Donna Dailey - 2008-05-12
Manchester is England's second city and the third most-popular in the UK for overseas visitors. But they're not coming just for its fine museums and striking architecture. Manchester has long been a magnet for music fans, ever since the Sex Pistols kick-started the punk rock scene here in 1976.
Manchester was the key city of Britain's Industrial Revolution. From the late 18th century until the 1950s, it was the world's largest cotton processing and trading centre, nicknamed 'Cottonopolis'. The city centre teemed with mills, factories and warehouses, setting the stage for some of the first demonstrations for workers' economic and political rights.
There is little sign of a gritty city today. Shiny glass towers and shopping centres stand in contrast to the Victorians' handsome civic buildings. In 1996 an IRA bomb – the last on the mainland – exploded at the Arndale shopping mall and destroyed much of the surrounding area. But it spurred the rebirth of Manchester's city centre, now seen as one of Britain's best urban regeneration programmes.
Manchester's old and new faces are both evident in the Free Trade Hall. It was built in the 1840s, on the site of the Peterloo Massacre, to hold political meetings. Because of its excellent acoustics, it was also used as a concert hall and was home to the Hallé Orchestra from 1858 until 1996. When the orchestra moved to the new, state-of-the-art Bridgewater Hall nearby, most of the building was destroyed to build the city's first five-star hotel, the Radisson Edwardian Manchester.
When Bob Dylan performed here in 1966, he switched from acoustic to electric guitar in public for the first time. Someone in the audience called out 'Judas!', a cry that went down in Manchester's musical history. Ten years later, the Sex Pistols played their first gig outside London here. There were only 30-40 people in the audience, but several of them became key figures in the Manchester music scene: Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order, Morrissey of the Smiths, Mark E Smith of The Fall, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, and Pete Shelley and Howard DeVoto of the Buzzcocks.
The Sex Pistols' anarchic music inspired them to go out and form their own bands. Most influential of all was the late Tony Wilson, a journalist and TV presenter who co-founded the Factory Records label which recorded many of the Manchester bands. Along with Wilson's Haçienda nightclub, Factory Records was instrumental in spreading Manchester's indie rock music scene and club culture around the world. The cult film 24 Hour Party People (2002) tells the story of this amazing music era, while Control (2007) focuses on the tragic life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division.
A Musical Stroll
Opposite the Radisson along Windmill Street, the former railway station Manchester Central became another concert venue after it was converted to the G-Mex exhibition centre in 1986. It's now reverted to its original name. The handsome terra cotta-faced building opposite is the Midland Hotel. Mr Rolls met Mr Royce here in 1904, leading to one of the world's most famous partnerships. The classic automobiles were first made in Manchester, and most are still produced in the UK. Continue along Lower Mosley Street past Bridgewater Hall. Turn left at the historic Briton's Protection pub and walk along Great Bridgewater Street for a few metres to the steps leading down to the Rochdale Canal, which runs through the city centre.
Canals were an important part of industrial Manchester, transporting coal, raw materials and finished goods in and out of the city. Today they are only used by narrowboats for pleasure cruises, but they remain an attractive feature of modern Manchester, lined in many spots with cobbled paths and cafe-bars.
A footbridge crosses the canal to a modern luxury apartment block. It stands on the former site of one of the most famous music spots in Manchester, the Haçienda Club. Founded by Tony Wilson in a converted warehouse in 1982, it became a showcase for top bands. Madonna made her UK debut here in 1984. Despite its popularity during the 'Madchester' club scene of the late 1980s and '90s, the club lost money and closed in 1997. But a timeline was installed along the canal side of the new building, marking the highlights of the Haçienda Club history.
Further along, steps lead up to Deansgates Locks, where several hip bars and clubs are set into the old railway arches along the bank of the canal. Cross over Whitworth Street to reach Little Peter Street, where another music landmark is tucked away amidst old factory buildings and new flats. A blue plaque marks the Boardwalk, a former nightclub and rehearsal venue used by everyone from the Hallé Orchestra to the Happy Mondays. This was where Oasis first played.
The Northern Quarter
Manchester has several distinct quarters within its compact and easily walkable city centre. Piccadilly, with its train station and spacious civic gardens, is the main gateway. Adjoining it are bustling Chinatown and the Gay Village, which is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants along Canal Street, a traffic-free oasis beside the Rochdale Canal. More waterside pubs and bars can be found in Castlefield, a renovated industrial district. Deansgate is a main thoroughfare leading to top shopping areas around the Arndale Centre, Cathedral Gardens and Exchange Square, site of the 60m-high Wheel of Manchester which previously stood in Paris at the end of the Champs Elysee.
But the trendiest area of Manchester is the Northern Quarter. This bohemian district is full of laid-back pubs, cafes and music bars. Along its main drag, Oldham Street, are many second-hand record stores, quirky shops and boutiques. None is funkier than Affleck's Palace, a collection of little shops with trendy fashion by young designers, at the corner of Oldham and Church streets. On the back of the building along Tib Street is a series of mosaic murals by Mark Kennedy featuring famous people in Manchester's history. Bob Dylan's 'Judas' moment is there, along with leading figures from the city's music scene…
Where to Eat and Drink
Manchester city centre is packed with great bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Be sure to book a table on busy weekend nights, especially if Manchester United is playing that day.
Mr Thomas's Chop House
52 Cross Street
Tel: 0161 832 2245
The tiny Victorian bar, opened by Mr Thomas Studd in 1867, fronts a much-lauded gastropub serving the best of British fare, such as brown onion soup, black pudding fritters, corned beef hash and traditional grilled meats. Booking is advised on weekends.
Night and Day Cafe
26 Oldham Street
Tel: 0161 236 4597
By day it's a laid-back cafe-bar in the Northern Quarter. At night, it's a stalwart on the Manchester music scene for cult favourites of both local and international fame.
Matt & Phred's Jazz Club
64 Tib Street
Tel: 0161 831 7002
The only club in Manchester dedicated to live jazz (Monday-Saturday), with regional musicians and international artists in the spotlight. This Northern Quarter favourite also serves great pizza, set menus and cocktails.
Smithfield Market, Thomas Street
Tel: 0161 839 7195
Trendy Northern Quarter bar and restaurant set in a former fish market, with a large ground-floor bar, intimate basement bar and outdoor terrace. The menu features modern European cuisine.
70 Oxford Street
Tel: 0161 200 1500
The place in Manchester for arthouse cinema, bookshops and galleries. The cafe serves pizza and appetizers till 11pm. The bar features weekend DJs.