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So Much To Answer For: A History Of Manchester UK Bands – Their Past, Present And Future Influence

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Oh, you might sleep
But you will never dream
You might sleep
But you will never dream

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for
Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

THE SMITHS – “SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN” – B-SIDE of “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” -UK #10 1984

Contributing Author @thegue’s excellent series on the most successful ‘missing’ number one artists included Manchester band The Hollies…

… Prompting a comment from @ISurvivedPop about the ‘absurdly large number of prominent rock bands’ the city has produced:

I responded in brief, but felt it deserved a more in-depth look.

Manchester came to prominence as the world’s first industrial city.

As the centre of the cotton industry the population exploded from 10,000 in the early 1700s to 2 million by 1901.

This brought wealth to some but wretched conditions to many. There may have been work but living conditions were often appalling as the city couldn’t keep up with the influx.

These extremes contributed to the character of the city. Wealth allowed for the country’s first public library, and galleries and museums opened, and The Hallé Orchestra was founded in the 1850s.

In 1851 Manchester became home to only the 5th university in Britain.

The overcrowded and polluted city gave rise to political idealism as a centre for radical politics, demanding reform and representation. Its citizens were prominent in founding the co-operative, trades unions, suffragettes and even vegetarianism movements.

Its fortunes waned in the 20th century with the decline of the cotton industry. In contrast, there was increased sporting and cultural prestige.

In the 50s and 60s football clubs; Manchester United and Manchester City achieved significant success,

… while TV soap Coronation Street representing the ordinary people of the area is still one of our most popular shows – over 60 years since it first aired.

30 miles along the road in Liverpool, The Beatles also proved there was life outside of London. In their wake beat groups from regional cities were in fashion. Manchester produced The Hollies, Freddie And The Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits and Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders.

This is where the first link in a decades long chain appears.

Out of the Mindbenders came Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman. They went onto bigger success with 10CC but more importantly to this story, they were partners in Strawberry Studios.

Actually located in the nearby town of Stockport, it attracted national and international recording artists but it also gave opportunities to Manchester bands like Buzzcocks.

Inspired by Sex Pistols, the nascent Buzzcocks arranged for the newly notorious Londoners to play two shows at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in June / July ’76.

These were sparsely attended, the June date had a crowd of around 40. But they may be the most influential gigs ever in the impact on those attendees.

Buzzcocks created their own opportunities. Punk was kicking against the lack of a future but also offering an escape.

As well as promoting the Sex Pistol gigs they took the revolutionary step of setting up their own New Hormones label to release their Spiral Scratch E.P. An E.P produced by another Pistols attendee; Martin Hannett.

Then there was Mr Manchester: Tony Wilson.

His day job was presenter on the regional news programme, Granada Reports.

He also presented the music show, So It Goes in 1976-77. Having been present for the Pistols, he gave them their first TV appearance.

Inspired by punk, he founded Factory Records in 1978, along with Alan Erasmus, Rob Gretton (manager of Joy Division / New Order), Peter Saville and Martin Hannett.

Factory gave a home to, and were subsequently kept afloat by the success of Joy Division / New Order – whose members; Peter Hook, Ian Curtis and Bernard Sumner had been present for the Pistols. Their early career would see them produced by Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios.

Three more alumni of the Sex Pistols gigs formed very different bands and represented Manchester to the wider world:

Mark E. Smith formed The Fall.

Over 42 years until his death in 2018, and over 30+ studio albums and an unfathomable number of members (pick a random number between 50 and 100, no one knows for sure) he steered his own belligerent path.

They had a modicum of chart success, went in and out of fashion numerous times but were the epitome of doing your own thing regardless of time and trends.

Morrissey formed The Smiths (Strawberry Studios alumni.)

Becoming darlings of the independent music scene from 1983 to 1987. Followed by a solo career inspiring devotion and disgust in equal measures.

Its fair to say his creative partner in the band, Johnny Marr, retains a greater place in the cities’ affections.

On The Smiths breakup, Marr got together with New Order front man Bernard Sumner as Electronic – more ties that bind.

Then there’s Mick Hucknall.

He initially formed punk band The Frantic Elevators (who recorded the original version of Holding Back The Years.)

But he changed course to blue eyed soul with Simply Red (Strawberry Studios alumni) and a level of commercial success beyond any other Manchester act.

Other alumni of those Sex Pistols gigs were;

  • Punk poet John Cooper Clarke (that Strawberry Studios / Martin Hannett connection).
  • Members of A Certain Ratio who would achieve cult success with their post punk / new wave / funk sounds and release five albums on Factory (Strawberry Studios /Hannett again). One of their number would eventually find commercial success with Swing Out Sister.
  • Paul Morley who initially became an NME journalist before co-founding Art Of Noise and the ZTT label.
  • Kevin Cummins, NME photographer whose stark black and white images of Joy Division were fundamental in creating their image.

