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The Ritz, Manchester
Photograph: Rob MartinThe xx during MIF13

Manchester's best live music venues

Whether you're searching for big name acts or local bands, check out our guide to Manchester's best live music venues and shows

Rob Martin
Written by
Rob Martin
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Any city with a musical legacy as good as Manchester's, is bound to come up with the good when it comes to gig venues. Not only can it count world-conquering bands in its history, but venues like The Hacienda are equally as famous – and equally as important 

For lovers of live music, whatever pleasures your musical palate, you'll probably be able to find it here, be it classical or calypso, beats and bass or bossa nova, hip hop, house, garage or gabba. Okay, maybe not the last one but you get the idea - there's a lot of quality music to bathe your ears in. And while our bars and clubs sometimes serve up some pretty darn good tunes, you can't beat those venues dedicated to the art. So here's our pick of the best music venues in Manchester. Happy listening.

Manchester live music venues

Albert Hall
  • Music
  • Music venues

Back in 2013, Manchester International Festival worked with Albert Hall's new owners to restore and revive this truly spectacular space for performances by, among others, Goldfrapp, Mogwai and Maxine Peake. Thank the musical gods they did. The main space is astonishing. Almost a decade on it has become a firm favourite of the Manchester live music scene, the venue itself being one of the best support acts ever.

Eagle Inn
  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs

Located on a back street just off Trinity Way and down the road from Blueprint Studios, The Eagle Inn is a relic, dating back to 1903, lovingly brought back to life and infused with a youthful exuberance from those that have restored it. And just when you think it's a fantastic old pub with a corker of a jukebox, you wander into the teeny tiny performance space and feel the sweat from whoever is playing splash on your face, you're that close. When you've got bands of the quality of Oskar's Drum playing, who cares about a little moisture between friends?

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  • Music
  • Music venues

Via a long history (the sprung ballroom floor is still there and rumours of the first ever use of two record decks side by side to music happening here still persist), The Ritz is one of the best live music venues in the city for sure. From The Horrors to Martha Wainwright and Public Enemy to PJ Harvey, the live music programme now reflects the quality of the venue's yesteryears, where bands such as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, R.E.M and even The Beatles and Frank Sinatra graced its stage. 

Spread over four floors and combining two live music spaces with a fantastic cafe bar and rooftop terrace, there's nothing to say no to at YES. Chances are this is where your new favourite band are performing (in the basement) and some old favourites too (in the Pink Room), so if you enjoy the likes of Katherine Joseph at the piano or The Idles doing a DJ set, get there early for a pizza and hang out afterwards upstairs. 

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Rob Martin
Correspondent, Time Out Manchester
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Band On The Wall
  • Music
  • Music venues

Having been refurbished and engineered exclusively with live music in mind, Band on the Wall has one of the best reputations in the city for shows and clubnights. The venue is spacious, the bar is welcoming and the music programming leans towards world and experimental. It has also won regular acclaim for its support of jazz, for which it’s regarded as one of the best venues in the UK. The name? When it first opened bands used to play from a small raised platform that was built into the wall...

Gorilla
  • Music
  • Music venues

Formed from what was once The Green Room, Manchester's experimental theatre space, Gorilla is now a favourite venue for gigs in the city. It's a great, mid-sized venue for live music, book readings, club nights and everything in between. The line-up, suggests a desire to mix established artists with those still emerging or trying to break through, so it's good to see that some of the old Green Room ethic still remains.

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Bridgewater Hall
  • Music
  • Music venues

There aren't many places where you can see Mahler's Fifth one night and Liza Minnelli the next. Manchester's premiere concert venue is such a place. Boasting over 250 performances a year, Bridgewater Hall is the grand home to three resident orchestras: the Hallé, the BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata. No surprise then to see a programme reflecting an impressive range of classical performances, where the prom-friendly likes of Bach, Beethoven, Sibelius and Strauss share the stage with more challenging composers.

The Deaf Institute Cafe Bar & Music Hall
  • Music
  • Music venues

Yes, it’s a curious name for a live music venue, but The Deaf Institute was once, in less enlightened times, a 'deaf and dumb' school, something still proclaimed in the stone that forms the front of the building. Another venue in the Trof empire (see Gorilla and Albert Hall), the ground floor offers space for drinking and dining, while upstairs there's a music hall with space for a few hundred people. Along with live acts like Jane Weaver, Laura Veirs, Cautious Clay, regular club nights and a fine vegan food selection keep the crowds coming.

