Following the completion of a two-year £3.5m expansion project, Manchester’s celebrated grassroots venue Band on the Wall has just reopened with a capacity increase from 340 to 500. With several shows lined up this month and its official relaunch coming next month, Gavin Sharp, chief executive of the venue’s owner Inner City Music, tells Access how it is set to become an even bigger part of the city’s live music scene.
Owned and operated by charity Inner City since 1984, the iconic Band on the Wall building, which dates back 200 years, became the epicentre of Manchester’s punk scene in the late 1970s when it hosted the likes of The Fall, Buzzcocks and Joy Division.
The venue closed its doors in 2020 so that work could begin on an expansion project funded by contributors including Arts Council England, DCMS and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Sharp says Inner City now hopes to continue to build the venue’s legacy on the back of the venue’s increased size and a new education programme.
Band on the Wall now features a second 120 capacity performance space – the three-storey Victoria-era Cocozza Wood building adjoining the back of the main venue. Sharp describes it as a small high-spec, New York style, jazz bar. In 2019 the then derelict building was purchased by Inner City from former Simply Red manager Andy Dodd.
“He had bought it years ago and held it in trust for the venue to buy off him. Brexit was looming and he was leaving the country, so he sold it to us for a knockdown price,” says Sharp.
Sharp says by working closely with Manchester-based architects OMI the main venue has been “massively up-specced” and built “with the event producer in mind”. It houses a PA system by L’Acoustics, fitted by Ad Lib Audio.
Says Sharp, “We’ve got three very clearly delineated zones, which is the backstage, the onstage and the artist experience. The front house is completely level access, even though it’s not on a single level. You can move around anywhere in a wheelchair between the two venues.
“Considering we built it into two very old buildings, it’s pretty spectacular. I’ve gigged for years, and there’s not another venue anything like it in the country.”
Sharp says that along with increasing the capacity, an important part of the project was to develop learning programmes and encourage young talent into the live music industry. The venue will feature a whole floor dedicated to its new programme, World of Music. Previously occupying just two rooms, the learning facilities now take over the whole top floor of the venue, with one large main group space, two breakout group rooms and an AV suite.
The venue team is associated with grassroots venue support body Music Venue Trust and its Independent Venue Week, but Sharp says Band on the Wall is not asking for help because his team are aware that it has a model in place that attracts support: “Our association with Music Venue Trust and Independent Venue Week is to be more of a supporting advocate, to celebrate others in our sector who operate out of the passion for music.
“In my opinion they are important cultural centres spread across the UK, but they rarely attract funding support. There is a move to change that which we support and advocate for.”
BOTW’s reopening season features shows by Binker & Moses, Ibibio Sound Machine, Balimaya Project, Emma Jean Thackray, Jazzanova, Bill Laurance and Asian Dub Foundation. The venue will officially relaunch with the opening of all its spaces on 21 April.