Terminal Jive

Postcards from the outskirts of pop

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Manchester Academy Memories

Manchester District Music Archive is proud to launch a new digital exhibition created in partnership with the University of Manchester Students’ Union.

The exhibition, Manchester Academy Memories, documents the history of concerts and club life at the Students’ Union from 1963 to the present day and has been curated by Abigail Ward (MDMA) and Rod Connolly.

It features 435 digitised artefacts relating to artists such as Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, The Slits, Daft Punk, Björk, Nirvana, The Kinks, Adele, Prince and Led Zeppelin. Many of these items, which include tickets, photos, press articles and videos, have been uploaded to the archive by the general public.

An introductory essay by Abigail Ward, written to accompany the digital exhibition, is reproduced below:

Manchester Academy Memories: Concerts & Club Life at the University of Manchester 1963-2016

“When entering for the first time a town like Manchester, a stranger, overwhelmed by the new and interesting spectacle presented to him, scarcely dares look this giant full in the face at once…” From “Ireland, Scotland and England” by J.G.Kohl, 1844.

*

‘You ask him.’

‘No, you ask him!’

‘No, you!

This was how it would start.

For my sister and I, aged thirteen and fifteen respectively, the first hurdle to be cleared after seeing an enticing Manchester Academy gig advertised in Melody Maker was persuading our dad to give us a lift. We lived in Preston and were a bit young for the perils of the last train home. We’d been very focused on music since being toddlers, really, but in 1992 things moved up a gear after we experienced our first big gigs: Michael Jackson at Wembley and James at Alton Towers. By 1993 we were in full throttle, obsessed with live music and constantly hatching schemes to witness our heroes play, more often than not at the Academy or one of its smaller sister venues in Manchester University Students’ Union. All I wanted to do was move to Manchester – the music city. By ‘94 I’d managed to move out of my parents’ house and by ‘95 my sister and I had our own band. Three years later, I achieved my ultimate dream: a council flat in sunny Longsight, a mere skip and a jump from the Academy. I started working in a record shop. Listening, playing, watching, selling. I had landed.

During the nineties, I saw some unforgettable gigs at Academy venues, including Manic Street Preachers, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey, Tricky and Pulp. (It killed me that I couldn’t get into Bowie in ‘97.) These were potent moments in my young life – euphoric, boozy, full of mystery. I would scrutinise the mix, the drums, guitar pedals, mics, keen to learn how it all worked. Gigs were physically demanding at times (especially at the Academy), and not without the occasional pang of sadness. I can still see Richey Edwards at the Academy in ‘94, rail-thin and scabby, hanging over his microphone stand like James Dean in Giant, not even pretending to play guitar any more.

I saved all of my tickets, many of which feature in this digital exhibition, which has been an absolute joy to curate. Funded by the University of Manchester Students’ Union, the project was conceived as a way of celebrating the 25th anniversary of Academy 1, whilst exploring the cultural legacy of all of the University venues, from 1963 to the present day. And it’s not just about the big names that have passed through the venues, it’s about the social and political histories that are inextricably entwined with the music. These are particularly evident in the cuttings we’ve included from student newspapers The Manchester Independent and the Mancunion. We hope you enjoy these glimpses into student life across the decades.

Whilst I did spend a number of days seeking out material for this project in physical archives, many of the items included have been uploaded by the general public: crowd-sourced heritage in action! Thank you to everyone who has made a contribution.

Ticket: Jeff Buckley, Manchester University, 1995. Courtesy: Abigail Ward

Ticket: Jeff Buckley, Manchester University, 1995. Courtesy: Abigail Ward

Manchester Academy (now Academy 1) opened in 1990 on Oxford Road, following years of debate about an extension to the main Students’ Union building (erected 1957) a little further down the road. Gigs and club nights had been promoted by the Union since 1963 across a number of places:

The Main Debating Hall (now Academy 2)
The Hop and Grape (formerly Solem Bar, now Academy 3)
The Cellar (now Club Academy)
UMIST (the Tech Union/Undergound/Barnes Wallis Building)
Whitworth Hall (no longer used for gigs)
The Squat (now demolished)

But it was time for a purpose-built venue with a bigger capacity.

Costing £1.2 million, the Academy originally housed a bank, a bar and a catering facility. It opened with a capacity of 1500, rising to 2000 soon after. It was run on a commercial basis; profits from band nights and club nights were funnelled back into the Students’ Union. Fittingly, the first musicians to grace the stage were Manchester punk icons Buzzcocks on October 7th 1990.

Article on the opening of Manchester Academy, 1990, taken from the Mancunion. Courtesy of University of Manchester Students’ Union

Some months before the opening, the Union appointed a full-time Entertainments and Marketing Manager, Sean Morgan, who swiftly entered into a partnership with Manchester-based promoters SJM Concerts (founded by Simon Moran), allowing SJM first option on gig dates for local and visiting artists. Live music was flourishing nationwide; it was boom time for both parties.

In an interview for this project in September 2016, Morgan said, ‘I was ambitious. I was empire-building. I wanted to run the biggest venue complex in the country and put the most gigs on. At one point we put twenty-six bands on in one week.’

‘We worked really hard to see off the competition. Bands and their crews knew that if they came to the Academy, we’d look after them, y’know, take ‘em out on the lash afterwards. They could go to the International 2 [in Longsight] and be stuck out in the middle of nowhere, or they could come to us and get looked after.’

During Sean’s 21-year tenure he was responsible for booking some huge names across all four Academy venues, including Nirvana, Radiohead, Dizzee Rascal, Daft Punk, Patti Smith, Blur, Eminem, The Chemical Brothers and Amy Winehouse. He claims the best gig he ever saw at the Academy was David Bowie in 1997.

‘Bowie was doing a tour of 2000-capacity venues and approached the Academy to play. It was always going to be a “yes”. His sheer showmanship and presence were amazing.’

But Sean’s proudest moments were bringing over his beloved American country stars Townes Van Zandt in 1994 and Scotty Moore (Elvis’s guitarist ) ten years later.

