Escape From Old Trafford

I once had the enormous pleasure of meeting the director John Carpenter at the National Film Theatre, where he’d presented a lecture on his idol, Howard Hawks. I pointed out that he’d paid homage to Hawks’ westerns (Assault on Precinct 13) and science fiction (The Thing), but never tried his hand at a ‘screwball’ comedy. He joked that he might do just that, but with only two movie credits this century (2001’s lacklustre Ghosts of Mars and 2010’s barely-released The Ward), it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him in Bringing Up Baby mode.

In any case, Mr Carpenter is now pursuing a different path, albeit one which feeds on his parallel career as a soundtrack composer: rock star. Which is why Saturday evening found me at the Victoria Warehouse, a short distance from Manchester United FC’s home ground. The European leg of his Release the Bats tour had originally included two nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall, but a switch in promoters precipitated a conflation of both events into one venue, a massive concrete box with all the ambience of a multi-storey car park (and comparable acoustics, according to some who ended up standing at the back). A makeshift sign near the entrance alluded to Escape From New York, but the building itself was a far more convincing nod to that movie.

Doors opened at 6:30pm, and most of the 4,000 ticket-holders seemed to have made their way inside by 7pm, but other than a couple of technicians, the stage remained empty until 8:30pm. Luckily, I’d managed to finesse my way into the balcony area, which offered very limited seating, but the vast majority who’d expected to watch the concert in relative comfort were instead forced to stand for three hours with a restricted — or non-existent — view of the 75-minute set.

The sole saving grace was the performance by Mr Carpenter and his band, which was excellent, although the balcony may have been the only place where it could be properly enjoyed. In amongst the instantly recognisable Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China et al, we were treated to tracks from his two volumes of Lost Themes, belted out in a mesh of synthesiser and heavy guitar.

So, great gig, lousy location. To quote Beth Abbit’s review in the Manchester Evening News, “It’s disappointing that this highly anticipated opportunity to see a hugely iconic movie man at work was hampered by an unsuitable alternative choice of venue.”

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Please note that whilst I welcome comments, you accept full responsibility for the accuracy of any statements made. All views are your own.

13 Replies to “Escape From Old Trafford”

  1. Completely agree Steve. Magical concert but lousy venue. I dread to think what would have happened if a fire had broke out.

    1. Mass panic, I would assume, with a high likelihood of fatalities. I can’t recall seeing any signage for emergency exits, which is extremely worrying.

      Meanwhile, the Victoria Warehouse management has apparently pulled the event’s Facebook page. Great public relations tactic.

      1. There were clearly marked emergency exits – I made sure I was near one just in case after seeing what I had entered into!

        1. I can’t recall seeing any signage on the second storey, nor any way of getting downstairs other than via the narrow concrete staircase. Another reason for concern, given that this was where the only seating was provided, for those with mobility issues.

          Although I doubt the Victoria Warehouse management will want to make such a gesture, some form of refund — partial or full — does seem warranted. The original £25 tickets were sold on the basis that concertgoers would get a seat in a warm theatre in the centre of the city, not spend more than three hours standing in a draughty concrete shell on the outskirts (next to a major football stadium where the team was playing at home that afternoon). There was no reason to switch from the Albert Hall other than to maximise profit by using a site the new promoters owned, which displays a total lack of concern for their customers (ditto the decision to close the Victoria Warehouse car park).

    1. As my old friend David Flint has commented elsewhere, it’s likely John Carpenter will unfortunately — and also certainly unfairly — inherit some of the blame for Saturday night’s shambles. A great deal of goodwill could be earned if he came out publicly and urged the Victoria Warehouse to make some kind of apology, preferably coupled with a monetary gesture.

  2. Can’t speak for the Manchester gig and sounds like a terrible experience for those who went but the gig at Coventry was one of the best I’ve seen.

    Nothing annoys me more than going to a gig and not being able to see and fortunately the setting was perfect for an evening with the master. I’ll have the full review of the gig up in the next couple of days but have to say it’s sad to hear the experience many had with what was at the time a limited chance to see a legend perform.

    1. Unfortunately, Martyn, Mr Carpenter’s appearance at the Warwick Arts Centre was only announced after my friends and I had already booked tickets for Manchester — particularly irritating given that the former venue is less than 20 miles away and the latter more than 100.

      I look forward to reading your review at BloodGuts UK Horror.

