The Scene Is Dead: Stagnation In Manchester Music?

Now for something  completely here at ‘Some Goals…’ – a dissertation about the Manchester music scene by our very own Dan Morehead. Enjoy!

Since the ascent of Oasis, the city has not produced anything properly comparable to them, or their musical forebears. To paraphrase Little Richard, perhaps Manchester got what a lot of people wanted but lost what it had. It remains a fine city in which to spend time, and for those moneyed enough, a great place to live. But where has the noise gone? (Cummins, 2010: 314)

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

                                       Manchester is a city synonymous with its music scene, through The Smiths, Joy Division, Happy Mondays and Oasis, these bands have become integrated into the cultural history of their home town. But therein lies the crux, after Oasis there has not been a band to break through and grab the scene as the next big thing, but is this because the music scene in Manchester is stagnating? Or perhaps simply experiencing a post-millennium barren spell of talent? This paper will explore the intricacies which have formulated the Manchester music scene over the decades and analyse the effect the growth in culture and wealth of the city has had. It is my belief that the advancement in living, cultural and monetary conditions has been somewhat responsible for the drought of breakthrough acts, coupled with the burden of the shadow looming over the new generation of bands, ‘will they been the one?’. An expectation such as this has long been an unnecessary pressure over any new Mancunian band, the history of the city has itself created a certain degree of – not necessarily originality – but personality.

Before we can discuss why there has been a lack of progression in musicality in recent years we must first understand the cultural identity Manchester imprinted upon it’s seminal artists. The Mancunian identity is a strong part of cultural upbringing, a pride (some may say brashness) to locality, although there was certainly no pride to be found in the conditions of the city during the last few decades.

Morrissey – Pre-punk Manchester was a calamitous period of history. The country was done for. Manchester was a maze of dirty streets. Street lighting was still a very dull yellow – none of the sharp white lights that are everywhere now. Violence was everywhere – and accepted. There was a spiritual darkness as well as a literal darkness; still lots of tramps in demob suits, record shops in murky buildings, city squares completely unlit, 70 per cent of the city centre buildings unused and everything revolving around the last bus home. It was still very visibly post-war, and very industrial-ugly, discoloured with the dirt of 100 years, a and rock was music was a swarm of misery. Because there was absolutely no money around everyone was in a mode of paralysis. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not (Robb, 2009: 36).

The Mancunian cultural identity has never been more prevalent than in the embodiment of Johnny Marr and Morrissey, two clashing personalities who would together create a legacy which is still followed worldwide to this day. Growing up on the streets of Stretford – a particularly rough suburb of Manchester, Morrisey’s experiences gave him a plethora of lyrics in which to express the atmosphere of violence which filled his daily life. In the opening track from the album Meat Is Murder – ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ – Morrissey wrote about his childhood education at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Secondary Modern.

Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless swines cemented minds. Sir leads the troops, jealous of youth, same old suit since 1962. He does the military two-step down the nape of my neck. I wanna go home, I don’t want to stay. Give up education as a bad mistake. Mid-week on the playing field, Sir thwacks you on the knees, knees you in the groin, elbow in the face, bruises bigger than dinner plates (Morrissey, 1984).

St Mary’s was infamous for it’s brutality and corporal punishment and in the lyrics it is clear the experiences drove Morrissey away from further education, despite his intelligence, and into expressing his experiences in an art form, bringing across the futility many teenagers were experiencing but were unable to confront.

Morrissey – It was like living through the war and people who lived through the war can never quite forget it. It was horrendous and encouraging and it developed the character. But it was tragic. Interesting to be entering teenagedom at that time but certainly not easy or affluent by any means. Everyone I knew was desperately poor (Brown, 2009: 51).


The City was suffering from it’s own depression, with violence and poverty rife throughout, a far cry to the modern hub it has become in just over ten years. The industrial revolution may have been started in Manchester, but post-war, conditions had not been kind to what was once a city at the pinnacle of modernism. The Buzzcocks’ manager, Richard Boon, spoke of the poverty ushered into the city in it’s post war depression. ‘In the late seventies, Manchester, having been the cradle of capitalism, had become the grave of capitalism’ (Robb, 2009: 36).