Morgan also oversaw scores of successful club nights, citing rave night Solstice ’91, with resident DJ Dave Booth, as the best atmosphere he ever experienced at the Academy.

In 2011 Sean left the Union and now works for Academy Music Group (no relation). In September 2013, following further refurbishment, the capacity of Academy 1 was increased to 2,600. The venue celebrated its 25th anniversary with a string of significant gigs throughout 2015-16, including Buzzcocks, Garbage and Happy Mondays.

David Bowie ticket book, 1997. Courtesy of Sean Morgan.

David Bowie ticket book, 1997. Courtesy of Sean Morgan.

But how did it all begin?

The Union’s early forays into concert promotion are documented, albeit sketchily, in student newspaper The Manchester Independent. Jazz bandleader Humphrey Lyttleton kicks things off in 1963. A mere two years later Socials Secretary Chris Wright (future co-founder of Chrysalis Records) is booking the likes of the Spencer Davis Group, The Who and The Yardbirds. A Kinks gig at the Rag Ball in March ‘65, however, ends in ‘confusion and brawls’ as the band is bottled off stage. Gig reviews from this period often hint at an element of chaos! Jimi Hendrix stops by in 1967. We’ve included a rarely seen interview with Jimi at the Union by Jill Nichols culled from the Independent.

An interesting story featured in this exhibition is that of the Corporation Act 1965 – a law that allowed venues to be closed on the spot by police if they suspected staff or punters were up to no good. In ‘65 there were around two hundred beat music clubs in Manchester (hard to imagine). They were mainly booze-free members only clubs where young people would drink coffee and dance all night to beat groups. But by the end of ‘66, following the introduction of the act, there were just three clubs remaining. The act was highly unusual in that it was passed by parliament, but applied only to one UK city: Manchester. The city’s music scene was decimated.

In an exclusive interview for this project (which you can listen to within the exhibition), cultural historian Dr. CP Lee says: ‘Against the background of the Corporation Act, it’s hard to overstate the importance of Manchester University for music fans at this time. It was a lifeline. It was our lifeblood. I virtually lived there, even though I wasn’t a student.’

Moving into the early seventies and one of the most intriguing episodes in the Union’s history begins: The Squat.

The Squat was originally the old College of Music. It was situated on Devas Street, between where Big Hands and the Contact Theatre are now. In October of 1973, after the University threatened to demolish the building in favour of a car park, it was occupied by a group of students who were protesting against three things: the student accommodation crisis, the lack of facilities provided by the University for community activities and the proposed demolition of the music college itself. The Squat was turned into a multi-purpose ‘art lab’, with spaces for theatre projects, gigs, band rehearsal and visual art.

For a time, the occupation was financed by a weekly music night held on a Friday in collaboration with Music Force, the socialist music agency put together by, amongst others, renowned blues guitarist Victor Brox and jazz drummer Bruce Mitchell (Greasy Bear, Albertos, Durutti Column).  Music Force was set up in part as a response to the effects of the Corporation Act, which had resulted in a paucity of work for Manchester’s once very busy musicians. The collective provided everything you might require to put a concert on: musicians, PA and equipment hire, flyposting, the full works. The Squat and Music Force both played vital roles in the Manchester punk and post-punk scenes. During its 8-year life the venue played host to New Order, The Fall, The Stranglers, Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias and several Rock Against Racism nights.

1981 was a great year for music, which filtered through to gigs at the Union. Bookings included U2, The Au Pairs, Aswad, The Cramps, Linton Kwesi Johnson and The Beat. Things seem to slow down a little gig-wise in the mid-80s, but the Cellar Disco (now Club Academy) packed the punters in. One exhibition contributor reminisces about doing a disastrous drunken somersault in there to the strains of Caberet Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’!

1989 saw visits from indie royalty The Happy Mondays, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. Then in October 1990 the Academy opens and ticket sales go through the roof. The Charlatans, Northside and New Model Army do two sell-out nights apiece. The LA’s, Paul Weller and Devo also stop by.

Which brings us back to where we started. It’s 1993 and I’m getting the breath shoved out of my lungs at my first ever Academy show: Smashing Pumpkins and Verve. Dad is making a pint last four hours over the road at Jabez Clegg. My plan to move to the city is a tiny seed in my fourteen-year-old mind.

This digital exhibition is full of great stories from true music fans: in 1968 a young audience member is gifted a harmonica by Captain Beefheart in the Main Debating Hall. In 1992 the drummer from Pavement confuses everyone by handing out carrots to the audience. In 1995 a sixteen-year-old Julian Cope fan gets a full snog with tongues from her hero in the Academy. Around the same time a clubber at Megadog spends the entire night in a toilet cubicle and has the time of her life.

This project is dedicated to those fans – to everyone who has taken the time to share a memory; to Manchester District Music Archive’s team of volunteers; and also to my dad, who took me to the Academy in the first place all those years ago.

Advert for Captain Beefheart taken from The Manchester Independent, 1968. Courtesy of the University of Manchester Students' Union

Advert for Captain Beefheart taken from The Manchester Independent, 1968. Courtesy of the University of Manchester Students’ Union

Notes:

• If you would like to contribute an artefact or story, just upload it to Manchester District Music Archive and we will add it to the exhibition.
• Only bands/artists from Greater Manchester are searchable in our database.
• If we are unsure of the exact venue the artefact relates to, or if it relates to several Union venues, we have used the tag Manchester University.
• Dates added to press articles refer to the publication date rather than the gig date.
• Gig ladders are usually dated with the earliest date on the advert.
• Due to time and budget constraints many press articles have been photographed quickly, sometime in poor light, rather than scanned.
• We’ve done our best to credit photographers and journalists clearly. Please give us a shout if we’ve missed something: info@mdmarchive.co.uk

Imperfect Motion – early 90s daydream indie and imitations thereof

Last Sunday I did an ‘in conversation’ event in Shrewsbury with writer and historian Jon Savage. The subject was baggy/Madchester/The Stone Roses, and Jon’s recent compilation ‘Perfect Motion – The Secret History Of Second Wave Psychedelia 1988-93’, which offers a different take on that brief dayglo period.

