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This place rocks!
Evening News Arena
Member Name: NomadSue
Evening News Arena
Advantages: An amazing, central venue for fantastic events
Disadvantages: Maybe not posh enough for some.
The MEN Arena
This place rocks! If you want to visit a concert venue with plush seats and bow-tied ushers, then don't come here. If you want a concert venue where you go dressed up in your finest togs, then don't come here. But if you want a venue that, when full, echoes with the vibrations of fantastic music and excited, appreciative fans, then come to the Manchester Evening News Arena.
The MEN Arena opens up onto Victoria Station, Manchester and is within easy walking distance of Piccadilly Station. There is also a metro link tram stop at Victoria Station, linking the venue to Bury, the city centre, Altrincham and Eccles. The Arena has a massive, 900 capacity car park of its own, as well as being just decameters away from several smaller car parks. Thus the Arena is easy to access by road or rail.
Chatting to other concert goers at various events, I've realised that people travel long distances to attend events here, so the place must be doing something right with its publicity of events!
What is the MEN Arena?
Opened in 1985 as part of the unsuccessful bid by Manchester to host the 2000 summer Olympics games, the arena was purpose-built to host a wide variety of events. Inside, the building reminds me of a football pitch. It is oval in shape and, when used to full capacity, provides 360° seating for both sporting and musical events. It has an impressive maximum capacity of 23,000, which, when filled with ardent rock fans, makes the very rafters shake with the joyous vibrations of amazing music.
Every event that I have attended at this arena has been a musical one, so this must inevitable be reflected in my review. But there have been a wide variety of sporting events here as well.
There are three main entrances to the Arena, making entry and egress relatively painless procedures. Each set of doors actually has multiple doors to enable rapid entry / exit of fans.
The venue is relatively unusual because it has both an upper tier and a lower tier all the way round the arena. The upper tier seats are not, however, for those of a faint heart. I've known people to leave because of the severe vertigo experienced by those sitting at the highest levels. It is true, a mini parachute could provide a very nifty way to leave these levels quickly and easily! There is also flexible ground floor seating, which can be removed if the event requires this.
The seating varies according to the show being hosted. If it is a concert that allows standing tickets, such as the many big rock concerts that take place here, the floor seating is removed completely, allowing the many fans plenty of dancing room nearer the back, or the chance to get remarkably close to their idols. I, for one, was just a couple of metres away from the stage when Queen performed there a few years ago, sadly with just the video company of Freddie Mercury. But to be so close to Brain May was really quite an experience!
Other concerts, such as the Shania Twain concert in 2004, require a different layout, such as the central, circular stage, used to maximise the view for the many thousands of fans. Wherever you sat / stood at that concert, you received a great view of all the action on stage.
The really 'big guys' who perform there have an end stage layout, with seats behind the stage being used as well as round the arena. The use of additional tv screens at some events, such as when Eric Clapton performed, enable every action of the key performers to be seen easily by those seated further away from the stage. Personally, I take a small pair of binoculars if my seat is a long way from the stage, as can happen at popular events.
On occasion, for example when Status Quo performed there quite a long time ago, just half of the arena is utilised, the stage being pulled forward and the area behind the stage being screened off by large black curtains.
On entry, all small bags are searched and small bottles of water / food must be consumed before entry or they will be confiscated. This is quite a common policy at concerts, linked to the licence of each particular venue. But if you happen to have a handy pocket or two...! Sometimes there may be a second check before you can enter the standing area. Any bottles of water found will be politely tipped into large plastic beakers, and the bottles confiscated. I guess a bottle of water could make quite a missile so fair enough. And a bottle of something less pleasant hurtling through the air would be really nasty.
Once inside, it is possible to access a large number of bars selling the usual range of drinks, and to carry your pints of whatever to your seats for consumption. This does have an unfortunate side effect of creating sticky floors at times, as drinks left on the floor can get knocked over in the excitement of the moment. So it is advisable to take a plastic bag to place your coat / possessions in, should you intend to leave them on the floor during the concert. I must admit that inwardly I do get annoyed by the Mexican wave that results from the need that so many music fans seem to have to stock up on more drinks, with the consequent extra visits to the loo. But one has to be tolerant or irritation would take away the pleasure of the concert.
