Salford’s forgotten music hall that hosted Paul McCartney, U2, Blondie and a legendary Smiths concert

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It was a Friday afternoon in February 1972 and Robert Conway was sitting in his office at the University of Salford.

A man knocked on the door and asked if Robert, the university’s entertainment manager, could organize a concert that evening, adding almost after the fact that the number was Paul McCartney’s new band Wings. In fact, the man said, the former Beatle was sitting outside in a van at the moment, if you’d like to meet him.

“I came out and there was a white van and there was Paul, Linda McCartney, a couple kids and their dogs,” Robert said.

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“They had been sent from the University of Manchester, who didn’t want to put them on. They said ‘We want to play here tonight. Get as many people as you can. 50p a ticket, we’ll split it 25p for us, 25p for the student union and we’ll do a gig.” In the space of two or three hours, we managed to gather 600 people in this room.

The show, part of Wings’ famous impromptu college tour, is one of many legendary gigs to take place at Maxwell Hall, one of Greater Manchester’s most influential concert halls in the 1960s. 70 and 80.

Over the years, the venue has hosted artists like U2, Blondie, Joy Division, New Order and a concert by the Smiths, once hailed as one of the top 10 concerts of all time. But outside of music aficionados, Maxwell Hall has been largely forgotten.



Smiths 1986 concert at Maxwell Hall was named one of the 10 Greatest Concerts of All Time by Q Magazine

Now a new short film produced by the University of Salford and Salford Council examines its special place in Greater Manchester’s musical history. Peter Hook remembers being a regular at the venue, before finally playing there with Joy Division and New Order.

“It was one of those weird things,” he said. “There were so many pubs on that stretch, it was a damn thriving place. Chapel Street and Regent Road, they were very, very important cultural areas.

“As Salford says, in that area, Maxwell Hall was the only place you could see decent bands because of the size of the venue. It was always somewhere as punk you aspired to, when we got there , we played it and it was a great concert. It attracted good people.

On Sunday, July 20, 1986, the Smiths gave a concert at Maxwell Hall that went down in the annals of pop history.

With the band at the height of their popularity – Panic was released the next day – around 700 die-hard fans packed into the venue for a show that Q Magazine later named as one of the top 10 concerts of all time.

“He was rammed to the gills with some really fiery Smiths followers,” former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce recalled in the film.



Maxwell Hall, circa 1970s

“I get goosebumps now talking about it. You felt it immediately, the whole thing. It was like ‘We’re home’. It was like a homecoming gig even though it wasn’t not our city.

“It was my favorite gig and actually I think it could be Johnny Marr’s as well. It all lined up and it was like ‘Yeah!’ That’s why I played drums in the first place , to live an experience like that.”

Memories of Maxwell Hall was released as part of a series of films celebrating popular culture in Salford. Other venues featured include the Salford Lads Club, Islington Mill and The Lowry.



A ticket to a 1985 New Order and Happy Mondays concert at Maxwell Hall

“It’s great to see some of the stories of Maxwell Hall’s past being shared, we are very proud of the role this building and indeed the whole university has played and continues to play in shaping Salford’s cultural landscape,” said said Tim France, Salford. University Director of Performance, Music, English and Dance.

“The city has always been a hub of creativity as well as inventive and technological advancement. We continue to be committed to nurturing talent as more and more students choose the University of Salford to help them develop their artistic identity and to contribute to the cultural history of Salford.”

Culture Made in Salford films can be viewed here.

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