I am something of a Madchester sceptic. I was too young to appreciate the first wave and by the time I started going out around ’93 it felt like tired music that belonged to the people I wanted to avoid – thick lads who would bang into you on the dancefloor for kicks.

When it came to DJing at the event I decided simply to play some records that meant a lot to me at that time, and some more recent stuff that is audibly in thrall to that era.

Idjut Boys – Dub Shine (2015)

This came out on the Idjuts’ ‘Versions’ album from last year. Does it for me.

Kirsty Maccoll feat Johnny Marr & Aniff Akinola – Walking Down Madison (1991)
‘It’s not that far…’

I miss Kirsty. Can you imagine what she’d have to say about the current political climate?

Steve Mason – Words In My Head (2016)
Will you love me when I fall?’

Just seemed to fit. The ‘words in his head’ aren’t up to much, admittedly.

The Boo Radleys – Lazarus (1993)
‘While those around me are beaten down each day…’

Their masterpiece. Boos guitarist Martin Carr lived in Preston (my hometown) at this time. In our social circle there was much discussion about who’d seen Martin last, where it was (Action Records?) and if he’d said anything. Desperate times indeed.

The House of Love – Feel (1992)
‘Twenty-five/sick of life’

I was 14 when the ‘Babe Rainbow’ album came out. I first heard ‘Feel’ on Mark Goodier’s Evening Session. I played it to death that year, along with ‘Automatic For The People’ and The The’s ‘Dusk’. My Maths teacher at the time was content to let me listen to my Alba walkman at the back of the class during most of his lessons. I learnt a great deal.

Saint Etienne – Avenue (1992)
‘Oh how many years is it now, Maurice?’

So perfect I can’t bear to write about it.

Prefab Sprout – Let There Be Music (1993)
‘Hey Jules and Jim/I wrote the hymn to Ecstasy’

From Paddy’s lost 1993 album ‘Let’s Change the World with Music’, which he wrote, performed and produced at his  Andromeda Heights studio in County Durham. Intended to be the follow up to ‘Jordan: The Comeback’, but not released until 2009. Utterly beautiful.

Electronic – Getting away With It (Extended Mix)  (1989)
‘I’ve been walking in the rain just to get wet on purpose’

I nearly went for Greg Wilson’s 11-minute edit, but managed to curb myself.

Lake Heartbeat – Mystery (2009)
‘You said love would last…’

Swedish band recommended by my old Piccadilly Records comrade Andy McQueen, the king of wistful melodic pop. Dan Lissvik (Studio/The Crepes) on guitar.

Ducktails – International Dateline (2012)

Lovely instrumental from the ‘Flower Lane’ album.

Cashier No.9 – Oh Pity (2011)
‘Burnt out at the fine old age of seventeen’

Underrated sunshine pop on Bella Union. These lot now make music under the moniker exmagician.

Whyte Horses – The Snowfalls (2014)
‘Just keep on running for the morning’

So contagious. Gets wedged in your head to the point of irritation. Coming soon to an advert near you. They’re from Manchester dontcha know.

Primal Scream – Higher Than The Sun (1991)
A higher state of grace’

Recommended to me in about 1993 by an older boy I thought was the coolest of the cool. (He was a towering bellend in actuality.) Saw the Scream for the first time at Glastonbury in 2005. They whizzed me round the cosmos and back, but to be fair I had just ingested two very large hash truffles. I became convinced that ‘Swastika Eyes’ was about Paul O’Grady.

One Dove – Breakdown (Cellophane Boat Mix) (1993)
‘And the small hours are hard to bear’

I don’t think this mix (by Weatherall, of course) reached me at the time. Got into it via the Boy’s Own retrospective from 2013. Gorgeous.

Spiritualized – Run (1992)
‘They call me the breeze / I keep rollin’ down the road’

I saw Spritualized at the free Heineken Festival on Avenham Park, Preston in 1993. I’d arranged to go with my best mate but at the last minute she opted to go to a house party, drink Thunderbird and attempt to divest herself of her virginity instead.  Initially I was a bit scared to be on my own in the moshpit, but the gig was really something: intense and unforgettable.  I think I had to endure the Sultans of Ping FC before they came on. In later years I found Spiritualized rather ponderous and grandiose.

The Orb – Blue Room (1992)

Ah…The Orb. I had a real soft spot for them up to about 1994. I still listen to a fair amount of dub techno, mainly Deepchord and Rhythm & Sound, but these producers owe a debt to Paterson, Cauty et al. Famously samples Mad Professor’s ‘Fast Forward Into Dub’. The Orb caused controversy by appearing on Top of the Pops to promote the Blue Room. Instead of performing, Alex Paterson and Kris Weston played chess.

Primal Scream – Uptown (Andrew Weatherall Mix) (2008)
‘Back in the office, cage, a factory line’

I loved the straight version of ‘Uptown’ when it came out, especially Mani’s bassline. I first heard the Weatherall mix in DJ and producer Kelvin Andrews’ car on the way to an after party in the early hours. When the strings hit, I was so overwhelmed I vomited explosively into Kelvin’s glove compartment. He was a true gent about it, but this track will forever be tainted with the memory. 

Mark Seven – Sermon (Serotonin Edit) (2007)

So perfect an Ecstasy record it’s almost manipulative! ‘Sermon’ is a Mark Seven edit of Sheila Stewart’s ‘It’s You’ from 1988, which came out on the aforementioned Kelvin Andrews’ Creative Use label.