However these conditions proved to be a breeding ground for bands. Talent rising above a cesspool of squalor. It would be naive to say that these types of bands, Joy Division, The Smiths etc. could only be born from a poverty-stricken area, there have been plenty of middle-class bands mimicking their timbre, but it is undoubted that the sheer depression of the area highly influenced the sound and lyrics produced at the time. The revolutionary city of the 1800’s had become a withered husk of better times.

Anarchy in Timperley

Tony Wilson- ‘Manchester was the right environment for punk rock. It had the perfect conditions. The kind of anger that punk rock was about was very suited to a post-industrial wasteland like Manchester’ (Robb, 2009:1).

Punk music became an outlet for the disassociated youth in Manchester, with the Sex Pistols and Clash’s gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall proving to be the catalyst which motivated the Buzzcocks and Warsaw (soon to become Joy Division) to form. The lack of opportunities in the job market and even further education pushed many into crime, with gang related issues a major problem – eventually becoming a key factor in the closure of the seminal nightclub FAC51 The Hacienda (commonly, and hereafter, referred to simply as The Hacienda). This neighbourhood division of Manchester created numerous gangs, most prominently in Moss Side, Salford and Cheetham Hill. With poverty and squalor came crime, despite the new-found wealth of the city, these elements remains albeit a far toned down version of the threat previously posed against the city. The dream of becoming a pop star was a hope which many youngsters clung to to escape the dreariness and depression faced daily, although prior to a major revolution in fortune, many did not see a way out.

Kevin Cummins – That was a different era. I had no idea if there was a scene in Manchester in the seventies – it was just another stopping-off points for bands. You didn’t think anyone could actually be in a band. We didn’t think we could be in a band; it was something that other people did. (Robb, 2007: 26)

The north was still seen as merely an afterthought, but once the Manchester music scene was invigorated, the influence it would spread would reach far across the globe. Gina Sobers of punk band The Liggers, acknowledged the poor conditions and the echoes of the once great town still present in the derelict stores.

The warehouses lay empty and rotting, numerous derelict brick-strewn and rubbish-filled sites surrounded them: the Whitworth Street corridor was just a row of boarded-up, ancient-looking shop fronts, a testament to former times of prosperous commerce (Robb, 2997: 21).

The prosperity of yesteryear would return to Manchester, but in rebuilding, the attitude of rebellion discorporated without a decaying form to possess in the dying city streets. The replacements would be undoubtedly an improvement on dire living conditions, but in doing so deprived the spirit of punk a reason to exist. The post-punk sound Joy Division created (after the realisation that their punk sound in Warsaw was generic and uninspired) expressed the morose apathy of the city. It was Manchester’s attitude on a CD.

The Mancunian identity was never stronger than in the image Oasis created in the mid nineties. Glorifying the beer and football culture heavily present in that decade, even going as far to name a song ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’. Never shy of playing the Mancunian card, with Kevin Cummins’ famous shoot of the Gallagher brothers in Manchester City replica shirts in the Platt Lane stand of Manchester City’s home ground – Maine Road, a prominent early image of the band, with it also being used on the tickets for their first concert at Maine Road. However actual references to the city itself are few and far between in their lyrics. That being said, the opening line of the first song on their first album is one of the most famous and recognisable lyrics. ‘I live my life in the city, but there’s no easy way out’, a damning refrain before the escapism of the chorus ‘Tonight, I’m a rock n roll star’. Escapism in the sense that on stage, playing their first gigs at The Boardwalk they were granted respite from the mundanity and poverty of everyday life, but also escapism in a much more literal sense. Once the fame and fortune of the rock n roll star life occurred, they relocated to London rather than stay in the city which was such a large part of their escalation into the limelight. Returning to Manchester is mentioned in the song ‘D’you know what I mean’ with the lines ‘Step off the train all alone at dawn, back in the hole where I was born’. Referring to their home town as a ‘hole’ it is clear to see the long-standing effect that pre-regeneration Manchester had on bands, even as late as the 1990s. In ‘half the world away’ (which would become the theme tune to Manchester-based TV sitcom ‘The Royle Family) Manchester is again referred to as a ‘hole’, with the lyrics expressing a desire to leave the town, which of course they finally did as soon as they had the chance. ‘So here I go still scratching around in the same old hole, my body feels young but my mind if very old/ You’re half the world away ‘. When Manchester did get a reference in their music, it has usually been to express the majority viewpoint that the conditions in Manchester made the city an unpleasant place to live, despite the situation proving a catalyst for inspiration.

