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Best of Manchester Small Music Venues

A round up of the best small venues for live music and more

Published on July 1st 2013.

Best of Manchester Small Music Venues

Here’s a list of the best small music venues in the city for live events in no particular order. It’s that simple, really.

You can follow Ben on Twitter here @BenPRobinson

Antwerp Mansion

This illusive venue is one of Manchester’s worst kept secrets. They call it a ‘renovation project’, as it’s basically a run down Victorian mansion that’s been turned into a music, art and photography hotspot. Contrary to popular belief, this place was never a squat, although you’ll see how the rumours gathered steam as soon as you walk in. During the day you’ll mainly find band practices or photo shoots but in the evening you’ll discover some of the best parties in the city. You'll have a job finding the entrance though, but that’s kind of the point of it. Find out more here.

Band On The Wall

Manchester’s oldest music venue dating back to 1862 was re-born in 2007 and re-opened to showcase jazz and world music. The not-for-profit, charity run venue is best known for its monthly sell out nights from residents Mr. Scruff (Keep It Unreal) and Craig Charles (Funk and Soul Show). Alongside regular nights Band On The Wall hums with the sound of jazz, reggae, soul, drum'n'bass, and anything else you care to mention virtually every night of the week. It’s also one of the few venues where you can get a decent pint of ale at three in the morning. The curious name of the place was actually its nickname in its former guise of the George and Dragon pub where a stage was bolted directly to the wall for musicians to perform on without getting molested by the drinkers below. Find out more here.

Band On The WallBand On The Wall

The Castle Hotel

A staple watering hole of the Northern Quarter long before the area became what we know it today, The Castle has been 'Letting the good times roll since 1776'. The beautifully quaint tiled façade and traditional pub atmosphere make The Castle is a great pub, but it is also entwined with Manchester music history with John Peel’s legendary 1979 interview with Ian Curtis taking place there. The pub closed in 2008 after falling on hard times before being re-opened a year later and unveiling a back room music hall and theatre in 2010 to make it a unique and cosy music venue. The small capacity room may not be the most convenient but there are few venues that offer such an intimate atmosphere to see some great music and performances from the likes of Veronica Falls, Hooded Fang and Temple Songs. Plus they have Elbow’s Build A Record Boys! Ale on draught too. Find out more here.

The Castle HotelThe Castle Hotel

Islington Mill

Salford’s Islington Mill is a labyrinth-like former cotton mill and a fantastic space for the creatives who occupy it. Primarily renovated to create a series of artist studios, art galleries and even a recording studio, the club-space materialized as a bit of an afterthought. After ten years of shaping the old mill however it has become Salford’s DIY cultural hub and took centre stage at this year’s Sounds From The Other City Festival - although it's only a walk from Manchester city centre. Being a home to so many resident artists and creatives the Mill’s musical bookings tend to be more varied and offer line-ups which are a little different to those that tend to be seen in the city centre. Recent gigs have included, Death Grips, Maria Minerva and even Grimes shortly before her impressive rise from leftfield to prominence. Find out more here.

Islington MillIslington Mill

The Kings Arms

Once home to the oldest angling club, backdrop for Channel 4 student sitcom Fresh Meat, theatre space, live music venue and pub. The Kings Arms has pretty much all bases covered. Only a short stroll from Deansgate and Spinningfields and hailed as Britain’s 'most bohemian back-street boozer' by The Guardian, the venue has become a meeting place for residents of Manchester and Salford alike. The spacious upstairs events room above the pub provides a roster of events including comedy, theatre, talks, meetings and live music. There is something for everyone more often than not in this 19th century tavern. Find out more here.

The Kings ArmsThe Kings Arms

Kraak Gallery

A well hidden addition to Manchester’s interesting smaller venues, Kraak makes innovative use of a former derelict textile cutting room. Situated off the Northern Quarter’s Stevenson Square, heading through one of two unmarked doorways in a narrow alleyway leads you into either the exhibition space or the event space. Founded in 2009 by local artists under the ideology of collaboration and open expression, Kraak Gallery has quietly become a key part of the DIY arts scene in Manchester. As well as exhibitions and shows Kraak’s event space is a venue for smaller independent promoters putting on varied and alternative acts and bands such as Patten, Yeti Lane and Trailer Trash Tracy’s. One of the few places to regularly mix music and art, Kraak is a treat if you can catch a band that will not be likely to appear at too many other places in Manchester. Find out more here.