I miss the hungry years – memories of Cornerhouse

cornerhousetriptych

01. Europa Cinemas Trailer
02. George Martin – And I Love her
03. Hi-Voltage Orchestra – Midnight Blue
04. Dave Grusin – Three Days of the Condor
05. The Jackson 5 – Can I See You In The Morning?
06. Brian Bennett – Solstice
07. Charles Earland – I Will Never Tell
08. Mo Foster – Stateside II
09. Bob James – Nightcrawler
10. Fat Gaines Band present Zorina – For Your Love (Diablo Edit)
11. Lonnie Liston Smith – A Chance For Peace
12. Leo’s Sunship – Back For More
13. Lambchop – Give Me Your Love
14. Pete Dunaway – Supermarket
15. Soul Sensation Orchestra – Faded Lady (Instrumental)
16. Robert Upchurch – The Devil Made Me Do it
17. Bob Welch – Don’t Let Me Fall
18. Marvin Gaye – I Want You (Vocal & Rhythm Version)
19. Freddie Hubbard feat Jeanie Tracy – You’re Gonna Lose Me
20. Johnnie Taylor – What About My Love?
21. Barry White – Sheet Music (US Promo Instrumental)


I never really wanted to be a DJ. I have always collected records and owned a turntable, but for much of my younger life I focused on writing my own songs rather than playing other people’s. That changed in 2007 when my friend Kate – then bar manager at Cornerhouse – asked me to do a mix of rare film scores for her to play at work. A short time later, she invited me to DJ on a Friday night, and so began a six-year tenure as a handmaiden of the decks.

On my first night, trembling with anxiety, I pitted my wits against a crackly Numark mixer and Cornerhouse’s famously sensitive limiter, a device that would cut the sound dead throughout the whole venue if it didn’t care for your tunes. I triggered it three times. Kate explained I had to balance on a stool and bash it with a tray to achieve a reset.

I called my night Big Strings Attached and indulged my love of all things stringed, from symphonic soul to cinematic pop, and of course, plenty of soundtracks.

Initially I played at the top of the stairs in the café bar. I would lose myself watching the weather out of the window while first dates and last orders rippled pleasantly around me. I stood up to DJ behind a makeshift wooden booth on wheels. It would be rolled in through double doors at the start of the night, reminding me for some reason of a coffin sliding into the furnace.

When the managers eventually agreed to replace the £50 Numark with a Pioneer DJM 750 mixer, the decks would no longer fit in the coffin, so I ended up sitting at an ordinary table. Pros: I could take the weight of my feet, always sore from a full Friday working the counter at Piccadilly Records. Cons: I became too accessible to punters who needed to chat.

From that point on, people were able to draw up a chair and talk to me. And of course, there was no escape. Many sordid sob stories and unsolicited confessions were shared, leading inevitably to dead air and flunked mixes on my part.

There was Elsie, still angular of cheekbone at 80, whose bright eyes would fill with tears when recounting her days treading the boards at the Royal Exchange; there was Terry, who claimed I was the only person he could talk to about his desire to have gender reassignment surgery; there was Dr Octopus, a GP with broken facial capillaries, whose tentacles, come 10pm, would brush across the buttocks of his always much younger female companions. There was Robin, who sometimes noticed blood in his stools.*

I hate talking to people when I am playing records. It’s a social no man’s land. You can’t get meaningfully involved in either the conversation or the music. Even when close friends came in to help me through a shift, I found it awkward. My heart would sink a little.

I tried for a time simply to exist within my headphones, strings blaring. But people would still come and talk to me. It was more disturbing to confront their wordless gaping mouths than to listen to their problems.

A sweet looking boy called John was a regular feature for a while. He would slope in early doors, always nicely turned out. Intermittently he was able to talk in fully formed sentences about college or music. Much of the time he spoke in strange fragments, little blurted scraps, tics. He wasn’t drunk. I never saw him with a drink. I suspect at some point he’d been flung through the doors of perception whilst on acid or ket and never quite made it back. Sometimes he did the crossword next to me, shouting out random words. One night I picked up the newspaper after he left and discovered he’d filled in each blank word with my name.

Very occasionally, perhaps once a year, someone would want to talk about the music I was playing. This was a genuine delight. I have no issue with people who want to talk about music. Provided their taste is immaculate, like mine.

In later years I was moved downstairs to play in the window by the door. The ground floor had a different atmosphere, a transient crowd, no food. I campaigned weekly to get candles on the tables and lights dimmed.

By now I’d toughened up a bit. I had strategies to deal with ‘sitters’. Downstairs, it was less heartbreak, more hassle. I still have nightmares about one night when the Rocky Horror Show was on at the Palace. The bar was heaving with stroppy hets in fishnets thrusting their pansticked faces into mine because I wouldn’t play ‘The Timewarp’.

Another time, over Christmas, a paralytic Santa on Oxford Road pressed his bare arse up to the window millimeters away from my face. I can still see his sad sack dangling.

Setting up the decks was less convenient. I had to carry my Technics, mixer, CDJ, and monitor down several flights of stone stairs that ran from the top to the bottom of the building. This area of Cornerhouse had a very particular smell: bleach, hops, sweat and something all of its own. All buildings have their smells, like people.

During the final year, appalled to discover that Cornerhouse was soon to be demolished, I began to experience an odd feeling on those stairs, almost as if I were being watched fondly by a future version of myself as I hoofed gear, outstretched foot holding open the fire door, cables spilling out of pockets. A spasm of intense nostalgia for the building not yet lost.

The bar staff at Cornerhouse were, almost without exception, kind, creative, funny. Working the pumps were writers, music producers, filmmakers, trainee psychologists, ceramicists, cartoonists, fashion designers. They were never stingy with the anaesthetic and if I was a good girl I could pick a leftover brownie at the end of the night. I did, for a short period suffer a rather painful crush on one particular bartender, who basked in my discomfort like a tabby on a windowsill.

Rory – a security guard, became one of my main allies. He would help me with my gear when my back was fucked. He had a sixth sense for when I was being mithered and would hover around diplomatically. He pulled me out of myself when I was red wine-glum (often), and nearly always had a Blue Riband going spare for a counter jockey who’d skipped tea. Rory’s most requested tune was Shirley Bassey’s version of ‘The Hungry Years’, which was absolutely fine by me.

There were celebrity sightings, both real and imagined: Eric Cantona, Damon Albarn and Willem Dafoe all came in during Manchester International Festival. One of these luminaries was, according to staff, foul tempered and condescending. Can you guess which one?

