Seeing Your Scene has begun a City Guide series with that aim of helping our readers explore music scenes beyond their hometowns. Each article has been written by someone living in, and contributing towards the scene of, each city. We begin with Andy Davies’ (ROTPM/TNS Records) take on Manchester.
It’s really hard to list just a few Manchester bands, partly because I’ll definitely annoy some friends bands if I leave them out (sorry), but also because I think the real strength of the Manchester music scene is that out of town bands can genuinely play to a crowd in Manchester as if it’s a hometown gig. I think that’s really exciting.
Greater Manchester is pretty much Manchester isn’t it? Wigan’s Riggots are pretty much the best live band in the UK at the moment. The two-piece are really heavy with massive riffs, yet still managing to have catchy tunes. If you haven’t seen them yet, you are missing out.
If you like your music a little bit more chilled out The Lab Rats are well worthy of a listen. They are a two-piece (Molly on acoustic guitar and vocals and Adam on mandolin) and they have lots of catchy folky punk tunes and go from strength to strength every time you see them.
A faster paced Manchester band (well some of them are based in Manchester) who I really like is Throwing Stuff. They play 80s influenced hardcore, with short blasts of energy. They always go for it live and I’m never quite sure how their vocalist is still in one piece after a gig. Guitarist Kieran is also part of the Manchester Punk Festival Collective and puts on the hugely successful Moving North gigs. It’s always nice to see band members actively involved in making their scene a more positive place.
Another band who are partly based in Manchester (and partly in Stoke) are Rising Strike, who play the heaviest ska-core you can imagine. They are also a TNS band, so I am biased, but you should check out their Bite The Hand That Feeds album, it is an absolute banger.
I think my final choice has to be a band that is unfortunately no longer active and that is Harijan. When I first moved to Manchester they were one of the first DIY bands I saw. I remember at that time they (and my own band) were mainly playing really incoherent gigs, where the promoters tended to be offering pay-to-play deals. They were one of the first bands we had on at the TNS gigs and later one of our first releases (TNS003). I saw them many times over the years until they sadly split up. To describe them as a ska punk band would perhaps do them a disservice. They had a more reggae edge to their sound, but they also had much heavier bits and the vocals were so distinctive. They have massively influenced lots and lots of local bands and I can only imagine how much it would go off if they ever did decide to grace the stage again. I wish they had got further afield and that more people had seen them.
The Manchester ska-punk scene was so strong for a period, mostly due to the Ska Bar/Bomb Ibiza nights (which sadly stopped a few years ago) and there are loads of bands I could have mentioned here, but I think most would agree that Harijan were real pioneers of the Manchester ska scene.
In terms of venues, Sound Control is the home of Manchester Punk Festival (alongside Zombie Shack, Retro Bar, Zoo and The Thirsty Scholar) and I think it is one of the cities best mid-large sized venues. There are three rooms, so it caters for a few different sizes of bands. I’ve seen some awesome bands there as part of MPF and at other gigs.
Gullivers is in the famous Northern Quarter of Manchester and has hosted lots of gigs for a long time now. It is run by people who are into a range of different styles of music and they totally get the difficulties promoters have. It has also had a refurb recently, so the 130 capacity live room is perfectly set up sound wise and it’s also a nice place to have a beer, which I do… Very often. Many of the TNS gigs have happened here and I have lots of amazing memories of the place.
Retro Bar is very much our version of The Winchester off Shaun Of The Dead. I sometimes find myself in there and don’t really know how I got there… There must be some sort of in built homing device. Some of the earliest TNS gigs took place there, it was also home to Ska Bar and currently hosts gigs for the likes of Anarchistic Undertones, MBBP, Moving North and many more as well as some alternative club nights. It also has an internet jukebox, which means you can often find loads of ‘punks’ dancing to 90s dance music and Bon Jovi at 3am on a Sunday morning, which can only be a good thing.
Lots of famous Manchester venues have gone under in recent years, so people should go and grab a beer in these places when visiting Manchester, even if there isn’t a gig on that night to help support them.
THINGS OF INTEREST:
If you visit Manchester during the football season, you should try and get FC United Of Manchester match. They are a not-for-profit, fan owned football club, who were formed by disgruntled Manchester United fans as a response to mainstream football culture and the Glaser’s ownership of United. Don’t be put off going if you aren’t from a Manchester United supporting background – the club is really welcoming and has a real St Pauli feel about it. The atmosphere is incredible and it’s amazing to see the ground, which was funded by the members/fans. It’s a real testament to what can be achieved if like-minded people work together to create something they care about. Lots of people from the punk scene have been drawn to the club due to it’s ethics and community values. You can also grab a beer and even sometimes catch a band in Moston Miners Club (just over the road) before the match. We’ve actually done some TNS at FC United gigs in the past and might do again in the future. The Miners Club is the home of the top quality 0161 Festival (it will take place in June 2017) and it also doubles up as a sort of DIY cinema on some evenings.
