While it’s expected that a thriving metropolis like London would easily be considered the crowned leader of musical legacies in the United Kingdom, one shouldn’t assume that Liverpool simply falls in at number two behind it in the rock rankings. Outside of that city’s golden spawning grounds during the early 1960s for icons like the Fab Four, Liverpool hasn’t consistently maintained a steady production of world-renowned talents from its rain-slicked streets over the decades since. Approximately thirty miles northeast of those Liverpudlian environs lies another industrial-choked Merseyside community with a far greater reputation of churning out superior songwriters and performers. Having delighted its dwellers with a long history of music hall performances throughout most of the early 20th century, the hardworking town of Manchester, England has arguably and deceptively become one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll capitals in all of Europe.
Much like the lads of Liverpool, many kids in Manchester looked to American rock musicians in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s to help guide them out of their concrete gloom. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Elvis inspired the skiffle craze throughout England, and performer Lonnie Donegan was the official skiffle king. Basically, skiffle required little more than a guitar, a bass, and a drum. Washboard players were optional. Most kids had very little knowledge of how to play their instruments, but by memorizing three or four chords, they could cover many of the simple three-minute rock songs of the day to play at local school gatherings and teen dancehalls.
Manchester would not blossom to worldwide musical notoriety until the 1960s, but early in the 1950s, three brothers who had been born on the Isle of Man, started to commence their own brand of pop rock in their sweet performances around their new hometown. Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb all lived with their parents on Keppel Road, in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Their father headed big bands in the area and their mother sang in local venues. When Barry was age 9 and his two brothers were six, the trio performed at several Manchester cinemas, lip-syncing to songs, between film showings. They billed themselves as The Rattlesnakes, and later as Wee Johnny Hays and the Blue Cats. A manager heard them singing with their voices after the record had stopped playing and praised their talents to be noteworthy. Indeed, though the family mysteriously picked up and departed for Australia in 1958, The Bee Gees would arguably be Manchester’s first export of legendary rock stars over the decades to come.
The city rolled into the 1960s with jazz being performed in its pubs and blues letting loose at its nightclubs. The main venues, known as beat clubs, were Rowntrees, at the Corn Exchange, Time & Place on Femel Street, and the Twisted Wheel, opposite the fire station at the end of Whitworth Street. The Spencer Davis Group would often gig at the latter club. By the time the Fab Four in nearby Liverpool conquered America, Manchester’s Granada television debuted the popular “Top of the Pops” TV show on New Years Day in 1964. With rock ‘n’ roll all the rage, more beat clubs sprang up around the Manchester scene, over 200 of them, with names like the Forty Thieves, Jung Frau and a place called the Oasis. A local group wound up playing the Oasis for their first gig, and as it happened, the event took place around the Christmas season in 1962. As legend has it, the band named itself after the decorations hanging in the joint.
The Hollies were to be Manchester’s first huge rock ‘n’ roll act. Vocalist Allan Clarke and guitarist Graham Nash had been interested in music from the time they met each other at age five on the grounds of the city’s Ordsall Primary School. When Lonnie Donegan swept the countryside, the boys started begging their parents for instruments. “We didn’t know what hit when skiffle came along,” Clarke told Goldmine magazine. “We all wanted to be rock ‘n’ roll stars, and skiffle was one way to start, because it was all based on the easiest chords to play, A, D, G, and C, and we loved the songs. Graham and I played clubs in Manchester, doing an Everly Brothers-type thing.” Starting out billed as The Two Teens, then the Levins (named after the brand of guitars they strummed), the duo finally hooked up with three other fellow Mancunian musicians and became the Hollies. A representative from EMI records heard them play the Cavern Club in Liverpool in January 1963, and they were soon signed to the label.
By June, the group released its first single, “(Ain’t That) Just Like Me” which shot to the top thirty in Great Britain. The group went on to release more cover tunes, with many of them cracking the top ten in the UK, such as “Just One Look,” “Searchin’,” Look Through Any Window,” “I Can’t Let Go,” and the number one “I’m Alive.” It wasn’t until 1966, that the Hollies truly broke into America’s top ten charts with songs like “Bus Stop,” “Stop Stop Stop,” and “Carrie-Anne.” By the end of 1968, Graham Nash would leave the Hollies to forge new groundbreaking material with partners David Crosby and Stephen Stills.