Sometimes, on the lonelier nights, my grip on reality dangerously loosened by Malbec, I would imagine being visited by the stars whose records I was spinning. Donald Fagen popped in regularly to ‘work a little skirt’. Nina Simone stopped by, fuming, because front of house had asked me to turn down ‘Baltimore’. The young Michael Jackson would crawl under my table, eyes brimming, during ‘Who’s Loving You?’.

In 2013 my time at Cornerhouse ended in the style of a long term lesbian love affair. Both parties claimed in public it was a mutual decision. And we’re still friends.

People who are concerned about the fate of the Cornerhouse building and ‘Little Ireland’ may be interested in attending the first Manchester Shield meeting at 6.30pm on Thursday 14th April at the Friend’s Meeting House.

*The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Faster

manic-street-preachers-faster-epic

[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop, 2011]

“I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer

I spat out Plath and Pinter…”

A fortnight ago, whilst working my penultimate shift on the counter at Piccadilly Records, I was rendered flustered and giggly by the sudden appearance of James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire from Manic Street Preachers. They were in Manchester, it transpired, to perform a secret gig at Night and Day Café. I haven’t listened to the Manics for years, but seeing them up close and personal in the record shop environment made me ponder the influence of their music on my teenage years.

When ‘Generation Terrorists’ first came out in 1992, I was still, at fourteen, an enthusiastic attendee of my local Free Methodist bible group. I was troubled by all the usual teenage questions about evolution, mortality and morality, and persuaded, for a time, by the adults around me, that the answers could be found, if not in the dense and bloody Old Testament, then certainly in the eminently accessible, and rather funky, New. When, one Sunday, my bible group leader – a not unlikeable lad in his early thirties – pulled out a copy of ‘Generation Terrorists’ and cited it as an example of all that was wrong and evil in the world, I felt spasms of both shame and excitement. My sister owned the record and we’d been playing it for weeks.

Trying to work out how you really feel about things as a teenager is like starring in your own complex and slightly hallucinogenic detective story. You pull in clues from all manner of sources, to compare, contrast, reject. You believe what you think you ought to until you can’t any more. On the one hand I had the fluffy platitudes of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still water”), which made Christianity sound like a really nice day out in the Lakes, and on the other I had the Sylvia Plath quotation from the back of the ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ twelve inch: “I talk to God but the sky is empty” – a much more accurate description of what I was actually experiencing.

Thinking that Plath may be able to shed some light on the matter, I went to Waterstone’s one day and picked out ‘Ariel’, a slim volume – the only one I could afford – and immersed myself in it for weeks. Not the frothiest of reads, it has to be said. And not much help on the God front. But that’s what the Manics did. They forced you to investigate. Richey and Nicky spewed out reference points incoherently and indiscriminately, like cultural muck-spreaders, inviting their fans to work it out for themselves. It seemed like they were desperate to tell us something, but what?

Pre-internet it wasn’t easy to track down all those writers, those thinkers, those mysterious mind-shapers. Trips to the library were all part of the detective work: “Thus I progressed on the surface of life, in the realm of words, as it were, never in reality.” (Camus/’Love’s Sweet Exile’ sleeve.)

We got Henry Miller inside the ‘Generation Terrorists’ sleeve: “The tragedy of it is that nobody sees the look of desperation on my face. Thousands and thousands of us, and we’re passing one another without a look of recognition.” (I won’t forget reading ‘Quiet Days In Clichy’ under the duvet in a hurry.)

We got Marlon Brando: “The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalised, develop scabs, never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much.” (‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ sleeve)

We got Ballard: “I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror.” (‘Mausoleum’ sample)

The work of all of these people, and many more, became familiar to me through the Manics. Their music inspired my jubilant descent into atheism and its attendant vices – an experience entirely comparable, I suspect, to being born again, and one for which I shall forever be grateful.


(The Manics perform ‘Faster’ on TOTP – watch out for Vic and Bob)

In terms of actual songs, for me, ‘Faster’ is the Manics’ best – as lean as they ever sounded, stripped of the pop metal excesses of their previous albums, but still angry as fuck. The sample at the beginning is John Hurt in ‘1984’: “I hate purity, I hate goodness, I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt.” I love JDB’s guitar solo, which pops up unexpectedly in the last minute of the song, so waspish and wonky. In an interview, the band said they’d been listening to Magazine, Wire and Gang of Four. You can tell.

On June 9th 1994, the Manics opened Top Of The Pops with an incendiary performance of ‘Faster’. At the time they were wearing a lot of military gear, in tribute, they said, to The Clash. JDB was sporting a paramilitary-style balaclava with JAMES sewn on it. He looked like he’d been working out. Many viewers felt the band were aligning themselves with the IRA. The BBC received 25,000 complaints.

Four months later I saw the boys play Manchester Academy. They’d covered the venue in camouflage netting and were still in their army and navy shop fatigues. They came on to a ricocheting loop of the last phrase in ‘Faster’: “So damn easy to cave in! Man kills everything!” It was a powerful gig. Loud, mean, genuinely unsettling. Richey was there. Rake thin, of course, naked from the waist up, hanging over his upturned mike stand like the original James Dean in ‘Giant’.

Another four months on and he was gone, leaving behind a second ‘Holy Bible’ for me to pore over. With themes including prostitution, American consumerism, fascism, the Holocaust, self-starvation and suicide, it proved only slightly less punishing than the first.

