Not just a music venue, but a melting pot of ideas and inspiration with community at the heart of it. A haven for people from so many walks of life. The Peer Hat, tucked away behind Stevenson Square in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, has been a place of gutsy gigs, eclectic events and a much-loved bustling bar ever since it opened back in 2017… but now its current closure in the Covid-19 pandemic places its future under threat. (Pictured below by Michael Foley, who is also the designer behind the iconic 'Peer Hat' signage) 

Music venues will be some of last places to open as the lockdown is eased, and the subsequent lack of revenue and ongoing cost of overheads in this period hits hard. As does the uncertainty of the measures that will need to be taken to open again. For small independent venues like The Peer Hat, this is especially difficult – and hence a Crowdfunder has been set up to support it during this difficult time:

The Peer Hat By Michael Foley

The Peer Hat was the focus of a full length previous Haunt article here, and even in the last couple of years alone, has cemented itself as a thriving space where alternative creativity of all kinds unfolds. Their eccentric upstairs bar and snug combines a laid-back living-room feel with wonderfully wacky artwork contributed by a range of artists, as well as their resident artist Fruschian Void. Festooned with drapery, decoration and the strange statues of a suit of armour and another colourful creature in the corner, it has never been just an ‘ordinary’ venue. Even the outdoor smoking area has become affectionately known as ‘Rat Alley’ – its gritty graffiti and odd intimacy inspiring a whole zine in dedication. Downstairs, beneath the city’s streets, is an atmospheric basement space, with a stage that has welcomed events of all kinds: grassroots gigs, DJ sets, debates, talks, interviews and more.

The Peer Hat

The Peer Hat has hosted a legacy of eclectic and innovative events. These highlight how it has long been a champion of experimentation and the alternative, how it allows people to try new things, and how it evidently deeply cares about the community that it is forging in the process. To lose it would not just be the sad shutting of a venue, but a loss experienced deeply and personally by so many people.

 It is here that people have plunged into gigs including the Manchester Meltdown series curated by Ian ‘Moet’ Moss (German Shepherd Records) and a range of bands have made their mark incorporating everything from punk to hip hop. Resident clubnight Heart Of Glass has seen guests get on their ‘70s inspired glad-rags, open mics have emerged, yoga classes have assembled, the snug has buzzed with video installations, exhibitions and acoustic sets. Independent record labels and promoters have got involved including Tilted Fiction, AnalogueTrash, German Shepherd Records, Scruff Of The Neck, Abattoir Blues, Valentine Records, Grey Lantern, The Beauty Witch, and Deco Records, to name just a few.

The Peer Hat

Festivals have been another key feature, with The Peer Hat becoming a starting point for a number of innovative examples. Here is the birthplace of Manchester Folk Horror Festival, with February 2020 marking its third edition and featuring a huge selection artists and musicians inspired by all things esoteric and unusual. Haunt Manchester also featured in the second version of the festival, with an academic panel exploring the genre and taking questions from an audience. The Peer Hat has also been part of Manchester Psych Fest, Off The Record, a range of all-dayers and Foundations Festival, the latter including Haunt Manchester’s ‘Black Christmas’. Haunt Manchester also chose the venue for its first ever network fair back in October 2019, part of the wider Gothic Manchester Festival VII, whilst also co-curating another event as part of this in the basement: the Rural Eerie to life, co-curated with MassMCR and Flange Circus.

Rural Eerie

The Peer Hat not only provides a place for the alternative, but an accommodating space for people of all backgrounds. The umbrella term of ‘Music Venue’ may seem overtly-generalising, for some places go significantly further than providing an area for live music; also offering solace, inspiration and crucial friendship. From the creative team behind it - Nick, Dom and Mike, to the much-loved bar staff, sound engineers, cleaners, and all who have entered its doors, The Peer Hat is a community of people, as well as place.

In turn, Haunt Manchester's Emily Oldfield decided to speak to a selection of people and the wider Haunt Network about The Peer Hat and their experiences there. They shared their views on social media (Facebook): 

“I do miss it, and of all the small places in town, although I love loads of them, I think this one is really important, so I've donated to the cause. It's more than simply a pub with live music, it's like going for a drink in someone's front room.” – Neil Winward, Photographer

“As a man of ancient vintage I have frequented what are regarded as legendary and seminal clubs for 45 years, The Electric Circus, The Beach Club, The Factory and Mayflower, The Hacienda and Boardwalk, Islington Mill, all of them magical in their own way but The Peer Hat is my favourite place in my lifetime of music and art, it is a place that I feel connected too, a place of safety for my occasionally battered soul, it is a community I’m happy to be a part of, I feel acceptance and a place where I feel less prejudice than any other, it is home.” – Ian ‘Moet’ Moss, Musician and part of the German Shepherd Records (pictured below in the band Four Candles, photo by Gary M Hough) 

By Gary M Hough

"The Peer Hat is such an amazing resource for the city. It goes beyond your average music venue to include the arts and poetry. It's a wonderful and inclusive refuge for our academics, creatives and musicians and I cannot imagine Manchester without it." – Dr Becky Alexis-Martin, Lecturer in Cultural Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University   

“This is the place I’m missing the most, I miss the feeling as you descend the stairs, not knowing what’s behind the door but knowing it’s going to be amazing. I’m very proud that I get to stamp hands and welcome people into the some of the best gigs I’ve ever seen down there. There’s something magical about the Peer Hat and if you’ve felt it you know what I’m saying.” – Victoria Egan, Gig Regular and part of the German Shepherd Records Team

“I LOVE the Peer Hat. It has been the scene of so many great nights and great gigs and I have met some amazing people. The six months or so that I DJed there in 2018 were some of the happiest times of my life since my wife passed away and it gave me a reason for living. I couldn't wait for Thursday and Friday nights and lived for them.’’ – Stephen Doyle, Broadcaster and DJ