Before the Hollies released their first single back in June 1963, another Manchester band, the lesser-known Freddie and the Dreamers, had just scored a number three hit in the UK with their cover of James Ray’s “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody.” Led by Freddie Garrity, a former shoe salesman and milkman, the quintet was made up of skiffle players that had been in various bands throughout the late ‘50s. They, too, were spotted by an EMI representative and signed to that label. Freddie’s stage presence was one of court jester, and he would often leap about in a silly dance move that they would soon immortalize in their own song. “Do The Freddie” went to number 21 on the Billboard chart in 1965. That year, Freddie and the Dreamers went on to top the U.S. chart with “I’m Telling You Now” on April 10th. Another Mancunian band filled America’s top spot two weeks later, the second in a sweeping 1965 trifecta of Manchester chart-toppers in the U.S.
For that next group, the Oasis club had, once again, been a significant location in their evolution. Wayne Fontana (born Glynn Ellis) had a band named the Jets throughout the early 1960s when he was suddenly spotted at the club by Jack Baverstock of Philips/Fontana Records (Wayne had named himself after Elvis Presley’s drummer D.J. Fontana and not the record label). Asked to audition for the talent scout, many of the Jets failed to show up on the appointed day, so local musicians Eric Stewart and Ric Rothwell filled in for the demonstration. Wayne was signed to the label and christened his new band members the Mindbenders. Like Freddie and the Dreamers before them, the Mindbenders covered an assortment of tunes. And right after Freddie struck the top of the charts in the U.S., Wayne and his boys slid in right behind them for another week at number one with their song, “The Game of Love.” The following week of May 1, 1965 saw the most successful Manchester band of the 1960s ascend America’s throne.
Peter Noone showed early signs of performing when he hawked programs as a schoolboy at Manchester United football (soccer) matches. His father was a semi-professional musician who soon encouraged his son to explore his own creativity. Young Peter took his dad’s enthusiasm to heart and wound up sneaking off to Manchester’s School of Music on Saturday mornings for classes in singing. His parents weren’t aware of his excursions until they finally received a bill from the institute. Seeing his knack for entertainment, Peter’s doting family helped him to snare roles in television series throughout his childhood. In his teens, again unbeknownst to his mum and dad, Peter started singing in a Manchester band called the Cyclones. They became popular and changed their name to the Heartbeats. His folks were kept out of the loop. “The first we knew about it,” Mr. Noone told 16 magazine in 1966, “was one night when we went along to a dance at the Manchester United Football Club. They had a pop group on the stage – and the singer was Peter!”
With fellow Heartbeat musicians, Keith Hopwood and Karl Green, the threesome recruited Barry Whitham and Derek “Lek” Leckenby from another local band, the Wailers, to join them in a new group. Inspired by the character of Sherman from a Bullwinkle cartoon, the band became Herman’s Hermits. Like the other Mancunians, Noone and his group were eventually signed by EMI. Their first single, “I’m Into Something Good,” topped the UK chart in September 1964. As they entered 1965, the group had three top 30 hits on the US chart for six weeks. They included “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Silhouettes,” and a song that eventually slid into the number one spot just after Wayne Fontana and his Mindbenders had their one week stay – “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.”
This song was by no means the end of Herman’s Hermits’ reign. For in August 1965 they ruled America’s chart again with the number one hit “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” A combination of teeny-bop sensibility and music hall revelry seemed to make the boys’ persona appealing to pop lovers of any age. Herman’s Hermits chalked up two more top ten hits in America that year with “Just A Little Bit Better” and “A Must To Avoid.” The band charted with more successful songs in the U.S. and the U.K. over the next three years and finally petered out by the end of the decade. With such a massive announcement of talent to the world throughout the mid-60s, it seemed that the city of Manchester was on a roll. But just as soon as it had gotten underway, the Mancunian musical machine mysteriously curtailed its output of up-and-coming artists over the successive years into the 1970s.