Despite the criticism of Manchester prevalent in their music, Noel Gallagher has recognised the impact the location had on their success and the success of the bands before him. Without Manchester’s poverty and ‘grim up north’ nature, the sound produced would be radically different.

Of course the Stone Roses come from Manchester, where else could they be from? Where else could the Smiths and Joy Division be from? Where else could Ian Curtis be from? Where else could Factory Records be from? Where else could the Hacienda be? It was so fucking natural (Cummins, 2010: 128).

Talking bout regeneration

Unarguably, one of the pivotal moments of Manchester’s history (recent and otherwise) was the IRA bombing of the Arndale shopping centre in the city centre on 15th June 1996. Ironically, a van filled with over three thousand lbs of explosives was the catalyst which brought forward the town’s regeneration and led to a new, polished commercial age for the city. The Arndale received a complete overhaul, as well as the adjacent Marks and Spencer which received the brunt of the blast. A large structure which had been left derelict since the Daily Mirror abandoned it in 1986 was rebuilt and re branded as The Printworks, becoming an entertainment hub full of bars, restaurants and the largest cinema in Manchester. With skyscrapers and urbanites replacing the run down districts and working class elements of the city, the influence on musicianship inevitably changed. Where once stood T. J. Davidson’s, the rehearsal space of Joy Division and many more bands of that era, now stands a row of trendy bars and a comedy club with a multi-screen cinema and events centre perched above, next to a metrolink station used primarily by media workers and city dwellers from the Urban Splash development. The Hacienda is now but a cocktail available in the bar of the Hilton Hotel in Beetham Tower, Manchester’s tallest building, and possibly the biggest sign of change between the two musical eras, Madchester is over with Manhattan-chester being ushered in with eager, open arms and wallets.

Where is the old subterranea – that network of low-end property, shabby performance spaces and faded clubs and bars that formed the backdrop to just about all the city’s musical glories? And is it’s apparent absence the reason why Manchester has grown so quiet? (Cummins, 2009: 298)

The effects of the bombing and subsequent city-wide regeneration have been far reaching, from Doves’ melancholy approach to even mainstream, stadium-filling pop. Such a sombre subject may be quite unexpected for a boy band, but Take That broached the attack with their track ‘Mancunian Way’ from the album Beautiful World.

‘We used to walk mancunian way, we used to swagger we used to sway, up until the lights took us away, do you know what you meant to me?’. ‘Mancunian way’ in itself has a double meaning, one being the attitude made famous by the Gallagher brothers (including their swaggering walk) but it is also another name for the A57(M) motorway which runs just outside of the city centre. Similarities with Oasis’ move to the south are heavy once success had taken hold of the band.
‘We used to think we were the bomb, then someone left a real one, we stayed indoors as the rain come, back then it made no sense to me’. Possibly the most direct reference to the IRA attack in a song and the genuine sense of bewilderment and numbness throughout the city, following the attack. ‘They tried to stop her, she just got stronger’. During the chorus, they use the female form to reference the devastation to the city, followed by the rebuilding project. The city has never been ‘stronger’ in an economic and political sense.
‘I’m gonna bring this town alive, through this acidic rain, I’m gonna come back to life again’ Infamous for it’s heavy precipitation, Manchester was also the birthplace of acid rain, discovered in the city in 1852 by Robert Angus Smith. The song ends with with a longing to return home after being lured by the bright lights of London, possibly wishing to reignite the city’s music scene and themselves in the process.

