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Band on the Wall to close amid staff fury

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Manchester music venue Band on the Wall has announced it will close in preparation for a £4.5 million redevelopment project, amid staff protests at the loss of up to 18 jobs.

The club, which has launched the careers of artists such as Mick Hucknall and Courtney Pine, will close its doors for more than two years after its new year party on January 1, 2005. The decision has been taken in order to concentrate efforts on fundraising and planning for a restoration and development scheme.

Inner City Music, which runs the venue, hopes the project will be finished by early 2007. Plans involve renovating the current site and two adjacent Victorian buildings. These will be joined to form an enlarged live music space, a recording studio and a new training centre, which will offer degree-level courses to around 75 full-time students. The company has obtained agreement in principle from a major educational institution to become partners in the scheme and accredit the courses.

The project has had £2.5 million of funding earmarked by Arts Council England and a further £500,000 has been allocated by Manchester City Council. Ian Croal, project director for Inner City Music, is keen to stress that the redevelopment plans will not be detrimental to the venue’s intimate atmosphere. He said: “We’re not going to destroy the existing Band on the Wall, which is well known for its atmosphere and acoustics.”

However, staff at the venue are furious at the way they have been treated and are worried that closing for such an extended period of time could be disastrous for the club’s future. They have issued their own press release in the belief that Inner City Music’s management is ignoring their side of events.

Debi Leach, head of marketing and venue manager at Band on the Wall, said: “You can imagine what impact this is having on the staff at this time of year. I have been working for the organisation for 12 years both upstairs in the office and in the venue. I was told in two separate meetings that both of my jobs were gone. I think it’s a cruel and callous decision taken by a board of directors who don’t really know what goes on here.”

She added that staff were originally told that the most likely date for closure would be March and the club had taken bookings until then. She believed that up to 36 acts would now have to be cancelled. She also claimed that she had initially been told that the club would close for approximately six months and that staff would be offered a retainer.

Croal was swift to deny that staff had been promised that they would be kept on during the closure but admitted that the venue had been forced to cancel a small number of bookings and was currently in negotiation with the bands whose shows had been axed. He added that Inner City Music hopes to continue with a modest programme of events at other venues around Manchester during the redevelopment period in an attempt to maintain the venue’s profile.

According to Croal, the closure had been hastened by the deteriorating condition of one of the adjacent buildings which was allowing rainwater into the club. He said: “There’s only so much you can do with patchwork, we need to focus on the next phase [of development]. It’s understandable that some redundant staff are upset – especially at this time of year. But there’s never a good time for this.”

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