The Manchester Corporation Act of 1965 appeared to have been enacted as a way for conservative adults to get a handle on the city’s youth. In effect, it allowed magistrates and police to shut down any venue they saw fit to, without any cause cited. The 200-plus clubs in existence during Manchester music’s biggest year to that point (1965) were whittled down to only three clubs by the end of 1966. Without an outlet to showcase their songs, this authoritative action effectively muzzled many an aspiring rocker’s fortitude. During this unofficial downtime, several individuals fatefully crossed paths with each other, setting in motion plans that would ultimately give rebirth to a new crop of Manchester icons.
Local furniture shop employee, Peter Tattersall, always dreamed of getting away from the upholstery and moving squarely into the pop music world. He tried his hand playing with some local Manchester groups in the early ‘60s. One band he became friends with were called the Dakotas. This Mancunian outfit had performed in many venues across the north of England since February 1962, and suddenly one day, they were contacted by Brian Epstein, the Liverpool manager of the Beatles. A British Rail fitter that Epstein represented, who sang under the name of Billy J. Kramer, needed a backing group. The Dakotas signed on, and Peter Tattersall was hired as the group’s road manager. Touring for a number of years instilled in Tattersall the wherewithal he needed to branch out on a career of his own. By 1967, Tattersall was helping some friends run a little recording studio above a music store in the Manchester suburb of Stockport. Tattersall soon bought their equipment and moved to a larger space on Waterloo Road. For his new recording studio, he brought along two well-known partners, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman.
Stewart had been a guitarist with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Gouldman had an illustrious early career playing with local bands like the High Spots, the Crevattes, the Planets, and Whirlwind. While with the latter group, he performed at Manchester’s local Jewish Lads Brigade and came in contact with another band called Sabre. Two of Sabre’s members, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, would figure prominently in Gouldman’s future. After Whirlwind, Gouldman performed with a band called the Mockingbirds, taking Kevin Godley along to play drums in this new group. For the second half of the sixties, Gouldman became primarily known around Manchester as a hit songwriter. While with the Mockingbirds, he wrote “For Your Love,” which would become a hit for the Yardbirds. He had scribbled the Hollies’ smash song “Look Through Any Window,” and subsequently settled into writing for Herman’s Hermits’ (“No Milk Today” and “East West”). Later, he would join Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in 1968, writing their last single “Uncle Joe, The Ice Cream Man.” It was during this stint that he hooked up with Eric Stewart. In the midst of the city’s declining output of hitmakers, Peter Tattersall, with the subsequent investments of Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, opened Manchester’s best recording facility, Strawberry Studios.
While Tattersall looked after the business of running the studio, Gouldman and Stewart spent the years of 1968-69 as session musicians for local bands. They called in Godley and Crème to help as backing players. By 1970, the foursome had formed their own group called Hotlegs and released a multi-million selling single “Neanderthal Man.” With steady income from visiting artists to the Manchester studio, Strawberry got a complete overhaul in equipment. The boys helped revive Neil Sedaka’s career by working on his albums “Solitaire” and “The Tra La La Days Are Over” in 1971. By 1972, the foursome were eager to try their hands again at a band. With a studio completely at their disposal, they were able to take time experimenting with varying sounds and multi-tracking techniques. An old friend of Stewart’s who owned a record label, Jonathan King, heard their creative efforts and signed them, naming the group 10cc. As much as urban legend would have it that this moniker referred to a standard measurement of the male ejaculate, the band would later state the name came to King in a dream. In August 1972, they released their first single “Donna” which went to number 2 in the U.K. The follow-up single, “Rubber Bullets,” during the summer of 1973, landed them their first British chart-topper.
