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Apollos, Academies And Albert Halls. Can we fill them?

Jonathan Smith asks whether we have over capacity in middling venues

Published on July 24th 2013.


Apollos, Academies And Albert Halls. Can we fill them?
 

THERE is no doubting Manchester’s credentials as one of Britain’s great musical cities, in fact there is a strong case to calling it the greatest. As a result the city has an abundance of musical venues to satisfy people’s cravings to hear the heroes of yesteryear, classical compositions and new home-grown talents inevitably named the next….(insert your own seminal Manchester band here).

Jay Taylor states his desire “to live in a city bursting with venues, galleries, cinemas and arts spaces” not a “town with one precariously positioned music venue”

Awkwardly sitting between the vast array of smaller stages in the Northern Quarter and the behemoths of the Manchester Arena and the Etihad Stadium is Manchester’s 800-3,000 capacity venue market - one that just won’t stop growing.

The latest major introduction to the market is the recently refurbished Albert Hall - a task taken on by Joel Wilkinson, the man behind Trof bar as well club-cum-restaurant-cum-live music venues Gorilla and The Deaf Institute.

Recently hosting Goldfrapp, Mogwai and Maxine Peake as part of Manchester’s International Festival, the Albert Hall has capitalised on its wonderful, original features to make it a distinctive setting. A 2,000 plus capacity in addition to a full bar below, featuring a Trof inspired menu, make the Albert Hall much more than just another average addition to the market.  

“This will be much more than a concert venue, it has to be given what's out there," he told Jonathan Schofield, the Confidential editor, in June. "Of course there will be live music but I have to take advantage of the way this place looks - its points of distinction - the quality of the light that comes through the windows, the heritage of the venue. It's a special space. So we’ll also be letting it for conferences, award ceremonies, seminars, exhibitions, weddings. It will be constantly worked.”

The official opening of the Albert Hall next February will mean Manchester will house fifteen 800-3,000 capacity theatres and concert venues. With so many places in competition for not only an audience, but also acts to put on, there may be danger of market cannibalisation.

While the Manchester Academies, Ritz and O2 Apollo fight over current music mainstays such as Beady Eye and Jake Bugg, as well as veteran favourites like Paul Weller and The Happy Mondays, elsewhere 1,000 plus capacity theatres duke it out for the top shows and musicals.

These middle sized capacity venues may not be in direct competition regarding the type of shows they put on, but they are most definitely competing with one another for the audience’s time and money. With such a variety of entertainment available, not to mention other establishments like cinemas and clubs, it raises the questions as to whether so many venues are needed in the city.

One venue that fits snuggly into the 800-3,000 capacity bracket is The Bridgewater Hall, while mainly a classical concert hall it has hosted all genres of music, along with such familiar faces as Bryan Ferry, Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg. When asked about how the Bridgewater Hall copes with having so much competition, general manager Nick Reed describes the “niche” that the venue holds as being both all seated, and solely focused on giving the very best quality musical experience, simply put “one that is reverential of the music”.

With nearly 300 shows a year, 70 or 80 down to its resident Halle Orchestra, it would seem that the Bridgewater is almost overwhelmed by demand. Only occasionally in direct competition with the Apollo and Manchester Academy One due to the nature of their different “orbits”, as Nick aptly puts it, and even The Lowry, who dabble in a similar musical area, aren’t considered direct opposition.

It would seem that The Bridgewater Hall has managed to circumvent the inundated live music circuit in Manchester through their status as a premier classical concert provider, in the same bracket as Birmingham’s Symphony Hall or the Barbican in London. A recurring theme of Manchester’s most successful establishments is present at the Bridgewater, the ability to simply be different.

Nick, a fan of all of Manchester’s musical hotspots, sees the Bridgewater as “different but not better” than the others, his view is that there is a place for everyone in town and those who don’t prosper are just another part of the “richness of a city’s musical ecology” and how the scene changes.

With the possibility of over-supply Nick feels that in the end economics decrees which acts go to which venue, meaning the Bridgewater hasn’t “stepped on anyone’s toes” in the “self-regulating” market. The 1,000-3,000 capacity venues may be lumped in the same sizing grouping but the reality is that the difference between not just the 3,500 Apollo and 800 capacity Gorilla, but even the Apollo and seemingly large Academy One is actually massive.

A 1,000 person difference in size is a distinct variance for touring acts, further promoting the theory of each venue’s size dictating who performs there, meaning, much to Liam Gallagher’s dismay, Beady Eye should be playing The Ritz and Robbie Williams the 45,000 seated Etihad Stadium.

