Casey Birks and Matt Hartless of the Maverick 7

12 Days of Manchester: Seven is the number of mavericks required to form a band

  • The greatest band you've never heard of, the Maverick 7
  • A discussion of smaller venues in Manchester
  • Part of a series on Manchester's culture to keep you entertained over the break

As we approach the dying embers of 2018, it seems pertinent to look ahead to next year and a band you probably are yet to hear of, but may well in 2019.

I am being a little disingenuous of course, the Maverick 7 is my band. Fear not, this article is not a shameless self-plug it’s a brief account of what it’s like to be an underground band in Manchester.

First of all, the name. We are sometimes called Matt Hartless & the Maverick 7 (as I am the main songwriter), but the Maverick 7 is less of a mouthful. There are also not currently seven of us. The name started out as a joke as we intended never to have seven in the band at one time. There are currently six of us. A singer/guitarist, and singer/percussionist, a drummer, a bassist, a keyboardist and a violinist.

The lineup changes from time to time around the core of guitar, bass and drums due to the availability of each member and new people coming and going.

So what is it like to work as a band without mainstream backing in a time of economic uncertainty?

The venues

A lot of the venues I have played at have closed down over the last few years. The Ruby Lounge, Sound Control and the Roadhouse have all shut their doors in the last couple of years and other venues such as Islington Mill and Antwerp Mansion have moved away from putting bands on.

Out of those that are left, Night & Day is a great venue for music due to its superior sound quality and the recent refurbishment of Gullivers also makes it a prime spot for bands to play. Both of those venues are on Oldham Street in the Northern Quarter. The Castle Hotel on the same street, is a little smaller but can still be quite nice for a gig. The Eagle Inn in Salford has a good live room, but due to its strange and lesser-known location, it can be hard to get people through the door.

Night & Day Cafe
The Night & Day cafe has excellent sound. Credit: Phil King

I’ve always wanted to play at Band on the Wall, a venue which largely specialises in world music, but is too big for us at the moment. It would definitely be the next step in our careers to perform there. Whether we do or don’t, it’s a venue worth checking out for its excellent roster of bands and musicians.

Apart from that, we are mainly doomed to perform in pubs that are not so much set up for regular live music, which can be fun and fairly easy to manange and organise, but at the expense of decent sound quality and space to perform.

There are, of course, also the dreaded open mics, where musicians do not get paid, but can at least trial new material and build up a following to attend bigger gigs. You can find an open mic in practically any bar in the city, although there has been a move away from the city centre into the surrounding districts and boroughs.

The rehearsals

There are a number of spaces set up to be hired out as rehearsal rooms across the city, but obviously these cost money and can lead to a lot of tension between bandmates if one or two people bail on a practice, leaving the rest to pay up sometimes without being able to even play a note.

Practice room
Many bands take to practising in their own houses to save costs. Credit: Jason Farrell

Due to the infinite kindness of housemates and neighbours, we’ve been able to practice as best we can in each others’ houses, which gives us the freedom to relax and chill out with each other instead of being business-like with our time. This improves the band chemistry, which is half the battle with maintaining a band. When we all get along with one another, we tend to work harder on the music together, which in turn makes us all feel better. It’s a good positive feedback loop.

The music

Without any pressure from a record label, we are ultimately free to write what we want. It is no surprise therefore that our music is quite diverse stylistically. Some songs are punk-ska. Some could be described as prog. We have a 3-minute dancey, folk tune as well as an 8-minute progressive epic.

This is the case with many bands on the underground scene in Manchester. Everyone has a lot of influences and everyone influences each other to the point where there is a lot of crossover. In an age where instant gratification is required and people do not spend so much time focussing on one thing, I suspect this is a direction that music will take in general.

The gigs and fans (or lack thereof)

The great thing about being involved in the underground music scene is that you can see a lot of great bands, often comprised of your friends on one night for very little money. Another great thing about Manchester’s music scene in particular is how many creative people in a number of different fields come together. 

Not A Cult festival has come out of the Manchester music scene and will be taking place in July this year. We are playing, and I am organising parts of the festival. There will be a bit more information in tomorrow’s look ahead to 2019, so keep an eye out for that.

As for us, we have a number of gigs lined up already, some festivals a single to be released in February or March as well as others in the pipeline, so it looks to be an exciting year for the Maverick 7 and at least another golden one for Manchester’s reinvigorated underground music scene.

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