After the release of this album, they embarked on a world tour finishing in Manchester, playing the Manchester Evening News Arena eleven times between December 10th 2007 and December 23rd, playing to a sell out total of 158,523 people. There has obviously been a huge demand for a reformed band who had previously disbanded in the mid nineties, shown further when they next returned to Manchester, selling out the City of Manchester Stadium to play an unprecedented eight times in ten days, to 420,000 fans. Undeniably the band did ‘come back to life again’ with tremendous commercial success and with just shy of half a million people attending their concert it has hard to argue that at least for that week and a half, that the city did come alive to reminisce (at least the pop fans). The success of their reunion is a large sign of the reminiscent attitude to past Manchester music, even if it is not from the typical music scene which springs to mind when Manchester is mentioned.

One of the more successful bands that Manchester has produced in the last decade, Doves, have often expressed their feelings towards the city’s regeneration efforts. In the track ‘Some Cities’, from the album of the same name, they broached the subject of the regeneration in a more obvious way than some.

‘Think I might have met you before, I think it’s time we settled a score, buildings there they stretch so tall, it’s steel and brick no more, no more’. No longer the steel and brick industrial area of yesteryear, the city centre is a towering mass of concrete and glass, high-street chain stores and offices. The first line alludes to the familiarity of the streets which have taken a new life and a new look. ‘Too much history coming down, another building brought to ground, roads that come together, my memory never severs, the love’ll never sever for me’. Nostalgia may well be an overriding factor, but the band make an interesting point of ‘loving’ the city despite the changes to the Manchester of their childhood. Undeniably a different environment and culture, yet still home, even if the home of old only exists in their memories. ‘Some cities crush, some cities heal, some cities laugh, while other cities steal’.

In the song ‘Station Approach’ by Elbow, the globalisation of the city centre is encroached upon. ‘The streets are full of goths and Greeks, I haven’t seen my mum for weeks, but coming home I feel like I, designed the buildings I walk by’. The station in question is Manchester Victoria, where from the metrolink service from the band’s’ home town, Bury, arrives. The area directly opposite Victoria station -Urbis – became a hangout for the the city’s resident teenage goth/punk population; whilst the Greeks can be explained by the vast number of tavernas and restaurants which have sprung up in the surrounding area. This mixed-ethnic diversity in the city has become very prominent during the regeneration period, becoming a cultural melting pot rather than the mainly white-British populous which had previously made up the majority of Manchester. Bury, meanwhile, has not seen the heavy development of the more central areas, explaining their sense of familiarity and homeliness to the streets on which they grew up.

It is inevitable that a more comfortable environment to grow up and work in would remove some of the angst from Manchester’s collective soul. The Joy Division sound was very much a product of the harsh conditions and depression. At it’s core this dissertation is a nature versus nurture analysis and I firmly believe that the nature of the city has coloured it’s people and thus the bands which would formulate the soundtrack of Manchester. The new, improved living environment has led to a relaxation in originality, with comfortable living conditions breeding complacency in familiarity.

Copycats and new sound

A major criticism often thrown around is that new bands have been too close to creating pastiche albums to former Manchester acts rather than simply using their influences as simply that.

‘The big signings of recent years – Twisted Wheel and the Courteeners – might as well have existed in the mid-90s. Everyone’s been too in awe of Oasis, essentially’ (Lester, 2010). The Twisted Wheel club open in the sixties until 1971 was the pioneering venue for Northern Soul music; taking their name from the city’s most famous blues and soul club an interesting factor considering that band are dealt criticism for being too backwards facing.

This criticism towards recent bands in itself does hold merit although one has to wonder to what extent record labels have played in this, Oasis were phenomenal sellers, guitar bands with similar set ups are a safe bet for that audience, a chorus with a catchy hook which is easy to sing is invaluable in a marketing sense.

