Story 1 The former Theatre Royal 600w-min
Story 1 The former Free Trade Hall 1200w-min

Many guests to the city are crazy about the music history. If they want mad range of music stories then the Free Trade Hall (now the Edwardian Hotel) and its neighbour, the Theatre Royal are good value. The Free Trade Hall was the only building of its time in the UK named after a principle. It stands on the site of the Peterloo Massacre and the two remaining 19th century walls were part of the third hall, completed in 1856, replacing temporary structures. The rest of the older building was destroyed by WWII bombs. 

For 150 years the hall hosted political speeches but also readings, theatre, dancing. It was best known as the home of the Hallé Orchestra from 1858 to 1996. Notable guests have included several monarchs, Charles Dickens, David Livingstone, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd George, Emmeline Pankhurst, Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Genesis, Bowie – just about everybody. 

A particularly famous gig occurred in 1966 when Bob Dylan during his second set went electric. Folk fans found this a betrayal and protested. The gig became internationally famous, folk music would now take a back seat, even Dylan was going all rock and roll.

Mancunian academic and performer the late CP Lee was present. He recalls it this way. “We could see amplifiers and a drum kit on the stage and people were going ‘oh no’. Throughout the second half, people started slow hand-clapping. Groups of people were standing up, facing the stage accusingly and then walking out. There were random shouts here, there and everywhere. Someone shouted “Judas!” It stung Dylan to the quick.

“He let the guy have it. You can really see that it rankled Dylan. The look on his face… he turned around and said ‘I don’t believe you’. It was an incredibly antagonistic moment. He told the band to play it loud and they lurched into Like A Rolling Stone, which was this giant juggernaut.”

Another legendary occasion happened ten years later. Punk officially hit the city in July 1976 when the Sex Pistols played two concerts at the Lesser Free Trade Hall within the Free Trade Hall. In the audience on the first date were some defining names of Manchester music, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner subsequently of Joy Division and New Order, Morrissey of The Smiths and Tony Wilson, local TV presenter and future founder of Factory Records plus Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. The experience of the gig was the catalyst for much of the dynamism of Manchester music for the next twenty years.

Both Sex Pistols gigs were organised by local band The Buzzcocks, fronted by Howard Devoto, who would later create fine Manchester band Magazine. The Buzzcocks supported the Sex Pistols on the second gig. Of course, shortly after Devoto would leave the band and was replaced on vocals by Pete Shelley who led the band to chart success with ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ and ‘Promises’. 
And the third legendary occasion. Well, let’s give boy bands a chance hey? Next door to the Free Trade Hall is the Theatre Royal. This impressive building staged the first UK performance of Puccini’s La Boheme with the composer himself in the audience. But forget such trivial occasions, it was in 1990 that Take That first performed on TV here during the Hitman and Her hosted by record impresario Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan. The group were awful, but somebody must have seen something as we know the rest of the story. By the way the Theatre Royal is said to be graced with the ugliest statue of Shakespeare in the world.

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