Last year I made my debut in this column with a whinge about the ever-increasing drinks prices in northern cities. Well, it’s been 14 months since that piece was published, and here I am with another one. Sorry.
I recently went to see Manchester soul outfit Children of Zeus perform at Manchester Cathedral. It was one of those nights that make you feel proud to be a part of such a diverse community. A local band performing to a Manchester crowd in a building that is such an important part of the city’s history – it was ace.
To the left of me stood a group of lads in tracksuits having the best night of their lives. They knew every word to every song and spent the majority of the night throwing their arms around each other and dancing. Whether they may have dabbled in a few other substances to assist them in reaching such levels of elation is another matter, but in a group of six or seven of them they didn’t have one drink between them. And it’s no surprise, given the trestle table masquerading as a bar was charging £4.50 for a can of Red Stripe.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, WTF? A quick Google search tells me Red Stripe can be bought from online cash and carry sites for 99p a can. That mark-up is exploitative and wrong. £4.50 a beer is what you expect to pay in a swanky hotel bar where your glass is placed on a square paper napkin and served with nibbles while a pianist strums away on a Baby Grand. It is not an acceptable sum of money to hand over for a can of mid-range beer at a gig.
This is a band with working-class roots writing music about life on council estates. Tickets were still available on the door. Any kid from any estate in Manchester should be able to walk in off the street, buy themselves a drink at the bar and listen to music that is being written for and about them. This is their youth, their memories. Having a couple of beers while watching a band is their right.
This is my plea to the kingpins of the night-time economy: stop making stuff really expensive. Your greed is going to kill culture. You’ve already decimated nightclubs with your outrageous entry prices, aggressive security staff and flash VIP booths. Leave live music alone.
Gigs should be for everyone, not just white men in Barbour jackets drinking craft ale. Everyone deserves to experience the sense of belonging that comes with standing next to a stranger while you both sip a warm pint and watch an artist make music that means something to both of you. It’s a rite of passage for everyone, regardless of background.
As gentrification sweeps through cities, there are so many areas that need to be protected. Housing, of course, along with schools, libraries and public spaces. But as the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, we need to make sure that we also protect the one thing that defines us from almost every other species on the planet: our human need to have a good time.