Terminal Jive

Postcards from the outskirts of pop

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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…

[DWAN] Archiving Women’s Performance Practice, HOME_Mcr, Jan 2016

Veba with Groove Armada 2008 Australia
Photo: Veba by Diego Denicola

Archives are closely linked with how we understand history and can be a site for resistance and celebration in challenging how history is defined. Abigail Ward and Sarah Feinstein will speak about how this relates to women’s performance through Manchester District Music Archive. Drawing from selection of artefacts in the user-generated collection, Abigail will showcase women’s agency in the history of music, politics and protest in Greater Manchester. Sarah will discuss how a previous online exhibition curated by Abigail led her to a conversation with ground-breaking feminist artist Linder Sterling.

[DWAN] Digital Women’s Archive North is an educational arts and heritage enterprise unlocking the women’s histories in archives – delivering training & skills development; arts & heritage projects; and research. Follow them on Twitter @dwarchivenorth.

More info here.

Connected Communities – Pararchive Conference, University of Leeds, 2015

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Multiple Histories – The Democratisation of Manchester’s Music Heritage

Manchester District Music Archive is a user-led, volunteer-run online archive established in 2003 to celebrate Greater Manchester music and its social history.

Co-founders Alison Surtees and Abigail Ward discuss the development of their groundbreaking project, which allows users to preserve, share and research their own musical heritage through digitised ephemera such as tickets, photos, press articles, posters and video. The talk will chart the rise of MDMArchive; the difficulties encountered; and how these challenges, such as who ‘owns’ heritage and who ‘decides’ what is shown, were overcome through user-generated content. MDMArchive has been at the forefront of developments in community-led digital storytelling for over ten years. This talk will explore why digital environments are important for sharing heritage, destabilising dominant historical narratives and opening up access to archival material for many to enjoy and have ownership of.

The Pararchive project explores open access community storytelling and the digital archive.

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.

Love Will Save The Day

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

“When you’re feeling full of doubt
And fear has got you in a bind
Love will save the day…”

I have done my best throughout my life to avoid the work of Whitney Houston. That never-ending winter of 1992 still casts a shadow. There was I, fifteen years old, miserable, watching ‘I Will Always Love You’ on The Chart Show for the umpteenth week, just yearning for something (anything) else to hit the number one spot. And there was Whitney, splay-legged, hands in that saintly clasp, wobbling her jaw to achieve maximum vibrato… God, she made me want to slash my armpits with boredom. No wonder records like this sounded so good.

But recent events have forced me to re-evaluate one tiny section of the Twitney back catalogue. At the second Pop ‘Til You Drop back in April, my partner in crime DJ Danielle Moore dropped ‘Love Will Save The Day’. I had just wedged myself into the toilet and was happily adding to the graffiti (I <3 Shep Pettibone) when the disquieting realisation that I was enjoying a Whitney Houston record hit me. Then, seconds later, lettuce barely shaken, I found myself careering around the dancefloor like an inebriated farmhand whilst paying customers looked on aghast.

By coincidence, last Monday evening, during an extravagantly lubricated Spotify session here at Pop Heights, ‘Love Will Save The Day’ surfaced again, confirming my suspicion that the tune is a wig-lifting, wab-wobbling, gusset-splitting anthem of titanic proportions, in spite of its cloying ‘message’.

The next day, after a couple of light ales, I was persuaded by my Whitney-loving friend to investigate the White Vest album further. One fraught listen off cassette on a car stereo, during which I left bite marks on my own fist, revealed there is little else on there for the taking. Whitney’s version of ‘I Know Him So Well’, performed with her mother (somewhat inappropriately), sounds like two car alarms arguing in an empty turbine hall. ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All’ is another wallpaper-stripping ballad that Ms. Houston approaches with all the subtlety and restraint of a newly promoted drill sergeant. The whole album is plastered in the kind of electric piano that makes you feel like you’re having the contents of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg squeezed into your earhole as you listen. It really does make a girl want to smoke crack.

Which I almost did, back in 1993, when eventually Whitney was knocked off her perch by this:

Hard times indeed.

Louder Than Words Festival – Manchester song lyrics panel, 2014

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Photo: Alison Surtees

‘Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly’ is a panel event exploring the art of song lyricism, Manchester-style. Guest lyricists are Jaheda Choudhury-Potter of Ajah UK, Jonathan Higgs from Everything Everything and Guy Garvey of Elbow.  It will reveal contrasting processes, backgrounds and styles whilst exploring Greater Manchester lyricism across the decades.

Chaired and curated by Abigail Ward.

Louder Than Words Festival – Bigmouth Strikes Again panel, 2013

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Defining Me – Musical Adventures in Manchester exhibition, The Lowry, 2013

Defining Me launch event
Defining Me launch, September 2013 

In 2013, following investment from Heritage Lottery Fund, Manchester District Music Archive  launched ‘Defining Me: Musical Adventures in Manchester’, a 5-month show at The Lowry co-curated by members of MDMarchive’s online community. The exhibition attracted 32,000 visitors. Speaking at the launch were Abigail Ward (MDMarchive), Ivan Riches (HLF) and Michael Simpson (The Lowry).

There were a number of spin-off events featuring Greater Manchester music luminaries in conversation, including Barry Adamson (Magazine, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds); photographer Kevin Cummins; Manchester punk icons Denise Shaw and Dawn Bradbury; artist and promoter Barney Doodlebug; and Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon.

In 2014 the project ended with a community concert at Band on the Wall featuring rave pioneer Graham Massey in collaboration with The Prospectors,  a collective of disabled musicians from Stockport.

A Storify review detailing the event can be viewed here.

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Photo: Leah Connolly

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Photo: Matthew Norman

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Photo: Leah Connolly

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Photo: Leah Connolly

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Photo: Leah Connolly

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