The thriving Manchester festival that could only happen in one neighbourhood and has doubled in size

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The next one is sold-out with two more dates to come this year.

Hulme has been a safe haven for the underground arts and creative community in Manchester for decades. Some of the city’s most well known musicians, DJs, artists and writers have all called this neighbourhood home, including poet Lemn Sissay, jungle pioneer A Guy Called Gerald and Morrissey. 

Green Island Festival is continuing the area’s legacy, by bringing the community together for a celebration of local grassroots talent. In just a few short years, it has grown from a gathering of just 150 people to one of Manchester’s most exciting community events. 

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It takes place at the Hulme Community Garden Centre, a suburban oasis just outside the city centre, across three weekend sessions in June, July and September.

Green Island Festival returns to Hulme in June. Green Island Festival returns to Hulme in June.
Green Island Festival returns to Hulme in June. | Green Island Festival

With the first event of the season imminent – and sold out – we spoke to one of the festival’s founders George McGirr about how it all started, what it means to the community and what festival-goers can expect this summer. 

“Humble beginnings”

George had been building sound systems and organising free parties in Manchester and beyond for years before starting Green Island. Eventually though, he got tired of lugging a 80-kilo subwoofer around the country and decided to sell it while on the lookout for new opportunities. 

As nightlife started returning after the pandemic, George noticed that events mostly seemed to be taking place  indoors in clubs or basement rooms. Having got to know Hulme and the Community Garden Centre, a spark formed and he reached out to co-founder Stephan Agbogbe, who also works as a music programmer for Band on the Wall. Together, their aim was to create “a family-friendly festival that focuses on community, giving the  under-represented a voice and young musicians an opportunity.”

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Stephan Agbogbe and George McGirr, co-founders of Green Island Festival in Hulme. Stephan Agbogbe and George McGirr, co-founders of Green Island Festival in Hulme.
Stephan Agbogbe and George McGirr, co-founders of Green Island Festival in Hulme. | Stephan Agbogbe and George McGirr

The festival started from “humble beginnings” and George says they both took a “proper risk” – he even had to put all the expenses on his credit card. Despite there only being 150 people at the first festival, they could tell they had found something special.

 George said: “We took the risk on it, but straight away we knew that we were on to something because everybody that we asked, the artists, punters, were all up for it, giving us deals to perform, which really helped us out the first couple of years.”

There are several factors to the festival’s success so far, George believes, including the pair’s knowledge of the local music scene. He added: “That's where our strength is at, the contacts and the programming aspect of it. Our music has always been really on-point at the festival and the venue makes it. It's a garden centre in the middle of Manchester, which pretty much nobody really knew about before we did the festival. We've been seeing the same faces since the first one. So we must be resonating with people.”

“It wouldn’t be the same in a different part of Manchester”

Hulme has a long history when it comes to grassroots arts and counter-culture. From 1972 until the early nineties, it was home to the infamous Hulme Crescents, the largest public housing development in Europe at the time. By the mid-eighties, the poor-quality brutalist structures were already crumbling and the estate became a gathering point for squatters and creatives, who put on club nights and built record studios in the abandoned apartments. Its former residents include a spectrum of artists– from film critic Mark Kermode to the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown, Mick Hucknall to the Velvet Underground’s Nico.

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Elsewhere in Hulme, there were other now legendary venues like the Russell Club, where Factory Records began, and eventually became the PVS Club, or the New Adri Ballroom, an Irish Club that once hosted Bob Marley. 

All this history makes Hulme a natural home for a festival like this. As George told ManchesterWorld: “It's probably another reason why the festival is doing so well. It's always been a place in Manchester to have this kind of cultural element and this kind of opposition to mainstream culture.

Green Island Festival, Hulme.Green Island Festival, Hulme.
Green Island Festival, Hulme. | Green Island Festival

“We've lived here quite a few years now, so we know people who have lived here, been here for 30-40 years and more, chatting to them. It seems like the place has always been thriving in that sense. There have always been underground parties, it's always been pushing things forward in terms of music, arts and culture. I think for us to do this festival here, it seems like it was, not on the decline, but not what it once was because obviously there is so much pressure from gentrification as it is the last-ish stronghold.

“I don't think the festival would be what it is now if we did it in a different place in Manchester.”

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Green Island Festival, HulmeGreen Island Festival, Hulme
Green Island Festival, Hulme | Green Island Festival

What to expect for 2024

This year the festival is expanding beyond the garden centre, almost doubling in size, utilising more of what the Hulme has to offer, including Niamos – a run-down Victorian theatre that was once a squat and is now one of Manchester’s most unique community-run venues. For the first time this year, they will also be closing the road between the Community Garden Centre. 

There are several stages to explore at the festival, including the Main Stage, which will welcome headliners Afriquois in June, as well as the Bandstand Stage, which was built by the festival and is now a permanent feature of the garden centre. The Marquee Stage is where you can find the best up-and-coming acts, and the Forest Stage will host DJs such as Una Lee, Nossa, Supernature Disco, Urbi, Levi Love, Murder He Wrote, Shimrise and Contours. New for this year is the Selector Stage, featuring vinyl-only sets. If you’re still going by the end of the day, then there’s also an after-party at YES. 

Tickets for the June 15 Green Island Festival are sold out and tickets for the July 27 event are selling fast. The September event will take place on September 7. More information, including how to get tickets can be found on the Green Island website.

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