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For the fourth and final part of this four part series, in which our writers and photographers reflect upon great venues, Amanda J Window, Andrew Twambley and Denzil Watson bring things up-to-date with their memories of the Night and Day Cafe and O2 Ritz in Manchester and the Sheffield Leadmill.
NIGHT & DAY CAFE, MANCHESTER
In early 1991 Oldham Street was in one of Manchester's most dilapidated parts of town. It was that year when Jan Oldenburg bought number 26, a prime spot opposite Piccadilly Records (born 1978), and turned the almost derelict building into a chip shop which he called called Night & Day.
Back then the Northern Quarter wasn't the coolest part of town that it is now. It was run down and full of pets shops and prostitutes - so a business starting out here had to be unique if it was going to survive at all.
Over time the daytime eatery began opening at night to host a variety of musicians, playing their first live gigs on a small stage by the window.
The venue itself has a shabby, rather unkempt interior. The 29 year old walls have been 'touched up' with various shades of dark red paint over time. The crystal chandeliers and wooden church pews add to its patchwork of charms that make this venue one in a million.
A beautiful long bar hosts stools for those who pop in for a coffee during the day. By night the 250 capacity venue turns into one of Manchester's musical hotspots. A small stage nestles in the back right corner which artists have to clamber onto an old stool to access it. The infamous Night & Day skull and crossbones flag is the backdrop for every band that plays.
When this place is full, it's buzzing. If 'happiness' was a place then this would be my 'happiness'. In fact I love the place so much that I went there for my 50th birthday brunch one cold November morning. Sitting at one of the tables surrounded by photos and paintings of musicians, I felt like I was sitting in an art gallery. Early in my photography career I had the chance of displaying my work on those very patchy red walls, the aged plaster making it difficult to hang heavy frames.
The dressing rooms are downstairs. 'The dressing rooms/the Green Room'? Well, at Night & Day it's more of a funky cellar with writing on the walls - scrawled by artistes and fans alike. It was in this very room that Meg White donned an oversized pair of boxing gloves and the words “Meg - don't hit her too hard” echoed around the basement.
Although the venue opened in 1991, I lived up North then and it wasn't until much later in my life that I frequented Night & Day. It was around 2010/11 that my Pentax and I would stroll through the Northern Quarter up to Oldham Street to shoot the artists performing there.
"Bring Professor Green to your Backyard!"
In 2011 Puma asked fans of Professor Green, "Which city do you want Professor Green to perform in?" as part of one of their campaigns. Night & Day won by a mile, and so Professor Green performed there to a packed out audience, and Channel 4 went along to film it for part of a six episode series on Professor Green and his team.
That same year I photographed Pauline Black from the Selector – again the venue attracted big crowds, and another huge audience crammed into the small venue for this fantastic show.
Johnny Marr played guitar at the Night & Day Cafe
In September 2011 word got out that Johnny Marr and the Healers were to play a secret gig at the venue. Tickets were as scarce as chickens' teeth but I managed to get two for the show which was played on the 28th - a Thursday night. It's not the first time I've seen this place packed out but it's certainly the first time I've felt the floor move – they played a host of new material and five Smiths songs. It was a riot in there, and I was worried we'd all end up in the basement. It's a good job they had those sturdy church pews, because each one held up to the weight of the many fans who stood on them to get a better view.
Johnny Marr and the Healers played two nights at the Deaf Institute the following week. But the one at the Night & Day was by far the best!
In 2015 the Swansea band Trampoline headlined at the venue playing a harmonious combination of poetry and rock and roll. We got in touch with them during lockdown - so in the words of Jack Jones...
“Playing to a sold out Night & Day was the first time we ever felt like we’d made it. It’s a rite of passage. We could play there for the rest of our lives. Manchester knows things.”
But it hasn't all been a bed of roses for the venue.
“You just can not want to live in the city
and yet also destroy the life of the city.”
Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Night & Day Cafe and in those three decades this little venue has been on the forefront of the Manchester music scene with bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Doves, Mumford and Sons, Guy Garvey playing there in their early days.
But, after twenty-three years of being such a success, Night & Day were confronted with the possibility of having to close due to a rather intolerant local resident making a claim about 'noise pollution'.
Night & Day is, however, such a special place to many musicians that artists such as Johnny Marr, Tim Burgess and Frank Turner got on board to support the venue. The campaign was fronted by a very determined Gareth Butterworth (their in-house promoter/booker) who petitioned tirelessly, along with Jennifer (Jan's daughter) the venue manager, to clear these accusations. Fortunately the complaint was overturned in court and the venue got to keep its licence.
So, we sit out lockdown in the hope that our music venues survive this. Night & Day Cafe is certainly one of the first places I'll be heading out to when it's all over - whether it's for a late breakfast or a riotous show.
AMANDA J WINDOW
O2 RITZ, MANCHESTER
The O2 Ritz sits magestically on Whitworth St West, a stone's throw south of Manchester city centre, neighboured by luxury student flats to each side, Victorian railway archs to the front and the Rochdale Canal to the rear. Built in 1927, with an imposing Art Deco megalithic frontage, it started life as the Ritz Ballroom entertaining the young ladies and gentlemen of Manchester, exploding into the late Roaring '20s and staying strong though the jazz and swing eras, before mutating into its current resplendency in the early 60's when the UK discovered rock and roll and the dancehall became a nightclub.
The club was famous for its revolving stage though that is now buried in antiquity. It does, however, still boast the original sprung dancefloor, which was reclaimed and restored following its 2015 multi million pound refit, restoring much of its Art Deco splendour which had become obscured over the decades.
The Ritz played host to all the big acts of the '60s including The Beatles and even Sinatra and soon became Manchester’s premier club putting on intimate, yet legendary nights, hosting the likes of New Order and the Smiths.
I had spent many nights, as a punter, at the Ritz, but in 2015 I noticed that Sham 69 in their original 1977 line-up were due to appear. Being unaffiliated to Pennyblackmusic at the time, I mailed in hopefully asking if I could have a photo pass. They mailed back saying that they didn’t hand out passes...but...would I like to be House Photographer????? Within a nanosecond I mailed back accepting the role and was assigned Sham 69.
The highlights since 2015 have been too numerous to mention, and who wants a list? The true highlight is the Ritz itself. It has a capacity of 1, 500, so it's large enough to host brilliant bands and cosy enough to retain and create atmosphere unlike some of the mega venues around. Bands like playing there. It is easy to get to, and the management and staff are relaxed without ever being zoned out. The security is tight without being oppressive or overbearing.
I love the Ritz, and can hardly wait until the dark days expire and this awesome venue reopens its doors...I will be there every night (subject to spousal permission!).
THE LEADMILL, SHEFFIELD
Having arrived in Sheffield in 1984, shortly after its opening, the Leadmill very quickly became a live staple for me when watching bands in the steel city. The first gig I saw there was the Fall on 20th October of that year. I remember it well. It was on their 'Wonderfull and Frightening World' tour and was a fitting way to open my Leadmill account.
Since then, the bands I've seen there over the years (many of which I've reviewed for Pennyblack) reads like a who's who of my favourite bands: The Shamen, Spacemen 3, Spear of Destiny, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Mansun, the Stranglers, Buzzcocks, Arctic Monkeys, British Sea Power, Billy Bragg, Echo and the Bunnymen, That Petrol Emotion, Fat White Family...the list goes on, and on.
While the venue hasn't always had the greatest sound, it has always had a unique atmosphere. Hopefully it will survive the COVID-19 crisis and come back stronger than ever. Best Leadmill moment? It's difficult to narrow it down to just one single gig but the night Arctic Monkeys launched their second album 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' there was very special, with everyone squeezed into a venue they could have sold out ten times over.