Following in their wake were Stone Roses.

Formed in 1983, the close ties between bands are apparent from early drummer Simon Wolstencraft having previously been a member of Freak Party with the pre-Smiths; Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke.

Debut single “So Young” had the Strawberry Studios / Hannett connection. First album, The Stone Roses took until 1989 to arrive, and only charted at #19 at the time – but it acquired legendary status. They swept that years NME awards with best band, new band, album and single and the following year were playing a headline show just outside Manchester to 27,000 people.

Their slow rise was matched by Factory band Happy Mondays.

For a change, they didn’t record at Strawberry Studios – though Martin Hannett did mix their Bummed album there.

On 23rd November 1989 both appeared on Top of The Pops, performing their breakthrough singles “Fools Gold” and “Hallelujah.” (Definitely not related to the Leonard Cohen song).

The Manchester electronic outfit 808 State (Strawberry Studios) were also at number 10 that week with “Pacific State.”

A further link, Martin Price of 808 State was (and still is) co-owner of the Eastern Bloc record store, where many from the scene sated their dance music needs.

In the wake of all this, the music press had a ready made name for the scene. ‘Hallelujah’ was taken from the Monday’s Madchester Rave On E.P.

“Madchester” it was.

Other bands were ready to add momentum.

Inspiral Carpets (Strawberry Studios) made their chart debut in March 1990 with This Is How It Feels – a kitchen sink drama lyrically at odds with the scene:

“This is how it feels to be lonely
This is how it feels to be small
This is how it feels when your word means nothing at all”

They sounded and looked the part, with a Hammond organ driven sound and haircuts and clothes that set them apart from the mainstream pop of the time.

Clothes were a defining part of the scene.

Retro styles with baggy tie dyed tops, flared jeans, bucket hats and football shirts. It wasn’t just bands that cashed in: local fashion labels like Gio Gio and Joe Bloggs were integral in defining the look.

June 1990: it was Charlatans (Strawberry Studios) with The Only One I Know.

Even though they weren’t actually from Manchester, they were close enough geographically and in sound to be part of it.

James (Strawberry Studios) were another band that had been around the block.

They predated Stone Roses and had recorded for Factory early on. But it took until March 1991 for “Sit Down” to break them, nationally spending three weeks at #2.

Madchester was over by 1992.

Stone Roses were on hiatus. And Happy Mondays experienced a severe comedown due to extreme drug habits. Having contributed to bankrupting Factory they broke up in 1993.

Although the two main bands were out of action, James, Inspirals and Charlatans carried on, and the thread running through the timeline extended.

Noel Gallagher was a roadie for Inspiral Carpets.

Brother Liam had a band called Rain. Both were inspired by Stone Roses.

Noel saw an opportunity for the songs he was writing. He took over Rain, and changed the name.

And by the mid 90s, Oasis were the biggest band in Britain.

Amplifying the Stone Roses swaggering confidence and combining it with the belligerence of Mark E Smith.

Whereas Stone Roses mid 90s return led to a painful and elongated demise, Shaun Ryder made an unexpectedly triumphal return with Black Grape in 1995.

Taking the Mondays sound further into a guitar / dance hybrid.

Which leads us onto dance music. Which is as much part of the story as guitars.

The Hacienda nightclub is as feted as the bands that played and partied there.

Opened by Factory in 1982, it was a commercial failure.

Its existence was bankrolled by New Order’s success.

Peter Hook reckoned it lost £18 million in its 15 years.

In the mid to late 80s it pioneered house, and then acid house, and was integral to what was termed the “Second Summer of Love,” as ecstasy became the drug of choice.

New Order were part owners and their 1989 album Technique fed off these sounds. Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were guitar bands but they had looser grooves, funky drumbeats and acid house influences. A product of time spent at The Hacienda.

Mike Pickering was an integral part of Factory in the 80s as member of electronic group Quando Quango.

As the A&R man who signed Happy Mondays, and as Hacienda DJ, setting the tone for everyone else. Much later he worked in A&R for Colombia records signing another #1 act from Manchester; The Ting Tings.

At the beginning of the ’90s he formed M People, who had a run of 19 top 40 hits between 1991 and 1999 with a house / dance / soul hybrid.

The Chemical Brothers emerged from the Hacienda and Manchester club scene having met while at university in the city.

Keeping the chain going, there’s Sub Sub, a three piece dance music act. They were Hacienda regulars and signed to Factory co-founder Rob Gretton’s side label Rob’s Records.

They were apparent one hit wonders with the huge “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” in 1993, only to reappear in 1998 as guitar band Doves, and enjoyed much greater success.

