The Mannville Arms was without a doubt my most favourite pub/venue in Bradford and was very much a cornerstone of my youth. It was the first place I truly felt at home and I met many lifelong friends in there. It was about 1992 when I first started frequenting the place. The landlord at the time was Bob McQuade. He was a lovely fella but he didn’t take any nonsense and kept all of us (very young at the time) rockers in check.
In the early 90s, The Mannville was a pub with a great jukebox and an amazing atmosphere. No DJs or live bands. It didn’t need it. People would travel from miles around to have a night out in Bradford and it wasn’t unusual to see coach trips on a regular basis. The pub played host to many different types of people from rockers, punks, heavy metal fans, goths, indie kids, students, bikers and even the odd pensioner who loved the atmosphere. I still remember old Ted who used to sit in the Tap room watching TV all day every day chewing on half a pint of Tetleys for hours on end.
In 1995, Tetley brewery decided in their wisdom to change the pub entirely and re-brand it as one of their Scruffy Murphy’s chain of Irish theme bars. Despite being presented with a petition of 1500 strong, the refurb went ahead and killed off everything we loved about the place. It would never be quite the same again. Over the next 12 years, the pub changed hands through various pub cos and breweries and changed its name to The Head. It was a fairly generic student bar, which was OK but it lacked the culture of its glory days.
In 2007 Steve, the guy who was running the place started playing rock music again in there for the first time in years and a guy called Mick Dunn was working behind the bar. We all got chatting about days gone by and how much we used to love the place. Mick got the bug and decided to buy the lease for the place along with his brother Billy. Within 6 months or so, it was renamed back to The Mannville Arms and hosted regular live bands and DJs. The jukebox was also back and the atmosphere, although not quite the same as before, was brilliant.
I became involved initially as a DJ, doing a monthly Friday slot as well as other bits and bats. In May 2008, I organised my first all day event called “May the 4th be with you” and was a charity event in aid of a local drama group with learning difficulties called “The Seedlings”. In August 2008, my friend Tom, who organised the gigs had decided to leave the pub and so I became in charge of the full entertainment roster. We had been itching for somewhere new to play in Bradford for some time so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I became quite literally obsessed. I lived and breathed The Mannville and spent every waking moment making things happen for it. I amassed quite a list of contacts and had bands from all over the country falling over each other to play. It was quite remarkable really considering we were a fairly small venue with not much more than a vocal PA. However, when it worked, the atmosphere really was very special. We had bands from many genres from the sublime to the ridiculous and almost always original material. We tried to aim for a “something different every time” approach. It was heartwarming to see people regularly turn up to see what we had on each week.
In May 2009, an old friend of mine passed away. His name was Stan and was well known and loved around town. He was an old aged pensioner who could literally out-party all of us. In his final days, we chatted about getting an all-dayer together so he could watch his favourite bands from over the years for one last time. Some of them had not played together for quite some time but reformed in a breath as soon as they got wind. He was such a popular man. The event was called Stanfest and was an event to raise money for Manorlands, which was the hospice where he spent many of his final days. Stan sadly passed away on the day of the event so never got to be there. This made the day all the more poignant. There were unprecedented crowds through the door on that day, streaming in to celebrate the life of Stan. He really was quite a character and is still sorely missed.
The pub continued throughout the summer and into autumn until in October 2009, Mick and Billy’s tenure at The Mannville was terminated by the brewery. The reasons for this were many and varied and much went on behind the scenes which we never knew about. I was absolutely devastated and I felt like my heart had been ripped out. We saw the pub out in style with one final big gig on halloween. This gig saw the reunion of Bradford doom band Chorus of Ruin, who’s contemporaries were the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema in the halcyon days of the West Yorkshire doom metal scene of the early 90s. Joining them were Officium Triste who traveled all the way from the Netherlands to play and local screamo band OpenFire opening up. It was a very noisy and very busy swansong.
The following week, we took the operation across town to a venue called The Zuu Bar. We assumed that the Mannville was to close down for good.
A couple of months later, The Mannville underwent a refurbishment and reopened. The new leaseholders were a young couple called Steve and Jade, who had both worked for the pub whilst we had been there. After a confusing and shaky period for me, I started frequenting the place again but it was strange not to be involved.
Since Stanfest, many people had been asking me if there was to be a repeat of it the following year. I really was at odds with the idea for a while because I didn’t want to detract from the meaning of the event. After some persuading, I eventually conceded and put a bill together for Stanfest II. This was again to be held at The Mannville Arms. It was an awesome day but after that I decided that to try and do any further Stanfest events would be too contrived and disrespectful.
In the summer, The Mannville closed its doors for the final time never to return. On the site of the pub now is a corner shop/mini-market. On the rare occasion I walk past there now, I still feel an air of sadness but remember all of the awesome years I spent in there. I have even used the shop a couple of times, which was a very strange experience.
The once thriving Bradford University area nightlife has all but died and the many pubs and clubs I frequented around there in the 1990s have pretty much all long since disappeared.