Other reviews have criticised the toilets at this arena. All I can say is that, whilst they may not be very grand, the ladies toilets are adequate for the purpose, plentiful in number, and reasonably clean, with the necessary hand-washing facilities on tap (ho, ho!)
There are also special hospitality suites at the arena, which I have not entered so cannot comment about their quality.
There are small stores that sell merchandise linked to that particular concert. The stores are open as soon as the doors open, during the concert and also during the interval. But they are closed when it is 'turning out' time.
There are facilities to enable the disabled to access events here, though it would be wise to discuss your particular mobility needs with the box-office staff before purchasing any tickets.
Being the sort of virtuous non-smoker who would cheerfully attack smoking sinners with a water pistol, nevertheless I do feel some sympathy towards smokers who attend concerts / events here. There is no 'smoking area' anywhere in the building. What is worse, for smokers, is the fact the there is no option of re-entry if someone wants to go outside the building for a quick fix. Apparently this is largely because there is no obvious safe area near the arena that people could use.
The temperature inside the arena is always difficult to predict, so I usually take an extra layer in case the seats are too near to the huge air-conditioning fans. The seats are not particularly comfortable so I will confess, much to the amusement of someone searching my bag before allowing entry to some rock concert, that I take a small camping pillow in with me. Doesn't really go with the black tee shirt and denims, I know, but needs must!
Whichever concert I have been to there, I have felt safe and have had total confidence in the supervision by "the yellow jackets". And let's admit it, the hard rock fans can be a little daunting in appearance to the sweet little old lady that I am(!?!) It was hard not to feel a little apprehensive when waiting to go into the ACDC concert in 2009, for example. But, truthfully, the well 'ard looking fans were perfectly well-behaved. Any odd skirmish would have been sorted out quickly and sensibly.
(An aside, did you know that Peter Kay once worked as a yellow jacket? Apparently, during his recent prolonged residency, he entered the arena, and walked through the audience to the stage, sporting his "yellow jacket". )
There do appear to be plenty of emergency exits, though getting out through just the regular exits at the end of a concert can take a long time. I just hope there is never a fire there, though all emergency exits are clearly marked and one hopes that audience and staff would behave in a manner appropriate for a swift but orderly exit in case of such an emergency.
Over the years I have attended a wide range of concerts at this arena. At some, attendance has been quite disappointing, leading one to think that the promoters would have been wiser to use on of the many excellent alternative venues in Manchester, such as The Apollo, the Lowry Theatre or The Bridgewater Hall. One such event that springs to mind is when Andrea Bocelli performed. What a musical treat that was! But the place was half empty! I'll admit, with a certain amount of embarrassment, to having attended a Status Quo concert there, half the hall being in use and still the place was half empty. I queued since silly o'clock in the morning for tickets for the Paul McCartney concert, finally to be within yards of the box office when the announcement was made that all tickets had been sold...Shortly followed by, 'Would you like the first tickets for an extra show?" Well, I mean, is the Pope Catholic? So I was in the fortunate position of getting far better tickets for the second show that they had agreed to lay on. And what a show that was!
This ugly building, the MENArena, has brought tremendous pleasure to the people of Manchester and surrounding towns. We have been able to see many big names at what is possibly the best venue in the NW of England. The arena is easy to access, has reasonable though basic facilities, is in a fairly safe area of the city, and is well-supervised. Tickets for popular events sell like hot cakes so it is well worthwhile getting onto the mailing list, as this enables you to receive prior notice of events and the opportunity to purchase tickets before they are available to the general public. Ticket prices are not cheap. The big names such as Tina Turner or Madonna command big prices, and still sell out immediately.
In my opinion, this place is a real asset to the North West of England, and to the world of music.
Summary: A world - famous venue for sporting and musical events.
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