If there’s a defining factor, it appears to be in all these links:

It reflects the strong civic pride and identity with those involved giving back, directly and indirectly inspiring and helping the next generation.

The size of the city means its both big enough to supply a constant stream of talent, but is compact enough to provide its own ecosystem and retain that supportive feel.

And into the 2000s it continues.

There’s been Elbow, Everything Everything, I Am Kloot, The Courteeners, Lamb, Aitch, Blossoms, The Slow Readers Club, Bugzy Malone – and many more.

As is apparent, one of the main factors in nurturing talent and defining the city was Factory Records.

They deserve an article of their own… as a tale of what happens when you prioritise the aesthetic over business acumen.

It’s not a spoiler to say it doesn’t end well. But it’s a helluva ride as they say.

Coming soon to a website near you…

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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rollerboogie
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rollerboogie
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January 29, 2024 6:57 am

If anyone in my life ever asks the question as to why and how Manchester became such an important part of music history and produced so many prominent bands, I will point them to this article. I’m not an expert, but it would appear the dots have been concisely connected, friend! I learned so much here.

The Beatles’ total takeover of rock and roll had the same “regional” effect here in the U.S. you described. So many bands sprung up in the aftermath of the Ed Sullivan appearance that individual cities had their own rock scenes. That was definitely the case here in Chicago. It was thriving by all accounts, and produced a plethora of bands that became local heroes, with many going on to national success. What sets Manchester apart is that it took that regional phenomenon and became a musical hub unto its own. From what you described, bands didn’t have to leave Manchester to have all they needed to succeed at a national level, and in some cases, international. Manchester itself was and it would appear still is a hub.

One last thing- this is me being nerdy, but I was intrigued by the conjunction used in that Sex Pistols poster. It says ”but” Buzzcocks instead of “and” or nothing at all. It’s a fascinating choice and there has to be a story behind that. It was also so amazing to me how an entire scene was basically formed around who was present at those shows. I’ve read about this before, but you really made it clear how much those shows brought about a sea change.

Really fantastic stuff, JJ. Keep it up!

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 29, 2024 7:44 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

Did not even notice that. Good eye!

mt58
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mt58
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January 29, 2024 7:48 am

Just because of dumb luck, I had prior knowledge of that poster. The “but” was always a favorite and wry little aside. And I’ve been dying for someone to make a Buzzcocks reference so that I could use it.

To echo the others: well done, JJ. Good on you.

Virgindog
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January 29, 2024 10:15 am
Reply to  mt58

The “but” seems like Pete Shelly’s sense of humor. Sorry, I mean humour.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 29, 2024 7:41 am

Great job, JJ. A fantastic tour of the scenes of one city.

Was there a fair amount of cross-talk between the scenes of Manchester and the Yorkshire region? I ask because Howard Devoto from the Buzzcocks was from Leeds. Cabaret Voltaire was from Sheffield. And Throbbing Gristle was from Hull.

Even beyond their importance for industrial music (and their influence on later synth pop groups), the Cabs were important in the early Hacienda days, and the spread of acid house. Genesis of Throbbing Gristle had influence there as well, at least though Psychic TV.

Just wondering if there was a larger dynamic of creative exchange among those northern scenes.

Also: Some chesty man-love to Durutti Column and Future Sound of London!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc9l7pygQRo

ISurvivedPop
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January 29, 2024 11:43 am

My favorite Durutti Column fact is that the sandpaper cover version of “Return of the Durutti Column” always sells for over $100 on Discogs.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 29, 2024 8:38 am

Yeah, I’m from the Salford of Washington DC. I almost never set foot in DC, but it’s just easier to use that as a reference point for people back home.

Last edited 5 months ago by Phylum of Alexandria
ISurvivedPop
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January 29, 2024 11:45 am

And now it just hit me that your username has a double meaning.

thegue
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January 29, 2024 12:59 pm

Alexandria is a wonderful, EXPENSIVE town! Anytime our family goes to NC to visit relatives, we always stop there for a meal, a few pictures along the Potomac, and look at all the houses we’ll never afford.

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 29, 2024 1:33 pm
Reply to  thegue

I used to rent a place in one of those houses, but during the pandemic we bought a condo a little outside of Old Town. Still small and expensive compared to other regions, of course…

lovethisconcept
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January 29, 2024 4:59 pm

I have loved Alexandria for years. Went there some as a teen (way back in the day) to stay with relatives. Decades later, my daughter and her husband lived there for a while. They have now moved further out to Reston.

I love “the Salford of Washington, D.C.”. I live in the Salford of Nashville. As in, “Have you heard of ? Have you heard of ? Never mind, it’s right next to Nashville.”

