might have to be done when you go and get the next round of drinks. 

The pepperoni pinsa-style pizza in Co-op Live's AMP ClubThe pepperoni pinsa-style pizza in Co-op Live's AMP Club
The pepperoni pinsa-style pizza in Co-op Live's AMP Club

On the food front, I opted for a pepperoni pinsa-style pizza which came in at a lively £15. It was tasty and better than your average gig fare, and I ate the whole lot myself but at the risk of giving myself a reputation, you could easily share one to satisfy your pre-gig grub needs. 

In the AMP Club there were also burger sliders for £7 and so-called ‘posh tater tots’ for £6.50. There’s also a couple of grab and go sections with self-service checkouts where you can get cans of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks as well as sweets, crisps and popcorn. As a guide, a bag of Squashies, a personal favourite in my house, would cost you £3.80 in the VIP bit. 

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What about the actual music I hear you ask? While Elbow were the name up in lights it was support act The Waeve who got things going as the first official act at the venue.

Co-op Live have made a big song and dance - pun very much intended - about the quality of the sound in the venue, and that is at least one thing that has been backed up. And then some. 

Sat on the front row of the second tier at the far end of the arena, we heard everything as if we were right down the front, even during what sometimes can be a plodding start to the night. To Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougall’s credit, it was very much not that, and set the tone for what was to come. 

Elbow frontman Guy Garvey during the opening night at Co-op Live. Picture: Sophie Traynor Elbow frontman Guy Garvey during the opening night at Co-op Live. Picture: Sophie Traynor
Elbow frontman Guy Garvey during the opening night at Co-op Live. Picture: Sophie Traynor

Then it was over to Garvey and co bang on 9pm. His cry of “Good evening Manchester”  to the around 13,000 in attendance meant all the more given recent events while his challenge that followed will have been music to the ears of the beleaguered arena bosses and staff. 

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“Let’s open this venue properly shall we?” And the Bury boys, who have been together a remarkable 33 years, did just that. With nods to Big Hands on Oxford Road, Parsonage Gardens and Blueprint Studios to name just a few, this became something of a Manchester love-in. 

After the impressive sound inside the venue was showed to its full potential with ‘Grounds for Divorce’, seminal anthem ‘One Day Like This’ of course provided the rousing finale that all at Co-op Live will be hoping draws a line under the last three weeks. 

“It’s been such a happy tour, no night happier than this night,” Garvey concluded. “You’ve housewarmed this beautiful new venue.”

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