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a city by city guide to the best indie clubs, bars, record shops and local bands

Manchester, UK

By Chris Horkan

Situated near the Pennine hills to provide early cotton mills with cooling rain, Manchester is a large but manageable city conveniently placed between Liverpool and Leeds in the North West of England. Most famous for its football teams, the Gallagher brothers and the frankly implausible amount of said rainfall it receives, the city also, thankfully, has an enviable music heritage. While Madchester has long since died a drug-assisted death, the reputation it – and Factory Records – left imprinted on this city remains. From The Smiths, Stone Roses and Joy Division/New Order through Oasis, Doves and Badly Drawn Boy and recently on to Nine Black Alps, The Longcut and The Earlies, Manchester’s musical surges are regular and exciting. With a pool of old large venues, stylish new bars, friendly local promoters and labels and urban music festivals, Manchester has everything a city needs to produce and support good music.


Star & Garter, 18-20 Fairfield St, Manchester, M1 2QF. Every Saturday, 9pm-3am, £4/£3 (flyer/NUS)
Throughout Manchester’s constantly changing club landscape, there has been only one constant. Smile, Manchester’s longest running club night, is situated under Piccadilly train station, in the heart of a red light district, where only the most committed indiekids dare venture. In this musical hub (Nine Black Alps amongst others formed here) expect sharp suits, floral dresses, Part Chip t-shirts and every haircut under the sun. The music on offer varies according to who's DJing that week but expect underground indie hits, 60s kitsch, and just a tiny bit of classic Madchester. And remember, though the pool table does slope, the £2 house doubles are probably more to blame for you missing the black. This is a must-go spot for any reputable indiekid in the area. Arrive before 11pm to avoid disappointment.

Star & Garter, 18-20 Fairfield St, Manchester, M1 2QF. Normally the second Friday of the month, 9pm-2.30am £5
Steering clear of mainstream indie, Indigo is one of the most consistent monthly club nights in Manchester. Learning that less is best, this long-running night reduced its frequency a few years ago and has continued to thrive since. Indigo attracts a couple of bands each month - Fonda 500 being a recent highlight, while The Longcut are typical of the local talent they regularly put on. The night is well balanced, mixing live sets with shape-throwing anthems from the likes of Elastica, Belle & Sebastian, Hefner, Sonic Youth and even Carter USM. With a recent move from Retro Bar to Star & Garter, Indigo's success looks set to continue.

Akoustik Anarkhy
Piccadilly Gardens Hotel, 5 Piccadilly, Manchester, M1 2AP. Nights vary. 8pm-12am. £4.
Turning into something of a national legend, Akoustik Anarkhy has of late become the underground club of choice for anyone who thinks they're anyone in the local alternative scene. Run by regular players Loose Canon, an aA night is a rite of passage for any self-respecting local act on the up. Attempting to follow in the footsteps of Nine Black Alps and The Longcut, bands such as Keith, Jack Cooper, Sam & Me and Autokat are likely to be making a racket in this hotel basement venue. Situated centrally in the city, aA’s official nights are fast and furious and widely anticipated, while their occasional house parties in South Manchester often live up to the hype.


Bar Fringe
8 Swan Street, Manchester, M4 5JN
Still relatively unknown, Fringe is the perfect place for a drinks connoisseur - aside from real ales, Fringe has a large and ever-changing selection of continental lagers to dazzle even the most knowledgeable Camra member. With Morrissey, The Clash, Abba and Jonathan Richman competing on the jukebox and a decent beer garden, it's no surprise local Post Office workers and bikers, amongst others, have made it their local. And if you can persuade them to make you one, the bar staff can rustle up a great toastie during the week

Night & Day
26 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JN
Taking its style from a Dutch coffee house, Night & Day is perfectly situated in the city's Northern Quarter. Hosting live music almost every day of the month - from open-mic acoustic nights to touring bands' first visit to the city - Night & Day will be regularly frequented by any discerning Mancunian music fan. A long, thin bar, it doesn't always suit live performances but at its best Night & Day is capable of producing an intimate buzzing atmosphere. Drinks are expensive and nothing is available on tap but for somewhere to relax, have a coffee and shelter from the rain on a Saturday afternoon, there are few places more welcoming.

