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Manchester Studies

PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:17 pm
by Charlie
email attachment with review by Steve Redhead:


Reading John Robb’s The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996 (Aurum, 2009, £16.99)

by Steve Redhead

Twenty Nine Year Party People!

Since Ian Curtis, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook began playing regularly as Joy Division in 1978, that’s effectively twenty nine years up to 2007 when the Curtis-less New Order officially ended their reign in the rainy city. And Tony Wilson died. Twenty nine years since the beginning with Hooky and Bernard its longest serving artists; if you take the first Sex Pistols gig, which Hook and Sumner attended along with Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto and all the other ‘Manchesterati’, at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in June 1976 as the point of origin it is actually thirty one.

Blackpudlian-into-Mancunian John Robb, ex of The Membranes and for many years Gold Blade frontman, has written a section of the definitive popular culture book all Manchester music afficianados wanted to write. The North Will Rise Again is an excellent oral history of Manchester 1976-1996, plain and simple. Robb mainly concentrates on a twenty year period, Manchester music from 1976 to 1996, but he has also presented a sketch of a pre-history of the 1960s and early 1970s, too.

There was, of course, much pop musical city life in Manchester before Joy Division and New Order – Alan Lawson, for instance, wrote a now long out of print book in the early 1990s called It Happened in Manchester which culturally mapped the huge beat explosion of the city in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a phenomenon which eventually produced the later international pop world of The Hollies, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and The Dakotas.

The cut off date of 1996 does mean though that people like DJ Andy Votel and the whole music-led regeneration of the Northern Quarter don’t get a mention. Modelled on Robb’s earlier venture Punk: An Oral History the myriad interviewees in this book are again allowed to speak for themselves with the minimum of overview from Robb at the beginning of each section. As much of the interview material is extremely revealing, and very rich sociological data in itself, there is not necessarily always a need for commentary and interpretation. But there are times when it would have helped to have some in-depth reflection.

Overall Robb’s book reads as an engaging, provocative snapshot of the whole Manc music city shebang which still continues today. The North Will Rise Again deservedly takes its place on the shelves of the growing library of books on Manchester as a ‘Music City’ (check out the A-Z list at the end of this article). Put it together with the recent BBC 4 documentary ‘Factory: From Joy Division to New Order’ and the Grant Gee film ‘Joy Division’ (along with the likes of James Nice’s excellent ‘Shadowplayers’ and the ‘Inside The Smiths’ feature on the other two, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce) and you have a swathe of rich pop cultural tapestry which is unlikely ever to be repeated in one city. Wilson always used to answer reporter’s questions about ‘why Manchester?’ with the rather glib point that ‘Manchester kids’ record collections were better’. Here in Robb’s book we find that Wilson was actually quoting someone else when he said those words. We also get an insight through Robb’s impressive guest list of ‘singers and players’ of other, more substantial factors behind the city’s popular music overdrive. One of those offered is the choice of recreational drugs. Since the 1950s dope and speed, some of the participants argue, gave Manchester its specific city culture even though in the mediatised public mind it is Ecstasy (MDMA) which stands out as the drug with which the city is associated for the brief ‘Madchester’ (‘Rave On’ as the Happy Mondays’ Wilson inspired EP had it) period in the late 1980s.

I wasn’t at the Lesser Free Trade Hall at either of the two now historic Sex Pistol appearances in summer 1976 but I do vividly remember walking nervously through Collyhurst to see bands like Buzzcocks at the Electric Circus in 1977 just as massive flares gave way to straight legs and long hair mutated into spikey. Robb’s history starts on the cusp of this change in Manchester music and wider youth culture – Tony Wilson himself, an undoubted influence on all that followed, was still going to see local pop/rock bands like Sad Café (with Paul Young, later of Mike and the Mechanics, on vocals) in this period even in the wake of the Sex Pistols and all that ‘gobbing on life’. Salford punk poet John Cooper Clarke was reading ‘Beazley Street’ in Cheshire folk clubs just to get heard. Solstice, a local (non-punk) rock band, played alongside the Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. They are still gigging, whereas the Sex Pistols imploded thirty years ago. And they don’t do butter commercials!

One contemporary way of understanding music cities is through ‘creative industries’ debates. Popular music is seen to be one of more than a dozen industries classified as creative industries and subject to ever changing local, national and international cultural policies.

Always interested in intellectual life, however obliquely, Tony Wilson, after a while, cottoned on to these debates and briefly fell for the ideas of one of the gurus, US management theorist Richard Florida, in the mid 2000s. The idea of ‘the creative class’ in Florida’s work helped to explain to Wilson what the previous anarchic thirty years had been about. And what the future might hold for his beloved Manchester and surrounding hinterland. For Wilson, ‘young creatives’ (or ‘creative entrepreneurs’) abounded in the North West and he even went as far as to write a Florida-influenced report on the ‘post-industrial’ Pennine region and its creative potential in 2005.

‘Please don’t think the idea of name-checking Richard Florida is redundant for poor old East Lancashire…artists are already moving to Bacup, and Ramsbottom is already a desirable suburb for young creatives in Manchester’, stated Wilson at the time.

