Manchester Music Scene | Top Bands, Live Venues and Music Shops

There is so much to admire about Manchester music and this inspiration has shaped and shifted art and culture as we see it in the UK. If you are moving into student accommodation in Manchester, it’s important to understand this legacy. We’ve put together a guide of some of the legendary Manchester music venues, the great bands, and the record shops of Manchester to help you get a feel for what you can expect from this titan of music.

Manchester Music – The Best Bands And Acts

man with a base guitar playing in Manchester, UK

Manchester and music. The two words go together perfectly. Some of the biggest bands ever have come from the streets of Manchester, changing the face of music and culture the world over. The Hollies were a breakout hit aligned with the Merseybeat sound of the 1960s, before the 70s brought the pop punk sound of The Buzzcocks and the dark, edgy, industrial music of Joy Division. After the traumatic loss of Ian Curtis, that band would re-emerge as New Order, a joyous, dance-infused band that continues to wow audiences to this day.

Later in the 1980s, Manchester gave us the jangling guitar and angst-ridden lyrics of The Smiths, the anthemic songs of The Stone Roses and the party soundtrack of The Happy Mondays as the baggy Madchester scene took hold of the nation with its psych and acid house infused indie rock. This scene would evolve from The Inspiral Carpets and end up giving us bands such as James, Elbow, and the world-wide phenomenon that was Oasis (we could write a whole essay on the dynamic of the Gallagher brothers!). Throughout pretty much all this time was The Fall and the enigmatic Mark E Smith.

Manchester has continued to produce new music acts though since the heyday of the 80s and 90s. To list just a few that have been successful out of Manchester in the last decade or so, you’ve got The Courteeners, Blossoms, Bugzy Malone, Cabbage, Aitch, and Everything Everything. What about the next wave of Manchester music acts though? The future is bright, with bands such as Pastel, Loose Articles, The Dirt, and OneDa continuing the rich and vibrant nature of Manchester’s diverse music scene.

8 Iconic Locations Of Manchester Music

manchester The Free Trade Hall

There are so many iconic Manchester music locations that you must visit when living in the city. Some of them are no longer active as venues in the music industry and you could easily walk past without realising how important they are to the musical history of the city, whilst others are still going strong.

1. The Free Trade Hall (Peter Street)

These days the building is home to a Radisson Hotel, but it is probably the most important gig venue of the past in terms of Manchester music. The Sex Pistols played The Lesser Free Trade Hall upstairs in the building in 1976 to a tiny crowd of about 40 people. Those 40 people though seemed to all end up in the music business. Future members of The Fall, Joy Division, and The Smiths were in attendance, whilst The Buzzcocks were involved in organising the show and were the support band. A gig that changed everything!

2. 86 Palatine Road

A detached house in Didsbury, you’d be hard pressed to realise that the top floor flats in this converted property was actually where Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus founded Factory Records back in 1978, prior to the massive success of Joy Division amongst others. There is a blue plaque outside commemorating how important the building is to music history, not just Manchester music history, but fans can’t go inside unfortunately.

3. Epping Walk Bridge

You’ll have probably seen that famous photograph by Kevin Cummins of the Joy Division lads on a wintry bridge. The black and white image is one of the quintessential shots of the band, and of that time in the North of England. Located in Hulme, Epping Walk Bridge is the location of the photo.

4. Southern Cemetery Gates (Chorlton)

This is the inspiration behind The Smiths classic song – Cemetery Gates  (though they’re all classics, aren’t they?). The Southern Cemetery Gates at Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton is a must-see for diehard fans of the band. Morrissey was fascinated with death, and this is reflected in the song’s lyrics and the rest of the album ‘The Queen is Dead’.

5. Salford Lads Club (St. Ignatius Walk, Salford)

Seen in a photograph on the inside sleeve of The Queen is Dead LP, the club is one of the most popular tourist destinations out of all the Manchester music locations. Wait in line to get your own photo taken as if you’re a member of the band and want to recreate that famous image.

6. The Haçienda (15 Whitworth Street West) 

Probably the most famous of all the Manchester music landmarks, this was the nightclub funded by Factory Records and opened in May 1982. The club was an idea of Joy Division and New Order’s manager Rob Gretton and became one of the most famous venues of the 80s, playing host to everyone from The Smiths to Madonna! Prior to becoming an instrumental force in the careers of many future Manchester bands during the hedonistic Madchester scene and Acid House years, it was funded by the success of New Order, a bone of contention with the band. The cultural legacy of the club has grown ever since though, and a plaque stands on the spot where modern flats replaced the demolished nightclub in the early 00s.

7. The Boardwalk (Little Peter Street) 

A music venue and rehearsal space that was home to many a budding band during the time of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and Oasis. The club closed its doors back in 1999 but a blue plaque remains, commemorating its importance on the Manchester music scene.

8. The Temple of Convenience (Great Bridgewater Street)

This is a fantastic, dark, basement pub located in a former Victorian public toilet. It really is one of those community pubs where you can sit and get to know strangers and make new friends for life (the tiny space leaves no room to sit alone). A great jukebox and good chat, as referenced in the Elbow song Grounds for Divorce (it is one of Guy Garvey’s favourite haunts).