Big Hands
296 Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9NS
Home-from-home for various members of I Am Kloot and Elbow in particular, Big Hands is a successful and comfortable bar next to Manchester Academy. The perfect meeting place before Academy gigs, you can relax in one of the many mis-shaped, mis-matched sofas available and listen to probably the best jukebox in town. Also a common venue for aftershow parties, Big Hands is seemingly as much a favourite with the bands as it is with their fans. Again, drinks here are relatively expensive but you'll get value-for-money by bumping into Mani or one of the other famous Mancunians you're bound to find here.

Record Shops

King Bee Records
519 Wilbraham Road,  Chorlton, M21 0UF
A typical suburban record store, King Bee is situated in liberal Chorlton, surrounded by cute delis, busy café bars and a vegan supermarket. The shop itself is everything you would expect - bargain and rare vinyl supplemented by an array of CDs, both new and old. King Bee is a great place to while away the hours before showing off your finds to friends over a much-deserved pint.

Vinyl Exchange
18 Oldham St, Manchester, M4 1AH/67 Bridge St, Manchester, M3 3BQ
Every city should have a Vinyl Exchange. Mixing unwanted promos with bona fide second-hand records, the larger two-storey shop on Oldham Street caters for all musical tastes. With vinyl downstairs, the shelves upstairs are packed with CD sleeves and short but informative descriptions. Expect to pick up an album for between £2 and £10 and to leave with a bagful of unexpected treats. Vinyl Exchange's Bridge Street store is almost identical in content but with more room to get your sleeve-sifting technique down to a tee.

Piccadilly Records
53 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 1JR
Manchester's best independent new music shop by a long way. Expect to see anyone from Tony Wilson to Badly Drawn Boy to Bill Oddie shopping here. While prices are slightly higher than on the high street, you know staff here are ready to help and offer their expertise. Though the shop seems to be leaning towards hip-hop and dance music of late, it is still unchallenged on the indie front. Also a good resource for music magazines and checking for upcoming gigs and nights.

Local Bands


Fomer Bullies
Manchester’s own White Stripes. That is, a guitar-n-drums duo who play lo-fi Americana music with energy and verve. Singer Nick Ainsworth sounds far, far removed from hometown Chorley while Tom Settle fills spaces other drummers simply can’t reach.

The Deadbeats
Fronted by Sam Hammond, these Salford lads also prefer an American sound – but this time it’s delta blues that’s given the Mancunian treatment. Winning the Unsigned Band award at 2004’s Glastonbury was a big step, and non-stop gigging will give The Deadbeats plenty more exposure in the coming years.

John Stammers
Something decidedly English this time in the form of Stammers, a bearded folkie from the traditional singer-songwriter school. Comparisons to Nick Drake, John Martyn and James Taylor are well founded, while the addition of a full band presents Stammers with a host of ‘FolkFunkJazz’ possibility.



Ever growing, this annual inner city music festival is arguably one of the best free music events in the country. Occupying the under-used canal-side area of Castlefield, the event takes place every August, giving itself the best chance of landing on one of the city’s few sunny days. Recent acts to play include Alfie, Durutti Column and Stephen Fretwell, while DJs have been David Holmes, Gruff Rhys (SFA), and Sonic Boom. With several aftershow parties spilling out into the city, Dpercussion guarantees 24 hours of fun no matter what your taste.

In The City
An industry event established by late local deity Anthony Wilson and his partner Yvette Livesey, this four-day event has been running since the early 1990s. While music bigwigs debate The Buzzcocks’ artwork, A&R best practice and the future of music during the day, every established venue (and some temporary ones) in the city prepare for an evening of unsigned showcases. Boasting "Europe's largest city-based music festival", In The City is the place to witness a future Coldplay or Kings Of Convenience being signed. After all, those are just two bands to have risen from obscurity thanks to a successful ITC appearance.

Main Manchster photo © Urban75

If you'd like to recommend a club, bar, record shop, band or any indie delight for inclusion in the Indie Travel Guide, please email us. If we've included a link to your band/shop etc, it would be lovely if you could link back to us. Thank you!

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