The AO Arena welcomed Andy Burnham and Blossoms today to celebrate the completion of its £50m redevelopment.
As the biggest indoor venue in the UK and one of the busiest in the world, the AO Arena is now working to even further elevate the guest experience, from start to finish.
Its huge investment has seen new features added like an increased standing floor capacity in the arena bowl itself, a brand new lower concourse bar area with capacity for 6,000 (plus new bars in the main concourse), and new entrances to make getting in and out of the arena the quickest in Europe.
Then there is the crowning jewel at the AO Arena, its new bar and restaurant The Mezz, set to open in March, which will welcome a new partnership with chefs Simon Rogan MBE and Tom Barnes of soon-to-open Skof.
To mark its monumental redevelopment, the AO Arena invited Stockport legends Blossoms to place their hands in cement on the concourse, leaving their mark permanently on the city’s most iconic venue.
Blossoms said: “When the AO Arena opened again after Covid, we were the first band to play a gig here. We’re excited to celebrate the official topping out of the redevelopments and look forward to seeing what the future AO Arena has to offer.”
The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham was also in attendance to celebrate the landmark moment, speaking of all the shows he’s seen over the years (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Elbow all highlights, apparently).
The improvements to the venue aren’t just on a fan level either – work has also included a complete back of house overhaul including an artist green room, dressing rooms and crew facilities.
AO has also announced it is extending its naming rights partnership of the 21,000 capacity, 30-year-old venue all the way into 2030.
The AO Arena’s £50m transformation includes a new VIP entrance, a members only bar and restaurant, a brand new lower concourse, an improved focus on customer safety measures, and full wall wraps highlighting the venue’s iconic milestones.
On the concourse, there’ll be a brand new food and drink offering, including handcrafted burgers, salt and pepper chicken and accompanying vegan options including smash meat-free burgers with vegan smoked applewood and vegan loaded fries, as well as vegan bratwurst with sauerkraut in a vegan brioche bun topped with crispy onions and served with vegan chilli cheese sauce.
Over the years, the AO Arena has welcomed the biggest names in music and sport, such as Prince, Elton John, New Order, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Billie Eilish, Oasis, Dua Lipa and The Courteeners, plus of course Peter Kay’s record-breaking 50+ date residency (which is still ongoing, by the way…), and has also played host to The Commonwealth Games, The Davis Cup, boxing bouts with Mike Tyson, Anthony Joshua, Ricky Hatton and much more.
Visited by more than one million people each year, the AO Arena is promising this will be its best year yet, raising tens of thousands of pounds and giving hundreds of hours to local community projects.
And coming up this year alone there’ll be more Peter Kay Live, The 1975, Bill Bailey, Niall Horan, Ne-Yo, and plenty more to be announced.
Hello Cosmos wow Stockport on a night where the venue shone just as bright as the music
We had the pleasure of going along to see Hello Cosmos play a special one-off show at none other than St Mary’s Church in Stockport town centre on Friday night, just the gig the building has ever seen and given how incredible an experience it was, we hope there’ll be many more.
Picture the scene: it’s a frosty Foodie Friday night in Stockport with people wearing beer jackets and sharing hot street food to keep warm as the tunes ring around the marketplace; then you spot some light off in the background and notice the windows of the old town centre church glowing.
Not only was that our signal to get a move on, finish our scran and head over to the intimate gig, but it was also a beacon of light for other punters to go and check out as they looked for any excuse to come in from the cold.
And that’s pretty much how it happened. Our three-man party was full of SK natives who wanted to see what it would be like to have a church we grew up with turned into a gig venue, so we were always on board, but plenty of other locals had the pleasure of simply stumbling upon tickets at the door.
We don’t think we’d be putting words in their mouths to say they will have been glad they did, as within a few seconds of walking into the oldest parish church in Stockport, we had never seen the already ornate and historical site look so stunning.
This wasn’t just a case of plonking some speakers and some drums near the altar like some half-arsed church fête, the roof, windows, pillars and various arches were all lit up by various multi-coloured projectors and strobes and it all felt pretty surreal.
If you’ve ever watched any kind of performance at Manchester Cathedral or a similar venue, you’ll know this kind of set-up is nothing new per se, but it did feel like something different for Stockport, especially when one of our party’s last memories was standing at the pulpit to read the Christmas story.
Then the music kicked off and we have to start by saying we were pretty impressed by the two support acts, Fondabath — fellow Stopfordians who were probably just as surprised to be in St Mary’s as we were — and Big Society, also local lads, both of which gave plenty of reason to go away and listen to more.
Then came the main event, Hello Cosmos, spearheaded by frontman and bass player Ben Robinson, who along with his jumpsuited bandmates wasted no time in transporting the crowd to what felt like a little pocket of space in some alternate reality.
Having had a few drinks and being given kaleidoscope glasses on arrival certainly helped, but it really was a truly audio-visual experience, from the various coloured jumpsuits and neon hula-hooping to the truly mesmerising light show that lit up the church throughout the set.
It all felt rather fittingly though when you take into account that Robinson is not just a musician but the founder of both Kendal Calling and bluedot Festival — I mean, even their sophomore album Golden Dirt has a glowing spaceman walking through a sea of sunflowers.
If you’ve never heard them before, think post-punk spoken word and almost Yard Act vibes, only if Christopher Ecclestone was on vocals instead. But their sound is truly sprawling, with ‘Fuse’ from their debut record giving the harder-hitting sounds and ‘Loud is Beautiful’ showing how they best intertwine electronics, keys and those oh-so-good horns from sax player Elara.
Be it jumping up and down in unison as the electric violinist played or Ben dropping to his knees to scream his head off, hopping off stage to walk around the crowd with a megaphone or releasing a sea of balloons from above for the big finish, this ‘Live at St Mary’s’ one-off special had a bit of everything.
It went from a little gig on a random winter evening in Stockport to an unforgettable one that SK-born gig-goers like us never thought we’d see in this particular borough of Greater Manchester whose culture and music scene are clearly thriving.
We really hope this is among the first of many — Hello Cosmos helped make it a success and we can seriously see the Live at St Mary’s series taking off if it continues to get the backing.