For a few weeks now, The Sanctuary in Didsbury Village has been turning itself into a jazz venue on Sunday nights. I headed down on September 28th to catch Orli Nyles and her ensemble performing live - and to enjoy a pint or two in what has become my favourite local haunt.
The Sanctuary seems to be all things to all people. In the week it's a haven from work for a quick lunch, a relaxing spot for an after-work drink or the place for mid-afternoon coffee. On Fridays and Saturdays, late opening and a party atmosphere turn it into one of Didsbury's busiest venues. Now Sunday nights have been given a new look with live jazz that has the place packed week after week.
On my visit, The Sanctuary was as busy as I've seen it. I arrived just before 7pm, about halfway through the scheduled live music and just in time to catch the end of Orli Nyles' first set. On what was clearly a busy night, I was served quickly and made to feel welcome - there were enough bar staff to spend a few minutes chatting and I was able to find a clean and cleared table with a sofa, despite the number of people there.
Orli Nyles is not always performing - the acts change week by week, under the careful eye of local musician Sara Dowling. Orli is, however, a stand-out talent, with a voice capable of carrying both the energy of the 'up' tracks and the fragility and vulnerability of the ballads.
This is not an acoustic venue by any means - expect instruments plugged directly into amps, not carefully placed microphones to pick up the sound - but that did little to detract from the quartet's performance. Orli led the vocals and played keyboard, with Billy Buckley on guitar. Bassist Ollie Collins was secreted toward the back of the cleared corner of the bar which acted as an intimate and relaxed stage area, while drummer Dave Hassell ended the show with a solo played on his tie, a metal construction that sounded a little like he was playing the spoons.
A couple of caveats to what was a truly captivating performance - the playlist does veer a little from what purists might consider jazz, with tracks such as Knockin' on Heaven's Door adding a bluesy edge in places. But the general theme is there and the variety helps to showcase the talents of the singer and instrumentalists. In this case, I can't speak highly enough of Orli - from the first pure sustained note that hit me as I walked in, there were plenty of 'wow' moments delivered by her and her ensemble.
I've been a sort-of regular at The Sanctuary since the beginning of the year, not long after Sarah Knights took the reins and started putting her own unique stamp on the place. With Sarah at the helm, I've been served perfectly poured pints time after time and seen the menu develop to include more choice - get there before noon for breakfast, or later in the day for anything from a light bite to a full mixed grill. Specials made from locally sourced ingredients - including local butcher Axon's of Didsbury - are a common occurrence.
Sanctuary Bar Jazz Night seems to have really caught the imagination of the local crowd on Sundays, as much as the live DJs and disco atmosphere have done for the rest of the weekend. With the usual high standards of service, freshly cooked food and the live performance over by 8.30pm - including encore - it's the perfect excuse to push on through the weekend without suffering too much on Monday morning.
As for Orli Nyles and her troupe, I can only hope I'm lucky enough to find her performing the next time I head to The Sanctuary on a Sunday night, or elsewhere in Didsbury's ever-amazing artistic sub-culture.
The Sanctuary 0161 445 9130 653 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, M20 6QZ