Too Close to the Edit

Too Close to the Edit
Image: Danny Mitchell

[From the vaults: a piece for Red Bull Music Academy’s The Daily Note, 2010]

Forget ‘here’s three chords, now form a band’. At the moment, it’s more like: here’s an Ableton crack and a K-Tel disco LP, now go and forge a career in underground club music. Welcome to the weird world of disco edits – a magpie DIY genre that has sprung up and swamped the scene because of the ease with which record collectors and DJs can now access powerful music-editing software. These days, you can rip a track, cut it up, fuck it up and be playing it out to your Saturday night crowd all at the same time. Creative jocks are making the most of this development by presenting clubbers with unique collages of music that they won’t hear anywhere else. Other, less imaginative, knob-twiddlers are exhuming feeble disco obscurities that should have been left to rest in peace, adding a few naff tweaks and then pressing up a thousand twelves without so much as a by-your-leave to the original artist. They are like the paunchy uncles of the Noughties mash-up scene: the software is similar but these guys are serious. This is the rare disco mafia and they are here for your wallet.

In the last few years, the few remaining DJ-friendly record shops in the UK have been flooded with these modern-day bootlegs. As well as the re-hashed rarities that fly out, good or bad, because the originals are £50+ on the second hand market, there is also a glut of re-issued classics that have been randomly hacked about in the hope of providing a new slant on an ancient ‘anthem’ that no one ever needs to hear again. These edits in particular are often so bad they can put you off your own record collection. I recently stumbled across a version of Bowie’s Moonage Daydream that sounded as though Edward Scissorhands had gone postal on the Ziggy Stardust reels before attempting, shamefacedly, to gaffer tape them all back up again. Yours, if you’re interested, on a one-sided twelve, for a mere £9.99.

Choice items such as these are lapped up in the shop I work in by a loyal customer base I’ve come to think of as the Disco Dads – a coterie of suave, Barbour Jacketed forty-somethings who blanche visibly at the phrase UK Funky. One such punter came in the other day to try out the latest edits haul. He’d been propping up the decks, bumping through the new releases for about an hour before he suddenly ripped off his headphones, asked for the time and shouted, ‘Shit! I’ve left me toddler in the car!’ Not to worry, sir, at least you’ve secured your copy of the ultra-limited, hand screen-printed and numbered Muffled Sock Edits Vol 318 by Søme Scåndinavian Chåncer.

It must be noted, however, that dance music has a proud history of edits and mash-ups, and it’s often been this very practice that has ushered in new, exciting times for the genre. If you think of Tom Moulton’s first reel-to-reel and razor blade experiments or Kool Herc’s break-splicing turntablism it’s obvious that primitive edits by greenhorn producer-DJs make up some of the world’s most loved club records. The DJ Erens mix of You Got The Love, for instance, is an audacious mash-up that became a world-conquering classic way above and beyond the two tracks it comprises.

And it’s true, there are some compositions that benefit from a sensitive rework. George McCrae’s ‘I Get Lifted’ and JJ Cale’s ‘Ride Me High’ are two examples of tracks recently popularised by edits culture. Both fade harshly, in their original form, around the three-minute mark, leaving you and your dancefloor wanting more. In recent years, Mischief Brew, Joakim and Todd Terje have all released arrangements of these songs that do not intrude on the atmosphere of the original but artfully build the groove over seven or eight minutes, allowing humble bar DJs, such as myself, plenty of time to nip off for that all-important midnight widdle.

Unfortunately, though, to some people, doing an edit involves little more than hurling an innocent wav file into Soundforge, hitting time-stretch and dropping in a kick. And this is why we are drowning in mediocre records put out by uncreative opportunists, whose only real gifts lie in the art of self-promotion and online myth-making.

I wouldn’t want to argue that the current accessibility of music software is a bad thing. I love Ableton and have been known to disappear into it for days at a time. But now that the ‘perspiration’ element has been taken out of this aspect of music-making we all need to remember the ‘inspiration’ part of that old adage. Be discerning about what you edit and how you edit it. And if you really can’t do that, maybe it’s about time you sat down and learned those three chords.

Originally written under the pseudonym Jo Carstairs

Slow (Extended Mix)

Kylie_Minogue-Slow_CD2_(CD_Single)-Frontal

[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop, 2011]

“You know what I’m saying
And I haven’t said a thing
Keep the record playing…”

Bursting out of my speakers on this mercifully sunny afternoon, Kylie Minogue’s ‘Slow’ sounds every bit as seductive and extreme as it did on its release date eight years ago this November. A peerless pop production then and now, ‘Slow’ was masterminded by engineer Dan Carey (The Kills, Hot Chip), Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini and, of course, the former Ms Charlene Mitchell herself.

As with lots of the landmark pop tracks I blog about, I can remember the first time I heard it – after hours in the basement of the record shop where I worked, the extended mix played off a white label. It wound its way around me, gave me no choice. It’s one of those records that draws the listener in with what it leaves out. A real statement.

Tricky to pull off live (I’ve heard a few attempts), ‘Slow’ is all about the studio. It’s a lesson in stealth and minimalism: the dryest of dry rhythm tracks, the merest hint of a synth riff, that four-note bassline – simplicity itself. Then there’s Kylie, of course, all close-miked and conspiratorial, murmuring something rather promising about her ‘body language’.

It’s testament to the quality of the production that Michael Mayer, co-owner of Cologne’s famed techno label Kompakt, was moved to cover ‘Slow’ in 2005. But even he could not compete with the purity of the original. His version didn’t really work. Why?

Because Kylie wasn’t on it.

‘Slow’, for me, belongs at the centre of an imagined Venn diagram of ace pop: the place where the experiments and extremities of the underground collide with the lavish sex appeal, star quality and accessibility of the mainstream. It’s one of my favourite places to spend time. Click here, here or here for more details.

Baillie Walsh, director of the ‘Slow’ video, contributed further to the atmosphere of the track with his highly stylised aerially shot film of poolside bathers shifting on their towels in mellifluous synchrony. Kylie’s right where she should be, working it at the centre, ‘best dress on’ (just).

Adventure and Discipline

Dutch Uncles

[From the vaults: an interview with Dutch Uncles for The Chimp, 2011]

A whitewashed room containing little more than an unclothed mannequin in a distractingly come hither pose seems like a fitting place for to be meeting Marple’s arch pop aesthetes Dutch Uncles – a band whose reputation for visual flair and musical mischief precedes them.

