I DJ at Night & Day and fear that noise row is just the start of troubles for Manchester's small venues

"Without these places, Manchester wouldn't be anything special. People need to see the bigger picture.”
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Manchester’s connection to music is well known. The city has produced some of the most important music, musicians and cultural movements of the modern era – from The Hollies to Blossoms, from Aitch to the Bee Gees.

None of these acts would have existed if it hadn’t been for Manchester’s small venues. It’s here that unsigned bands earn their stripes and grow their fanbases. And it’s in these intimate spaces that fans can enjoy live music, discover new acts and participate in the culture that has made this city famous.

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But the future of some of these venues is uncertain. Perhaps the most talked about venue in recent weeks has been the Northern Quarter’s Night & Day, which has been in court fighting a noise abatement order from the city council. Elsewhere, rising running costs have caused venues like Canvas on Oxford Road to close and there are also concerns over what the opening of the Co-op Live arena will mean for music at a grassroots level in Manchester.

We spoke to a local musician who has been gigging in Manchester for the last 15 years about what these venues mean to artists, fans and the cultural fabric of the city.

Chris Maddon (right) on stage with Spin Klass in Manchester.Chris Maddon (right) on stage with Spin Klass in Manchester.
Chris Maddon (right) on stage with Spin Klass in Manchester.

‘You don't know if people are going to come’

Today Chris Maddon, 33, is one third of alt synth pop band Spin Klass, but he has been playing in bands at venues across Manchester since he was 15. “I've never not been in a band,” he said. “Whenever one band has ended, I've always just started another one. So it's all I've ever known. Gigging is all I know. I feel like I know every venue in Manchester inside out because I've been playing in them for the last 15 years non-stop.”

One of those venues is Night & Day, where he also DJs. When the venue’s noise complaint from the owner of a neighbouring flat started to make headlines a couple of years ago, his reaction was the same as many others in Manchester, including famous faces like Matt Healy: Don’t buy a flat next to a gig venue if you can’t handle the noise. As Chris puts it: “I don't see why the venue should have had to change anything at all because that's how they've always operated.”

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The hearing ended in a semi-win for both sides. Night & Day can continue to host gigs, but with some restrictions. And although more details from both sides of the argument have emerged, it does raise the question of what will happen to grassroots venues as areas like the Northern Quarter evolve, along with the way we use these spaces.

But what happened to Night & Day is just the start. As a musician, he’s noticed significant changes to the music scene over the years and he says putting on a gig in Manchester is only getting more difficult. With rent increases and rising energy costs having knock-on effects on tickets prices, going to a gig is also more expensive than ever, even at the smaller venues.

Chris Maddon on the decks at Night & Day, Manchester, during a Spin Klass DJ set. Chris Maddon on the decks at Night & Day, Manchester, during a Spin Klass DJ set.
Chris Maddon on the decks at Night & Day, Manchester, during a Spin Klass DJ set.

He explained: “When I was younger – and definitely pre-Covid, because Covid has definitely had a massive impact on it, I think – people were out a lot more than they are now. You could say you were doing a gig in a small venue anywhere, whether it be Night & Day, The Castle, or Gullivers, you knew straight away that it would sell. People would buy tickets and it would sell out.

“Whereas now, it's always fine by the night, but people, for one, don't like buying tickets in advance and you don't know if people are going to come or not. Prices have obviously all gone up, so you can't have a night out anymore and it will cost you £30, it's going to cost you £100, with the price of drinks and taxis getting into town. I think it all has a major effect on gigs in general.”

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Sadly, this problem is not limited to Manchester. Just last week, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee discussed the issue with industry representatives, including the Music Venue Trust, which has calculated that 125 grassroots venues across the country closed last year. The impact of this, CEO Mark Davyd told the committee, is not only that communities are losing access to live music but that this will stop the “pipeline” of artists.

