It’s a slow afternoon in the Royal Exchange Theatre with Jay Taylor, the former Ruby Lounge promoter who is moving on from his role in defining what we now know as the Northern Quarter.

We chatted about the old days, some days and new days, the fate of the world and photography, beginning with those pivotal years and the advent of punk rock in Manchester and the legacy it left. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember those days and Jay was young enough to have not been involved in punk, but was still aware enough in his tender years to remember how dangerous and ‘frightening’ it all was. Jay was a glam rock kid and that was a neat link, as the more astute glam rockers like Marc Bolan saw the upstart new bands’ potential and gave them slots on his TV show. Bands like The Damned had enlightened the young lad with a music background to what was going to happen, if only he knew.

Jay Taylor performing with Bonebox_photo by Ged Camera

Jay Taylor performing with Bonebox_photo by Ged Camera

Manchester in the 70s was a dark, frightening place, with live music venues closed by the police and wasteland all over. Somehow a scene began and some of the survivors talk of an almost guerrilla gig operation at the time. Little venues sprang up and the punk ethic prevailed. This was not a pale imitation of the fashion-conscious London punk scene, but a last desperate act from a forgotten city, a place that was inspired by bands who had no commercial value yet inspired a generation.

Jay found himself making more trips into Manchester from his native Stockport to check out the growing scene. He was already alerted to the new potential and keen to get involved. As Steve Diggle said at the time, nobody could afford the bondage pants the Pistols wore, so they descended on Afflecks Palace for bootlegs and army jackets. Afflecks was more of what you might call a hippy scene then and was subsequently easier going and, just like the Corn Exchange, a buzzing network where people with burning ideas could meet. A heady world of potential.

I first met Jay a few years ago at a Musicians’ Union meeting. What interested me was that he was talking on behalf of promoters, so often the natural enemy of musicians, and in a way that meant we could work in partnership to make venues better places for musicians. With this in mind, I started with asking him about how he was initially involved in the music scene on Oldham Street and how he watched the live music scene evolve from there.

“I started at Night and Day in 2002. Dry had just started and of course there was Afflecks.” Other than that, Oldham Street was a rather tired prospect – boarded up shops, the Castle a bikers’ flop house, Gullivers shoplifters central, Top Yates’s became the Frog and Bucket, and the Band on the Wall on its last legs. While I suggest that Dry was a mess, Jay recalls having good relations with them, that it was much maligned and should really be lauded along with Night and Day: “They should be credited with making the area cool in the first place.”

We move on to other key venues that were beginning to start up, like one of my favourites, The Roadhouse. “It was a crazy little basement,” Taylor says. “Everyone was saying, ‘Let’s go to Dry’ and I was saying, ‘No, you have got to check this place out’.” He was right, it was one of the coolest rock’n’roll bunkers you will ever see. I saw Elbow in there and they stank.

The Ruby Lounge’s pedigree is a matter of record and the gig list is a testament to its and Jay’s commitment to a great live music venue in Manchester, untainted by the corporate machine that has taken over other venues.

He is certainly a man of Manchester. I ask how he perceives the Northern Quarter now and whether it’s still possible to work there. “The spirit that made The Roadhouse is done now,” he says. But could anyone start anything in that area, like microbreweries, which seem to be a positive influence that’s actually re-opening pubs?

“Yeah, hats off to the microbreweries. The greedy breweries haven’t changed with the times. Certainly the big breweries have had it all their own way for too long. They don’t pay the PRS [Performing Rights Society].” For those who don’t know, the PRS collect royalties on behalf of artists large and small, providing a valuable income stream for professional musicians.

As an example of foul treatment by the big breweries, I cite Gareth Kavanagh at the Lass O’Gowrie. “I admire him,” Taylor says. “He did remarkable work there, totally original. He created something despite the BBC and UMIST leaving the area.” The Lass O’Gowrie staged full productions of Coronation Street in the pub with the original trumpeter playing the theme tune and Maureen Lipman, widow of Corrie writer Jack Rosenthal, turning up to give it her blessing. Now everyone is doing it. Gareth was dumped by Greene King Brewery despite winning the Pub of the Year Award, founding the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival and championing real ale. Greene King claimed it was the pub that won the accolades, not Gareth. Jay recalls that Greene King “robbed all of the personality out of his work. A pox on these people. I hope the place is empty. A pox on them being thick. I am duty bound not to go in.”

Given the current climate in the Northern Quarter, is that a reason for him moving on? “That neighbourhood is done now. Legislation, the council and the mad demands of residents, the rents… No.” But you won’t stop doing what you’ve always done? “Don’t really know. I left quietly out of the back door.” There must have been a point when you thought a change was going to come? “When my daughter was born in hospital, and after an hour or so I hacked into the hospital WiFi and started answering emails,” he says. “It was relentless, losing control over the volume of work, not letting go because you want it to be right.” That must have been fearsome, this incredible and beautiful event and trying to work projects. Is that when you said no? “It was nice to take a deep breath, not to be that idiot answering emails.”

Jay Taylor performing with Bonebox_photo by Ged Camera

Jay Taylor performing with Bonebox_photo by Ged Camera

I recall the Musicians’ Union meeting, and while mutually understanding their important role in today’s musical world, we cannot fail to drift onto the subject of Jeremy Corbyn. Jay smiles and mentions Momentum: “We aren’t allowed to mention that any more, are we?”

I guess it depends on what bar you’re in. “Jeremy should do some more mudslinging and sticking the boot into May, kick these evil people out of power.” That I go with. As the ugly subject of politics has come up, I ask Jay if he would consider running for office? He smiles, “I’m not bright enough.”

But you are capable and do have a connection to the biggest political party in Europe? If the Leave EU voters are to be countered, we do need all the voices we can get in that debate. “I know. I’m talking to tour managers who are already saying their tour budgets are going to shit and upcoming tours are uncertain.” We live in nervous times. Notwithstanding the potential harm that limiting students coming to British universities will have, not just on their funding, but also on the live music scene in Manchester, which is one of the key reasons students come to Manchester.

As we wrap up, I wonder what Jay will do for relaxation. He’s been doing some work with the White Hotel in Salford, where it’s all new and a bit of a secret and subsequently engaging. Getting back to the politics, Jay tells me, “I will be in America on 8 November, supporting my American friends.” Will he report back from the grand circus that their election has become? Somehow I think that something as seismic as that will be irresistible to a cultural vagabond like Jay.

Photos inset by Ged Camera.

Dave Jones