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Manchester to get comprehensive survey of its live music scene

9 July 2018
Manchester live

North-west industry conference In The City could make a comeback after plans were announced to strengthen Greater Manchester’s music scene.

Working with UK Music and a panel of experts, including Inspiral Carpets’ bass player Martyn Walsh, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has set up a review to establish how the local music culture can be nurtured and encouraged.

Walsh said the aim of the six-month survey was not only to revitalise the grassroots scene in the Greater Manchester area, but to ensure the region was recognised as a global music industry player.

“I just don’t think we’re maximising the potential of our music scene,” says Walsh, who is a business advisor to the creative industries in Manchester and was involved with New Labour’s New Deal for Musicians movement in the late-‘90s.

“Being a proud Mancunian, it sticks in my craw that Liverpool has a really good event with Sound City and we’ve had nothing like In The City since its founder Tony [Wilson] died.

“Manchester just needs to galvanise a bit more to become a global player once again. Things just aren’t aligning quite right just now.

“In its day, In The City was worldwide … it was a real big event in everybody’s calendar.”

“It might be that we reinstate In The City,” he added, “or it might be that the review comes back and everybody goes, ‘Well, everything’s fine…’.”

There are certainly conflicting reports regarding the live music industry in the area, which is still feeling the effects of the bombing of Manchester Arena last May (see LIVE UK, issue 209).

While the city undoubtedly has an unparalleled musical legacy, there are challenges for promoters and venue operators in the city.

“Core venue costs such as rates, insurance, heating, lighting and staff keep on rising and it is difficult to cover all this expenditure from bar sales alone, especially as spend on wet sales per head is dropping,” says Gavin Sharp, CEO of 350-capacity Band On The Wall (see City Limits, pages 14-18).

Walsh said other anecdotal evidence points to issues including transport and noise complaints.

“There are some challenges around noise that venues have to deal with that we need to look at and there are other issues with people trying to get into the city centre from the suburbs that need addressing,” he adds. “Also, things like parking restrictions can have a real impact on younger support bands coming into the city.

“If we want things to change we’re going to have to talk in council language. If we do a review and say, ‘Look, Greater Manchester creates x amount of millions of pounds for the economy and if we have better transport links we could bring in a lot more income’, then that could start something.”

UK Music will lead on the review, supported by former Sony UK CEO Ged Doherty, who also chairs the BPI and the Brits, Karen Boardman, co-director of Crisis Management, and Walsh. The review’s recommendations are expected early next year.

Meanwhile, mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has appointed Parklife festival (cap. 15,000) founder Sacha Lord as the city’s first night-time economy adviser.

“I’ll be taking a look at what is missing from our night-time economy, what we need to improve on and developing what is working well,” Lord says. “From talking and listening to key voices across Greater Manchester, I envisage a synergy emerging, which will create a list of targets that I’ll be setting and announcing in the coming months.”

Burnham said that the aim was not only to invest in venues, facilities and safety measures but also the city’s nightime transport infrastructure.

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