Manchester's best music venues and performing arts spaces
BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey joins Manchester Collective's Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo to celebrate the best concert halls and unusual music venues the city has to offer
Manchester is one of the UK's most vibrant musical cities, thanks to its high number of concert halls, pop-up venues, warehouses and multidisciplinary arts spaces. We asked BBC Radio 3's Controller Alan Davey and Manchester Collective's chief executive and music director Adam Szabo and Rakhi Singh to pick out some of their favourite performance spaces across the city.
The best musical venues in Manchester worth a visit
Let's begin in the Salford home of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I have to mention their studio in Dock 10, a replica of the original Philharmonic studio in Oxford Road, with a lively and inquiring acoustic that reflects the mission and playing of that fine orchestra. Whether listening in on rehearsals of things I have never encountered before, or witnessing concerts for school children that has them rapt as they hear an orchestra for the first time, I've had some wonderful experiences there. Alan Davey
Going to a gig at the BBC Philharmonic Studios in Salford Quays feels a little like you're part of the band. It isn't really a venue – it's a workspace, a recording studio for the BBC Philharmonic, one of the finest orchestras in the country. Audience numbers are always capped and very small, but if you're lucky enough to snaffle a ticket to a live radio broadcast, you'll get an inside look into a world of music you'll never forget. Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective
Also in Salford you’ll find the Peel Building, part of the University, a lovely Victorian building with a special warm character that frequently forms part of the Philharmonic’s outings within its home city. Alan Davey
The Manchester Collective can frequently be found in another amazing venue, another in Salford, the White Hotel. It's the atmospheric home of exploratory music of all kinds, and is somewhere I’d love for Radio 3 to record. Alan Davey
What is The White Hotel? A club? A performance art piece? A church? An experimental music venue? The ex-MOT garage in industrial Salford has long since punched above its cultural weight, but somehow through the pandemic years its team has turned up the heat even further. Expect to see heavy hitters like Mica Levi and Blackhaine programmed alongside choirs, chamber orchestras and immersive art installations. Oh, and haze. There's lots of haze. Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective
Home of the Islington Mill Arts Club, this six-storey Georgian mill is near the Salford/Manchester border and is the home of artists of many different disciplines. The building is a multi-purpose space with galleries, artist studios, venues and accommodation, the combination of which results in a thriving and open atmosphere where creativity and experimentation are at the forefront of everything.
It’s here that the Manchester Collective put on its first ever show and experienced the thrilling effect of taking our music into a different and wider context. Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective
Going back to the Centre of Manchester, The Stoller Hall as part of Chetham's School of Music is a lovely, flexible venue that we often broadcast concerts from. I remember fondly my last night out before lockdown, hearing the Manchester Collective in the round in the smaller Carole Nash Hall which forms part of the venue. Alan Davey
In the Northern Quarter in Central Manchester you’ll find the Band on the Wall, named after the house musicians who played on a stage halfway up a wall when it was the George and Dragon pub. Currently closed for renovation, it’s a place where extraordinary music of all kinds can happen. Alan Davey
This iconic venue has music ringing in its bricks and mortar. The intimate size means that you’re up close to the artists who might normally be playing in much larger venues, and with whom you get to have a chat with in the bar post-show. What’s not to love about that? Two particularly memorable gigs for me (Rakhi) in the last couple of years have been Snarky Puppy and Jacob Collier. Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective
Bridgewater Hall is where I have heard many orchestral concerts from the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé. It's a welcoming place with a warm acoustic loved by musicians and audiences alike. Alan Davey
Free Trade Hall (now a Radisson Hotel)
I wanted to include this ghostly reference: a venue I've never been to, but which I have heard on countless CDs from the great John Barbirolli. It's a venue of legend and part of Manchester’s musical heritage. The nearest I have come to exploring its magnificence is to attend a conference and stay the night there in its new incarnation as a hotel. The ghost of Sir John and the life affirming musical spirit of Manchester hovers there still. Alan Davey
Manchester does a great line in dark, subterranean live rooms, and SOUP is arguably the jewel in the crown. It's an institution, it's a great touring venue, they put on a huge variety of music, and it's fantastic fun to play there. Most recent great SOUP memories: Lyra Pramuk in October 2021, wailing, singing, flirting and eventually heading out into the audience to turn up the PA. Long live small stages and sticky floors. Long live SOUP. Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, Manchester Collective
Listen to performances from Manchester's leading arts venues this week on BBC Radio 3, as the station celebrates Manchester Week.
Rakhi Singh is a violinist, curator and composer, and is the Music Director and co-founder of Manchester Collective, founded in 2016. Alongside her work leading the Collective, Singh has collaborated with composers and musicians including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Oliver Coates, Björk and Abel Selaocoe and has guest led ensembles including the London Contemporary Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.
Adam Szabo is the Chief Executive and co-founder of Manchester Collective, founded in 2016. Prior to his work with the Collective, Szabo was a professional cellist, working as Guest Principal with the likes of the Welsh National Opera, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra of Opera North.