Irresistible to A & R men from outset, Dutch Uncles were picked up in 2008 by German label Tapete for a one-album deal just three months after their first gig in Manchester. Since then, they’ve toured with The Futureheads , remixed Bombay Bicycle Club and scored a management deal with local label Love and Disaster, who put out ‘The Ink’ – a strikingly packaged seven inch reminiscent of classic XTC.

In summer of last year, the band recorded a World Cup song – a multi-layered a cappella in which the individual names of the England squad are repeated in time signatures dictated by their shirt numbers. To further boggle the mind, each player’s name is panned to a stereo position within the track that corresponds to his actual position on the playing field. The song, entitled Fabio Capello (whose name does not feature), made it onto NME radio within ten minutes of being mastered, and sounds like Laurie Anderson presenting Match of the Day.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that a band as musically obdurate and inventive as this would eventually be courted by Memphis Industries, one of the hottest indie labels in the land, and home to fellow math-poppers Field Music, with whom the band feel a close musical kinship.

Singer Duncan and bassist Robin explain how they came to mint this deal: “It started out as a friendly email sent after we put out The Ink, Duncan says. “It just read, ‘Like the new track. Keep up the good work’. Then we sent them an album sampler, which they liked.”

Robin: “Then they came up to the studio in Salford where we were recording and bought us pizza, and we played them unfinished MIDI tracks.”

Duncan: “Anyway, they were into it and we instantly knew we wanted to go that way. We’re big fans of Field Music and they’ve always been an influence on our writing style, so I think the fact that they had them and the Go! Team meant that we knew this was a label that holds onto bands and develops them, unlike most major labels.”

Listening to the new album, Cadenza, which evokes the sonic playfulness and ambition of band like Sparks and King Crimson, it’s obvious that the band are keen to fly in the face of the traditional meat-and-potato Manchester lad-rock sound. In fact, bending avant-garde disciplines into fun pop shapes could be described as their raison d’etre. On the track X-O the band have replayed movements from minimalist composer Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. A daring cover, if ever there was one.

Duncan explains, “We saw that as a challenge. It was something we spoke about very drunk one night. We just thought: this track is amazing…” Robin interjects: “Let’s turn it into a pop song!” Duncan again: “I hated every day of trying to write the lyrics. I just thought, ‘I’m murdering a classic instrumental here, it shouldn’t really have lyrics at all, who do I think I am?’ But it’s worked out really well. It adds a character to the album that we would never have been able to pull off completely on our own.”

Duncan also spent time developing a lyrical aesthetic to complement the complex instrumentation and shifting time signatures of Cadenza: “I’ve always admired the way David Byrne writes, how he’s almost in a trance when he’s singing. You almost feel like his eyes are rolling back in his head. He’s removing himself from the situation and just analysing what he’s doing. I’ve tried to develop a style of removing myself from my own emotions.”

Having just come back from a tour with joyful noise mongers Young British Artists, and boasting firm friendships with the likes of Everything Everything and Delphic, do Dutch Uncles think that a new Manchester scene, unfettered by the past, is emerging?

Robin: “There’ll always be those people who want to go and see Beady Eye at the Apollo – a load of knobheads, really. The Fac 251 club is still just digging up the past – we’d never play there. Peter Hook’s a wanker for bringing all that stuff down. But we don’t feel suffocated by it. There is a present, and it’s great.”

Duncan adds: “Everything Everything made one of the best albums of last year – they’ve given us a few breaks along the way. Egyptian Hip-Hop are also great. They’re probably our best ‘band’ friends. That whole Marple connection is pretty strong!”

This spirit of collaboration and co-operation has undoubtedly played a part in Dutch Uncles’ rapid evolution. Robin describes the Love and Disaster label as “like extended family”. The band are also keen to big up local graphic design collective Dr. Me, who have given the Cadenza album its unique physical identity.

“Artwork is very important to us”, says Duncan. “We’ve used a lot of bold, simple colour with our previous releases so we wanted to do something different for this one. We’ve gone for more of a collage this time. Dr. Me are the best friends I’ve had since I moved to town. It’s kind of extending the Love and Disaster family again. We’re so lucky. It’s incredible the way the best people for the job were also the closest people.”

So how keen are the band to crossover into the pop mainstream? Would they, for example, play Top of the Pops, should its rumoured return come into fruition?

“Well, I’d rather play The Old Grey Whistle Test!” Duncan admits. “I think any band that’s going to survive over time needs to have a breakthrough song, even if it’s just the one. Every band needs a ‘Making Plans For Nigel’. At this point he grows serious. “But in terms of overall ambition, I just want to make this my life.”

As the rest of the band arrive for the photo shoot and begin grabbing Ms Mannequin in inappropriate places, talk turns to their most treasured albums. Duncan eventually chooses Television’s Adventure whilst Robin goes for Discipline by King Crimson. Adventure and Discipline. Seems appropriate. The Dutch Uncles manifesto.

Originally written under the pseudonym Harper Hay.

Reach For Love

[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop, 2011]

“I freeze, baby,
At the thought of leaving you behind…”

The question I least like being asked when I am DJing is:

“Are you the DJ?”

Closely followed by:

“Whenyer gunner play some Manchester stuff?”

But over the years I have developed coping mechanisms for both. For the first I have an affronted and unyielding Ron Mael-esque stare that says, ‘If you come near me again I will pin your scrotum to this turntable and then press start.’

For the second I have Marcel King.

What a record.

I first came across the amazing ‘N.Y. mix’ of ‘Reach For Love’ on an American blog years ago, and after perusing Discogs was surprised to discover the track came out on Factory Benelux in 1984. It was produced by New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Donald Johnson of ACR – Manchester’s all-time heaviest drummer. Apparently, this collaboration came about after New Order manager Rob Gretton – a massive soul head, of course – found Marcel sleeping rough in the back of a car. I’m not sure how much truth there is in this rumour.

Rob would have known Marcel from his tenure as front man for Sweet Sensation – the eight-piece Philly-style Manchester soul group that won the talent show New Faces in 1973 and had a hit with ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’.

