Mr Scruff’s Guide to the 2024 Manchester Jazz Festival

There's everything from Italo-disco to Persian punk-funk...

By Ben Arnold | 16 May 2024

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(Credit: Eilon Paz)

The Manchester Jazz Festival kicks off today, with gigs at venues all over the city – many of them free to attend – from the Band On The Wall to a whole ‘jazz village’ set-up at First Street.

So who better to guide us through the best stuff to do this year that the legendary Mr Scruff…

“Whether you want a little jazz club thing like Matt & Phred’s, or you want a proper concert venue, or you just want to go and have a drink outside, have a slice of pizza and check something out and meet some mates, there’s loads of ways to engage in the festival.

“Many acts I’d not heard of, or heard of but not heard, so for me, it’s a huge opportunity to try some new stuff. 

“The word ‘jazz’ is quite loaded. Everyone thinks about it in a different way. Post-Fast Show, there was some ridicule directed at it. But also there’s a really new and exciting generation, not just in the UK but from all over the world, that are almost de-intellectualising it, so it’s not just some chin-strokey thing.

“It’s reconnecting jazz to its very physical roots. Because 100 years ago, it was dance music… there are so many amazing individual artists and scenes, and I love all of it.”

Séance + Testament & Matthew Bourne

16 May, Deaf Institute (Get tickets)

“Testament has been around for years! I first knew about him via his hip hop recordings for First Word records, and then delved into his spoken word and theatre works. Matthew Bourne is a great improviser, so this is bound to be a musical feast. Leeds collective Better Songs, who are putting the show on, are new to me, but I am intrigued by their approach, and the concept for this opening performance. That is the joy of a festival… the new and the familiar.”

Secret Night Gang

Secret Night Gang

17 May, First Street Main Stage (Free, no tickets needed)

“Secret Night Gang have been around for a few years now, and they’re a great mix of old and new school Manchester music heads who always put on an amazing show. [SNG vocalist] Kemani Anderson also has a solo set at the festival too.”

Amy Gadiaga Quintet

18 May, First Street Main Stage (Free, no tickets needed)

“There are bold, classic and forward-thinking styles coming from this amazing double bassist and vocalist. She draws from a deep well of music and makes it her own.”

Hodan Jahanpour & Pedraum Agahi

18 May, First Street Ask Garden Stage (Free, no tickets needed)

“Beautifully nimble and soulful versions of traditional Persian tunes played on cello and guitar. I love music that combines people’s personal histories with the music that they love, and in this case it is magical.”

A Hologram Maze

A Hologram Maze

18 May, First Street Main Stage (Free, no tickets needed)

“I’d not heard of these before, but the video on the MJF website was enough to convince me. A band with crazy telepathy who really enjoy the music.”

Nubiyan Twist

23 May, Band On The Wall (Get tickets)

“They make really fun, energetic and approachable music, it’s kind of catchy and deep at the same time. A real call to dance. Jazz is very physical music, and for me it’s all about call and response, dancefloor energy and celebration. Band On The Wall is great for these kind of hyped up events.”

Nu Genea

Keep It Unreal with Mr Scruff, Nu Genea (DJ & keys set) and Me Gusta

24 May, Band On The Wall (Get tickets)

“They rarely play in the UK, and I don’t think they’ve played north of the Midlands. It’s taken about two years to get this show together, so the timing, tying it up with the jazz festival, is perfect. You can tell they’re proper record nerds, but it’s still all really approachable. In terms of the excitement of a live performance that keeps pulling it back to the influences, that ticks a lot of boxes for me. I’ve seen them live in Italy, and it’s ridiculous.”


25 May, Band On The Wall (Get tickets)

“They’re a Parisian Arabic jazz rock group who go all over the place from delicate and sparse to full on psychedelic moshpit buisiness. In this country, because of our colonial connections, we don’t have as much of a connection with Arabic music culture as say people do in France. So I’m always interested in the re-issues of Middle Eastern and Levantine music that have come along in recent years. This band is mega-dynamic; slow, spacey and soulful at times, then sometimes like some punk-disco. A lot of Arabic music is like proper party music, and I like a band that can take you through these twists and turns.”

Black Hudu

25 May, Band On The Wall Bar (Free)

“They’re a Huddersfield DJ crew who play a wide range of foundation tunes from deep house and roots to soul. The kind of styles that resonate with heads of all generations. They represent where jazz music comes from, and give it proper context. I think the DJ part of any music festival is incredibly important. They can celebrate a broad range of jazz, bring these artefacts to life and rub them up against things you might not expect.”

John Surman

25 May, RNCM Theatre (Get tickets)

“I love John’s music. It has this kind of elemental grace that is kind of monumental and delicate at the same time. I loved his last gig at the RNCM, the love and respect for him in the room was tangible. His new LP is fantastic, and to hear him play it at MJF is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Courtney Pine

Courtney Pine

26 May, Band On The Wall (Get tickets)

“Hearing his Journey To The Urge Within LP in 1986 opened my ears to jazz, and his Closer To Home LP a few years later shone a light on the rich history of Jamaican jazz. I remember seeing him on telly, aged 14, and I just thought ‘what is that?!’ It caught me, and showed me that jazz is vital. It opened the door. He underlines stuff you already know but haven’t acknowledged enough. I always appreciate artists who make bold statements that elevate their own artform and push things forward, bringing in a new generation of players and listeners.”