A light that never goes out? New documentary about future of infamous Manchester music venue

(Originally published on Quays News February 28, 2017)

OUR writer Natalie Rees reports on “The Music Stops Here?” A documentary made to ensure that the Star and Garter is a light that never goes out.

On a wet and windy Saturday night, The Star and Garter on the corner of Fairfield Street, the iconic pub and music venue, is open for business.

Owner Andy Martin stands at the side door, the door to The Star and his home, chatting to the smokers and welcoming in regulars and newcomers to the self-confessed “last truly independent music venue”.

The unassuming exterior cannot compete with the flashing lights and glitz of Deansgate locks, but The Star’s punters don’t come for that, and that’s why it’s so brilliant.

The Star and Garter is a unique place. A grade II listed building sitting just behind the beastly Piccadilly Station. The Star itself is over 210 years old.

Originally constructed 100 yards from it’s current spot, The Star and Garter moved, brick by brick, to accommodate the expansion of London Road Station (now Piccadilly) and the connecting line to Oxford Road in 1849. Since then, it’s remained a cultural hotspot in the city, watching over Manchester like an older and much wiser brother with a certain scepticism and pride.

Walking through the old wooden doors you’re faced with a modest bar, and more noticeably, a warm atmosphere that feels like home, even if you’ve never visited. The walls are plastered with club night posters, framed pictures, funny phrases and windows into the building’s past including newspaper cuttings and developed photographs of good times.

The venue’s authentic interior and charm has attracted film and TV producers, and featured in titles such as: There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble, Prime Suspect, Worried About The Boy, and more recently, Cradle to Grave.

But it’s the musical significance of the setting that transcends the building itself. The Star and Garter has been home to various club nights, including: Smile, the original indie disco, as well as The Morrissey Smiths Disco, cementing the building as a sort of Morrissey mecca for Smiths fans the world over. A night that attracts fans the first Friday of every month; The Smiths Disco was also the subject of a certain Courteeners’ B-Side.

Additionally, the venue is heralded as the home of punk and metal in Manchester. The gritty sound system and intimacy of the upstairs room makes for a brilliant gig space, welcoming bands big and small, who more often than not fall in love with the place.

The Star and Garter survived the devastating bombing of Manchester in World War 2. Yet, the venue is now enduring it’s most difficult threat, as Network Rail seeks to expand Piccadilly Station as part of the Northern Hub project.

The project, which intends to “stimulate economic growth in the north of England”, aims to increase the station’s capacity to meet the growing demands of rail travel around the North West.

This would mean the closure of Fairfield Street for three years for developers to work on the site.

Consequently, the Star and Garter would also have to close, halting business and putting the future of the landmark in danger.

Landlord Andy Martin speaking to Natalie Rees last year

A team of film makers decided to encapsulate the sights, sounds and feel of the Star and Garter in a documentary before its future is finally decided.

Alec Herron, producer of ‘The Music Stops Here?’, initially intended to make a film exploring the amount of pubs and music venues closing across the UK. However, the Star and Garter’s story couldn’t be contested.

According to a 2015 report by the Mayors Music Venues Taskforce in London, 35% of live music venues had closed since 2007.

Alec said: “This story is much more important and full of character than anything about pubs in general. When we first met Andy and found out more about the situation, we thought this was a story that needed to be told.

”The documentary, which is just over half an hour long, explores not only the situation the Star has been put in, but those who bring it to life. Alec said the filmmaking process was wholly enjoyable.

“Filming the people who really love the place and the interviews have been the best. It’s always brilliant filming in the Star and Garter. Andy gave us full access and helped us out in every way. All the people who work there are great and encourage us.”

“Filming in the Star and Garter is great because people want to talk about it. The people that go there love the place; it’s not somewhere you stumble across on the way to somewhere else. It’s never a last option.”

However, the two-year-long process hasn’t been all easy.

“It’s a very unique place with lots of features to pick up on whilst filming. It’s also technically very difficult, the place is not lit up very well and the sound was a nightmare, trying to interview people when the music is so loud, that was a constant challenge.”

The story and involvement was never anything but fun.

The team who made the documentary stress that the film is still a work in progress and will continue to grow as the Star’s story develops.

Alec said: “I thought we would have a film that very much focused on the closure of the Star and Garter and people’s reactions but we don’t. Instead we have a film that shows the essence of it.”

Alec added that the final cut is not what he expected: “Everybody thought by now that the story of the Star and Garter would be wrapped up, and we’d know if it was surviving or would have closed already.”

“We didn’t expect Andy to be such a pivotal character to the story. He’s a very intellectual funny guy and is very open. He’s a good character and is the Star and Garter, he lives and breathes it.”

“We’re going to keep filming. When things get rolling we’re going to make sure we film as much as we can. So the documentary could change quite a bit, we don’t know how this project is going to finish.”

On Saturday evening, the Star and Garter hosted two screenings to show fans what they had been working on.

“I’m hoping people look at it in a wider context as this isn’t just an individual case, places are being shut down all the time, a lot of the time for lack of political will and appreciation by big business and local councils of what culture means to a city.”

“I hope people look at it from beyond just the Star and Garter as a great music venue and look at it as what’s happening to our cities.”

The Star and Garter’s owner Andy insisted he enjoyed the documentary although it was difficult to watch some parts, especially the footage of the enquiry.

“It was difficult getting me up at 10 in the morning to talk about Network Rail. But mostly I hate having my photograph taken, I’m so aware of what I’m doing. I’m repeating the same stuff over and over.”

“I’ve seen it in bits. I saw the rough cut the other day and cringed at every bit I was in.”

Stand out moments from the documentary include footage from a Frank Carter gig as well as an interview with the rock frontman himself.

Andy said: “I thought the Frank Carter stuff was really good. I love Frank. He’s really small and really shy but get him on stage and he literally has an audience in the palm of his hand. He’s a lovely bloke.”

Andy hopes that those who continue to attend the Star and Garter’s club nights and gigs enjoy the documentary and understand the situation.

“I hope people don’t think I was just lying at the door. I haven’t got a BMW round the side I’ve got a clanked out Honda Civic. As long as people don’t walk away thinking I’m a greedy man who wants to retire.”

So, what does the future hold for the venue?

“If they shut off for three years, this will just die as a music venue and it will have to become something else. Everyone is going on about a music museum, I’d rather that than another Starbucks.”

Alec and the team behind ‘The Music Stops Here?’ have launched a kickstarter to help raise funds to allow them to show the documentary online.

The team need over £2000 to be able to pay the music licensing fees that accumulate as the documentary features records from the likes of The Smiths.

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