10cc would carry on the Manchester tradition of first-class musicianship, virtually unrivaled locally, through the next several years. Their wit in wordplay and lush art rock translated perfectly for a Britain steeped in the glam rock of the times, and the band racked up several top ten U.K. hits. The only song that rendered them a high degree of notoriety on America’s shores was the 1975 tune “I’m Not In Love,” which went to number 2 on the Billboard chart. By October 1976, Godley and Crème departed the band, moving on to produce high profile music videos (Duran Duran, Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and score a moderate hit with their own song, 1985’s “Cry.” Stewart and Gouldman soldiered on with 10cc for the rest of the ‘70s, and subsequently produced other artists, but by then, a brand new set of players were already in place to move Manchester rock in a new direction.
By the 1970s, the city was beginning to face a future of harsh unemployment. Its aesthetic look of historical buildings began to show their wear, and with abject poverty came despair and general discontent. But Manchester citizens are fighters. However bleak the situation, they always managed to bounce back. Just when the local music industry seemed to have all but vanished, a handful of entrepreneurs were willing to take chances to breathe life back into it once again. Three of them, Tosh Ryan, Martin Hannett, and Tony Wilson, all attended a Manchester musician’s cooperative in 1972 called Music Force. The studies centered on the business of producing and promoting music. Empowered by their knowledge, Ryan and Hannett set about opening a laid-back indie label called Rabid Records in an old shop on Cotton Lane in the suburb of Withington. They signed up what few local bands they could to have a go at recording. Meanwhile, Tony Wilson was hired at local Granada TV in 1973. This led to his hosting a music program called “So It Goes” in 1976.
At the same time, a local musician by the name of Pete Shelley was playing guitar in a few heavy metal bands. By 1975, he enrolled at the nearby Bolton Institute of Technology and joined an electronic music society where he met singer Howard Devoto. Recruiting a drummer, they began playing gigs with an ambient feel. But one night, after seeing the Sex Pistols perform in London in early 1976, the two knew they had to bring this uncharacteristic sound north to Manchester. Naming themselves after a phrase they read in a local review, the Buzzcocks decided to lure their heroes to share the bill with them. Renting out Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, the group invited the Sex Pistols to appear. Unfortunately, two band members left Pete and Howard at the last second, so they were unable to perform before their main act that night. They rented out the Hall again on June 4, 1976, and this time performed with the Pistols. Tony Wilson was in attendance, with, according to him, about “27 people in the audience,” but the Sex Pistols left the few there with a new perception in music. Punk had arrived. Wilson began showcasing punk acts on his television program.
Meanwhile, Martin Hannett over at Rabid Records was eager to move beyond just being a glorified sound engineer. He crossed paths with some members of the Buzzcocks. “It was a coincidence,” he told interviewer Bert Van de Kamp. “I met Howard (Devoto) and Richard (Boon) when they were looking for gigs. I arranged a couple of gigs for them and proposed to them to make a record.” After the group accompanied the Sex Pistols on their “Anarchy” tour, the Buzzcocks enlisted Hannett to produce their first EP in December 1976, the scorching “Spiral Scratch,” and they released it on the band’s own indie label, New Hormones. Howard Devoto soon left the Buzzcocks to form a band called Magazine, several tracks of which Hannett produced, and that band cracked the U.K. album charts over the next five years. Pete Shelley led his Buzzcocks through more punk-inspired mayhem, with their biggest hit, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have)” reaching number 12 on the U.K. chart, but booze, drugs and record company squabbles splintered the group by 1981. But, the band had served to rejuvenate the local music scene. Now it was time for some bigger acts to step in.
During the final few dates in December 1976 when the Pistols played the dingy Manchester club Electric Circus, Bernard Sumner (born Bernard Albrecht) and Peter Hook, two lads from nearby Salford, were in attendance. They had started a punkish outfit of their own a few months earlier called Stiff Kittens, and presumably, during the Pistols’ gig, they met a gangly fellow by the name of Ian Curtis. Tapping him as their lead singer, and auditioning drummer Stephen Morris, the Kittens renamed themselves Warsaw, after the David Bowie track “Warszawa.” Within five months, they were all back at the Electric Circus, performing on the bill with the Buzzcocks. The Electric Circus soon closed down, but the band forged ahead, recording an EP of four songs and changing their name. So as not to be confused with London’s punk group Warsaw Pakt, they chose a term for concentration camp prostitutes, Joy Division, out of an obscure novel, to be their new moniker. Their first gig under this banner occurred at Pips nightclub (formerly Time & Place) on January 25, 1978. Even though Sumner had been a cartoon artist, Morris was a textile worker, and Hook labored at Manchester’s docks, the musician’s instrumental chops seemed to connect over a very short period of time. With Curtis’ insightful, cutting lyrics, both raw and melancholic, as well as a step away from the punk explosion, the band was sure to be noticed.