Matt and Phred's

If you want jazz then this the obvious place to go. Matt and Phred's has been part of the Manchester music scene under this name and former incarnation, PJ Bell's, for decades. It reflects Manchester's long love affair with the rhythms, syncopations and joys of jazz from the Oasis club in the fifties and further back to today's summer jamboree that is the Manchester Jazz Festival. Matt and Phred's covers trad and modern jazz depending on the act but also covers blues and occasional world music bases as well. The acts play in an atmospheric and suitably bohemian venue that also provides good drinks and decent tuck. Find out more here.

Matt And PhredsMatt And Phreds

Night & Day Cafe

Situated next to Vinyl Exchange and designer magazine store, Magma, it should come as no surprise that the Night & Day Cafe is an alternative venue by anyone’s standards. Specialising in, but by no means limited to, lo fi guitar bands the venue is suitably atmospheric and truly intimate. So much so that it’s not unheard of for acts to become mingled with the crowd. Aside from its garage-meets-ballroom aesthetic it is the cafe’s commitment to showcasing the best emerging Manchester bands that sets the venue apart from its competitors. Night & Day Cafe is a unique treasure trove of talent and with a calendar brimming over with acts it’s always worth a visit. Find out more here.

Night And Day CafeNight And Day Cafe

St. Phillips Church

On the more grandiose side of the small venue spectrum is St. Phillips Church, off Chapel Street in Salford, and not far from Islington Mill. More and more acts are taking advantage of the perfect acoustics of the beautiful Grade II listed building - designed by Sir Robert Smirke who also designed the British Museum in London. Recently the more ethereal and drone-like musical projects such as Tim Hecker, Forest Swords and The Antlers among others have transformed the still functioning church into an echoing soundscape. However the church has also hosted concerts by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Laura Marling and Bombay Bicycle Club. In May, Tim Hecker plunged the audience for his show into complete darkness and performed the entire gig using the church’s organ along with a laptop and effects pedals as part of the Future Everything Festival. The building itself is a landmark with its circular colannade and tall tower. Find out more here.

St Philips ChurchSt Philips Church


Roadhouse is a venue known well to any gig-goer worth their salt around here. This place has a rich history of snapping up bands before they go huge, and some of the biggest acts in the world have graced the stage. Coldplay, The White Stripes, Elbow, Kasabian, and Ian Brown all played Roadhouse before they outgrew small venues. This place also boasts one of the best club night lineups in the city, playing host to Revolver, Underachievers, and Northern Devolution. Find out more here.

The Ruby Lounge

This bespoke music venue is loud, and they know it. It’s all about Rock ‘n’ Roll at The Ruby Lounge and at it’s best it can be brutal in here. Expect plenty of heavy rock acts at this 375 capacity venue, but it’s not all distortion and power solo’s, indie and pop acts play here as well. Weekend shows are usually followed by a club night, which can be just as much fun as the gigs if the right tunes are being pumped from the super-loud PA. Find out more here.

Soup Kitchen

The dilapidated-chic styling of Soup Kitchen’s basement venue is a great space for music when suitably full. Situated beneath a super soup-centric café, the venue has played host to acts that often would fit quite comfortably on the Deaf Institute stage such as Nite Jewel, Bear In Heaven, Pond and Japandroids. Soup Kitchen’s purposefully dingy ambience offers a moodier atmosphere to other small Manchester venues, aside from the The Roadhouse. The venue also features various club nights such as meandyou, Hot Milk and Swing Ting. The multi-purpose venue caters to a diverse audience and is equally appealing both during the day in the upstairs canteen or later on in the basement. Find out more here.

Soup KitchenSoup Kitchen

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousAugust 9th 2012.

No Deaf Institute? This story about Ian Curtis being interviewed at the Castle is a lie, although it's on their website and I guess that's where your writer picked up on it. Ian Curtis may have been interviewed by a cassette fanzine called 'Northern Lights' in the Castle - there are recordings of this circulating and the location of the interview is still in dispute - but in any case John Peel isn't the interviewer. He never recorded an interview with Ian Curtis, there, or anywhere, and this is just some attempt by the Castle to embed themselves in pop music history, sadly.

Jared SzpakowskiAugust 9th 2012.

Cant argue with any of the above choices - good work!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Malise SzpakowskaAugust 9th 2012.

Antwerp Mansion is one for us to try!

Jo NightingaleAugust 9th 2012.

Good selection but the best in the city is missing, the Deaf Inst.

AnonymousAugust 10th 2012.

Also conspicuous by their absence are Retro and Gullivers, both hosting more alternative nights in Manchester.

Martin CooperSeptember 21st 2012.

Featuring all the same old venues that are good at PR. All you need to do to find most of these is follow the crowds.

I think the word you're looking for in the second sentence is "Elusive."

ShybaldbuddhistSeptember 24th 2013.

Deaf Institute has to be in the top 3, can't believe its not on the list?

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