Manchester music scene is council’s winning ticket

By Hannah Gradwell

There is no doubt that in today’s struggling economy, local government has been dealt one of the biggest blows.

The spending review dished out cuts of 7.1% a year over four years for the Department of Communities and Local Government with forecasts suggesting some councils’ may simply run out of money.

In the wake of the review, local governments have been making painful decisions, diverting funds away from low priority services to ensure critical front-line services are solvent.

These austerity measures have seen councils across the country tighten their purse strings, curb their spending and find or create new sources of income to help the local economy.

Great news then, when a recent study revealed that “Music Tourism” provided a boost to UK economy by more than £864million, while sustaining at least 19,700 full time jobs.

This comprehensive study of the music industry and its affect on the UK economy was carried out by UK Music, assisted by Bournemouth University’s International Centre for Tourism and Hospitality research, and using data collected in 2009.

A National Brand Index survey placed the country fourth in the world as an exciting destination for contemporary culture, while CEO of UK Music Feargal Sharkey explained that the Government had already recognised the UK’s creative industries and tourism as two areas of potential economic growth.

He said: “Creativity is our nation’s calling card.”

The overwhelming results show that the UK’s rich musical heritage attracts more than 7.7million visits from domestic and overseas music tourists, who spend over £1.4billion during their trip.

That money isn’t just on tickets for gigs, festivals and music attractions. The figure also includes additional spending on overnight accommodation, food, drink, travel and other services.

In fact, broken down, 46% of that £1.4billion is spent on “off-site” attractions, while tickets account for 38%, with the rest spent at the music venue itself.

The numbers are further broken down geographically, representing the enormous diversity within the country’s music scene.

The North West attracted 965,000 music tourists to the area in 2009, placing it second only to London as a popular destination for music tourists and accounting for 12% of the music tourist visits to the UK.

Of course, Liverpool’s Beatle connection makes up a large part of the appeal, but Manchester, as the home of Oasis, Joy Division, The Smiths, the Hacienda, Tony Wilson and too many others to mention, enjoys a unique status as one of Britain’s most vibrant and eclectic music scenes.

Councillor Mike Amesbury, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure in Manchester, said: “Obviously the city comes with a football and sporting heritage, but it also comes with a cultural legacy in conjunction with that.”

The city has, over the years, been at the cutting edge of the music industry with bands and artists producing innovative sounds, and many acquiring cult followings, which would explain why so many people come to experience the Manchester music scene themselves.

Cllr Amesbury points out that Manchester is the third most visited city for short breaks after London and Edinburgh, and explains: “The Manchester International Festival, along with its fringe festival, Not Part Of, has already been compared to the Edinburgh Festival.”

The biennial festival celebrates new and original commissions from the performing and visual arts and popular culture.

“The point of the Manchester International Festival,” explains Cllr Amesbury “is to take the Manchester brand onto a global scale.”

 The 2009 festival received 234,000 visitors and generated £34m (GVA) for the local economy from music tourism, with money spent not only on the festival, but also on hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions.

This year’s festival is still running, so the extent of its contribution to the local economy has not yet been fully realised, but since it opened on the 30th June there has already been a four-fold increase in the number of hotel bookings.

The festival is held every two years to ensure the new material and commissions are world firsts.

“The Council want to keep things fresh while celebrating the rich cultural history of the city,” explained Cllr Amesbury.

“Manchester needs to be careful,” he continued. “We need to strike a balance between the historical and the innovative.”

Comparing Manchester to the birthplace of the Fab Four, Cllr Amesbury said: “We don’t want to be like Liverpool, overegging something like the Beatles. They are fantastic, but Manchester doesn’t want to live in the past.”

That being said, Mancunians have an overwhelming respect for their musical heritage.

When Oasis played a home-coming tour at Heaton Park over three nights in 2009, some 210,000 visitors turned up to watch.

The gig may have been a celebration of Manchester’s musical finest, but it was also a test run for Heaton Park as a venue for future large-scale live music events.

“The Oasis gig was a useful learning experience, one that was well planned and well executed, proving the park could be a world-class events destination,” said Cllr Amesbury.

Heaton Park is the largest municipal park in Europe, covering 600 acres of land. It has held a license for events for many years, but the new license, granted in May this year, increased the number of visitors for an event from about 30,000 to a maximum of 80,000.

In the past the park has hosted many crowd-drawing attractions including the Halle Orchestra, a visit from the Pope and of course, Oasis.

 Residents on the Prestwich side of the park complained about plans for the park as a music venue, but the decision could benefit Manchester Council to the tune of more than £250,000 a year.

“The government made cuts of around 33% to the upkeep and maintenance of parks,” explained Cllr Amesbury. “There had to be some way of generating income in order to maintain parks and green spaces.”

While there is no ambition to become the next Glastonbury, Cllr Amesbury hopes the venue will attract world-class acts because, he says: “People across the North West deserve access to the best acts.”

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