Travel: Ears Open on the Manchester Music Walk

Manchester is a city that’s proud of its music. From the late 70s, through the 90s and up to this present day, the north of England’s largest city served as a hotbed of rock and alternative music forged with a culture shaped by industry and rain.

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The Trade Hall was the real home of Bob Dylan’s famous and controversial ‘Judas’ electric concert before welcoming Manchester’s greats.

 Travelers visiting Manchester can walk in the footsteps of city’s most globally famous acts as part of the Manchester Music Tours. For a few pleasant hours, Craig Gill (area native and drummer for the city’s Inspiral Carpets) walks rock and alternative music fans in the footsteps of The Smiths, Joy Division, Oasis, New Order, the Bee Gees and others.

From the Manchester Trade Hall (home to famous concerts by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Sex Pistols) to the humble, but growing “Manchester” Walk of Fame (with in-pavement memorials to the Buzzcocks and other great area acts), Gill’s tour interweaves the stories of Manchester music to the locations that spawned it.

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So much of the area’s scene rode on the back of the Hacienda Club. Owned by record label owner, TV presenter and impresario Tony Wilson, the music venue was home to so many of Manchester’s greatest acts — giving rise to both acid rock and rave music.

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The walls of what was once the famous Hacienda Club now feature memorials to the bands that played there.

The club folded in the 1990s, and an office building holds the spot now. But, a walk along the river behind the location reveals metal plates commemorating the club and those who played there.

Before Manchester’s rock greats emerged on the global stage, they bounced back and forth between different venues around town. The Manchester scene became so strong that the BBC moved its Top of the Pops TV show north from London to capture the acts coming out of the north.

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Tour guide and Manchester music veteran Craig Gill still has a copy of the demo tape he received from a then unknown band.

Gill was in the middle of that scene, enjoying his own band’s success while watching other now famous acts come into existence around him. He can tell you stories about the rise of a pair of competitive Manchester brothers. Young Noel Gallagher auditioned for a role in Gill’s own band before eventually joining brother Liam Gallagher in his band, Oasis.

If you ask, Gill can show you a copy of the original Oasis demo tape. He’ll certainly point out where the Gallaghers lived and wrote some of the hits now synonymous with the group.

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Mysterious but striking street art marks various spots along the byways of the Manchester Music Tours.

If you ask your tour guide why Manchester turned out so many successful, moody bands, he’ll point to the weather and remind you to skim through lyrics for The Smiths or Oasis and find references to rain. The gloom can lead to introspection in any artist.

These days, Manchester doesn’t have the big music venues where a scene can flourish. It’s more of a club and coffee house culture now — like London. There’s some musical talent that could out of those clubs in the form of DJs and the occasional song writer, but we’ll never see a city explode with music like Manchester of the 1980s and 1990s.