When the Night & Day opened in Manchester in 1991, the city centre was a desolate place. What is now known as the Northern Quarter was a seedy collection of sex shops, greasy spoons and ropey old pubs, surrounded by derelict warehouses.
But Jan Oldenburg, a Dutch music lover, saw potential in the chippy at 26 Oldham Street. First, he started hawking beers bought from the cash and carry. Then he began putting on small jazz shows, sleeping on a mattress in the basement, sometimes with his young children by his side. By the time the “Madchester” movement was in full swing, the Night & Day was a crucible of the city’s music scene, going on to host early shows from bands including Elbow, Wet Leg, Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers and more.
Now, the venue’s future is in peril after a neighbour who moved in during the quiet of lockdown in 2020 complained about the noise. Manchester city council (MCC) has issued Night & Day with a noise abatement notice (NAN) that will finish it off, according to Jennifer Smithson, Oldenburg’s daughter, who inherited the business after he died in 2018.
It is a case that raises important questions about what cities are for in the 21st century, as ever more densely populated places are expected to accommodate work, rest and play.
In the 1990s, Oldenburg didn’t have to worry about the neighbours. There weren’t any, apart from the legendary Dry Bar on one side, which closed in 2017. Thirty years on, 64,000 people live in Manchester city centre and the Northern Quarter is one of Manchester’s most desirable residential neighbourhoods, with two-bed apartments regularly fetching half a million pounds.
The council says the NAN only affects DJ sets after hours, not live bands before midnight. “But it is the club nights on Friday and Saturdays where we make most of our money, which enables us to put on the live acts,” said Smithson, who runs the venue with her husband, Ben. “The neighbour’s initial complaints all started about live music, right from the first show we did after reopening in July 2021.”
She says MCC should never have allowed the neighbouring warehouse to be turned into flats in 2000 without proper soundproofing. Council documents show that planning consent was contingent on a “study of noise within the vicinity of the building” that would identify necessary noise insulation to protect “future residents”. This study never happened and the flats were built with no sound proofing, claims Smithson.
She is taking MCC to court to appeal against the NAN at the end of November, but hopes to avoid the costs of a three-day hearing by pleading with the council to pay for retrospective sound-proofing in the complainant’s flat. The council says it has received five complaints from four separate properties regarding noise since July 2021.
More than 86,000 people have signed a petition this week calling on MCC to lift the NAN and “to address the real issue here, which is that housing with ill-considered planning and construction has been approved and built next to a pre-existing live music business”.
Many accuse the council of hypocrisy by failing to help Night & Day while trading internationally on the city’s musical heritage – for example, by putting £50m towards building Factory, an arts centre by the River Irwell, named after Joy Division’s record label.
“The council and its politicians, its football teams and its universities all use our music in proud promotion,” said Guy Garvey, Elbow’s frontman. “The vibrant scene started by Night & Day triggered enormous redevelopment in what we now call the Northern Quarter.”
It is not just venues that are under threat by Manchester’s rapid expansion. Last year, the council approved plans to turn Brunswick Mill, home to 100 practice studios, into 277 flats.
Mike Rickard, the founder of Brunswick Mill Studios, accused the council of failing to support grassroots music in Manchester. His business is being evicted in February and will move to much smaller premises in Salford. It has only 17 rooms and will effectively leave dozens of bands homeless, he said: “The huge influx of students into the city is largely down to the music scene and yet we are the ones always being pushed out.”
In a statement, MCC said: “It must be made explicitly clear from the outset that the council has never threatened to close down this venue, nor is there any legislation that would allow a Noise Abatement Notice to be used to close a premises.
“It is important to reiterate throughout this process extensive discussions have taken place to try and address the statutory noise nuisance, which was the sole reason a Noise Abatement Notice (NAN) was served.
“The council is, and remains, supportive of the music scene in Manchester which Night and Day has championed, but we have to comply with our duties in respect of statutory nuisance. It is also important to state that the source of complaints regarding this venue relate to very loud music played into the early hours of the morning and not live band performances.