‘Reach For Love’ is one of those records that never leaves my DJ bag. It’s like an old mate that can be relied upon to boot you smartly up the arse, buy you a pint and haul you onto the dancefloor when you need it most. Marcel’s vocal is something else: euphoric and yet easy-going, with just a tantalising hint of remonstration on those “I’ve been trying to show you a better way” lines. The production still sounds killer – even on shit café soundsystems. You have to be careful at what point you drop ‘Reach For Love’, though, because it can flatten other records with its knock-out punch.

Tragically, Marcel King died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1995, aged just 38.

R.I.P, sir. You fucking rocked.

Union City Blue

[From the vaults: a blog for Pop ‘Til You Drop , 2011]

“Tunnel to the other side
It becomes daylight
I say he’s mine…”

How can a track like ‘Union City Blue’ – essentially a pop song with no discernible chorus – be so stirring, panoramic and unforgettable? Really, it’s just several verses strung together in a rather humdrum cycle, and yet it is one of the strongest songs in the Blondie catalogue. It’s so free-flowing and airy it sounds as though it took Debbie Harry and bassist Nigel Harrison (a Stockport lad, by the way) mere seconds to jam out. They obviously had the confidence to just let it fly. All power to them for not structuring the life out of it.

I find the track evocative of my teenage years in Preston. I used to blast it out in my ten-foot by ten-foot bedsit, often in an attempt to mask the sounds of the middle-aged man in the room opposite shagging his alsatian. The song personified everything I longed for at that point: escape; enterprise; the sheer glamour and scale of city life. All those words Harry throws at the listener – Skyline! Passion! Power! How they reeled me in.

I went to see Blondie in 2000. It wasn’t an amazing gig, but I treasured it because it was one I thought I’d never see. Chris Stein looked so frail and ill he gave the impression of being propped up and operated from behind by a complex pulley system. Debbie was throwing herself around like a pissed grandma on a bouncy castle to compensate. But when Clem Burke started slamming out the tom tom intro of ‘Union City Blue’, he looked and sounded perfect.

‘Union City Blue’ is as much Clem’s song as it is Nigel and Debbie’s. The end of the track is as heart-stopping as the opening. For almost the whole of the last minute, Clem is smashing the shit out of every cymbal available. Few other pop producers would countenance such a relentless hammering, but Mike Chapman knew better than to argue. Pure exhilaration.

On a final note, I have always noticed that, live, Debbie Harry tends to sing “powder” rather than “power”. I’m not entirely sure what this might be a reference to…

The First National LGBT History Festival – Queer Noise presentation, 2015

Photo: Pete Shelley by Kevin Cummins
Photo: Pete Shelley by Kevin Cummins

In late 2009 I acquired a small amount of funding to develop ‘Queer Noise’ – an online exhibition for Manchester District Music Archive that aimed to lift the lid on LGBT music-making and club life in Greater Manchester from the sixties to the present day. The exhibition would harness and contextualise scanned ephemera, such as posters, flyers, photos and press articles uploaded to MDMArchive by members of public all over the world, in addition to my own collection of artefacts, which I had been digitising for a number of years.

Launched in 2010, ‘Queer Noise’ now contains over two hundred chronologically ordered images and written recollections, and continues to grow as more and more people share their memories. A selection of these artefacts will form the basis of my short presentation to the LGBT History Festival in February.

In my talk for  I will be examining three key points in the city’s LGBT music history: the birth of punk in 1976; the house music explosion of the early 90s: and the alt-gay scene which developed a decade later as a response to the homogeneity of the music on offer on Canal Street (Manchester’s gay village).

In the summer of 1976, punk hit Manchester following the Sex Pistols’ pivotal brace of gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Misunderstood by many as an aggressive, negative force, the early punk scene in Manchester celebrated difference; fostered a DIY approach to creativity and self-expression; and created a tightly knit music community, which (for the most part) welcomed LGBT young people. Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, who co-promoted the Pistols’ second gig, was openly bisexual and sang about romantic experiences with both men and women in a very straightforward way. But ‘76 was also the year in which James Anderton began his tenure as Chief Constable, marking the beginning of a sustained period of harassment of Manchester’s LGBT community by police. Punk historian Jon Savage said of this time, ‘Manchester felt under lock-down then: if you were out late at night, you’d get stopped at least twice a week. It wasn’t just gay people, it was anyone who looked and acted different.’

Fast forward to 1990 and we see the launch of Manto on Canal Street – a sophisticated European-style bar that deliberately flouted the prevailing ‘behind closed doors’ culture of gay venues by installing full height plate glass windows. Thanks to DJ Tim Lennox, house music took hold at Central Street’s gay-friendly Number 1 Club, which in turn led to the birth of Flesh at the Haçienda – a wildly successfully Ecstasy-fuelled house and garage night flagrantly billed as ‘Serious Pleasure for Dykes and Queers’. It was during this time that the city was dubbed ‘Gaychester’, the first Mardi Gras happened, Canal Street boomed and Manchester City Council truly cottoned on to the potential of the pink pound.

Flesh lasted until 1996, spawning many copycat club nights and, along with the Number 1 Club and Paradise Factory, was responsible for the making house music the dominant sound of ‘Gaychester’. But by 1998, some of the same DJs, promoters and club goers that had inspired the house boom were growing tired of the commercialisation of both the scene and the music. At this point, LGBT club nights boasting a more eclectic soundtrack spanning funk, soul, disco, hip hop and indie began to emerge. Club Brenda and Homo Electric were at the forefront of this movement. Like the punk scene that had come before, these clubs celebrated difference, with flyers boasting slogans such as ‘Music is life, gym is the coffin, be ugly‘.

As well as flyers, posters, gig tickets and photos, my presentation will include some unseen footage of Manchester’s gay clubs, plus excerpts of oral histories captured exclusively for the festival.

If you would like to add any artefacts or recollections to the Queer Noise online exhibition, please register to become a member of Manchester District Music Archive here and start sharing your history. Alternatively, you can email: info@mdmarchive.co.uk.

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