Vast box set unfolding “A Story Of Independent Music, Greater Manchester 1977-1993” is one hell of an interesting journey.
Manchester boxed, Nick Lowe, Dusty Springfield, Florian Fricke, Black Sabbath, Charlie Rich, Acetone and Ella.
CHERRY RED. CD/DL
Manchester North Of England
In the interest of full disclosure, this writer didn’t set foot in Manchester until he was 20 years old. The occasion was the July 1986 ‘Festival Of The Tenth Summer’, an event staged at the newly inaugurated G-Mex Centre and featuring, with hindsight, a quite staggering cast including New Order, The Smiths, The Fall, Pete Shelley, A Certain Ratio, Cabaret Voltaire, John Cooper Clarke, Sex Pistols provocateur Bill Grundy, and more. It was, indisputably, a moment of self-realisation for the city: not only had it evolved in the 10 years since punk into the UK’s premier musical metropolis, but now it was perhaps the cultural epicentre of the world. Manchester back then was still very much the derelict, post-industrial landscape of Joy Division’s records – “a science fiction city,” as its famous sonic architect, Martin Hannett, once observed, “all industrial archaeology, chemical plants, warehouses… roads that don’t take any notice of the areas they traverse.” The locals were almost impossible to impress, but exhibited a commendable municipal spirit by participating in a new thing called a Mexican Wave (popularised by that month’s World Cup). That summer of ’86 roughly marks the midpoint of this epic 7-CD, 146-track survey of Manchester’s music scene, spanning the birth of punk to the arrival of Oasis, with a great deal of pioneering cold funk, pop, jangly indie, techno and psychedelic rock in between. That a single city should have produced such an ocean of music, as well as arguably the greatest British bands of the ’80s – The Smiths, New Order, The Fall, The Stone Roses – and several more unimpeachably brilliant ones either side – Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Oasis – isn’t immediately explicable. But the DIY, anti-London music biz ethic promoted by Buzzcocks’ January 1977 Spiral Scratch EP certainly appears to have appealed to the tough, independently minded Mancunian and Salford temperament. There were other crucial factors at work too: one was the fact that local ’70s pop craftsmen 10cc had built their state-of-the-art Strawberry studios in Stockport, which together with Pennine in Oldham and Cargo in Rochdale meant Manchester had excellent facilities to capture its torrent of punk-inspired sounds. Local music nut Tosh Ryan was the unsung hero of Manc’s postpunk blossoming. His hand-tomouth Rabid label was soon home to a raft of eccentrics including "IT WAS AFTER THE CITY’S EARLY PUNK HAND GRENADES THAT IT REALLY DEVELOPED ITS OWN SOUND AND IDENTITY." Slaughter & The Dogs, The Nosebleeds, Jilted John and John Cooper Clarke, before he co-founded the artier Absurd imprint featuring even quirkier acts such as 48 Chairs and the wonderfully Manc selfreferencing Bet Lynch’s Legs. Translating much of this early stuff onto vinyl fell to Manchester’s secret weapon – producer Martin Hannett, an aural scientist with a forensic ear for sound and a drink-and-drug problem. It was after the punk hand-grenades that pepper this set’s first disc that the city’s music began to develop a distinctive sound and identity, primarily through the dark, Expressionistic recordings of Joy Division (She’s Lost Control here), to which Hannett’s glassine production lent icy grandeur. Yet, as the sequencing shows, the chilling, fatal beauty of Joy Division was already there in Magazine’s The Light Pours Out Of Me, recorded a year earlier in the first half of 1978. Manchester’s story takes flight, of course, with the arrival of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and Haçienda club, his label dominating Discs 2 and 3 with the meticulously constructed soundscapes of Durutti Column and frigid synth-dance experiments of Quando Quango, Stockholm Monsters, Section 25, et al. But labels like Richard Boon’s rejuvenated New Hormones (of Spiral Scratch EP fame) offered an interesting counterpoint with the fey proto-jangle of the Pete Shelley-enhanced Tiller Boys and glistening new pop of Dislocation Dance’s Rosemary – though it’s the dystopian guitar noise of Discipline by the relative unknowns Gods Gift that mightily thrills here. Manchester’s industrial heritage seemed powerfully synergetic with the city’s metronomic early ’80s electro vibe, but the arrival of The Smiths – the only major band not represented here (though their DNA is captured on Morrissey’s Last Of The International Playboys and Electronic’s Getting Away With It) – inevitably fuelled an indie guitar explosion. But while the likes of James, Easterhouse, Bradford and The Waltones proved that melancholic Northern ruminations didn’t exclusively belong to Moz and Marr, they also telegraphed that greatness couldn’t be bestowed by a ‘M’ postcode alone. Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets thereafter revitalised Manchester’s dance and indie strands, before the two genres merged with the shortlived Madchester ‘baggy’ movement, crowned here by The Charlatans’ nervy Sproston Green, itself followed by the raw, modern, MDMA-suffused techno/dance essays of A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State, Ruthless Rap Assassins, Sub Sub and The Chemical Brothers. Curiously, Disc 7, with its early ’90s psychedelic rock/pop contributions from World Of Twist (the peerless Sons Of The Stage), The Days (Fly) and Wonky Alice (Caterpillars) is probably the most enjoyable; and it all poignantly ends with the seeds for a new beginning, with the rough-hewn, trippy 1993 demo of Oasis’s Columbia. To bring together such a vast set with so many bighitters is a real feather in Cherry Red’s hat; and though it isn’t necessarily that conventionally playable, it is dizzingly comprehensive and nuanced (Ludus, Suns Of Arqa, Johnny Dangerously, Jean Go Solo, Smack, The Weeds, Life). And to discover tracks like Thirst’s exhilarating Let Go or Laugh’s Time To Lose It is an edifying, exciting and educative experience – just like Manchester itself.