There is no doubt that Oasis have influenced a large generation of guitar bands who have met relative success in recent years, without being particularly inventive or original. Of course many have pointed that particular criticism at Oasis’ music, but what Oasis had on their side which the new bands don’t is timing. The cock-sure attitude has been often imitated (usually to poor effect) but the breakthrough of a band who looked like Joe Regular playing rock music gripped the mid nineties and it is impossible for the modern day imitators to replicate the conditions of the city and the entire country. Twisted Wheel have spoke about the effect Oasis’ image had on the youth of their time. ‘When Oasis came along, they just looked like ordinary blokes who were taking over the world and made anything seem possible’ (Carter, 2009).

The weight of the past has proved a challenge for bands, even the successful ones, with Tim Booth, front man of James, expressing his feelings upon the expectation of sound. ‘Initially, living in Manchester, you couldn’t help but sound like Joy Division. The whole city had a really depressing atmosphere and we tried to react against that’ (Cummins, 2010: 215).

Rebelling against tradition is vital to evolution as respecting predecessors. Without the will to change fermenting, there would never have been the punk movement, with the Sex Pistol’s visit to Manchester as important an event as there is in Manchester’s musical history.

As the city has changed, so has the attitude towards it’s history, with some bands seemingly spring boarding themselves by using an anti-Manchester image. With such a diverse cultural population it is inevitable for the city to contain a variety of different musical styling. Yet the rebellion against Manchester bands of old has become a cliché of sorts in itself, using a disdain for the local past has been a selling point for some.

Everything Everything are one of the latest line of indie bands to catch the gaze of the NME (incidentally, no longer monickered ‘New Morrissey Express’ by perturbed readers) and have spoken against the post-Oasis ‘lad rock’ culture and the expectancy weighed upon them. In an interview with The Guardian, the band’s spokesman and bassist, Jeremy Pritchard spoke of the will of the band ‘to avoid cliché, or the clichés expected of white men with guitars from Manchester’ (Lester, 2010). Their guitarist, Louis Miller expanded on the subject matter and the band’s intention to move away from the Manchester expectancy still heavy in the air.

None of us like that old Manchester stuff. It’s so overplayed, and it gets forced at you just because you’re from Manchester. You’re expected to like it, but people need to move on. I’m sick of people dwelling on the past. The new Manchester bands are sick of it, too, and want to change things (Lester, 2010).

Speaking directly of the Happy Mondays and the Madchester scene in particular, the attack becomes more scathing.

They really repulse me. That whole drug culture is so clichéd. I hated the 90s and its cringe worthy music. We’re getting hate from the other Manchester bands because they see us as scenester cunts (Lester, 2010).

One observation is apparent from this interview, they see themselves as a Manchester band who are here with the intention to change the scene. But there is one small flaw; not one band member is from Manchester. Hailing from Newcastle and Kent, they moved to Manchester in 2008, adopting the city to launch their career, in part by rejecting the music formerly of the city.

This approach does have it’s critics, as they have commented on other Manchester bands disapproving of methods, which can seem deceitful. It appears the feelings are mutual between Everything Everything and local Mancunian bands, using Manchester as a selling point is a theme which is recurring in nearly every interview with Manchester upstarts.

The rebellion against former scene heroes is nothing new, the rock n roll spirit Oasis personified in the nineties is in fact very similar to the punk attitude demonstrated by Joy Division and The Smiths, despite their obvious musical differences. Coming at a time when dance from the Madchester scene had been at it’s prime; championing (and reigniting) straight up guitar-based rock music was akin to the punk movement their predecessors had been such a part of. Now new bands are rejecting their past, although they may not care for the former scene, the ethos is very similar.

The local pride does come into play occasionally as a defence mechanism for bands, but it also a key aspect in the image so many bands over the years have created for themselves. Kid British feature an eclectic range of influences from rap to reggae but their love of Manchester is something which they are always quick to bring up in interviews.

