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Manchester: Let it rain

A small blue plaque pays tribute to one of Manchester’s most iconic music venues, a nightclub where some of the city’s finest bands — Oasis, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, to name a few — cut their teeth.

Manchester: Let it rain
The Boardwalk plaque Image: Frankie Roberto / CC BY 2.0.

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Today, alas, the Boardwalk, Manchester is no more. The venue closed in 1999, marking the end of a heady era, and was later converted into swanky apartments. Gentrification triumphed. Progress prevailed. Only memories remain.

Craig Gill has many of them. The Inspiral Carpets drummer was a regular at the Boardwalk, where his band came to practise and play.

“We were rehearsing here one day and these guys walked in — they looked like gangsters or football hooligans,” recalls Craig, who runs music-themed tours of Manchester. “We thought they were going to beat us up and nick our equipment, but when we finished they started clapping — it was the Happy Mondays.”

The Boardwalk became a springboard for the Inspiral Carpets, as it did for many bands. The group went on to tour the world with hits such as Saturn 5 and This Is How It Feels.

“Noel Gallagher was our roadie,” says Craig. “When he started I think we gave him £3 a day and a Pot Noodle.”

Between tours, Noel clocked in at the nearby gasworks.

“He had a cushie number sitting in a Portakabin handing out tools to the workers,” says Craig, as we walk through Manchester’s trendy Deansgate district. “It was boring so he took his guitar to work — I think he penned three songs there.”

When the Inspirals took off, Noel quit the gasworks and became a full-time roadie. But he was never destined for donkey work.

“We were in Munich in 1991 and Noel called his mam,” says Craig. “He asked what Liam was up to and she said he was in a band. Noel started laughing and said: ‘They’ve got to be crap if our kid’s in them — I can’t wait to have a look.’”

Gallagher senior came back to Manchester to watch Liam’s band, The Rain, perform at the Boardwalk. They were poor but he saw potential in them and agreed to join — on the proviso they change the band name and let him write the songs. They acquiesced.

Three years later, Oasis released their debut album, Definitely Maybe, propelling them to global stardom. That was 20 years ago this month, and Craig’s music tours have been heavily subscribed in the run-up to the anniversary.

But it’s not all about Oasis; his excursions pay homage to other music heavyweights such as Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses, also from Manchester. I ask how England’s third city, a powerhouse during the Industrial Revolution, became such a hotbed for bands.

“The rain,” says Craig. “It was the rain [which feeds the city’s rivers] that powered Manchester’s cotton mills and, when they closed down, there were all these empty buildings.”

These vacant mills, he says, became nightclubs and music venues, incubators for what is known the ‘Madchester’ music scene. And all because of the rain. I’ll never curse it again.