Deaf Institute
The grade two-listed Deaf Institute was built in 1877

Live music will lift UK economy, says Deaf Institute, Gorilla saviour

Dan Whelan

The founder of Tokyo Industries, which acquired the leases of two popular Manchester venues that would have closed, told Place North West the live music industry will survive because there is no replacement for it, but urged the Government to support the sector following Covid-19. 

“You can’t replace live music. You can stream it but it is not the same as being in front of a stage,” Aaron Mellor said.

“It is vitally important that Government gets behind hospitality and music venues because, ultimately, we will be the rebirth of the economy.” 

Last weekend, Tokyo Industries completed a business and asset purchase agreement, whereby one company buys a lease or leases from another, to take over the running of The Deaf Institute on Grosvenor Street and Gorilla on Whitworth Street.

As part of the deal, a ‘transfer of undertakings’ was also agreed, enabling Tokyo to retain the venues’ existing staff.

Tokyo runs other Manchester nightspots, including Impossible on Peter Street and Factory 251 on Princess Street, 

The deal happened quickly, with live event promoter SSD Concerts. and Tim Burgess, lead vocalist of Manchester band The Charlatans, also involved in the “incubation” of the deal, according to Mellor. 

The previous week, local media reported that the Deaf Institute and Gorilla were to close, casualties of the coronavirus pandemic and months of lockdown and halted trading.

On hearing the news, longtime Manchester resident Mellor rang the former owner Mission Mars, which said the venues no longer fitted with its business model and the company had reached the position where it was going to have to make staff unemployed. 

“We managed to put a deal together quickly that preserved the venues and preserved the employment,” Mellor said. 

Gorilla

Gorilla and The Deaf Institute were run by Mission Mars before being taken over

However, he admitted that his business and many others were in for a tough time and questioned the Government’s “frustrating” response to calls from the hospitality sector for greater financial support to help them continue operating while public demand remains muted.  

“Running grass roots music venues right now is difficult but we will get through this. There is no debating that the next 12-to-18 months are going to be super-difficult for everyone in hospitality,” Mellor said.  

“We are in a position where people are genuinely worried about going out into high-density situations but music will come back, especially in a city like Manchester where it is very much part of the fabric of society.” 

He added that live music venues had seen “next to nothing” of the £1.7bn the Government has promised the arts sector.  

“Wetherspoons got £47bn to support their business, but injecting £50m into the live music circuit would help [so many] venues recover. 

“We need to look at the wider social offering that live music brings into a city.” 

Mellor also expressed concerns over the future of city centres but said hospitality could act as a catalyst to economic growth. 

“Less than 5% of the office population are going to the office and that is worrying. [For that reason], it is difficult to see retail going back to where it was because it is so easy to order things online. Do you need to go to an Arndale Centre or a Trafford Centre if you can do it online? You can’t do that with music.” 

Mellor said he had no plans to change the two venues his company has taken over. 

“The charm of these places is the rickety staircases and uneven floors,” he said. “That’s the whole point – these are grassroots music venues and dive bars. This is what the culture is.” 

“It’s vital we keep these venues alive. They create a great buzz around the city and provide space for the new Adeles and Ed Sheerans to come through.” 

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