Coming from Manchester there’s a lot of great bands before you so you’re always tipped as the next Manchester band trying to be like Oasis and bands like that. I think it’s a great launch pad because not many places in the UK have such great musical heritage. We’re glad we’re from here, we’re not like some bands that come here and say they’re from here just to get a launch (Merrick, 2011).

Nine Black Alps are the most successful grunge band Manchester has produced, despite front man Sam Forrest’s home town in fact being York. The subject of Mancunian identity is something they have touched upon numerous times.

You’ve got a massively loyal following in Manchester now. Do you consider yourself Mancunian now?

No, because there’s nothing worse than people pretending to be from somewhere where they’re not actually from. But I don’t think we could have done any of this without being in Manchester, because that’s what allowed to play our kind of music without having to be overly fashionable. It’s home now, it’s where I’m from now, but I don’t really think about it too much’ (BBC Manchester Nine Black Alps Interview Feature, 2005).

A seemingly more respectful and honest approach than Everything Everything’s bravado, they make no qualms of their origins but recognise the history Manchester has of producing prominent musicians and the rock culture surrounding the city which has helped to elevate them. The fact that one of the biggest rock bands from Manchester aren’t, and don’t consider themselves Mancunian is intriguing in itself. With the city now importing talent, and gladly accepting it as it’s own; a potential sign of the bereft of major breakthrough acts being produced locally, the scene has almost mimicked the city, with no need for the urban area to be responsible for creating it’s own products, there has also been the influx of outside musicians making their home, and band, in Manchester.

It’s brilliant. It’s the reason why I moved here. I moved to Manchester from York two years ago. I didn’t have a job and I thought ‘right, I’m going to move to any city in England’. Manchester seemed like the only choice. It has a cool attitude about it that you don’t get in ‘hip’ places like Leeds and London, which is pretty much another planet anyway’ (BBC Manchester Nine Black Alps Interview Feature, 2005).

Community

The scene may not be completely friendly towards one another, but it is naive to think it ever was. Of course friendships are what the scene is based upon, without Morrissey’s fondness towards Tim Booth we may never have seen James take the stage to the scale they did. Without Noel Gallagher still checking out new bands, Twisted Wheel would never have had the opportunity to play in front of seventy thousand people as was the case when they opened for Oasis (on what proved to be Oasis’ last tour before the split) at Heaton Park. It is these friendships on which the scene is based, but it is equally the friction between differing personalities, experiences and politics which strives creation and the pushing of different genre boundaries. There has always been a spirit of camaraderie between Manchester bands, with the limited rehearsal room space leading to T.J.Davidson’s becoming the prime location for bands beginning, leading to acquaintances and tour opportunities. Mark Standley from seventies glam rockers V2 used T. J. Davidson’s during this time.

The Buzzcocks were downstairs, Joy Division above us. Hucknall across the way and loads of others. There was a place called Brenda’s café on the corner. On any day you could go in and there would be Buzzcocks on one corner taking ages over a cup of tea, us in another in full glam gear sharing some toast (Cummins, 2010: 128).

The huge array of rehearsal rooms available coupled with ease of access for home rehearsal has stunted this for the new generation. The poor quality of the rehearsal space even led to what was to become one of the most famous music videos to ever come out of Manchester, ‘Love will tear us apart’, a video and image which would become synonymous with the band.

All the rooms were grimy and cold. After a while, we realised that an old cooker in corner still worked. So suddenly we had the only room with any heating. I think this might have been the reason that one day in’79, we were asked to let Joy Division use our room to film a video (Cummins, 2010: 129).

There is a great assortment of venues available for live bands in the present age, but there is not a stand out, culturally significant venue in the sea of city centre bars. In the eighties the Boardwalk was a four hundred capacity venue located on Little Peter Street, next to T. J. Davidson’s, becoming the iconic venue for breakthrough bands of the time to play. With rehearsal rooms underneath the venue, used by the likes of The Happy Mondays, it became the forefront for new live music. Before that there was Portland Bars at Piccadilly and for the larger crowd-gatherers the Hard Rock located just outside of the city centre, nearby Old Trafford football and cricket grounds. Post-regeneration, the Hard Rock became a B&Q, the Lesser Free Trade Hall, which had been the venue in which Manchester’s punk revolution had started, is now a Radisson hotel. International 1, where the Stone Roses first played is now a Turkish supermarket. The Boardwalk now office space; despite it’s continuation into the late nineties and an unsuccessful relaunch at the turn of the millennium.