Live Music Venues In Manchester – 10 Of The Best

Warehouse Project in manchester

What about current live music venues in Manchester? Things always evolve in big musical cities, and Manchester is no exception. There are some incredible venues and club nights for you to enjoy as a student in Manchester.

1. The Warehouse Project (The Depot, Mayfield Train Station) 

The Warehouse Project offers up some of the biggest nights of the year in Manchester, with a seasonal run from September until New Year’s Day, although there are some Bank Holiday special weekenders announced. The events showcase some of the best in electronic music from around the world, with diverse sub genres, producers, artists, and DJs making WHP one of the most exciting music events in not only Manchester, but the whole country.

2. Albert Hall (Peter Street)

Nearly a decade on from its reinvention and restoration for the Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall continues to be one of the favourite live music venues in the city. The baroque and gothic design is something to behold, and you’ll find it plays host to touring bands and artists from around the globe.

3. Animal Crossing

An independent dance music company that throws its own parties and festivals throughout the city, Animal Crossing has become one of the most popular music nights in the calendar for students in Manchester. The idea was to create a safe space for all, building a community of like-minded people with the aim of having a good time and ensuring people want to return time and again, spreading the love worldwide.

4. The Ritz (Whitworth Street West)

The sprung ballroom floor made this one of the most popular venues in the Northwest during the Northern Soul craze and it continues to be a standout venue for pretty big touring bands from all over the world. Over the years it has hosted a range of artists, from Public Enemy, to REM, and even back to Frank Sinatra and The Beatles back in the day.

5. YES (Charles Street)

Four floors of pure joy, there are two spaces in YES for live music, a café bar, and a rooftop terrace. There is a lot to enjoy about YES, and the basement is the place to see your next favourite band, whilst old favourites can be found touring the Pink Room. The perfect venue to hang out with a pint and a pizza, the latest tunes, and a live set.

6. Band on the Wall (Swan Street)

The refurbishment and engineering of the latest incarnation of this iconic venue makes it one of the best suited for live music. There are some splendid club nights and great live shows, a welcoming venue that has an appreciation for experimental music, world music and is known as one of the best for live jazz in the whole of the country.

7. Gorilla (Whitworth Street West)

There is a really good mix of artists that come through Gorilla, a mid-sized venue that hosts the best of local bands and touring musicians. Not only can you watch live music, but it also has book readings, club nights, and much more, with a cracking bar/restaurant in the front.

8. The Deaf Institute (Grosvenor Street)

In a previous life this was a school for the deaf and dumb, but these days it is three floors of a much-loved music venue, bar, and kitchen. Another member of the Trof family alongside Albert Hall and Gorilla, you can expect great service, drinking, dining, and a music hall with a few hundred capacity that has a wide range of live music and regular club nights for alternative indie music, hip hop and dance.

9. SOUP (Spear Street)

Formerly Soup Kitchen, SOUP bridges that gap between relaxing, pleasant canteen in the day and a riotous club night when the sun goes down. It is a favourite with travelling bands and has a busy calendar filled with all sorts of live music and club nights.

10. The Castle Hotel (Oldham Street)

A pub that dates back to 1776, it is well known in Manchester music folklore as the site of a famous interview between John Peel and Ian Curtis in 1979, and since its 2009 refurbishment has become a centre for live music, poetry and culture, a success story of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

3 Of The Best Record Shops In Manchester

records to buy in manchester, uk

Now you’ve heard about the iconic music venues, how about the record stores where you can buy the vinyl to spin in your student accommodation? Here, we look at three of the best record shops in Manchester.

1. Eastern Bloc Records (Stevenson Square)

Eastern Bloc originally opened in Afflecks Palace way back in 1985 before relocating to a larger space on Oldham Street in 1992, and its current home in 2011. It specialises in everything dance music and is the must-visit essential record store for DJs and those looking for the best techno, drum and bass, reggae, and funk in the city. It also has in-store parties a couple of nights a month and has even opened a coffee shop and late bar as part of the experience.

2. Vinyl Exchange (Oldham Street) 

Over two decades since opening, Vinyl Exchange continues to be a vital part of the musical landscape of Manchester. It helps to shape the future generations of Manchester, selling an impressive collection of second-hand records and brand-new releases on both vinyl and CD. For locals and tourists alike, it is a central part of the cool Northern Quarter and the perfect place to lose a few hours digging the crates for that hidden gem of a record (whatever genre you’re interested in).

3. Piccadilly Records (Oldham Street)

The record shop that is remembered with much fondness and revered by all Mancunians, Piccadilly Records has been serving up the latest tunes to music-lovers in the city since 1978 and continues to make every new generation fall in love with music. Manchester just wouldn’t be the same without Piccadilly Records, which seems to be as much a part of the tapestry of Manchester as anything else you’ll find in the city.

If you love music and you’re moving to Manchester as a student, you can see you’ve got a lot to look forward to. The Manchester music scene is buzzing, as it always has, and with a whole host of parties, events, gig venues, and record shops to explore in the city, you’ll soon be bitten by the bug and be keen to call Manchester your home for longer than your student years. Manchester really leaves its mark on you, and the music becomes part of your life. Living as a student in Manchester is great and we’d love to hear from you once you’ve had the chance to explore the gig venues and big nights out around town.

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