R.S.Wonham
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January 29, 2024 10:34 am

I had no idea of the Sub Sub/Doves connection. WOWSA! 1993 was a great year for Manchester with Ain’t No Love (Hey, what’s happenin’!), a couple of corker M People songs, How Can I Love You More and One Night In Heaven, and New Order’s Regret. I am sure there were more (Morrissey briefly back to form), but those soundtrack my experience. Ever been to Piccadilly Records? It’s on my list of stores to visit and they have a nice Instagram presence. Cheers!

Virgindog
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January 29, 2024 10:35 am

I love Black Grape, The Chemical Brothers, and The Doves, who I think are underrated here in the States. I stumbled on them when “Catch The Sun” was on an Astralwerks sampler CD and saw them on 120 Minutes a couple of times, but I don’t think they caught on the way they should have here. “The Last Broadcast” is an excellent album.

thegue
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January 29, 2024 1:01 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I saw Doves at the Trocadero back on their Kingdom of Rust tour – I loved their music, but they really don’t engage the audience much during performances.

I think it was in TNOCS over at the Mothership where I learned Sub Sub became Doves because their recorded material was lost in a fire at the studio..?

thegue
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January 29, 2024 1:07 pm

Where do I begin? What a great story, weaving about three generations of Mancunian music!

I haven’t spent much time in Manchester, but it is a lovely city that’s made the most of its history – we went one afternoon to Hucknall’s “Bar Ça” along one of the canals, drove by the site of The Hacienda (I think it’s a bunch of flats now?), and visited a number of pubs/clubs.

When I was doing the series I noticed the same about cities in America as well, linking generations. Philly was the most obvious, but I think Bix discussed how back in the 1950s a governor of Minnesota (maybe?) insisted on expanding the musical programs in public education, and how that scene exploded 20-30 years later.

Seattle? I don’t know much of its scene before the mid-80s.

Jazz traveled via the Mississippi River, but those same types of influences were evident in New Orleans.

So much more to think about as I listen to this playlist!!!

mt58
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January 29, 2024 2:29 pm

Wonderful idea! Any takers?

I have a fun name for the potential series…

dothestrand
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January 29, 2024 3:16 pm
Reply to  mt58

ooh I could do Glasgow. eventually anyway, I start a new job soon and may or may not have any time for thinking

mt58
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January 29, 2024 3:22 pm
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Glasgow is yours.
Do yourself proud at the new job – that’s most important – and we will wait until you are ready.

ISurvivedPop
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January 29, 2024 3:34 pm
Reply to  thegue

Memphis could be an amazing topic of discussion, though obviously more solo artist-focused. Still, there’s got to be a line from Memphis Minnie to Young Dolph.

lovethisconcept
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January 29, 2024 5:00 pm
Reply to  ISurvivedPop

I would love to see a piece about Memphis.

cappiethedog
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January 29, 2024 5:15 pm
Reply to  thegue

Oh, oh, oh. Let me give my unpopular theory about pre-grunge Seattle one more shot.

The Replacements and The Young Fresh Fellows are mutual admirers of each other. Cameron Crowe couldn’t put The Young Fresh Fellows on the Singles soundtrack. They were a regional band. But Crowe knows how important Scott McCaughey was to the Seattle music scene. Paul Westerberg was a “replacement” for The Young Fresh Fellows. I’m not sure if it’s an inside joke or I only believe this.

Sub Pop signed the occasional outsider band: e.g. Birmingham, Alabama’s Verbena. But Westerberg had no connection to Washington state, except for The Young Fresh Fellows’ passing resemblance to The Replacements.

thegue
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January 29, 2024 1:17 pm

When I watched 24 Hour Party People I learned how influential that Sex Pistols concert was, but you’ve included a few more people I was unaware of, including John Cooper Clarke, whom I only know because of this bit from 8 Out of 10 Cats Countdown.

Be prepared to cry laughing.

DO NOT WATCH THIS AT WORK! (Link, don’t watch at all!)

https://youtu.be/YstBl9xzz34?si=t1DtDK-WlmKZzQw_

Phylum of Alexandria
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January 29, 2024 3:12 pm

“…and at one point shared a flat with fellow addict Nico (of Velvet Underground and...fame inventor of goth via her excellent solo albums).”

FTFY 😀

Last edited 5 months ago by Phylum of Alexandria
dothestrand
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January 29, 2024 3:17 pm

how many of these bands are in fact from Salford 👀

cappiethedog
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January 29, 2024 5:03 pm

“Partyline” wasn’t a hit, so you can’t call The Stockholm Monsters a one-hit wonder. You can call them a one good song wonder. Actually, a great song. “Partyline” was on a Factory sampler. Do I overrate it because outside of the Joy Division/New Order complex, The Stockholm Monsters was the only other band on that sampler that made an instantaneous visceral impression on me? Or is there a cult following in the UK I can’t possibly know about? Oh, wait. I have my answer. Nobody bothered to post the lyrics online.

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