Chapel Street, in Salford, doesn’t figure on many tourists’ itineraries. In fact, it may only be a 10-minute walk from Manchester city centre, but it isn’t somewhere that Mancunians tend to linger, either. Salford is (unfairly) seen by many as rough, tough and best avoided, and for years there was little to see here. Even now, you would struggle to identify this busy main road as the cradle of one of the north’s most exciting art scenes. Look beyond the abandoned buildings and demolition work, however, wander between the tower blocks and into the adjacent industrial estates, and you will find a remarkable network of artists’ studios, workshops and unusual gig venues.
Central to all this is Islington Mill. Over the past decade, Middleton-born Central St Martins graduate Bill Campbell has transformed its five storeys into a thriving creative community of some 80 people. There are all manner of artists working here, day and night, in myriad different spaces. Screenprinting workshop one69a, for instance, is a grimy, inky hive of energy and colour, while upstairs Soup Collective plans out music videos for Elbow and Doves in a relatively serene top-floor office.
For creative souls keen to dive in and make connections, Islington Mill’s B&B is a great place to stay. A split-level, open-plan space (Bill Campbell lives on the upper floor), it sleeps 10, six in a dorm, and four in two doubles, all en suite with individual access. Mainly used by visiting bands, artists and guest lecturers, the communal kitchen and lounge – artfully decorated with objects like driftwood sculptures and a huge glitterball – offers plenty of talking points should you be struggling for conversation over a late, bleary-eyed breakfast.
If you want to nose around, the Mill is pretty accommodating. There are weekly artists’ talks, screenings, a monthly Sunday market (tomorrow, a record fair) and also a fanzine library and two galleries, viewable by appointment. One gallery is an open workspace in which visiting artists create an exhibition from scratch. Chicago’s David Wojtowcyz will be on view through September. For the rest of the year, you can also visit Stratum, a site-specific installation by Susie MacMurray, who famously fills spaces (in this case an evocative, pigeon-dropping encrusted loft) with feathers.
The Mill’s big draw, however, is its performance art, gig and club space, which takes its cues from similar venues in Berlin. The beer is cheap, the curfew is late and the sense of ad hoc, DIY creativity is palpable. The Mill’s most famous homegrown act are electro-pop duo the Ting Tings, but, in any given week, its events space might play host to anything from a night of peerless Detroit techno, at clubnight Bohemian Grove, to a gig by brutal doom metal merchants Boris.
Not that Islington Mill is Chapel Street’s only events space. Two local churches, St Philip’s and Sacred Trinity (2 Wilton Place and Chapel Street respectively, salfordchurch.org), are used as gig venues and the King’s Arms theatre-pub is another creative hotspot. Real ale pubs The Crescent (20 The Crescent, Salford, 0161-736 5600, thecrescentpub.com,) and The New Oxford (Bexley Square, Salford, 0161-832 7082, thenewoxford.com), and hush-hush bar, Corridor (6-8 Barlow’s Croft, 0161-832 6699, corridorbar.co.uk), are all good places for pre-gig drinks.
There are also occasional events at Chapel Street’s other creative hubs, such as printmaking studios Hot Bed Press (hotbedpress.org), Cow Lane Studios (cowlanestudios.com) and Suite (suite-studiogroup.co.uk) – all based at the Casket Works, on Cow Lane – and Manchester Artists Studio Association (masa-artists.com).
• James Street (islingtonmill.com). B&B: dorm, £15pp, doubles £45. To book call 07917 714369 or email [email protected]
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