On April 14, 1978, one Tony Wilson paid attention to Joy Division. Two of Britain’s top indie record companies had organized the ‘Stiff Records test/Chiswick challenge’ at Manchester’s Rafter’s club. Wilson later related to Rolling Stone magazine, “Fifteen bands played, and I thought, ‘None of these is really it.’ Then Joy Division came onstage and played two numbers. And I thought to myself that the reason they’re different is that they’re onstage because they have something to say. The other bands are onstage because they want to be musicians. It’s as different as chalk and cheese.” The house DJ at Rafters, Rob Gretton, was so impressed by the group that he became their manager. And Wilson was ready to strike a deal, for he had already branched out of his TV variety show and was fast becoming Manchester’s rock impresario.
Over the previous year, Wilson had been toying with the idea to start his own record label. With fellow friend, Alan Erasmus, the two would drop in over at Rabid Records in their spare time and watch how Martin Hannett and Tosh Ryan ran their business. Rabid had only a few signed acts that were not particularly known names outside of the Manchester area. Wilson had bigger ideas. At the start of 1978, he and Erasmus had leased the local Russell Club in the suburb of Hulme on Friday nights and had created “Factory” nights, a name they would soon use for their organization. It was essentially a showcase evening for local bands. After seeing Joy Division play in April, Wilson knew they were his meal ticket, so with most of his own life savings, he sent them into Strawberry Studios to record an album with a new producer he’d just acquired, Martin Hannett.
Hannett shape-shifted into the Phil Spector of England seemingly overnight. One can arguably say that he was responsible for bringing the textured synth sound to Joy Division, and ultimately, to a crest known as New Wave that was ready to enter the music consciousness in the early ‘80s. His ego was legendarily massive, as was his addiction to narcotics. “Martin didn’t give a f*** about making a pop record,” Bernard Sumner recalled to New Musical Express magazine. “All he wanted to do was experiment. His attitude was that you get a load of drugs, lock the door of the studio and you stay there all night and you see what you’ve got the next morning. And you keep doing that until it’s done. That’s how all our records were made. We were on speed, Martin was into smack.” With a degree in chemistry from Manchester Polytechnic, Hannett was no dummy, and he tinkered with all manner of electronics to produce sharp guitar sounds and heavy reverb.
Wilson, along with his friend, A&R man Alan Erasmus, started Factory Records in late 1978. Bringing aboard art director extraordinaire, Peter Saville, and Martin Hannett as their co-founding partners, the label released a compilation album called “A Factory Sample” in January 1979. It featured their signed local acts: Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Durutti Column, and John Dowie. In May 1979, Joy Division’s first album, “Unknown Pleasures,” was released and received huge critical acclaim. Wilson was ecstatic and eager to expand. Factory would eventually branch into the worlds of classical and dance music. In September 1979, the label picked up its fifth partner, Rob Gretton, manager of Joy Division.
The drug abuse amongst the band was getting out of hand, particularly with lead singer Ian Curtis. After the success of their hit song “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Curtis would play his final live gig, being helped off the stage, at Birmingham University. Mounting pressures probably did not help his physical condition. Curtis was afflicted with epilepsy. After recording their follow-up album with Hannett, the band was set to launch their initial U.S. tour. On Monday, May 18, 1980, the day before they were to fly overseas, Ian Curtis suddenly hanged himself in the early morning hours. Drummer Stephen Morris later related, “On Sunday morning, I was turning my trousers up. Monday, I was screaming.”