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Soup Kitchen
  • Bars and pubs

Soup Kitchen strikes a unique balance between enduringly pleasant canteen in the day and anything-goes club by night, not to mention a favourite venue of travelling bands. It has one of the most jam-packed schedules of any venue in Manchester, and its passionate management are always making changes to improve the experience.

The Castle Hotel
  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs

One of Manchester’s most popular pubs, The Castle on Oldham Street has proven to be one of the Northern Quarter’s big success stories since its refurbishment in 2009. Originally founded in 1776, it’s well known in indie rock circles as the site of a legendary interview between John Peel and Ian Curtis in 1979, and today pays heed to its musical heritage with several weekly gigs in its own charming music hall.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs

The gig room upstairs is now a subtly lit, quietly elegant space for an indie gig, club night or even live theatre. It’s a world away from its previous state, which was known for its boiling temperatures and a small occupation of live bats in the ceiling. Gigs usually cost between a fiver and a tenner, and as well as local promoters such as Now Wave hosting up-and-coming international acts, there are usually local showcases with three or four bands on the bill, as well as the occasional punk or ska all-dayer.

Manchester Cathedral
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

Manchester Cathedral has also thrown open its doors to music events of late. Lamb, Bat for Lashes and even Alicia Keys have all performed gigs there and it makes for an awe-inspiring venue.

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  • Music

The newest addition to the classical music scene in Manchester, this intimate venue prides itself on its stunning acoustics. They're put to excellent use with a broad repertoire that also encompasses folk, jazz and an eclectic mix spread across its two performance spaces. 

Matt And Phred's
  • Music
  • Music venues

For aficionados of live jazz, this cosy Northern Quarter club has been at the heart of the Manchester music scene for years. Now, with up to six gig nights a week, the venue offers the best in jazz as well as folk, gypsy, electro, salsa, swing, world and ska music, too. It’s not just a place for small-time up-and-comers, either: artists who have graced the stage here include Adele and Jamie Cullum.

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Night & Day
  • Music
  • Music venues

Opened in 1991, Night & Day was a fish and chip shop that slowly morphed into a popular and pioneering live music venue in what was then one of the rougher parts of town. And although its pull isn’t quite as great as it once was, there’s still a steady stream of alternative bands and live acts filling the bill almost every night of the week, with a respectable focus on local talent.

The Lowry
  • Art
  • Arts centres

Whilst it's mainly known as a gallery and theatre space (actually, there are three of them), Salford's The Lowry is sometimes overlooked as a great venue for live music. Big acts like Goldfrapp, Morrissey and Rufus Wainwright have appeared in the huge Lyric Theatre, an almost 2000 seat venue with the kind of acoustics you need for mounting big West End type musicals. It's a wonderfully designed space that makes you feel that you're never too far from the stage. Meanwhile The Quays, hosting an audience of almost 500, is a beautiful venue for live music.

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O2 Apollo
  • Music
  • Music venues

It may only be Manchester’s second-largest venue after the Arena, but the Manchester Apollo is nonetheless pretty vast, and regularly sees some of the biggest names in music and comedy take to the stage in the Grade II listed building. Take in the gorgeous wide sweep of Victorian decoration above the stage before the main act comes on.

Royal Northern College of Music
  • Music
  • Music venues

Principally a place to study and learn music, the Royal Northern College Of Music is a world-class conservatoire for over 700 students. However, its various-sized selection of performance spaces makes it a public venue too, with regular concerts, book readings and events taking place throughout the year. It's a great programme, with choice servings including early John Grant, Canadian singer Jane Siberry, and the fado siren Marizza.

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Antwerp Mansion
  • Nightlife
  • Nightlife venues

Outside of the city centre, past the universities, down the Curry Mile and on the verge of the student mecca known as Fallowfield, Antwerp Mansion provides a unique, rough-around-the-edges setting for some of the wildest legal parties in Manchester.

Islington Mill
  • Things to do
  • Event spaces

As a club and gig venue, Islington Mill truly excels. Helped by a generally dedicated and up-for-it crowd who’ve taken the time to venture out of the city – not to mention a rare 24-hour bar licence – parties at Islington Mill are known to run until the sun’s up and beyond. Regular parties include Bohemian Grove, home of cutting-edge and underground house and techno, and the completely bonkers Gesamtkunstwerk, dedicated to boundary-pushing experimental noise.

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