Music has played a significant role in the long, storied history of Manchester, England. The breeding ground of a wide range of artists, Manchester’s cultural reverberations have long been felt around the world.
The city’s musical cred stems in part from its impressive distinction as the birthplace of the punk rock movement (courtesy of hometown heroes the Sex Pistols and Joy Division) and its roots in disco (the Bee Gees grew up here) and alternative rock (Oasis, and its infamous brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, got their start in the city).
In order to capture the beat of the city, pay your respects to five of Manchester’s best places for live music, from gargantuan venues that regularly lure superstar acts to the intimate stages that serve as the launchpads for the sounds of tomorrow.
Renowned acts ranging from the Rolling Stones and U2 to Lady Gaga have all hit Manchester Arena stage, and for good reason. With a whopping 21,000-seat capacity, it holds the distinction of being the largest indoor venue in the United Kingdom and the second-largest in the European Union.
Recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, the arena has also consistently ranked as the single busiest venue on the globe, and acts ranging from Manchester’s own Liam Gallagher to Celine Dion have recently graced its stage.
Unfortunately, Manchester Arena was also the location of a tragic May 2017 terror attack during an Ariana Grande performance, the result of which spawned a superstar benefit concert and helped unite the city during a most difficult time.
It’s been said that the punk rock movement was born in Manchester in June 1976 when Johnny Rotten and his Sex Pistols performed what’s been called one of the most important gigs in music history at Free Trade Hall.
While that venue is unfortunately long gone, The Bridgewater Hall has successfully replaced Free Trade’s former stature as Manchester’s go-to spot for seeing inventive artists from England and beyond.
As of late, its performance roster has favored orchestras and classical musicians, boasting film screenings with live scores, as well as the legendary BBC Philharmonic.
One of Manchester’s signature performance venues, the almost 2,000-seat Palace Theatre, has been a cultural hotbed since its 1891 opening. Located on Oxford Street, its famous stage has featured everyone from the iconic Judy Garland to 70s disco stalwarts the Bee Gees, who grew up in the city before decamping to Australia.
In recent years, the Palace has served as a singular sort-of West End for Manchester, hosting a bevy of touring productions, including beloved musicals such as “Mamma Mia,” “The Sound of Music” and “Miss Saigon.”
There’s something to please everyone at Manchester Academy. Found on the sprawling campus of the University of Manchester (one of the largest universities in the United Kingdom), this go-to spot for live music consists of four unique venues that each churn out a wide array of live tunes.
With a capacity of approximately 2,600, the simply named Academy venue is the biggest, followed by the more modest Academy 2, Academy 3 and Club Academy, which can all pack in less than 1,000 spectators, allowing for more intimate experiences.
Throughout the years, a who’s who of both English and international acts have made their mark on the four Academy stages, ranging from The Who themselves in the late 60s to more recent chart-toppers like The Chainsmokers and Chance the Rapper.
For those seeking a more intimate venue to take in Manchester’s musical charms, look no further than the Northern Quarter’s Night & Day Cafe. A cavalcade of future superstar acts and household names performed here before hitting it big, ranging from indie rockers the Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons to pop songstress Jessie J.
With affordable ticket prices and a wide range of events aside from performances, including dance-happy DJ nights, the Night & Day Cafe is a vibrant way to entrench yourself in the culture of the city and discover your new favorite band.
Feast your eyes (and ears) on Albert Hall, which ranks as yet another hip Manchester spot, with local and international singer-songwriters strutting their stuff on a nightly basis.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gorilla, located under the train tracks of Whitworth Street, doles out quality grub and drinks in tiny quarters and frequently hosts club nights in addition to being the best when it comes to the stars of tomorrow.