Features, News

Night & Day: Protecting the Essence of Manchester

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By Samuel Jolly & Callum Pickup. Featured illustration: Kate King

The Night and Day Cafe has become a legendary stop on Manchester’s music scene, but now faces closure because of a complaint about noise. The Oldham Street venue has been a key part in the development of many bands who have gone on to become household names, such as Elbow, the Arctic Monkeys and the Manic Street Preachers.

Two years ago, Manchester City Council served a Noise Abatement Notice (NAN) on the cafe after a single neighbour complained. The neighbour had moved in during the silence of the COVID-19 lockdown, when all music venues were closed. This notice could force the venue to close, wiping out 30 years of Manchester music history.

Night and Day has received huge support in a change.org petition with 97,000 signatures asking for the council to reconsider. Jennifer Smithson, the owner, is appealing against the notice, saying the council should take responsibility for allowing warehouses around the venue to be turned into flats in 2000 without the proper soundproofing. The council says the notice will only affect DJ sets after midnight, but that’s when the venue does most of its trading, with the weekend profits allowing them to support artists during the quieter weekday nights. This allows the cafe to foster new talent.

The noise abatement notice simply adds to the woes of a venue struggling, like many other grassroots music venues in the UK, with rising energy bills and the cost of living crisis. A recent report titled ‘The Future of Live’ showed that 46% of its respondents did not attend a live music event this year, and for Night and Day, the notice only added to their troubles.

Reece Ritchie, the in-house promoter at Night and Day, says: “Absolutely no-one from the council has made an effort to help keep the Manchester music scene alive and to look into these issues. The noise notice is like: ‘Here is another two feet of water, paddle harder!’’

Richie adds, “The problem is the council has laid the full responsibility on our doorstep when they should have taken it upon themselves to ensure the flats had proper soundproofing.”

A petition set up by the venue sets out much of their grievances with the council: “After receiving a copy of the MCC [Manchester City Council] planning file for […] where the complainant lives, we were shocked and appalled to find that a crucial acoustic report had not been provided. This was a condition of the planning consent for conversion of the building next door, to ensure that residents were not disturbed by noise.”

They go on to say that they “feel strongly that Night and Day has been mistreated and that this is the Council’s problem to resolve”.

A former Oldham Street chip shop, Night and Day opened in Manchester in 1991 by Jan Oldenburg, a Dutch music fan, and the cafe went on to host early shows for bands such as Doves, The Courteneers, I Am Kloot, Badly Drawn Boy, Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and Manic Street Preachers, to name just a few. Jan died in 2018, aged 71, leaving the city to mourn the loss of a maverick musical entrepreneur, a regenerator of the Northern Quarter and preserve his live music legacy in Night and Day.

Ritchie explains the importance of grassroots music venues to aspiring artists: “We mention bands like Arctic Monkeys and Elbow not because we think they’re more important than our developing local acts, but because they only got noticed and became successful as bands because they had the opportunity to play in places like Night and Day.”

Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey has described the venue as ‘the beating heart of the city’s creative scene’ and credits it with playing a significant role in the development of Northern Quarter nightlife. There’s no doubt that the Manchester music scene plays a significant part in the culture and feel of the city, and the quirky music bars and cafes that line the streets of the Northern Quarter attract new visitors, workers and students alike.

The city council says its intention is not to force Night and Day to close, merely to restrict noise after midnight. But the notice will limit the cafe’s ability to trade during its busiest hours and mean the council could remove equipment from the cafe at any time.

Court hearings had taken place throughout November, hearing from both the neighbour and venue owner. Before a third and final hearing was supposed to occur on the 17th of January, Manchester City Council called off the meetings in hope of reaching an agreement with the cafe. The rearranged date has yet to be announced while discussions are on-going.

The city council says its vision is to be in the top flight of world-class cities by 2025, but at what cost to our culture? Are the councillors overlooking the significant contribution of live venues like Night and Day to the Manchester music scene and the thriving night-time economy that attracts so many visitors to the city centre?

If this noise abatement notice proves to be the downfall of Night and Day – a venue central to the development of Manchester’s independent musical spirit – this would indeed be a great loss, musically, historically and culturally.

First published in The ENERGY Issue. Pick up your copy on campus or read online.

About the author / 

Samuel Ethan Jolly

Born and raised in Manchester (UK), Samuel grew up surrounded by markers of the Industrial Revolution: flats carved out of old Workhouses, murky canals, and grand chimneys. The Peaks and Lakes, of Derbyshire and Cumbria are all added to Samuel's mixed rural and urban experience of the North. He is an avid reader, writer, photographer, and general enjoyer of fantasy, sci-fi, history and many more.

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