In real life I teach art and graphics in a college, so I’m always eager to see exhibitions. If I’m honest, there are cities that are better for art, but there are still quite a few good galleries. I think Home is currently my favourite as it offers lots more than just art. It was formerly The Cornerhouse, but it is in a new location after a merger with the Library Theatre Company (there are a few issues with the regeneration of the site of the Cornerhouse, but I won’t go into that now as Home is a great place, so I’ll focus on the positive). It has a cinema, where they show lots of alternative and independent films, theatres, a small bookshop, a decent sized gallery space, which has lots of contemporary exhibitions and a restaurant with several vegan options. They also have lots of youth/community projects available, which is always good. It is very nice. The newly refurbished Whitworth Gallery in Rusholme is also worth a look too, with some interesting contemporary exhibitions alongside their more traditional collection.
The Imperial War Museum in Salford is designed by the famous architect Daniel Libeskind. It’s an amazing piece of architecture and an interesting museum to look around. Libeskind likes to make the design of the building connect to its purpose, so it is more than just your average museum. It’s easy to get to on the tram too.
In terms of shopping, you should definitely visit Rockers England, which is in the Northern Quarter. It sells everything you can imagine in terms of 50s/rockabilly clothing and the people who run it are absolutely lovely.
If you can tie in a visit around Strummercamp Festival in May, at Manchester Rugby Club, that is also well worth considering. It is the friendliest festival around and will be back in 2017 after a year off.
Sorry, I know this breaks the rules, but I decided to do venues and food as separate sections as Manchester is getting really good for alternative food places.
Village Greens is a community co-op grocery store owned by its members. It’s in Prestwich, in North Manchester, which is where I live, so it means getting hold of vegan, ethically sourced treats is pretty easy. In a similar vein, there is the famous Unicorn Grocery Store at the other end of Manchester, in Chorlton, where my girlfriend, Faezeh works. It’s a fully vegan, workers co-op. We are spoilt for vegan and ethical shopping here really.
There are also loads of vegan, veggie or vegan friendly food outlets. If you are feeling like splashing out Bistro 1847 is lovely. But for a cheaper fast food option, V Revolution offers vegan burgers and hot dogs. It’s also moving to new premises soon, which is very exciting. The Teatime Collective in Hulme is amazing, with a huge vegan menu and it was set up by some awesome people too. The Pasta Factory is new and very good, and one of my personal favourites at the moment is Mowgli, which offers amazing Indian street food, with a full vegan menu.
I have now lived in Manchester for 16 years and very much consider it my home. I think in general it is a politically left-leaning, forward-thinking, multicultural city with an interesting history and a real value of the arts, particularly music.
There is a lot to do, a friendly atmosphere, good places to socialise and a fun place for anyone to visit, although it will probably rain.
I have to say that my favourite thing is the DIY community/punk scene. I know a lot of people have moved here to get involved with these things.
There are so many great promoters and bands and most importantly, so many people who support this and get involved. I think people within the Manchester punk scene came together initially through a love of interesting music, but what we now have here, as cheesy as this might sound, is a real community, that everyone feels a part of and welcomes everyone to participate in. It’s a beautiful thing.
I have to mention Manchester Punk Festival again, even though I feel slightly bad for doing so, as I am directly involved with it.
Three different sets of promoters in the area (TNS, Anarchistic Undertones and Moving North) were all putting on fairly successful events, but decided to come together as a collective and pool our efforts and resources to set up a bigger, not-for-profit, volunteer run event. The success of this event is another homage to how successful something can be if like-minded people work together, but I also think it reflects everything that is great about the city musically. It’s really exciting to see smaller, independent bands playing to huge crowds at a DIY event and Manchester is a perfect place for this sort of festival to take place. It’s also lovely to see how many people travel to the event from all over the world.
And MPF by no means tells the whole story. There are many, many more promoters and many more gigs happening outside of our particular part of the scene, both in terms of punk and further afield. These things seem to cross over more and more, which can only ever be a good thing.
The biggest thing that strikes me as I read back through this is that there is so much I haven’t mentioned. But hopefully this is a starting point for people who are new to the city. Come and visit us, it’s a lot of fun.