The sheer abundance of bands could even be a factor; maybe there is in fact no dilution of the talent pool, but merely too fine a spread across the city. Booking and playing gigs however, has become somewhat of a cash cow for promoters with few and far between doing it for the love of the music or particular band. Pay-to-play gigs are prevalent in many venues or gigs conditional on selling a stipulated number of tickets. Of course this creates problems in itself, with the need for a paying fan base a factor for acquiring gigs it is no wonder bands have struggled to get off the ground.

This has clearly been an issue which Peter Hook has recently taken steps to rectify. Despite the success of bands on the Factory label, the company itself was notorious for bad management and haemorrhaging money, leading to Tony Wilson’s publishing of the book, ‘How not to run a club’. But the legacy of Factory is very much still prominent throughout the city and in February 2010, Peter Hook opened FAC251 in the former offices of Factory Records. The aim, to bring the Hacienda to the modern generation with promoting up and coming bands a big part of Hook’s mandate.

As an older musician now, I feel I do have a responsibility to propagate the new bands, to keep things going in Manchester. We, as the Hacienda, get a lot of criticism for trading on the past, but with this place it’s all about the future, giving young kids the chances to perform (Bourne, 2010).

Despite Hook’s admirable optimism, it is questionable to what extent, one year on, that they have stuck to this policy of giving young bands opportunities. The FAC251 Myspace page, which prior to the club launch was highly promoted with bands encouraging to get in touch, was last used on the 12th January 2011, with no up and coming events on show. Whilst the separate FAC251 booking agent page was last used on 19th February 2011 with even less information visible.

The student factor is not to be underestimated in the opening of FAC251, indeed in the very much prevalent nostalgia factor running throughout many of the city centre nightclubs. It is not the old Hacienda crowd which has populated the club since it’s grand opening, nor is it catering to their music tastes. It is the lure of the ‘Hacienda fable’ which separates FAC251 from other generic night clubs. Manchester has long been a university town, FAC251 is in fact situated just a side street off what is officially the busiest road in Europe thanks to the university bus services and it is these patrons on which the new business is based upon. Members of The Smiths have become guest lecturers at Salford University and Larry Gott (lead guitarist of James) became a permanent tutor at the Manchester College of Arts and Technology. The former generation working with educational institutions is promising to bring about the next wave of bands. Thanks to the mass influx in teenagers relocating to Manchester for further education it brings about the student bands, with members not necessarily from Manchester, such as the aforementioned Everything Everything.

There was an attempt to reunite the Mancunian community with the launch of the free-to-air regional Channel M. Broadcasting a variety of shows including sports, music, entertainment and news, Channel M was a local station giving opportunities to local residents and broadcasters. The music section became a vessel for up and coming bands to reach a wider audience via live broadcasts and pre-recorded sets and interviews. Although not on the same level as Tony Wilson’s television show ‘So It Goes’, it helped to launch the careers of bands such as the Ting Tings, who were based just a ten minute walk away from the Channel M headquarters in Salford. Unfortunately cutbacks and redundancies severely limited the channel in the past two years, cutting out all original content. It remains to be seen what the Guardian Media Group have in store for a revamped channel, but a local channel keeping the community connected with live music has been appreciated by bands given the chance. Twisted Wheel championed the station as it was responsible for Noel Gallagher offering the band the chance to support Oasis. ‘When we got the phone call saying Noel had seen us do a live set on Channel M, we were buzzing!’ (Carter, 2009). The degradation of Channel M was sadly predictable, but hopefully not a representative of the future scene being deprived of a sense of community, it is vital to keep this attitude together.