‘Without these venues, there won't be music’

To illustrate this artist “pipeline”, the Music Venue Trust shared on their social media pages the line-up posters for Glastonbury and other major festivals, removing the names of all the artists that started out at venues like Night & Day. There were just seven acts left on the Glastonbury line-up, and three on the Reading and Leeds line-up.

Chris said: “All the bands on that bill started out at a grassroots music venue, and if those venues weren't there then there wouldn't be any line-up. I think that was quite powerful because it basically says that without these venues, there won't be bands, there will be no music. You can just start playing the MEN Arena or the Co-op Live as soon as you've formed a band. It just doesn't happen.”

These big venues are another reason the music landscape is changing. In addition to Manchester’s original stadium venue, the AO Arena, the city also boasts the multi-purpose arts venue Aviva Studios, opened last year, and now the Co-op Live arena, set to open next month.

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Again, the problem here is ticket price. Chris said: “If you're paying £150 to see someone there, you're not going to want to pay any more to support a grassroots venue.

“People don't blink an eye when they see Bruce Springsteen charging £200 or Pearl Jam or whoever it is, but an up and coming band that actually needs the money really badly, that are doing it at a grassroots music venue that also needs the money and bar sales really badly, people then think: I'll decide on the day. For these big concerts, people buy the tickets well in advance. I just think the priorities need to shift. I don't know how you do that though.”

Chris, lead singer of Manchester-based band Spin KlassChris, lead singer of Manchester-based band Spin Klass
Chris, lead singer of Manchester-based band Spin Klass

‘The bigger picture’

Buying gig tickets early is just one way that we all can help keep Manchester small venues afloat. And the big venues need to play their part, too. For example, the Music Venue Trust have been calling for large venues and labels to introduce a ticket levy on arena events, with the extra money going to small venues.

To use Chris’ analogy: “It's a bit like in football. I'm an Altrincham supporter and they’re lower league, but they receive grants and money from the bigger clubs in the Premier League because they don't make as much, and that helps the smaller clubs keep running and not go under. They see that their young footballers had to start there first. Young footballers will come through at clubs like Altrincham and they will master their craft, if you like, and then get picked up by United or City. That's what these arenas need to be doing.”

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In the meantime, however, it’s down to gig-goers to support the venues. Chris even suggests that punters boycott big venues in protest. Jokes and “pitchforks” aside, he does believe there needs to be a wide-scale “culture shift” in how we value music.

He said: “We'll charge £10 a ticket, and you'll always get someone going: £10, that's a lot isn't it. Well people will pay £200 to go and see a band, obviously a big, big, band, but that's £200. That's a mad amount of money that makes a £10 gig ticket seem like nothing. People will buy a cocktail now to £10 and not care. I think there needs to be a culture shift on what people value smaller gigs at.”

After all, Manchester would be a very different city without these venues. Chris said: “Obviously they mean a lot to me, but they also mean a lot to the culture, to the city. The reason these flats and new builds and all this that's going on in Manchester costs so much is because of how vibrant and buzzing the city centre is. Without these venues, Manchester would just be like Wythenshawe, where I’m from, it wouldn't be anything special. People just need to see the bigger picture.”

What have AO Arena and Co-op Live said?

A spokesperson for the AO Arena said: “At AO Arena, we know that grassroots venues, artists and communities form the building blocks to the success of arenas like ours. We’re incredibly proud of the work that we do to ensure we’re actively supporting the longevity of grassroots musicians and the live ecosystem across Manchester and beyond.”

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 “We’re a founding member of Beyond The Music conference in Manchester which champions the live industry from grassroots up. We’ve pledged our continued support to Music Venue Trust and as part of this we’ve been raising funds through various platforms, providing emerging artists with opportunities to play on our stage via Apply To Play, offered venue marketing support to independent local venues with a fantastic response including Band On The Wall, New Century Hall and The Snug in Atherton, and much more - this will continue to expand.”

Co-op Live were approached by ManchesterWorld for a comment, but believed the issue was industry wide and therefore not specific to Co-op Live, with other bodies best placed to comment.