From what I can remember (and that's not a lot) - they were great! Weren't they?
I should probably warn you; this story has transformed from a nice little piece about how brilliant the Northern Quarter Street Parties were into a rather complex and nuanced comment on social history and gentrification spanning more than 3 decades.
There – warned. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be fun. Well, the bits about the actual parties will be fun – hopefully evoking some happy memories in our (currently) drab lives. So let’s get on with it..
So, the first of the Northern Quarter Parties that I’m referring to, and the ones that you’re most likely to remember, began all the way back in 2011.
It was a rather odd time for me, I had just got back from a massive trip to South America and Japan, and I returned home to my mother’s house in a semi- emaciated state after sleeping on the streets of Osaka for a few days because I’d run out of money.
When I got back though, I was surprised to learn that the whole country was abuzz with one certain event – the marriage of Will & Kate – the future King & Queen of the British Empire.
Every supermarket advert and middle-class cul-de-sac had planned a massive street party to celebrate the day – watching the ceremony on the telly and then retiring to a huge table out on the street and getting hammered on gin, cucumber sandwiches and Will’s favourite crisps; Space Raiders.
The bars and venues of the Northern Quarter were also organising a street party, but as people elsewhere celebrated the wedding, they’ll be celebrating the NQ. It still featured a huge table snaking down the length of Edge Street though, as well as loads of stalls down the length of Thomas Street selling booze and food.
I wasn’t there though – I was sat at home drinking gin with my mum because she’d broken her leg – but I was at the next Northern Quarter Street Party – held just a couple of months later in September.
This second Street Party was massive, with around 10,000 people turning up over the course of two days, a massive list of DJs playing and all of the bars and restaurants in the area getting involved.
The whole event was hosted in reaction to the 2011 Summer Riots (remember them!?) – taking place just 2 weeks after people went apeshit in the city centre – as a show of solidarity for the city, as well as a chance to raise some money for the clean-up.
I remember it being a LOT of fun, super busy and it managed to maintain a rather intimate feel, even with so many people dotted about.
There was a real sense of community at this one – something that was most likely brought about with the riots that had taken place not just in Manchester but all over the UK.
With local bands and DJs on over three stages, Council spokesman Pat Karney spoke about the event afterwards “It was a great weekend. It had all the atmosphere of a mini-Glastonbury. There were 10,000 people there and they showed, unlike the disgraceful looters, that they love their city.”
The next NQ Street Party managed to re-align itself perfectly with a sense of pride and patriotism, much like the first one on Will & Kate’s Wedding.
June 2012 was the Queen’s Jubilee and that gave the businesses of the Northern Quarter a reason to host another – taking over Thomas Street, Edge Street, High Street and even Stevenson Square – expanding its reach and increasing its attendance.
There was afternoon tea, bingo, discos, live performances, and LOTS of food and booze.
And once again it had been a massive success, tapping into a sense of pride in the Queen’s celebration that ensured that there were plenty of visitors, and that there was zero trouble. Again, a nice intimate, community feel was attained – regardless off the increased numbers that attended.
Looking back on these first Street Parties, it’s clear now to see that they managed to tap into something that later ones were certainly missing.
The royal occasions, which will have increased pride and community in people, alongside the need to show solidarity after the riots were big factors in the success of the initial parties and something that the later one’s failed to tap into – much to their detriment.
We’re now in August of 2012 and the Queen’s Jubilee is a distant memory. It’s the Bank Holiday and the Northern Quarter Street Party has been replaced by the ‘Northern Quarter Takeover’ – an almost identical multi-venue event spread out over the streets of the NQ.
Arriving at this one (with ‘the lads’) it was pretty clear that things were different to what we’d experienced before.
First of all was the added security in the ‘areas’ – each one closed off with barriers and bad attitude bouncers – stopping people from getting from one site to another if they were ‘too full’.
Once you were in though, much was the same in terms of what was on offer, events, dog shows, booze and food on the streets… it had it all.
This August Bank Holiday edition, however, was significantly busier that the others that I’d been to and thus there was a rather lot of pushing, shoving and waiting around while people walked past. The small streets of the NQ struggled to cope with the increase in numbers and it showed.
With the huge number of attendees at the August 2012 Street Party, another one was (naturally) scheduled for May 2013 and unfortunately this was the last ever (official) one.
It followed much the same setup as the ‘Takeover’ in August, including a repeat of the brilliant Dog Show which saw categories such as ‘Wiggliest Tail‘, ‘Best Dog‘ and ‘Best Bitch‘. I loved that bit.
Anyway, once again I attended and once again it was vastly over-subscribed and actually nowhere near as much fun as any of the previous ones.
Even looking back on it now with a pair of rose-tinted glasses on, I only seem to remember being annoyed at the amount of people there and leaving after an embarrassingly short period of time.
So, this was the last one. The last Northern Quarter Street Party. What happened to it? Well, I think by looking at the series of events in chronological order exposes just exactly the factors that led to its decline and subsequent cancellation.
Let’s have a look deeper…
By this point in the life of the Northern Quarter (as an area in Manchester), it was pretty much considered to be the most desirable place to own or rent a flat, operate a business or generally hang out.
The problem was, and many say still is, is that the area has diverged to become two separate entities – of which the Street Parties represented a huge scar that massively divided the two sides.
Back in the 80s and early 90s many of the residents of the city were a bit fed up with the city centre and its distinct lack of renovation and funding and moved out to the more impressive suburbs of Didsbury and Chorlton.
This movement, due to a severe lack of investment for years, left a vacuum in the city, one which caused rents to plummet in the ‘slum’ area of the Northern Quarter, in turn creating what many dubbed a ‘Bohemian Mecca‘ – an area filled with independent businesses, artists and creatives.
Then in the mid 90’s the city began a HUGE urban regeneration program (kickstarted by the IRA bomb) which massively increased the standard of living in the city, created thousands of jobs and grew the population exponentially over the years.
By this point, you’ve got the ‘original’ residents of the Northern Quarter, the ones who moved in when it was a shit hole, and those who see it as a residential area with rich heritage, and you’ve got the ‘newer’ residents of the Northern Quarter – the trendy new bars, restaurants and short-term renters who moved in later.
Whether things are as clear-cut as this is beyond my limited sociological knowledge, but I’d say that this is as simple as I can make the situation at the time – and, as many still argue, still to this day.
As a result, the Street Parties represented a clear invasion of the newer Northern Quarter into the realms of the old – closing off residential roads, creating too much noise and generally not adhering to the values in which the area was built.
There were just too many people, too much booze getting drunk on the streets and too much noise. They had to end. And end they did, with no sign of anyone even attempting to organise anything of the same scale ever since.
Of course, there have been many underground street parties organised in recent years, most noticeably on Record Store Day each year, but none of them have reached the sheer size, and audacity, of those original ones.
And I doubt any ever will again.