The Deaf Institute opened in 1877 with the intent of helping adults with poor hearing and speech difficulties. This iconic history is reflected with the large engraving across the front of the building as well as the plinth holding a statue of Jesus restoring hearing to a deaf man. After just under 100 years, the ‘Manchester Deaf and Dumb Institute’ decided to move to more modern premises which left the building to sit empty. The creepy gothic design encouraged many ghost stories to be created surrounding the abandoned Deaf Institute.
Then, in 2006, it was taken over by a Manchester group with the intention of turning it into a small indoor venue. After two years of renovation, it opened and quickly became an iconic gig location in Manchester, complete with a basement bar (perfect for clubbing) and the main bar which serves delicious vegan dishes – however, the first-floor music hall is the most well-known. The hall has a capacity of two hundred and sixty people with tiered seating and a huge disco ball. The venue has hosted well-known artists such as Tame Impala, The 1975, Wolf Alice, and Metronomy. There is no denying the Deaf Institute is well-loved; but on the week commencing the 13th of July, it was announced that it would shut its doors forever.
This small venue – along with many others – is just another victim of the pandemic. The Gorilla in Manchester had gone into administration as had the Polar Bear in Hull. Similar venues across the country are dropping like flies. The pandemic has hit the live music industry hard as their business has been reduced to almost zero. Even with the Government stimulus package of £1.57bn, these places will not be saved as this money has to be stretched thinly across all aspects of the arts, so only the most notorious arenas and stadiums will receive a share. This may be the most logical decision – but it is still a tragedy.
Small venues are an essential stepping stone for new musicians and bands. No one agrees to play in a band with their friend then sells out the O2 a month later. Most artists start by playing in the back room of their local pub. The step up to an actual music hall is big, especially if you are the main act. It is the same for fans of the bands – these venues allow fans to see their favourite bands as they tour across the UK. I saw a band named The Band Camino in the Deaf Institute. The room was full and had reached the capacity – but they could not have filled Manchester Academy. It allows that bridge for musicians to tour and experience that life even with a small following. This is crucial to the touring artist’s experience. With small venues closing, it becomes harder for artists to perform and grow. Without entry-level venues, bands struggle to succeed.
There is definitely something more intimate about small venues. Even large artists with bigger followings sometimes choose to perform at small venues once in a while. In September 2019, Billie Eilish played to a venue of five hundred in LA. Although we are talking about bigger capacities, British artists sometimes also choose to play to a smaller crowd – such as the Stone Roses performing in Parr Hall in 2012 (capacity of roughly one thousand.) Small gigs offer a more intimate experience for both the artist and the fan. Being in a small room allows you to be closer to the band and feel more connected to them; you feel more involved when you are a few feet away rather than staring at a big screen to see their face. There is also a deeper connection to the crowd due to your limited size. Only 500 people experienced the same gig as you and that feels special. The intimacy with small venues cannot be matched with anything else.
The closure of smaller live gig venues will only damage the industry in the long run. There was an outcry when the Deaf Institute and Gorilla announced their closures. Well known performer Tim Burgess turned to social media and said that they were “the lifeblood of Manchester’s vital network of venues.” He also made the good point that these small independent venues closing is inevitable. These venues are unlikely to receive government funding and even then, they will struggle to survive with social distancing measures in place. There is hope for Manchester’s two small venues as a Tokyo Industries has bought both of them, however other concert halls across the country won’t be so lucky. It is the current inevitable tragedy that leaves everyone losing out.