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Inside Akoustik Anarkhy, a look into the 25 year history of the Manchester cult promoter

Written by James Young.
Posted March 14, 2024.

Ahead of its show tomorrow at The Briton’s Protection, we spoke to the team behind the scenes at the last Akoustik Anarkhy show about its 25-year history.

It’s one of those typical February Friday nights in Manchester, the rain is unforgiving and the wind chill throws its weight around like it has had eight pints. I’m stood outside the Star and Garter on Fairfield St opposite Piccadilly Station waiting to speak to Noel, promoter of cult record label/ night Akoustik Anarkhy that has been going for 25 years. Akoustik Anarkhy feels like a right of passage for anyone that has come through in Manchester as a musician. It’s where small bands find their feet but also where seminal events sometimes happen.

The Courteeners frontman Liam Fray broke through partly playing these nights as did Nine Black Alps who got signed to Island Records. It has also been a great platform for underground artists to play to their crowd, not to one confined by cronyism or what mainstream labels are after.

As the doors are about to open at 7pm, Noel and his colleague Pete are busy sticking posters to the wall, duct taping stuff down to the floor, checking there’s a cash flowt and carrying cables up and downstairs for the soundcheck. It’s all hands to the deck. There are three bands on tonight, trippy guitar band Peace Talks, post-punk chaos Fruit and the equally energetic Drivers.

I’m sitting talking to Noel downstairs in the room to the left of the bar and he tells me this is where it all began:

“It started right down here on the 30 October 1999. It was me and my mate AC and we were just passionate about music. We found we were coming up against a lot of barriers and unnecessary problems in the way of getting a gig. We just wanted to create our vibe and start a night down here. The idea was to just have no barrier, we’d put anyone on even if we didn’t like them. We don’t want perfect, we want authenticity. Some bands don’t have the bottle to play it because they want a sound engineer with a proper soundcheck.

“When we started the night we started coming across bands that we really liked and we were like why is no one aware of this? So we started to put a few records out as well. We were able to get some of our records in HMV in town and a few other independent shops.

One of the biggest bands that Akoustik Anarkhy discovered was Nine Black Alps, at one point they were put on under a pseudonym of Purple Heron due to some of America’s biggest A&R men flying in from the States for one gig.

“I met them in a lift in the Beehive Mill recording studios and I thought they looked like a cool band so I went to watch them rehearse and was just blown away. Their first gig they played nine of the 12 songs off the first album and were so good so it wasn’t a surprise when they got signed.

“The same goes for Liam Fray and the Courteeners. He wanted it so much and is such a charismatic guy that some of my favourite gigs I saw of his were in people’s kitchens just on the acoustic guitar. I remember him playing tunes like What Took You So Long in front of about four or five people. He used to organise his own after shows where he’d get Courteeners fans and everyone there and it was such a great vibe.”

Despite having an illustrious past as a promoter and endless stories, Noel is still looking forward with the label and doesn’t want to slow down anytime soon.

“Nowadays we’re promoting a band called Martial Arts who are equally as good. Straight after seeing them we knew we had to get them to do some demos and we were blown away by how good they were. It seemed like they were complete after only doing a few gigs. For some bands it takes ages to get to that stage. Music always finds its way, if you want it enough and you’re prepared to put in the graft it will happen.

“There’s a great scene at the minute with bands like Drivers and Holy Head. Manchester’s a city full of great youth, there’s some great poets around at the minute as well. We’re back to doing fortnightly gigs which is how it was 25 years ago. We didn’t really know anybody when we started out so we know how hard it can be.

“We’re always looking for something different, between me and Pete we’re at a few gigs a week. Sometimes I might go to two and he’ll go to the other three, because we’ve got the experience now, we know when we hear a good band.”

And after Noel introduces the first band Peace Talks to the stage, with their Public Service Broadcasting esque samples being played through an old CRT monitor, he’s then straight on to a chair, stood up filming it on his phone for posterity with the flyer of the gig just about clinging onto to his back pocket. It’s a tireless graft.

Fruit are up next and play a set that sounds a bit like Squid crossed with The Rapture which suits the mood perfectly. The final band are called Drivers, they’re an aggressive, no bounds, solid guitar band.

And as the party moves downstairs and fritters away, Noel and Pete are two of the last people to leave, packing upstairs, taking down posters and making sure people that have had too much to drink get home safely. They’ll do this all again for Akoustik Anarkhy in another two weeks.

Akoustik Anarkhy next event is at the Briton’s Protection, make sure you check out the lineup and get tickets here.

Stay tuned for more chats with some of the people that make Manchester what it is over on the Union editorial page, and don’t forget to follow us on socials.