Monday, September 28, 2009

Back To Our Place - the re-opening of Band On The Wall

This weekend Band on the Wall, the legendary Manchester venue re-opened, after 4 years closed, with an opening salvo of gigs from Julian Joseph & Mica Paris, A Certain Ratio and The Bays.

I use the phrase ‘legendary’ advisedly. The city's bands and music scenesters often appear as dedicated to myth-making as to music. And any myth-making really needs some substance to back up the swagger and the stories. Luckily Band on the Wall has substance in spades and it is backed up by a phenomenal amount of genuine and heartfelt affection. Everyone who I speak to who has ever visited the Swan Street venue has a favourite memory or favourite gig to share; and seems to have had nothing but respect and eager anticipation for its re-birth.

My first thought when the refurbishment was announced was a concern it would destroy the shabby charms of the original.

Originally a Victorian pub, music started to be performed there from the 1930s when the landlord built a stage onto one wall. The current management took it over in 1975 (and provide a fuller history of the area and building on the website) and although they brought the cream of punk and post-punk to the venue alongside a heady and eclectic mix of jazz, dub reggae, folk, African and latin music, it’s true to say that investment in the crumbling building was not a priority.

Now after a £4million refurbishment (and with recording studios, mixed-media equipment and educational facilities alongside the live music space) losing some of the shabbiness may not be a bad thing. In the intervening years there have been several new entrants to the live music scene especially the Deaf Institute which has upped the stakes for comfort, design, sightlines and sound. Early reports appear good - except for some mild scepticism about the carpet.

The second thought when I saw the opening programme was: it’s just the same as it was five or even ten years ago! Familiar faces and staples like A Certain Ratio, Edward II and Kanda Bongo Man. But that initial disappointment was replaced by the realisation that this is the point of BOTW. Even with these newer venues and more eclectic programming at Bury Met or concert halls like RNCM, where else are you going to see the clinical German nu-jazz of Jazzanova, the ecstatic rhythms of Malian Bassekou Kouyate, the jazzy folk-pop charms of Devon Sproule, the timeless dub of Mad Professor, the warped Norwegian electronica of Bugge Wesseltoft or the enigmatic prog-rock of The Enid?? Exactly.

Highlights for me include recent Bella Union signing Emily Loizeau with Liz Green, two nights from The Unthanks and the High Llamas in December. All the signs are promising that BOTW has managed to preserve the right elements of what made the original so special and, well, 'original'. Truly eclectic, truly a Manchester legend, welcome back Band on the Wall. (But if you do want to wallow in nostalgia, how about Paul Morley on Joy Division in September 1978 on Rock's Back Pages?).

Bassekou Kouyate
I Speak Fula [BUY]
Performing 22 Oct BUY TICKETS

Devon Sproule
Keep Your Silver Shined [BUY]
Performing 13 Oct: BUY TICKETS

I CAN SEE (Doc Daneeka Dub-Bump Mix)
Of All The Things [BUY]
Performing 5 Oct: BUY TICKETS

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