  3. Despite appearances, apparently the Victoria Warehouse is a purpose built concert venue.
    (PJ Harvey was playing there last night, i believe). It isn’t a seated venue, and that should have been made clear on tickets/promotional material when the event was rescheduled, with the offer of a refund if the new arrangements were not what you had in mind.
    Thing is, if you live in Manchester, and go to gigs, you probably know the place anyway.
    Just like you’d know to get there 2 hours before the gig, when the doors opened, if you wanted to get near the stage. Which is exactly why all those people were there before us.
    An’ i doubt Carpenter is terribly aware of the venue/evenings shortcomings : yes, the venue sold too many tickets and if you got there later than we did, never mind a seat , apparently you couldn’t even get in to the hall and see the stage. The atmosphere, however, was fantastic, the gig was brilliant and went down a storm, and Carpenter was greeted with the affection and enthusiasm usually reserved for rock stars, not 68 year old horror movie directors.
    Literally, from where he was standing, it couldn’t have gone better.
    Yes, there undoubtedly were disgruntled punters, but they are almost certainly a minority.
    I didn’t spot anyone moaning about it on the way out. They looked & sounded pretty happy to me.
    An’ if anyone wanted to take issue or get a refund, their beef was with the Victoria Warehouse.
    To end with a positive observation, i was pleased to note the majority of the audience were clearly much younger than us, and genuine fans, despite obviously only knowing his filmography through home viewing. So much for the Hollywood wisdom that kids aren’t interested in stuff older than they are.

    1. I agree with most of the above, Ray, but a few points do merit a response.

      “Apparently the Victoria Warehouse is a purpose built concert venue.” Actually, it’s a converted warehouse (the clue’s in the name), dating back to the 1930s and better known as a venue for exhibitions and trade fairs. PJ Harvey is due there on Thursday, with “garage rock” band Catfish & the Bottlemen scheduled next week, but I don’t get the impression it’d be all that familiar a haunt for music fans.

      “Just like you’d know to get there 2 hours before the gig.” Seeing as the actual curtain-up wasn’t publicised by the promoters, that wouldn’t really have helped. Indeed, the security guy I asked had been told the band was due on at 9pm, so it could have been far worse.

      “There undoubtedly were disgruntled punters, but they are almost certainly a minority. [..] An’ if anyone wanted to take issue or get a refund, their beef was with the Victoria Warehouse.” One of the door staff told me they were expecting 4,000 people, so even a small percentage soon adds up. As for the venue’s shortcomings, the Victoria Warehouse is owned by the very people who took over that leg of the tour from ATP, so they could hardly have been unaware of its unsuitability. At present, however, it appears they’ve decided to drop off the grid in the hope that this will blow over.

  4. Victoria Warehouse, along with the shows promoter have given us a masterclass in how to destroy your own repuation.

    Word on the street is that they’re all hiding in the cellar.

    1. According to the advertising, Saturday’s gig was “A Manchester Victoria Warehouse presentation in association with United Talent Agency”.

      The latter is one of the largest such organisations in the world, with a client roster includeing Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Coen Brothers — and, presumably, Mr Carpenter.

      The former is the company which owns the 1930s warehouse complex pressed into service as a concert venue, which is no doubt why the promoters chose to switch from the Albert Hall. Do you think they have the theme from Assault on Precinct 13 playing on repeat whilst they hide in their bunker until the dust settles?

  5. Apparently, the Victoria Warehouse management posted a statement on its Facebook account, then pulled it. This is the one relating to Thursday’s PJ Harvey concert, exactly as posted the following day:

    “On the evening of 3rd November, Victoria Warehouse was pleased to hold the PJ Harvey live gig. We have since received feedback from some patrons, that they were not satisfied with their experience at the event and would like to address this.

    “Firstly, the Victoria Warehouse takes its licensing conditions very seriously and approaches each event with these firmly in mind. In response to suggestions that this event was ‘oversold’, we would like to clarify that ticket sales were within our licensed capacity and the promoter was working strictly to our guidelines in this area. The safety of our customers and staff is always our main concern. The issues that have been flagged up are operational ones.

    “Although this was a very popular gig, there was in fact room for all ticket holders, with space available towards the middle and the front of the crowd. This has been confirmed by feedback from patrons situated in these areas. However, because there was no support act, there was little movement once people had found some space to wait in. The Victoria Warehouse loads from the rear, which meant that as more people arrived and the initial crowds remained static, there was a concertina effect that lead to a very busy area towards the rear bar. Those caught up in this have understandably interpreted it as ‘overselling’ of the event. We sent response teams into the crowd to try to move people forwards but with little success.

    “All here at the Victoria Warehouse are extremely disappointed to hear that these issues negatively affected some people’s enjoyment of the event. We plan to analyse all feedback and take further steps to evaluate all future shows, to ensure that these operational issues are avoided.”

    Still no explanation why the Carpenter event was switched from the Albert Hall — a fully seated venue in the heart of Manchester — to a chilly concrete shell in the middle of nowhere.

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