Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Manchester edition of Now Then is no longer publishing content. Visit the Sheffield edition.

Band on the Wall exterior 1

Band on the Wall at 10: A Decade into the New Era

We caught up with Simon Webbon from the Band on the Wall team for a chat ahead of their 10th anniversary party.

Located at the heartbeat of the most bustling and musically rich neighbourhood in Manchester, Band on the Wall is known by many as a legendary and highly distinguished venue that has played an iconic role in the city’s musical heritage.

Since its roots as the George & Dragon public house a whopping 200 years ago, the venue truly has become a cornerstone of the Mancunian music scene that continues to pride itself on bringing in artists and musicians from around the world. The venue stands as a living music library that has held some of the best of the best. Not only is it a place to see some old favourites or discover your new favourite band, but Band on the Wall is also a non-profit organisation that works to engage with young people, emerging musicians, and the wider community.

We caught up with Simon Webbon from the Band on the Wall team for a chat ahead of their 10th anniversary party that will present a whole host of amazing artists over a full day. Although centuries old, back in 2009 the venue underwent a complete refurbishment and reopened its doors with this new look. To mark 10 years back in business, we reminisced about the happenings of the past years, and found out more about what we can expect from the big celebration coming up at the end of September.

How would you sum up the past ten years at Band on the Wall?

It’s been an epic adventure. When we reopened back in 2009, this was after a long period of closure and disrepair, and much of the venue had to be rebuilt from scratch. It was a risk opening when we did – in the middle of a recession and only a year after the financial crisis. We’ve gone from strength to strength, but it hasn’t been easy.

What would you say are major highlights from these years?

Too many to mention. Our programme is pretty eclectic and there have been so many magical shows. Having Robert Plant hang out watching a gig was pretty special. Then there’s Gregory Porter, Snarky Puppy, Bonobo, Everything Everything, Candi Staton, Paloma Faith, the Inspiral Carpets, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Robert Glasper… I’ve lost count.

What do you hope for in the coming years?

We’ve got exciting plans to expand the venue into the derelict Cocozza Wood building behind the venue. It’s a beautiful old Victorian structure that dates back to the original Smithfield markets. We’re starting work in the coming months and when it’s done, we will have a bigger, better Band on the Wall; a smaller second venue for acoustic shows, as well as studios and state-of-the-art classrooms. We can’t wait.

Band on the Wall exterior 2

Band on the Wall exterior

Ged Camera

For those who aren’t familiar with the establishment, can you give an insight into the venue?

We began life as the George & Dragon pub, a watering hole for busy market workers and our license goes back to 1803. Our unusual name harks back to the early 20th century. Regulars would affectionately refer to the ‘Band on the Wall’ as the place where house musicians quite literally played on a stage halfway up the back wall to make room in the busy pub. This was so the landlords at the time could fit more drinkers in.

Nowadays we’re an established touring venue and national promoter. We’re a registered charity and everything we make from concerts goes back into the programme, bringing some of the most interesting music from around the world to Manchester, who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to play.

Band on the Wall has an incredible history spanning over 200 years, how has this heritage shaped what the venue is today?

We’re very proud of our rich history – over the years we’ve been the place where people have come to discover music from around the world. Band on the Wall was regularly bringing artists from Africa, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and further afield to Manchester before anyone else. We were also at the heart of the post-punk scene in the late 70s, where bands like Joy Division, Buzzcocks and the Fall played some of their earliest shows. Having said that, I don’t want to dwell on the past too much. We continue to focus on helping the artists of tomorrow hone their craft and grow, which is why we run music education programmes, residencies and host regular new music nights where people can come and discover bands they’ll love but might not have heard of.

Band on the Wall is a true pillar of the Mancunian music scene. How, if at all, have you seen this scene changed over the past 10 years?

We’ve seen a definite shift in the way people discover and listen to new music, with social media and the likes of Spotify and Apple Music being the default discovery channels. Urban music has seen a big resurgence, especially with the younger crowd, and the UK jazz scene has never been stronger. Lots more young people are coming out to jazz shows, which is massively encouraging.

What does Band on the Wall bring to Manchester’s thriving cultural landscape?

Our core remit is to bring the best music from around the world to Manchester, and across the UK. We’re the place to discover artists that you may not have heard of, playing music like you’ve never heard. We like to educate people in new and different music, in a fun and inclusive environment.

Theodore Ruth at BOTW

Ruth Theodore at Band on the Wall

Ged Camera

What can people expect from the ’10 Years On’ celebration?

It feels strange celebrating ten years since we reopened. It feels like yesterday in lots of ways. We’re throwing an all-day party featuring ten of our favourite acts, for just £10. The line-up is super eclectic and we think we’ve got something for everyone, with a few surprises thrown in. I think this sums up our programme pretty well.

Tell me a little bit about the acts you have performing?

Hollie Cook from the Slits is headlining, bringing a cool punk-reggae vibe. We’ve also Habibi Funk, the crate-digging DJ collective spinning rare Middle-Eastern funk tunes, the London-via-Bahrain psych group Flamingods, Manchester’s own rising star of neo soul Katbrownsugar, new electronic jazz outfit Blue Lab Beats, and loads more. It’s a pretty special mix of acts you won’t find anywhere else sharing the same stage.

Learn more

Band on the Wall’s 10th anniversary show is on 21 September.

Next article in issue 66

Flying the Flag

In advance of his Flag of Convenience photo exhibition, David Dunnico tells us about flag-waving, patriotic postcards and his travels in search of subject matter.

More Music

30 Years on Oldham Street

As the Night and Day Cafe reaches a landmark birthday, we ask those who know it well for their memories and cherished moments.

More Music