Even before this, in the early 2000s, he had been an enthusiastic participant at the inaugural meeting in the city centre of The Independents, a group of Manchester-based small entrepreneurs (from stall holders to music label owners) inspired by the theories of creative industries and the knowledge economy by British writers like Charles Leadbeater and Kate Oakley.

In 1992, ironically just before the bankruptcy of Factory in the November of that year, Tony Wilson joined the board of the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture (MIPC) which I had set up with my colleague Derek Wynne at Manchester Metropolitan University. In the next three years he gave his time freely to us despite the enormous impact of Factory’s financial troubles and was always keen to plug into the MIPC debates/studies/seminars about what I call ‘mobile city cultures’, especially where popular music and Manchester were concerned.

The notion of mobile city cultures explains the longevity of Manchester as Music City. Whereas most music cultures in second tier cities (Liverpool, Seattle, Dusseldorf, Dunedin) have, as Wilson himself noted, their ‘three years in the sun’, Manchester maintained its pole position for at least the period covered by John Robb’s book; that is 1976-1996. The fact that Quando Quango’s bass lines were picked up by black Chicago house musicians in the mid-1980s and then recycled back to Manchester on the dancefloor of the Hacienda is one example of mobile city cultures. A DAT (Digital Audio Cassette) belonging to Manchester exile Pete Carroll (Shaun Ryder’s cousin) passing between Manchester and Perth in the late 1990s/early 2000s expanding the roster of Western Australian labels Off World Sounds (OWS) and Little BIGMAN is another.

Another explanation for Manchester music’s sustainability is though the anti-Factory thing. Factory wasn’t a major, it was an independent. But in the context of Manchester and the North West, Factory was as good as a major. Its very existence, as well as its dominance in the media, caused resentment locally and the small labels which popped up from time to time over the years (Dave Haslam and Nathan McGough’s Play Hard, Paula Greenwood’s Playtime and so on) were formed in a counterculture ‘against’ the Factory line.

‘Outside’ influences were important, too, implicitly questioning the one dimensional Situationism of Factory and expanding the range and reach of what Manchester music meant - Steve Barker’s wonderful ‘On The Wire’ BBC Radio Lancashire programme broadcast from nearby Blackburn, On-U Sound legend Adrian Sherwood’s live mixing at gigs in the city, to name just two. John Robb’s book, to its great credit, covers it all.

Tony Wilson’s famous theory of ‘thirteen year’ cycles in popular music also had its genesis in Manchester music history. The theory went that The Beatles (who often played in Manc beat clubs) in 1963 represented one musical upheaval, punk in 1976 represented another and acid house in 1989 yet another. The second Summer of Love in 1988 slightly altered this historical sweep but you kinda knew what Wilson meant when he expounded the theory. I remember asking Tony Wilson in a Manchester hostelry in 2002 ‘well, it’s time, where is the next big thing?’ and being met by an exasperated splutter! It certainly didn’t occur in Wilson’s lifetime and maybe it just ain’t going to happen anyway, anywhere. The Ting Tings, from Salford, and Bernard Sumner’s Bad Lieutenant post-New Order project, are interesting but hardly the revolution in popular music culture predicted by Wilson’s enchanting linear theory of cultural change.

When I was first researching popular culture in the ‘original modern’ (1) industrial city in the mid-1970s there was such a thing as ‘Manchester studies’ in higher education. The students who were on this track at Manchester Polytechnic were part of historical studies courses and popular music hardly featured at all in those days. Today if the large Manchester Music City bibliography presented here is anything to go by the history of the city’s popular music would be a central part of ‘Manchester studies’, however it is conceived. Robb’s book, with its iconic Ian Tilton photos, is a must read on this list. Manchester Read On!

1. As Factory designer extraordinaire Peter Saville christened it in 2004.


Berry, Mark and Faulkner, Deborah (1998) Bez: Freaky Dancin. London: Pan.

Bret, David (2004) Morrissey: Scandal and Passion. London: Robson Books.

Brown, Len (2008) Meetings With Morrissey. London: Omnibus.

Carman, Richard (2006) Johnny Marr: The Smiths and the Art of Gun-Slinging. Church Stretton: IMP.

Cawthorne, Nigel (2005) The Making of The Stone Roses. London: Unanimous.

Champion, Sarah (1990) And God Created Manchester. Manchester: Wordsmith.

Cummins, Kevin (2009) Manchester: Looking For The Light Through The Pouring Rain. London: Faber and Faber.

Cummins, Kevin (2008) Juvenes. London: Fuel.

Cummins, Kevin (2002) The Smiths and Beyond. London: Vision On.

Curtis, Deborah (1995) Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division. London: Faber and Faber.

Edge, Brian (1988, 2nd edition) New Order +Joy Division: Pleasures and Wayward Distractions. London: Omnibus.

Flowers, Claude (1995) New Order + Joy Division. London: Omnibus.

Gallagher, Paul and Christian, Terry (1996) Brothers: From Childhood to Oasis – The Real Story. London: Virgin.

