by Paul Brammer (News & Opinion Editor)
Manchester is a music city. In the same way that the mountains are written into the DNA of my beloved home-away-from-home Vancouver, so is music etched into the very foundation of my home-when-back-at-home Manchester.
I’m not going to bore you with some silly list detailing some of Manchester’s musical luminaries. Actually, yes I am – The Smiths, The Bee Gees, The Stone Roses, Elbow, The Buzzcocks, Oasis, Joy Division, New Order, The Hacienda, Factory Records, Martin Hannett, etc.
The list goes on and on. I could go through them all (I’m quite tempted), but that short run-through will suffice. The point I am making is that Manchester without music is not Manchester.
To make a comparison between Manchester and the Nazis – hear me out – intellectuals muse on whether the Nazis would have won World War Two if they had not implemented the Holocaust. Doris Bergen, an expert on Nazi Germany who spoke at UFV, rebuffed this line of thought by saying that, for the Nazis, the War and the eradication of the Jews and other of society’s undesirables were innately entwined. To Hitler and the other knobheads of the Nazi Party, the Holocaust was the War, for all intents and purposes – as much as shelling the shit out of London and doing that funny walk.
Manchester and music cannot be separated. They are Romeo and Juliet, Henrik and Daniel, Hummers and pricks (the pejorative, not the gland). I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Manchester has offered more to us in terms of music than any other city in the last fifty years. New York? Eat my dust. Montreal? Get knotted, in French if you must. London? Tits to you, so-called capital city.
You want an example? Fine, I’ll give you a bleedin’ example. And then I’ll find you and beat you for making me check my dates.
Do you like DJs? You know, those fellows who stand behind that glass in that dark room and try to look cool? Well, Manchester has a couple of those. In fact, Manchester had the first modern DJ in Jimmy Savile.
In 1946, Savile was the first DJ to use twin turntables, to ensure continuous playing of music. Also, in 1964, Savile hired the world’s first full-time DJ in Tony Prince.
The 1980s brought another chapter in the history of the city’s culture. The now sadly-deceased Tony Wilson, Alan Erasmus and Rob Gretton created Factory Records and The Hacienda, the world-famous club that was the envy of the world and gave us rave culture and gave dance music its character, feeling and spiritual home.
These fabulous traditions live on in the city today. Of course, the music of the city is inextricably linked to its art, its vibrancy, its politics, its racial and ethnic make-up, its architecture, and who knows where one ends and the other begins?
I am going to say something now that will probably make you guffaw into your poutine – art rebuilt Manchester. As close to literally as you can get without meaning something literally, I mean that.
Manchester was the world’s first industrial city. In the nineteenth century, Manchester exploded with the Industrial Revolution to become the foremost industrial city in the world. Unsurprisingly, the city was a fucking hellhole for the industrial workers, who suffered pain, poverty and misery all in equal measure. A bit like being a Liverpool fan, though probably not as bad.
Of course, as soon as the crown of “Industrial City #1” was on Manchester’s head, it was jostled off by the rest of the world, who all caught up and eventually surpassed Britain in industrialisation and share of the world’s market, most notably Germany and the U.S. Britain and Manchester’s industrial standing declined steadily.
Zip forward to the 1970s and Manchester is a grey mess of disused factories, crumbling red-brick buildings, awful council estates and bland tower blocks and not a whole lot else. Unemployment was nice and rampant, and young people were on the bones of their arse (not like today, of course – Subway is hiring dozens of Pakistani brain surgeons and Nigerian architects are driving us to and from pubs and betting shops. Yippee!)
Cue local newscaster Tony Wilson and his comrades Alan Erasmus and Rob Gretton. They started a night at the Russell Club and called it Factory, in ironic honour to the wastage and degradation of the city around them. From there, they started Factory Records, a record company that gave all of the power to the artists and none to themselves. This “human experiment,”as Wilson called it, lost them millions but was a vital and important factor in the rejuvenation of the city.
The Hacienda Club followed, and became the most sought-after club in the world, despite also haemorrhaging millions of pounds every year. Musicians such as Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Smiths, New Order, The Happy Mondays, DJs such as Mike Pickering and Dave Haslam, and artists such as Peter Saville all contributed to and benefited from this blossoming and madness.
It all went tits-up, and Factory and The Hacienda closed and left its owners bankrupt several times over, but that is beside the point.
The point is that, at the time when Manchester fell on the bones of its arse, it was art, not guns nor buildings nor government grants, that tore the city from its torpor and gave it its swagger again. It was art that rejuvenated a dormant global city and turned the first industrial city into arguably the first post-industrial city. It was art that remade Manchester.
Manchester Mark II is a wonderful and horrible place to be. It’s inspiring, depressing, drunken, friendly, confrontational, funny, beautiful, grey, colourful, cold, wet, vibrant, sad and hopeful. Whatever Manchester is, was and will be, it owes a big debt to the art that it produced and was in turn a product of.