“This is one of the most important underground music venues and social hubs in Manchester. It's a safe haven for the intergenerational music freaks and weirdos with community minded spirit and lust for life. You can dance on the tables or mosh to the beat of a new band belting out their first ever song, or a stalwart punk group well-known and loved. From security to bar staff, sound engineer to cleaner, The Peer Hat holds hearts of gold and stories never to be told… what happens at The Peer Hat stays in The Peer Hat! But everyone else is welcome along to add to the collective story and there is so much yet to be written.” – Dr Susan O’Shea, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University and member of MASSmcr

“Back in 1976 we watched bands play The Ranch, Rafters, Lesser Free Trade Hall and today we have a similar venue in The Peer Hat. Similar in that it brings together a unique and magical atmosphere and group of people from all walks of life who come out to support some of the best underground music and bands that this country will see today. The Peer Hat is as relevant now as Factory Records was back in its day. A wonderful venue and staff who know what music and its clientele are about and who work hard to accommodate it all.” – Gary M Hough, Photographer

“The Peer Hat is the heart and soul of Manchester’s independent art scene. It represents everything that Manchester stands for and is a shining light for the artist community.” – Michelle Shore, Artist (Pictured below at the Haunt Manchester Network Fair)

Michelle Shore

“It’s hard to remember a time before The Peer Hat. Even though it’s only been with us for a few years. I have probably spent more time there than in my own home since it’s been open. So much so that if people need to contact me they know that’s where to find me and they’ve even sent me post there! My band XUP has a rehearsal space above it and it’s been amazing having the bar to get some downtime from making albums. It also feels like home whenever I get to play live there and the support I’ve had from everyone involved with the place has been fantastic. I think of The Peer Hat as family. The Peer Hat is also regularly frequented by artists who attend life drawing sessions upstairs, while more informal art clubs are often held at the bar itself by resident artist Fruschian Void. All of this will be lost if we don’t act quickly. Even the smoking area lovingly known as Rat Alley (no drinks outside the venue please!) has its own fanzine and TV episodes as well as a meme account on Instagram! The Peer Hat is the city’s underground beating heart and its own unique networking hub. We cannot let it go under. I can’t wait to be back!” – Illana XUP, Musician

"When I do Leon the pig farmer material.. I've got a spoken word piece about the Peerhat male toilet walls!!!" - Jack Horner, Poet and performer (aka 'Leon the pig farmer')

"I love The Peer Hat. It's genuine art for arts sake philosophy and the sheer diversity of artists and performers is unique! I have met so many inspiring people there and a lot of it is down to the integrity of the hands off management that draws in such an eclectic range of visionaries. Thank you for being there and long may The Peer Hat exist." - Una Baines, Musician 

“The Peer Hat is a fab place. It’s the most wonderful microcosm of interesting, creative and diverse people with a great friendliness about it. When you are there, it often ends up being one of those special nights where you walk away with a big smile. Love it and can’t wait to go back for a drink or a gig.” – Nataly Chambers, Artist Manager of The Red Stains (pictured below by Neil Winward)

By Neil Winward

"The Peer Hat is a unique place of creative communion for like minded music lovers in Manchester. You never forget a trip there and it is always time cherished and well spent. Everything about the place is atmospheric and iconic, from the stairs down to the venue to the alley outside. You'll always meet old friends, make new ones and hear the real beating heart of the modern Manchester underground music scene. It's one of the most exciting scenes on the planet and always has something new to offer.

"The Peer Hat and other grass roots music venues are absolutely vital to the city's musical community. This is very important for the well-being, livelihoods and mental health of a great many and also for the local economy. Also, the world knows that Manchester is a world wide centre of musical innovation, it's one of our very greatest exports and a major attraction to the city. It needs The Peer Hat and the showcase it provides for the best of the city's arts scene more than ever. Also, in a world of cynicism it is so refreshing to find a venue that cares this much, the staff are wonderful and true believers. The Peer Hat is already a Mancunian legend and institution. It crackles with energy, excitement, electricity and life and is just a damn fine place for a pint too. Long may she continue!" – Mark Corrin, Musician and Broadcaster

"We love The Peer Hat! Played there many times and spent countless hours chatting and dancing in the bar area until the wee small hours. Our most recent Factory Acts gig before the Lockdown was at The Peer Hat in January this year with the Red Stains and the Ombudsman. We also gave the ‘world premiere’ of our track ‘Are you the Singer?’ at one of the many brilliant Manchester Meltdown events held there and were also delighted to be involved in Ian ‘Moet’ Moss’s collaborative improvised venture ‘Inflated Tear’. It has showcased many bands from local independent labels such as Analogue Trash (and the Foundations Festival) and German Shepherd Records. So it’s a place of happy memories and the building of friendships. The Peer Hat is one of the key creative underground hubs in Manchester throbbing and pulsating with life – no age or gender boundaries – all human life is there. It’s always a good sign to see the same staff working behind the bar, the same sound engineer and the same doorman – take your pint one inch outside the back door to the smoking area and John the doorman will give you a glare whilst engaging you in friendly banter. It’s a pub and gig venue full of character and full of characters. Please help save The Peer Hat! It’s an essential and central part of the Manchester (and Salford) underground music scene." - Matt Davies, Musician - Factory Acts 

“The only place I can get a friend to get naked, cover herself with clay and bones and encourage others to draw her!” – Becca Smith, Artist and creator of Stranger Than Life Drawing

Image credits: Image 1 by Michael Foley, Images 2-4 by Alannis Barnes and Elaina Daley, Image 5 by Gary M Hough, Image 6 by Emily Oldfield, Image 7 by Neil Winward

By Emily Oldfield