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Is 2018 going to be a tough year for Manchester’s night-time scene?


It’s heartbreakingly easy to lose money in the night-time sector. The margins between success and failure are tiny. One good night in a week and you’re still out of pocket. Two great nights and the bills get paid.

You might have an amazing December and lose it all in January.

Every year, establishments close. We’re a few weeks into 2018 and already hearing of the demise of the Odd Bar chain (Odd, Oddest, the Blue Pig) and the end of Venus Manchester, a club established nearly twenty years ago.

One of the big stories of recent months, though, was the launch of Mackie Mayor, a grand space filled with great food choices, and, just as 2018 started, we got the promising news that the city’s most clued-up live music promoters, Now Wave, have plans to open a three floor venue on Charles Street.

We’re used to churn. It’s what happens. Empires fall, empires rise – sometimes on the same site. One of the most talked about new spaces is the imaginatively programmed Night People at the former home of Alter Ego on Princess Street.

In the block on Newton Street once home to the Roadhouse, we now have Jimmy’s, a gem of a bar and gig venue.

Sankeys has gone but several young upstarts playing electronic dance music are thriving including the White Hotel and Hidden.

However, the general trend in the country is that the number of music venues is dropping. Nationally, for every three live music venues closing two are opening, and for every two nightclubs closing one is opening.

One reason for this is that, in addition to commercial failures, venues are being forced to close by an unholy alliance of property developers, planners and councils attempting to monetise and neuter every acre of the city, prioritising retail and apartments and bulldozing music venues.

Both Sankeys and Sound Control were victims of property developers intent on building apartments. The Star & Garter remains at risk.

We should be grateful that thanks to its resourcefulness and its addiction to music, Manchester probably has more live music venues now than any time since the mid-1960s. But we should be watchful.

Small, independently owned music venues need protecting and supporting. They provide a stage for grassroots musicians and DJs and make an essential contribution to the city’s appeal as a place to live, work, and study.

How our city centres are managed will remain an issue. Developers are continuing to destroy Manchester’s historic buildings. Currently, Thomas Street has been targeted, but alarming plans for a huge hotel in the middle of the Northern Quarter are also being circulated.

Looking back over the last twenty years, there are some current trends that can be identified.

In the 1990s particularly, many venues benefitted from big midweek student nights (that’s how Sacha from the Warehouse Project built his career). This market has shrunk. Student fees/debt is a major reason for this.

Nationally – and predictably, given the recession and the impact of austerity – there appears to be a dip in the number of people willing to spend money in bars over the last ten years. Pre-loading has never been more popular. Treat yourself to some 80p bottles of beer or £4 bottles of wine from Asda, then hit the town.

Customers tend no longer to be looking for a regular weekly club night, but prefer one-offs or festivals.

The spectrum of what’s on offer is now bigger than ever, which just goes to show how split the Manchester demographic is.

There are some thriving traditional pubs still not expecting you to pay £5 a pint, like the Lower Turks Head, and Gullivers. The live music at the latter is also often spot-on.

Night & Day seems to have yet another new lease of life, with imaginative programming (a mix of live music and compatible and interesting DJ-led nights).

There are clubbers in love with the raw, warehouse-style vibe of venues like the White Hotel.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s studied, over-the-top glam and glitz galore at new clubs like Impossible on Peter Street and Lazy Lizard in the Printworks.

There are some impressively multi-dimensional spaces with talks, films, music, dancing. They’re all at Texture on Lever Street and the co-operative arts and social space Partisan on Cheetham Hill Road. Both are bringing such determination and imagination to their task, they deserve to succeed.

There’s no slow down in the number of customers swerving the city centre and drinking in independent neighbourhood bars in suburbs like Chorlton, Levenshulme, and West Didsbury.

Looking ahead a few years, there’s sure to be some positive knock-on effects around Liverpool Rd and the Salford side of the Irwell when the new Factory complex is completed in 2020.

There’s an even more long term issue we might have to consider one day. There could be a generational shift away from hurting our bodies and causing social harm via the use of alcohol. Or a privatised health service could slam habitual drinkers with excessive insurance requirements.

For the night-time economy, so reliant on sales of alcohol, that’s a sobering thought.

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