George & Dragon, Swan Street, 1959. (c) bbc.co.uk.
Licensed premises have stood here for more than 200 years, the George & Dragon being licensed in 1803 when it was a ramshackle old four-storey public house. In 1858 when the markets were built behind the pub, licensee, Bernard McKenna of the John McKenna Harpurhey Brewery, immediately undertook renovations including the famous arched corner doorway, to become one of the main market pubs. The pub was lowered to two storeys and it also took over next door which they turned into a wines and spirits shop that sold the brewery's bottled ales. In 1897 McKenna's bought the next door property on Oak Street and turned it into a large vault which still forms the performance area in today's Band on the Wall.
George & Dragon, Swan Street. (c) Electric Roulette.
By 1937 the George & Dragon Hotel had became informally known as the Band on the Wall due to the jazz bands and Italian performers that sat high up on a stage built into the wall, accessible by steps. Around this time the place was run by Ernie Tyson, a tough landlord who wouldn't hesitate to punch any troublemakers out "on the cabbages" (a reference to the veg stalls outside). It was popular with servicemen during the war, as well as the local Italians, boxers and gangs of Ancoats, despite it being quite upmarket with table service on offer.
Band on the Wall, Swan Street. (c) building.co.uk.
Seen in the 1970s still as the George & Dragon, a Wilson's house, 1975 saw the place reborn as the Band on the Wall officially by local jazz head Steve Morris and his partner Frank Cuisick. Up-and-coming Manchester bands of the late '70s also played here as well, including Buzzcocks, The Fall, A Certain Ratio, The Distractions and Joy Division. The Northern branch of the Jazz Society ran it in the '80s and they reopened in 1982 with another Distractions gig .
Joy Division at Band on the Wall. 4th September 1978. (c) MDMArchive.
Band on the Wall, Swan Street. (c) MEN.
The Band on the Wall closed in 2005 and looked to be doomed for a couple of years but was awarded a £3.2m Arts Council grant plus lottery funding to re-open. One of our regular haunts on match day is Fringe Bar, opposite, so we followed its renovation with interest. The tired frontage got an overhaul and the adjacent Picturehouse, which used to show early 20th century silent films back in the day, was incorporated into the venue. Not to mention the giant LED graphic equaliser which responds to the tunes playing inside! Re-opening night in September 2009 featured Mica Paris was soon followed by a triumphant gig from the magnificent A Certain Ratio... maybe the recently reformed The Distractions will fancy a gig in this famous old venue where they performed in the past?
Band on the Wall, Swan Street. (c) Aidan O'Rourke.
Band on the Wall, LED graphic equaliser. (c) creativetourist.