Gorilla, Manchester

Cotton, football and music. Can Manchester’s contribution to the world really be so easily summarised? Either way, cotton? The mills are cool apartments now. Football? Yeah, there’s still a bit of that. And music? Now we’re talking…

We all have our favourites so no need to list the big Manchester bands here. Instead, let’s celebrate the small live venues where all those famous bands learned their craft and paid their dues.

Tiny stages, broken strings, blown fuses, lead singer tantrums – there’s something glorious about those ego-shattering early days. But it wouldn’t be Manchester without live music and there’s no live music without somewhere to play.

Far from definitive, here’s an alphabetical list of some small live venues in Manchester.

The Alma Inn, Bolton

For the best live rock, metal and punk Bolton has to offer, try The Alma Inn. It’s a good-natured pub with young bands, raucous covers and all kinds of noisy goings on.

Bakers Vaults, Stockport

Bakers Vaults is a lovely Robinsons pub in Stockport’s ‘old town’. There’s live jazz every Sunday from midday and live music in the evenings too. Bakers Vaults is a staple venue of the local music scene and a great place to watch bands plug in and do their thing.

Band on the Wall, Manchester

Band on the Wall is always amongst the first to ‘get it’, whatever ‘it’ may be. Over several decades, its contribution is not just to live music but to diversity of live music. Band on the Wall has been a champion of jazz, folk, blues, reggae, post-punk, countless other genres and local talent. It’s also a ‘living music library’ with an ongoing project to archive all performances that have ever taken place there. Ladies and gentlemen, the Band on the Wall.

The Bank Top Tavern, Oldham

“All music is beautiful,” as the saying goes at The Bank Top Tavern. Generally speaking, beauty is guitar-shaped at the Bank Top but there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the best places in Oldham for live rock, punk and metal.

The Cinnamon Club, Altrincham

Formerly known as the Bowdon Rooms, The Cinnamon Club is a gorgeous Edwardian dance hall with a fully sprung floor. It’s a great place to go for jazz or retro sounds but book ahead if you can. Their live events often sell out quickly.

The Eagle Inn, Salford

Only a ten-minute walk from Manchester Arena, The Eagle Inn is the real deal: a traditional pub with loads of live music. Authentic from the outside, friendly on the inside and excellent value at the bar. It’s a hidden live music gem and well worth the mini-trek over there.

Gorilla, Manchester

Taking up one of the railway arches on Whitworth Street, Gorilla is bigger than you think. The bar and mezzanine fill out the front but there’s a very cool, medium-sized professional performance space at the back. It’s perfect for established names playing intimate gigs so have a flick through their What’s On page. Check out their burgers too.

The Kings Arms, Salford

Walk through Deansgate and Spinningfields, cross the River Irwell and you’re in Salford. That’s where you’ll find the Kings Arms. There’s a lot to love downstairs but head upstairs for the theatre, comedy and live music.

Band on the Wall, Manchester - credit: JPBrown

The Met, Bury

Folk music in the UK is a big deal. There are folk festivals, folk radio programmes, folk music awards and, of course, live folk venues. Bury’s The Met is one of the best in northwest England. Huge kudos to The Met for the reputation it has earned and for all the comedy, poetry and other performers it supports.

Night & Day Café, Manchester

Night & Day Café has been around since 1991 and its commitment to live music has never wavered. When a neighbour’s noise complaint once threatened to close it down, thousands of Mancunians and some very famous names joined the chorus to keep it open. The best small venue in Manchester? Not for us to say. Drop by and see who’s playing.

The Old Courts, Wigan

The Old Courts is a multi-functional not-for-profit arts centre. As well as a theatre, gallery, artist’s studios, meeting rooms, rehearsal spaces, a bar and a restaurant, The Old Courts is also a live venue. Gigs usually take place in the Grand Vault or the Theatre (depending on size) and their gig list defies definition. Visit their site, peruse and choose.

Ye Old Man and Scythe, Bolton

Dating back to 1251, Ye Old Man and Scythe is one of oldest pubs anywhere. It totally looks the part with oak beams, nooks and crannies, ghost stories and traditional ale – but it also loves live music. Jam nights, local bands and even ukulele clubs, it’s a quirky and friendly way to enjoy live music. Sit thee darn!

The Spinning Top, Stockport

This isn’t a pub or bar that also does live music. The Spinning Top is a live music venue, first and foremost. Rock, punk, indie, blues, R n B, reggae, it’s all there for the listening. Proper venue. Proper music...kinda thing.

Waterside, Sale

More than just a venue, Waterside is a multi-purpose centre for the visual and performing arts. This means a gloriously varied calendar that’s hard to summarise here. Of course, it includes lots of live music so keep tabs on Waterside’s What’s On list.

Whittles, Oldham

Most great bands don’t last forever. That’s rock and roll but it’s a shame to leave their music only to your MP3 collection. Tribute bands and soundalikes are a chance to hear those songs again and that’s what you can see at Whittles. It’s not all they do but check to see if the closest thing to your favourite band might be playing again soon.

The Witchwood, Ashton

If blue plaques were awarded to notable venues in Manchester’s music history, The Witchwood would deserve one. Bands have been playing at The Witchwood for decades and some have gone onto great things. Some even stood up and saved The Witchwood from demolition in 2004. Today, The Witchwood is a great place for tribute acts and retro themed evenings and weekends.