Cities progress and their topographies change. Particularly this is the case for Manchester which is not a classical city, it is a modern city, it is the modern city.
In November, the Star and Garter, a pub-come-live music venue behind Piccadilly Station halfway into the city’s red light district and full of the vestiges of what defined Manchester’s industrial and cultural heyday was handed a compulsory purchase order by Network Rail on Thursday, the city moved forward. As it must.
The Star and Garter is a two-hundred-year-old former hotel, grade-II protected from demolition, but vulnerably open to the whims of major developers. In its most salient venture, it hosts The Smiths and Morrissey Disco, a monthly club night of Smiths and Morrissey records, which regularly sells out before midnight. Local bands are nurtured at the Star and Garter as the city’s perpetual punk and metal scene has been attracted to its raw aesthetics and honest acoustics for decades.
Northern Hub, the transport project for which the Star and Garter must make way, will see the North of England’s rail network receive a belated kick up the bum, with train whipping across the Pennines, Cheshire plains and Peak District faster than ever before. In Manchester, a new track through Castlefield will provide more and faster trains to and from Liverpool, Manchester Airport, Hull and Newcastle. Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations will expand in size and services, including an HS2 hub at the latter.
Yet, the city doesn’t have to move forward without consideration for the culture of the people who assisted its acceleration.
In Manchester, the very grime that sits beside, inside and, especially, behind the Star and Garter is the very grime that made the city what it is – an exciting place to live. In the industrial period, the grime brought us from the slum to the workhouse and then back again. In the post-industrial period, the grime brought us from the council estates to the music stages of the city and the world, and quite often right back again. Manchester is now losing its grime, but that doesn’t mean it must lose its character.
In recent decades many of Manchester great bastions of popular culture have disappeared under the steel weight of demolition cranes. Glass is replacing concrete at an alarming rate as the city attempts to leap 50 years into the future in one ill-judged thrust. Northern Soul icon The Twisted Wheel is currently making way for a hotel; Europe’s first super-club, The Hacienda, is being trodden on by the residents of a luxury apartment block; and the bass tones of Joy Division that reverberated around subterranean Rafters, later known as the Music Box, have been replaced by the morbid hum of Tesco refrigerators.
As Manchester grows faster than any other UK city, the popularity of city centre living has rocketed and the music scene responsible for bringing life literally and metaphorically to the centre is under threat. The Northern Quarter music venue, Night and Day, was lucky to sidestep closure in September after being handed a noise abatement notice following the complaints of a local resident; a worrying trend that Tony Wilson addressed in 2000 for Granada TV and indicative of a city that is struggling to marry leisure and progress.
Almost everything that truly represents Manchester can be found inside the Star and Garter: a hard-working landlord pulling his enterprise through the fog, not for profit, for love; snaps of the bands that have defined the city adorning the wallpaper and the footballers they’ve adored looking across at them. Music hums from the upstairs as another hum emanates from the bathrooms.
The world-famous Smiths and Morrissey disco will be gone when the Star and Garter is gone. The home of the punks will be gone when the Star and Garter is gone. The home of the metalheads will be gone.
In his Autumn statement last month George Osborne announced Manchester is to welcome a £78m theatre and arts venue named The Factory, because “Anyone who is a child of the 80s will think that is a great idea,”. Well, anyone who is a child of the 80s will think this a great idea:
If the government and council seriously believe that culture should help steer the north’s belated recovery from this post-industrial hangover, we need patrimony laws that protect our most cherished cultural sites. Because it’s within these hedonistic monuments that The North was built.