Richard Maides, operations director of the Manchester Academies, echoes the Bridgewater Hall’s sentiments saying “the number of existing venues is healthy”. In contrast to the Bridgewater Hall it would be fair to say that Academy One has stronger competition, with the Manchester Arena, Ritz and Apollo all attracting similar acts, so the question is how Richard believes the Academy differentiates itself? We all “sit at different capacities, it’s really that simple” he bluntly states.

He further explains that while many will see little difference between a couple of hundred tickets in venues as nothing, those extra or lesser seats might actually amount to something very significant. “Those extra seats are important when you are looking to position your artistes.”

Essentially the large collection of venues in Manchester may not be so strange, with “Glasgow, Birmingham and Wolverhampton (that’s what he said) there are similar number of venues competing for the live business”, making the city’s venue overloads more of an exaggeration than a fact.

The fear with so many music venues in Manchester is that firstly, there aren’t enough decent acts to go round and secondly, that the audience just isn’t big enough to fill them all.

But with so many large venues booking all the best available acts what about the city’s intimate live music establishments. The Ruby Lounge, just opposite the Arndale Centre on High Street, is a prime example of one of Manchester’s small venues, priding itself on being a “place for all that brutal, ugly, desperate and vicious Rock'n'Roll”. Accommodating a variety of live music in the weekdays while functioning as a club on the weekends, hosting the hugely popular Remake Model, The Ruby Lounge proudly flies the flag for Manchester’s vibrant, personal and intimate gigs.

Jay Taylor, who runs the Lounge’s music side, believes the smaller venues that succeed are the ones that don’t “rest upon their laurels” and “ultimately the ones that strive to make things better for performer and punter alike”.

With a 375 capacity the Lounge finds itself “wedged” between the aforesaid larger venues and smaller music haunts, yet rather than finding itself competing on both fronts, he explains how it means they can “draw shows from both sides”. The Lounge’s record speaks for itself as their website lists the hundreds of performers who have graced their stage - an upcoming Lana Del Rey and, most recently, a special show from Miles Kane.

The fear with so many music venues in Manchester is that firstly, there aren’t enough decent acts to go round and secondly, that the audience just isn’t big enough to fill them all. Luckily it would seem that demand not only exists but is ever growing. Jay tells me a combination of an “expanding city centre population and student mass” united “with an endless stream of touring and homespun acts wanting shows” has left everyone from the 3,500 capacity 02 Apollo, to Night and Day Café and even unconventional venues like Manchester Cathedral or Salford’s hidden spot, The Bunker, able to thrive in their varied approaches.

I think we can all agree with Jay Taylor when he states his desire “to live in a city bursting with venues, galleries, cinemas and arts spaces” not a “town with one precariously positioned music venue”. Fortunately for him, and everyone else, Manchester is a haven of music and culture, so, for now at least, the eclectic abundance of venues is still very much a good thing for the city, its people and every upcoming band labelled the new Oasis, Smiths or Joy Division. Well Manchester and Wolverhampton of course.

Manchester's Top Ten Many Middle Sized Venues

The Apollo 3,500

Victoria Warehouse 3,500

Manchester Academy One  2,300

The Albert Hall 2,200

The Palace Theatre 2,000

The Bridgewater Hall 2,000 (for gigs more for classical pieces) 

Manchester Opera House 1,920

The Lowry 1,730

The Ritz  1,500

Manchester Academy Two 800

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johnJuly 24th 2013.

I think that the Albert Hall will be an incredible space for concerts/events of all kind once it is fully up and running post-refurb. Mogwai soundtracking the Zidane film worked beautifully last week (ignoring the venue's extreme temperature!) as did the completely different Masque of Anarchy. Gorilla is a very decent addition to the city as the Green Room was always underutilised as a venue. The refurblished Ritz is also a really good looking hall. I'm personally not a big fan of the Ruby Lounge as a gig venue. Too many large pillars and a very low level stage means getting a good view is really hard work at any half-busy gig.

AnonymousJuly 25th 2013.

The Ritz is my favourite venue!

Stephen LakeJuly 26th 2013.

There are more than enough acts. At the beginning of the year the wife and I set ourselves a challenge to see a gig in all of the major venues in the city. This year I have seen or am going to see I Am Kloot, Black Crowes, Gaslight Anthem, Biffy Clyro, Imagine Dragons, Smashing Pumpkins, The Courteeners, Delphic, Soundgarden, Arctic Monkeys, Hurts, Turin Brakes, Half Moon Run, Kodaline, Alice in Chains, Queens of the Stoneage and Russell Brand. Ticking off the Arena, Castlefield Arena, The Apollo, The Academy, The Ritz and Gorilla in the process. Missed out on tickets for Goldfrapp, Miles Kane (at the Ruby Lounge) the Yeah yeah yeahs. Any recommendations for The Roadhouse, Ruby Lounge, Night and Day, The Castle and Soup Kitchen?

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