Paul Smith of Maximo Park

12 Days of Manchester: Five is the number of 1,000+ capacity concert venues in the city centre

  • Manchester holds a lot of big gigs
  • Part of a series on Manchester's culture to keep you entertained over the break

Such is the volume of music venues and band nights in Manchester that you could see a gig every day of the year and not have to see the same band more than once.

The city has five venues suited for the biggest names. They are the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester Arena, Manchester Academy, Apollo Theatre and O2 Ritz. There are of course stadiums, theatres and other spaces that can be transformed into places to hold gigs, but these are the five for which music is their primary purpose.

Manchester Arena
Inside the Manchester Arena. Credit: Rob Sinclair

The Manchester Arena is by far the biggest, with a capacity of 21,000 making it the largest indoor arena in Europe. Pretty much all of the biggest names in music have performed here as well as it being the venue of choice to hold TV events and concerts when in the city. Tragically the Arena has become infamous for being the location of a terrorist attack in 2017, which will be the subject of one of the other articles in this series.

The Arena was opened in 1995 as the NYNEX Arena, then three years later became the MEN (Manchester Evening News) Arena, with the newspaper remaining its sponsor until 2011. After a brief time being known as the Phones4U Arena, though called that by nobody in their right minds, in 2015, it reverted back to the Manchester Arena without a sponsor. It was originally intended to be part of Manchester’s bids for the 1996 and 2000 summer Olympic Games, and was used during the 2002 Commonwealth Games as neither Olympic bid was successful.

Massive Attack, Steely Dan, Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers and Cher are scheduled to perform here in 2019.

Apollo Theatre Manchester
Outside the Apollo Theatre. Credit: Rept0n1x

The Apollo Theatre has a capacity of 3,500 and is a more intimate space to enjoy bigger bands. The sound quality in the Apollo is superlative – the design of the theatre and a good roster of sound engineers contribute to make it the ideal venue for experiencing music with a more complex array of sounds. That’s not to say bands who play the Arena are devoid of complexity in their music, but the Apollo is perfect for bands like Sigur Ros (who I’ve seen perform there twice) who have a more layered textural approach to their music.

The Apollo Theatre was opened in 1938 as a multi-purpose cinema, but became solely a concert venue in the 1970s. It was rebranded the O2 Apollo in 2010 following the telecommunications company’s sponsorship of the venue. The Apollo is located close to Piccadilly train station, though not as close as the Arena is to Victoria (It’s practically on top of it).

Kaiser Chiefs, Foil Arms & Hog, Amy MacDonald, UB40 and Tim Minchin are all scheduled to play here in 2019.

Manchester Academy Building
Academy 1 is separate from the rest of the UoM student union. Credit: Mike Peel

Manchester Academy is part of the University of Manchester student’s union and plays host to a number of bands yet to reach the dizzying heights of the Arena tour. While the Arena and Apollo host big names of any variety, the Academy is the ideal place to watch bands perform. 

The venue is actually four seperate venues, Academy 1 being the biggest at a 2,600 capacity. The other three are located within the main student union building and each have less than 1,000 capacity. Academy 1 was opened in 1990 and is situated just south of the University of Manchester students union building on Oxford Road in Chorlton-Upon-Medlock.

Enter Shikari, Jungle, Sleaford Mods, Dropkick Murphys and the Specials will all be performing here in 2019.

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Inside the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Credit: Ardfern

The Bridgewater Hall is a 2,341 capacity venue, just off St Peter’s Square and opposite Manchester Central. It was opened in 1996 and plays host to mainly classical music, being home to the Halle Orchestra and is a regular venue for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra as well as a night billed as being the music of John Williams v the music of Hans Zimmer are both scheduled for January as well as a string of classical and orchestral concerts and music lectures throughout the year.

Manchester O2 Ritz
The Ritz used to be sponsored by HMV, who gave it a £2m referb before the business collapsed. Credit: Stephen Richards

The O2 Ritz is the smallest of the five with a capacity of 1,500 but is also the oldest, having been constructed in 1927. The venue is located very close to the Bridgewater Hall and is opposite Oxford Road train station. Similarly to the Academy it usually plays host to bigger bands that have yet to find total mainstream success, or are in the twilight of their careers.

Azealia Banks, the Dead South, In Flames, Manic Street Preachers and the Undertones are scheduled to perform in 2019.