City skyline's are ever changing, but I gasped when I saw the realms of rubble on Oxford road where once stood the BBC Manchester building, home to the familiar and friendly voices, and the diverse range of music, that accompanied us through many years of our lives. It looked spikey and sad, harsh and final. Of course it's not the end of the BBC and Media City in Salford Quays will surely carry on making quality audio/visual entertainment for the people of Manchester and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately not all that crumbles comes back (and in some cases demolition can even be celebrated) - but there's another institution I want to draw your attention to that will close it's doors at the end of this year creating a cultural vacuum in a south Manchester suburb.
When I first arrived in the north, I stumbled with serendipity across a quirky little bar tucked away in the leafy "village" of Heaton Moor. Blue Cat Cafe was just what I needed - it had atmosphere, a stage, a decent PA system, red velvet seating and lots of dark corners, perfect for hatching plans and dreams. Owner Danny Donnelly had created a space where things could happen, musically, culturally, socially and semi-supernaturallly - as the place was definitely a magnet for unusual characters, offbeat musicians, actors, people that wanted something different than the banal karaoke and souless sky sports bars that populate most urban spaces these days. I was happy to get involved and in the years I spent there, numerous nights light up in my memory as being crazy and cathartic. Performances happened on that stage (and off it) that left audiences gasping and grinning. Shivers regularly ran down the collective spine of the shimmering blue feline. Having a place like this on your doorstep was something many locals of Heaton Moor perhaps took for granted and now it's going I'll no longer be able to walk home happy with music playing in my head.
The closing of the Blue Cat will narrow a passageway that's already largely blocked....that passageway being a launch-pad for new bands, new songwriters, new talents to come and transfer their sounds from bedroom/garage to stage. Many did it and did it so successfully they moved rapidly on to bigger things. Karima Francis, Nell Bryden & Jessie Rose all stood on that stage as virtual unknowns. Haven, Lee Griffiths, even most recently Terry Reid plugged in and bared their souls at 17 Shaw Road. So why is it closing on new years eve? You'd really have to speak to Danny Donnelly about his decision but I know he largely blames it on Stockport Council's refusal to extend his license meaning an early curfew, meaning less trade, along with the fact that audience numbers have dwindled. Is this the same malaise that has seen various other small music venues bite the dust in recent years? There are a multitude of reasons why audiences at the Blue Cat (and elsewhere have dwindled) including the sad truth that many now choose to stay in and watch the X-Factor or similar rather than stepping out and breathing some clean, new, exciting music.
This piece isn't a plea to specifically save the Blue Cat but more a call to take a look around and see what is happening to the larger landscape all around you. What do you value? If it is small music venues because they have an edge and an ambience that a Carling airport hangar will never come close to, because you can smell the passion behind a performance rather than craning your head and staring at a screen that bombards you with meaningless graphics, adverts or images you could watch at home on You Tube. You came here to see the band, didn't you? Well in a small venue that's what you will see! Small venues make for a healthy dose of unpredictability....something mass arena crowds hemmed in by security guards will never possess. Could it be saved? I believe it could be saved but the will and community cohesiveness have to be there to make that happen. It's the same reason that so many lovely independent coffee shops are slowly dissolving away like the pretty pattern traced on the froth of your flat white, as the chains set up shop in every space they can and bully us with their brands. Even the news that Starbucks don't pay their taxes doesn't seem to deter people from feeding their profits. People have the power. Use it or lose it. These may sound like meaningless catchphrases to some, but at the end of the day the choice really is ours. So support the things you love and they may live longer. Musical diversity and experimentation may blossom and grow and be enjoyed in intimate spaces that allow for personal connection, for passion, for pure rock and roll epiphanies.