The Future

Of course, it is not only the bands coming from outside who have rejected the ‘new Oasis’ tag labelled onto so many bands, simply because of their locale. Without a variety of influences, any scene would stagnate and Delphic are one of the latest bands to receive the hype and pressure to innovate.

We weren’t even born when Blue Monday came out [in 1983], so we couldn’t consume it. Doves were the first band we were old enough to understand, and who made us want to inject something into the city. We wanted some of that [Berlin] atmosphere on the album. Berlin and Manchester – and New York – are the only places you can be proud to say you come from’ (Lester, 2010).

It is telling, perhaps of the looming shadow of Joy Division, The Smiths et al, that they confirm that the time of New Order had passed them by in their influences, yet name check Manchester as one of the three cities in the world ‘you can be proud to say you come from’. Even without ingesting the electro pop of New Order they have created a band which will inevitably be compared to them for the rest of their career, due to the genre of their music and location of their band. Whether the bravado over Manchester is just that, a marketing tool many have used before, or a genuine love for the city is unclear but it is another example of the self-obsession which can be present in Mancunian musicians. The will to change has throughout history brought upon bands which shaped their own scenes, influencing others not only to imitate, but to innovate. It is vital for the next generation to look beyond the past and to their own future. So while it may indeed be simply bravado or a marketing tool to downplay the cultural importance of the Happy Mondays and Oasis, for the next scene to bring forth the next ‘big’ band of the decade – something which the noughties will be sadly remembered for lacking – it is vital for the scene to become more expansive than simple tributes. Even staunch Mancunians such as Kid British see the need of an innovative spark to reignite what many are worried has become a moribund scene,

Manchester used to be seen as a city at the forefront of music but unless all these people let go of that image, then it won’t be at the forefront any more. It basically says we need something new, something up and fresh’ (Brophy, 2011).

The current scene has acknowledged that obsessing over the past has stunted evolution rather than assisting, as long as new bands remember this the next ‘big’ band will come along, eventually.

Musical References

Some Cities

‘Some Cities’

Doves

Leaders Of The Free World

‘Station Approach’

Elbow

Be Here Now; Definitely Maybe; The Masterplan

‘D’You Know What I Mean’; ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’; ‘Half The World Away’

Oasis

Beautiful World

‘Mancunian Way’

Take That

Meat Is Murder

‘The Headmaster Ritual’

The Smiths

Bibliography

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BBC.co.uk. (2005) One unsatisfied customer. BBC. [Online] Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester/content/articles/2005/08/03/030805_nine_black_alps_interview_feature.shtml [Accessed 4th May 2011]

Beech, A. (2009) ‘The closure of Channel M is a wake-up call – Manchester’s music scene is dying’. NME [Online] Available: http://www.nme.com/blog/index.phpblog=121&title=the_closure_of_channel_m_hints_at_a_wide&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1[Accessed on 3rd April 2011]

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Luck, Richard. (2002) The Madchester Scene. Herts: Pocket Essentials.

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Middles, M and Reade, L. (2006) The life of Ian Curtis – Torn Apart. London: Omnibus Press, A division of Music Sales Limited.

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Nolan, D. (2007) Bernard Summer – Joy Division, electronic and New Order versus the world. Shropshire: Independent Music Press.

Nolan, D. (2010) Tony Wilson – You’re entitled to an opinion… London: John Blake Publishing Ltd.

Robb, J. (2009) The North Will Rise Again Manchester Music City 1976-1996. London: Aurum Press Ltd.

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4 thoughts on “The Scene Is Dead: Stagnation In Manchester Music?

  1. Mr. Elliott,Letters via USPS sounds so novel in the internet age whether or not it is just one letter produced for many, but it really doesn’t sound like a pen-pal relationship. Can an individual write again to the author on the letter?

  2. My dream retirement is living on a 45ft center cockpit Hunter sailboat with my man and dog sailing the inter coastal waterways, the Caribbean, and any port I choose.

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