For several years, the London Music Hall was difficult to find, with a modest entrance across a vast parking lot, tucked into a row of better known downtown buildings.
Today, it’s difficult to miss, as owner Mike Manuel continues chasing his dream of using live music to transform the entire downtown core. You can have your rapid-transit pipe dreams and let’s-all-cycle-to-work fantasies. My bet is on Manuel’s plan to reshape downtown London long before expensive infrastructure achieves the goal.
When he started 12 years ago, his goals were decidedly more modest. Back then, he was just trying to avoid the lure of turning his Rum Runners concert venue into a night club. With a capacity of 400, it sat empty most nights, including Fridays and Saturdays, waiting for indie bands and sharp-eyed promoters to book the space.
Manuel’s determination paid off within a couple of years. Bands found his place and loved the way he ran it. So he expanded for first of many times, creating the initial version of the London Music Hall – a slightly claustrophobic hall that could hold 700 on their feet. Claustrophobic or not, it was such a hit that three years ago, he spent $1-million to completely reinvent the place. It now features two levels, sky-high ceilings, a killer sound and light set-up, along with room for 1,900 standing or 650 sitting. It is the best concert venue of its size in the city, and it’s busy all the time.
As you can read about in this month’s Business London cover story, Manuel’s most recent move was to buy the iconic Nash Jewellers building, directly east of him. Plenty of folks breathed a sigh of relief when the building wasn’t Farhi’d – i.e., snapped up and mothballed, waiting for a tenant who never materializes.
Rather, Manuel leapt at the chance to buy the building and is in the process of transforming it into a variety of venues. There’s an intimate performance space that will hold about 100. There’s a second floor yet to be developed that is likely to be a teaching space and music incubator of some kind.
And, most prominently, there is the Jack Richardson Music Hall of Fame, a signature venue that will celebrate the city’s musical heritage and become the physical home for the music awards of the same name that have been given out for the last 12 years. “This is a tremendous opportunity,” says Mario Circelli, the ball of energy who founded the awards after several decades playing music, producing music and making films in London. He can’t wait to unveil the museum, possibly in November.
That the Nash expansion is the logical next step for Manuel doesn’t mean it was an obvious one. He could very easily have passed on the project and continued running his very successful venue. But his dream is to bring live music to downtown London, creating something like visitors to Nashville or Austin come home raving about – live music all over the place, tucked into corners of the city, surprising and delighting visitors and locals alike. When it happens, the city will have Mike Manuel to thank.