Night & Day: Manchester music venue sweating on noise court hearing outcome

By November 29, 2022Entertainment

"It's like moving to Leicester Square and complaining about there being too many cinemas!"
So said Matty Healy while speaking to Apple Music's Zane Lowe last month about the plight of Manchester's Night & Day Cafe, where his band The 1975 played some of its formative gigs.
The frontman sounded angry that the future of the historic city centre venue – which also helped to launch the careers of Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and Wet Leg – is now at risk over a noise complaint from a neighbour who moved in during lockdown.
Healy is not alone.
More than 94,000 people have signed a petition to remove a Noise Abatement Notice issued by Manchester City Council last year. On Tuesday, the owners will appear at Manchester Crown Court to appeal against it.
The row with the council centres on a complaint from a new flat-owner in an adjoining property, a warehouse recently converted for residential use. And if found in breach, the 31-year-old family-run institution could end up having to close its doors.
Ben Smithson, who manages the venue with wife Jennifer, says they are "stressed out of our minds" about the outcome of the expensive three-day hearing and are "praying it goes our way".
"We can't believe where we are, and why," he tells BBC News. "We just don't understand why the council are going forward with this, we gave them plenty of opportunity to drop it behind closed doors."
He claims any soundproofing issues should have been resolved between the council and property developers at the planning stage, before the resident moved in, a notion the council rejects.
"We have nothing against Manchester changing over the years, the 60,000 people now living in the city centre," he says. "But when these changes occur, you've got to be considerate to the pre-existing businesses – everyone can get on and live together.
"If the council had done the work they were supposed to do, we wouldn't be in this situation, this resident won't be in this situation."
A Manchester City Council spokesman told us it "remains supportive of the music scene in Manchester which Night & Day has championed", but that it had to "comply with our duties in respect of statutory nuisance".
He said that the issue relates to "very loud music played into the early hours of the morning and not live band performances", and that "extensive discussions have taken place" to try to address it.
He added the council has "never threatened to close down this venue, nor is there any legislation which would allow a Noise Abatement Notice to be used to close a premises".
The resident who made the complaint has remained anonymous, but last year told the Manchester Evening News he knew what the venue was before purchasing his flat in 2020.
"The issues I face are not really the gigs – it's with the club nights," he said. "Different DJs running until 03:00 at least twice a week – but they can run until 04:00."
Mr Smithson says complaints were made about both the club nights and live music. The former, he says, help to underwrite the huge cost of the latter during a difficult financial time for venues.
"We need these club nights in order to to pay for the live gigs," he explains.
If the council legally forced them to turn down the sound or finish early, things would become untenable, he warns.
"Suddenly we're not a live music venue."
Popular Manchester music venue Night and Day faces being shut down after a noise complaint which has led to a court case

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Night & Day was opened in 1991 by Mrs Smithson's late father Jan Oldenburg, who turned it from an old chip shop in a desolate inner city area, into a central hub for creative people in the city's burgeoning Northern Quarter.
Elbow's Guy Garvey last week described it as an "essential" independent venue "that took it upon themselves to look after the city's music and art".
Mr Smithson, who took over with his wife following Mr Oldenburg's death in 2018, said they find themselves in an "eight-year cycle" of noise complaints – after a similar situation in 2014 in which the venue kept its licence.
He said this has all "taken its toll" on the family, both personally and financially, but stressed the support they have received from the local community has been "out of this world".
UK music venues closing down because of sound complaints has been going on for decades.
But according to Music Venue Trust boss Mark Davyd, the case of Night & Day is the "worst example, anywhere in the country" of one being left in such a "difficult position".
"Manchester City Council are going to court saying Night & Day must change the nature of their business to accommodate a premises that never should have been allowed to be built," he said. "So it's a ridiculous situation."
By the end of this year, 120 UK music venues will have used the trust's crisis service, which supports those facing closure, Mr Davyd says. And he fears next year "looks a lot worse".
It would be an "absolute disaster" for Manchester, he adds, if Night & Day were to close, as eight other venues have done this year for various reasons.
"People's right to enjoy their homes peacefully is obviously very important, but so is the right of people to enjoy music, and there isn't a proper balance," he says.
Lisa Lavia runs the Noise Abatement Society – a UK charity committed to solving noise problems in a pragmatic and sustainable way.
She believes such binary situations represent a "worst-case scenario" and that court hearings or closures should only ever be a "last resort". Potential problems, she says, can usually be solved with "co-operation" and a "co-ordinated response" between venues, the authorities and local residents over time.
"l know one person's noise is another's pleasure," she says.
Ms Lavia agrees that small-to-mid-sized venues like Night & Day have a "really difficult challenge" to face, but does not believe the "full burden should fall on the venue". Especially "if cost becomes the issue to successfully abating the noise problem".
She adds: "It's just hard to believe that there isn't a workable solution for something that is such a valued cultural offering for an area."
While Night & Day alumni like The 1975 are now chart-topping, festival-headliners, others like The Goa Express are starting their musical journey.
The Manchester-based, Burnley indie band performed at the venue for BBC Music Introducing in summer 2021, on the night it first reopened after restrictions were lifted – the same night it first received a visit from the council's noise officers.
Having been forced out of its Brunswick Mill practice room because of redevelopment plans for the building, the band's bass player Naham Muzaffar says it would be "gutting" to see another "vital" venue disappear.
"It's just such a big part of Manchester," he says. "People come because they want to go out and explore the city. If they are going to be shutting at 22:00 because they can't have a DJ set, where else are people gonna go?
"What other venues are going to be dealing with the same consequences?"
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