Gallagher, Tom, Campbell, Michael and Gillies, Murdo (1995) The Smiths: All Men Have Secrets. London: Virgin.

Gatenby, Phil (2007) Panic on the Streets: The Smiths and Morrissey Location Guide. Richmond: Reynolds and Hearn.

Goddard, Simon (2004, 2nd edition) The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life. Richmond: Reynolds and Hearn.

Green, Alex (2006) The Stone Roses. London: Continuum.

Haslam, Dave (1999) Manchester, England. London: Fourth Estate.

Hewitt, Paolo (1997) Getting High: The Adventures of Oasis. London: Boxtree.

Hewitt, Paolo (1999) Forever The People: Six Months on the Road With Oasis. London: Boxtree.

Hutton, Chris and Kurt, Richard (1997) Don’t look Back In Anger: Growing up with Oasis. London: Simon and Schuster.

Kennedy, Jake (2006) Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Unanimous.

Lawson, Alan (1992) It Happened In Manchester. Manchester.

Lee, C.P. (2007) When We Were Thin: Music, Madness and Manchester. Manchester: Hotun Press.

Lee, C.P. (2002) Shake, Rattle and Rain: Popular Music Making in Manchester 1955-1995. Ottery St Mary: Hardinge Simpole.

Middles, Mick (2009, 3rd edition) Factory: The Story of the Record Label. London: Virgin.

Middles, Mick (1999) Breaking Into Heaven: The Rise and Fall of The Stone Roses. London: Omnibus.

Middles, Mick (1997) Shaun Ryder: Happy Mondays, Black Grape and Other Traumas. London: IMP.

Middles, Mick (1996) Oasis: Round Their Way. London: IMP.

Middles, Mick (1985) The Smiths. London: Omnibus.

Middles, Mick and Reade, Lindsay (2006) Torn Apart: The Life of Ian Curtis. London: Omnibus.

Moody, Paul (1996) Oasis: Lost Inside. London: UFO Music.

Morley, Paul (2007) Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus.

Morley, Paul (2000) Nothing. London: Faber and Faber.

Nolan, David (2007a, 2nd edition) I Swear I Was There: The Gig That Changed The World. Church Stretton: IMP.

Nolan, David (2007b) Bernard Sumner - Confusion: Joy Division, Electronic and New Order Versus The World. Church Stretton: IMP.

Ott, Chris (2006) Unknown Pleasures. London: Continuum.

Reid, Pat (2004) Morrissey. Bath: Absolute Press.

Robb, John (1998) The Charlatans…We Are Rock: Lessons in Pop Survival. London: Ebury.

Robb, John (1997) The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop. London: Ebury.

Robertson, John (1988) Morrissey In His Own Words. London: Omnibus.

Rogan, Johnny (2006) Morrissey: The Albums. London: Calidore.

Rogan, Johnny (1993, 2nd edition) Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance. London: Omnibus.

Rylatt, Keith and Scott, Phil (2001) CENtral 1179: The Story of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel Club. London: Be Cool.

Savage, Jon (ed) (1992) The Hacienda Must be Built. London: IMP.

Sharp, Colin (2007) Who Killed Martin Hannett? London: Aurum.

Simpson, Dave (2008) The Fallen: Searching for the Missing Members of The Fall. Edinburgh: Canongate.

Simpson, Mark (2004) Saint Morrissey. London: SAF.

Smith, Mark E. (2008) Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. London: Viking.

Sterling, Linder (1992) Morrissey Shot. London: Secker and Warburg.

Thompson, Dave (2005) True Faith: An Armchair Guide To New Order, Joy Division, Electronic, Revenge, Monaco and The Other Two. London: Helter Skelter.

Verrico, Lisa (1998) High Life ‘n’ Low Down Dirty: The Thrills and Spills of Shaun Ryder. London: Ebury Press.

Warburton, John (2000) Hallelujah! The Extraordinary Return of Shaun Ryder and Happy Mondays. London: Virgin.

Wild, Peter (ed) (2009) Paint A Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired by The Smiths. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Wild, Peter (ed) (2007) Perverted By Language: Fiction Inspired by The Fall. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Wilson, Tony (2002) Twenty Four Hour Party People: What The Sleeve Notes Never Tell You. London: Channel 4 Books.


Joy Division (directed by Grant Gee, written by Jon Savage)

Factory: From Joy Division to New Order (BBC4).

Shadowplayers: Factory Records and Manchester Post-Punk 1978-1981 (directed by James Nice, edited by David Meachen)

Inside The Smiths (produced and directed by Stephen Petricco, edited by Mark Standley)

Steve Redhead

Professor of Sport and Media Cultures in Brighton in the United Kingdom, Steve directs research into Mobile Accelerated Nonpostmodern Culture (MANC). He is Head of the Research Student Division of the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton. He is co-editor of Berg’s international Subcultural Style book series. He was educated at the Universities of Manchester and Warwick. Formerly Professor of Law and Popular Culture at Manchester Metropolitan University where he created and co-directed the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture (MIPC), he has also worked in Canada and Australia. His e-mail address is S.C.Redhead(at)