Inside the new £3.5m Band on the Wall

Manchester’s acclaimed music venue now has a larger stage and an increased capacity, but still seeks to honour its heritage after reopening on 3 March.

This is a venue that Gavin Sharp, chief executive of Inner City Music, believes will be a musician’s dream. Inner City Music is the organisation operating Band on the Wall and Sharp helped design the space with OMI Architects, providing feedback on how the building should operate during gigs.

Dressing rooms are on the lower levels and fully accessible. The journey from the loading area to the stage is minimal, with a large lift on hand for moving larger instruments and equipment.

There are now two stages (a smaller one in the old bar area), which are connected in the back so instruments can move back and forth with ease.

Band On The Wall 2, Inner City Music, C Jody Hartley

The venue now has a capacity of 525, rather than 350. Credit: Jody Hartley

The stage itself is on a different frame to the dancefloor so that a DJ performing doesn’t have to worry about their equipment bouncing in time to the ravers below.

The walls are a deep blue, aimed at the shade created just after dusk. Sharp wanted the world to disappear when people watched a show – for it to look like the night sky.

He thinks people will walk into the main stage area and be convinced the two large pillars that once blocked views have been pushed back. They haven’t. It’s the stage itself that has moved and gotten bigger – pushing back into the old Cocozza Building that has enabled Band on the Wall’s expansion.

Now the 16-piece bands that perform at Band on the Wall can fit with ease, while fans cheering along their favourite musicians can number 525, rather than the 350 of years before.

Band On The Wall 10, Inner City Music, C Jody Hartley

The new Picturehouse Bar. Credit: Jody Hartley

The most obvious change for visitors is the old Picturehouse Bar, which has been redone and given a commercial kitchen and a separate small stage. The space has little nooks and hideaways with seating areas to allow a more private experience as well.

“What we had before was quite a rectangular room,” Sharp said. “It just didn’t have the character. So we wanted to get these interjections into the space.”

Don’t expect to pay for entry for the smaller stage.

“Our intention is not to put a dollar charge on getting in here,” Sharp said. “This is about showcasing new Manchester bands, young bands and young musicians.”

Band On The Wall 14, Inner City Music, C Jody Hartley

The smaller stage at Band on the Wall. Credit: Jody Hartley

While the ground floor is essentially finished, the classrooms upstairs are still a work in progress. Work is expected to complete in spring, but the framework is there.

There’s a large room which Sharp envisions will be filled with instruments, so that kids can just pick up what interests them and start a jam session. Towards the back are more private tutor spaces. There’s also an AV studio, where kids can dabble in video production and editing.

“We’re not trying to build a commercial space up here,” Sharp said. “We’re trying to build a space where the kids who get involved in our programs could come and really get involved in creating content and meeting some of the best international musicians.”

Band On The Wall Exterior, Inner City Music, C PNW

Band on the Wall’s expansion has taken over the Cocozza Building, one of the original Smithfield Market buildings. The facade is being retained. Credit: Place North West

With the new digs comes a new mandate. While jazz will always play a role at Band on the Wall, Sharp wants the performance vision to shift.

“We were known for many years as a jazz venue,” he said. “We are reopening to be known as an international cultural venue that celebrates music from all over the world.”

That international focus is because of Band on the Wall’s heritage and the multicultural community it came from. It sits on the corner of Swan Street and Great Ancoats Street in the Northern Quarter, which historically was filled with migrant families.

Sharp hopes to tell their stories using the façade of the Cocozza building. Still a work in progress, the beautiful façade of the historic building is being kept, but where windows once were will soon be large screens that will tell those community stories.

Band On The Wall 8, Inner City Music, C Jody Hartley

OMI Architects designed the space. Credit: Jody Hartley

Plans for the Band on the Wall revamp and expansion were first approved by Manchester City Council in 2017. Fundraising had begun the year before and would eventually be secured from Arts Council England and the National Lottery Fund.

It wouldn’t be until 2020 that City Build would be appointed as main contractor. At that time, the venue was shooting for an autumn 2021 opening.

Hydrock provided acoustic engineering services, while Civic Engineers aided in structural engineering. Brentwoop Group was the MEP engineer. Simon Fenton Partnership acted as cost consultant. Buro Four project managed the whole thing.

When asked about the years between planning permission and the opening, Sharpe said it had to do with wanting to do it right the first time.

“I don’t want to compromise any of it,” he said. “I just decided we’re going to do this once and hopefully it’ll be good for 50 years.”

Click on any image to launch the gallery. All photos by Jody Hartley.

Your Comments

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Looks brilliant

By Anonymous

Had many a great night in this place, I’m really looking forward to seeing the what they’ve done on my next visit.

By Manc Man

Looks fantastic, very proud to have been involved in this one. Can’t wait to get in there!

By Lewis Stonehouse - Hydrock

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