What do the Bee Gees, New Order, Oasis, Herman’s Hermits, The Chemical Brothers and The Stone Roses have in common? All of these artists hail from the fertile music scene of Manchester, England.
Drawing from the city’s industrial and blue-collar past, artists from Manchester possess the ability to write songs and create music that reflects the public attitude of that time. Bands are in touch with their audience due in part to Manchester’s thriving club scene where artists have a chance to develop and are nurtured through local support.
Manchester is often overlooked by a certain city to the West where four mop-topped Brits skyrocketed to everlasting fame. During your visit to England, make sure you stop by the following spots in Manchester that put the city’s mad music scene on the map.
1. The Hacienda
Even though the club itself has been replaced by flats bearing its name, it’s still worth the walk to visit the old site of The Hacienda. If you are a fan of electronic or house music, come pay tribute to the club that “Madchester” built.
The Hacienda dance club was the birth of DJ-based club music, building a healthy following in from the early 80s until its closure in 1997. If you enjoy going to a club and dancing to a DJ’s playlist, you can thank The Hacienda for cultivating this scene. It also housed legendary shows by Manchester-based bands such as The Smiths and New Order, as well as Madonna’s first U.K. appearance.
Looking for artifacts from this electric time period in Manchester’s music past? Head to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry for some first-hand evidence from the golden age of house music.
2. Free Trade Hall
Another grand building that is currently repurposed as a hotel, Free Trade Hall is a must-visit for every music geek. Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill have both spoken here, but this building’s ties to legendary music moments make it a mecca for music fans.
Free Trade Hall is the scene of the infamous “Judas!” heckler aimed at Bob Dylan when he began to move away from his cherished acoustic folk music to plugged-in rock ‘n’ roll. Dylan’s response to the heckler? “Play it louder!”
Free Trade Hall was also a site of one the Sex Pistols’ earliest shows, and that performance is said to have launched both them and the punk rock movement.
3. Night and Day Cafe
Now that you’ve properly paid tribute to Manchester’s past, let’s focus on the current music scene in the city. If you’re looking to understand what makes the city’s music scene tick, look no further than Night and Day Cafe.
Serving great bites of food and an extensive beer selection, this is also a cool bar that you can also hang out at when there are no shows scheduled. The club hosts several local music nights every month, where you can see a cross-section of the city’s up-and-coming bands and DJs.
The venue also hosts touring bands that are destined to be playing larger venues in a few years. When that hot band is playing at an arena in the future, you’ll be able to say, “I saw them at Night and Day in Manchester.”
4. Bridgewater Hall
One of the most stunning venues in Manchester is Bridgewater Hall, an elegant structure that houses everything from classical music to rock shows.
You can catch the BBC Philharmonic, a musical tribute to “The Godfather,” or an acclaimed singer-songwriter all within one week.
Even if a show that catches your interest isn’t playing during your visit, go see the famous Bridgewater Hall organ, a massive instrument that dominates the rear wall of the auditorium.
You can book organ tours, which will get you up close and personal with one of the largest concert organs in the world.
5. Albert Hall
Originally designed as a meeting hall, this Gothic beauty laid dormant for over 40 years until it was resurrected in 2013 as a concert hall.
In the three years it’s been open, it’s played host to a large variety of modern, popular acts such as Manic Street Preachers, Chvrches, Sam Smith and Belle and Sebastian. The large, open layout has perfect sight lines and plenty of room for you to dance to the music.
Much of the interior architecture has been preserved, giving you the sense that you are witnessing an incredible show in a very special place.
6. Manchester Cathedral
Another venue whose Gothic architecture and atmosphere lend to a unique show experience is the Manchester Cathedral. Look for the two fire-inspired stained glass windows that pay respect to the Manchester Blitz of 1940.
You can catch a weekly choir and classical guitar performances, but every once in a while you can stumble on a major act that has chosen this cathedral for their performance.
Bands such as British Sea Power and Elbow, and singer Beth Orton have all played shows here to rave reviews. Peter Hook, of New Order fame, even covered a large catalog of hits here in 2013 — a classic Manchester artist in a classic Manchester venue.
Don’t limit your musical adventures in the U.K. to London and Liverpool. In Manchester, you’ll find a plethora of current music venues and places to pay homage to the city’s glorious musical past.
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