Over the last few years hordes of loyal music-lovers have waited patiently as their beloved Band on the Wall has gradually been reconstructed and revamped. Now, after a multi-million pound investment, it's complete and back open for business, and the big question is: will people be pleasantly surprised or will it fall under the huge weight of expectation? On first impressions it has to be said that the hopes for the venue have been exceeded - it has been freshened up, faithfully restored, and your feet don't stick to the floor anymore.
With so many high priced residential apartments, a lavish new hotel and dozens of cool bars having moved into the neighbourhood whilst the club’s redevelopment took place, Band On The Wall now seems part of a different Manchester (at least to the naked eye) to the one it previously inhabited, but thankfully the venue still retains its kooky charm and unshakeable music-focussed roots.
The club space is still recognisable as the old BOTW but it's benfitted from a fresh lick of paint, a bit of TLC and some new flourishes which include a highly stylised version of BOTW’s recognisable logo (the man in glasses and beret), who is immortalised in many colours of neon and dotted along the balcony carpet alongside a spangly multi-coloured jack leads and headphone motif. These leads trail off in different directions and cover the entire floor. The carpeted floor remains, although they have thankfully replaced the previous one. The music hall bar is a beautiful feature that shines like El Dorado; the city of gold. The amber glow invites thirsty punters in to quench their thirst.
Next door to the original music hall space is The Picturehouse, a Grade 2 listed building that was originally a cinema as far back as the early 1900s. This is an ideal meeting place for concert goers, a space where you can enjoy a drink at the bar and buy tickets from the box office. On three screens along the wall, old footage of past gigs and interviews with the likes of 808 State’s Graham Massey are constantly on loop. In the future, The Picturehouse will hold its own events and will also be available for private bookings.
The vibe is wonderfully calm and sophisticated. There is a mature audience and the staff are extremely warm and welcoming. It feels like a home from home, and there's a oneness between the crowd and the space which is rare thing for a newly opened club, even if it is one with the history of BOTW.
At the opening night, the Julian Joseph Trio take to the stage and command a revered silence from the audience. To a sold out capacity, Mica Paris joins the trio on stage and blows the crowd away with her ferociously powerful vocal chords, which permeate the cosy space like radiator heat on a cold day. Overall, it is a perfectly fitting re-launch for the once tired-looking club.
Band On The Wall has been at the heart of Manchester’s music scene for longer than some of the people on its dancefloor will be able to remember. Whilst it has always had a reputation as a home to touring artists from the worlds of reggae, punk, jazz, soul, funk and hip hop, in its more recent history, it was the best place in Manchester for those in need of some intimacy to go with their credible underground music. Nights like the crate-digging specialists Eyes Down and D&B soul providers Soul:ution epitomised the importance of the club in astute musical circles. It is good to see Soul:ution back on the new events roster and whilst Eyes Down is now done and dusted, it is a reassuring sight to see former resident Jon K reacquainting himself with the club’s new curves. The diverse headlining guests are naturally at the top of the musical agenda at the new BOTW, so expect to hear anything from Congolese music, to Norwegian jazz and a classical Indian fusion, depending on the night.
In both the Picturehouse and the main venue itself there are a number of draught beverages available, including Czech favourite Staropramen, Guinness and Strongbow. There is no Red Stripe on tap which in the original venue was a rare treat but it is still available in cans, so all is not lost. If you're an ale drinker there is a very reasonably priced Hyde's Tap and a guest ale. The Young Pretender, from the All Gates Brewery, is a lovely, creamy offering with a sweetly bitter kick. At around £2.60 it has to be tried.
The food on offer is a work in progress, but if you want a meal in a restaurant they also offer deals for anyone with a ticket to a show. These allow you to enjoy discounts at very respectable local restaurants like Ning, or the Glasshouse restaurant, in the Crowne Plaza. If you fancy taking advantage of these offers, you must remember to pre-book.
The Last Word
After such prolonged anticipation and hard work, Band On The Wall is back. Let's just hope it's for good this time as it’s an iconic Manchester venue that is vitally important to the city, both on a local and an international level.