Stunned by the tragic loss, the three remaining band members took time to reassess their outlook. A month later, they decided to rename the band New Order and played their first gig at Manchester’s Beach Club on July 29th. By October, they added keyboardist and girlfriend of Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert to the unit. With Martin Hannett in tow, New Order headed to Strawberry Studios in 1981 to record their debut album, “Movement.” The sound they created was more dance-oriented, with Sumner taking over the lead vocals. Wilson saw that his prime ticket was bouncing back. The Factory name had a mega-star group in its offing with New Order. In September 1981, Wilson decided to open his own club. Something that would show the rest of Manchester that Factory was the music king of the town. Bringing Rob Gretton and the members of New Order into the deal, they decided to name the venue The Hacienda. The name stemmed from a 1950’s book titled “The Situationist International Handbook,” in which a ‘hacienda’ was described as an idealized cooperative community. Wilson envisioned bringing Manchester together in song.
Martin Hannett, meanwhile, was getting ornery. His domineering control in the studio was neglectful of the ideas and input from the New Order members. After the recording of their single “Temptation,” New Order chose to primarily produce their own efforts from that point forward with only a smattering of help from outside producers. New Order went on to be an extremely successful band of the ‘80s, with their noteworthy “Blue Monday” 12” single selling an unheard-of 3 million copies worldwide. In the ‘90s, members of the group would split off into various side factions with the bands Electronic, Revenge, and Monaco. The group’s single for the 1990 World Cup, “World In Motion,” featuring Manchester United’s football superstar Johnny Barnes went number one on the U.K. charts.
As a result of New Order moving on without him, Hannett’s workload was cutting back, and he wound up suing Tony Wilson for his share of overseas royalties on acts that he had produced. The falling out was acrimonious for three years, as Martin fell into heavier drug addiction. “Martin was still getting his share of royalties here,” Wilson later explained to interviewer Martin Aston, “even when he wasn’t producing. I think his real gripe was that we built the Hacienda instead of a recording studio.”
The Hacienda at 11-13 Whitworth Street West in Manchester opened its huge metallic doors in the Spring of 1982. With its circular, four-story, red-brick façade and mammoth multi-floor industrial steel interior, designed by architect Ben Kelly, the venue was truly a knockout nightlife beacon on the Manchester scene. New Order played there regularly in the early ‘80s. Touring artists like Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark, Echo & the Bunnymen, and a gal named Madonna all wailed from the cavernous dance floor. Factory label artists James began performing at the Hacienda during this period. Out of all the bands to come out of Manchester, James has steadily kept going for over 15 years, handily releasing solid albums like 1992’s “Seven” and its follow-up, the magnificent “Laid.” Their “Best of James” record in 1997 snared number one in the U.K. And at the time they were playing the Hacienda, another local musician looked on, later proclaiming them “the best band in the world.” His name was Steven Morrissey. And in 1982, together with newfound chum, Johnny Marr, he started a Manchester band called The Smiths.
At first reared in Hulme, Morrissey spent most of his upbringing at 384 Kings Road in the Manchester suburb of Stretford. He adored glam rock bands, having seen Marc Bolan’s T-Rex as his 1st live gig at age 13 at Manchester’s Bellevue Theatre, and he subsequently became the U.K. president of the New York Dolls fan club. His love of literature found him immersed in the pages of poets and classic novelists. In 1982, guitarist Johnny Marr (born John Maher) was working at X clothes, a small city boutique, when he went round Morrissey’s home on a tip to see if the reclusive lyricist would want to start a band. Recruiting bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, the newly-named Smiths (there is no definitive story as to how they got their name) played their first gig at The Ritz, a club just down from the Hacienda on Whitworth, on October 4, 1982. They immediately garnered a core group of fans that responded to their catchy tunes rooted in a bed of melancholia. Morrissey’s love of Oscar Wilde would prompt him to stuff his pants with gladiolas. “The flowers actually have a significance,” he told Melody Maker magazine in 1983. “When we first began, there was a horrendous sterile cloud over the music scene in Manchester. Everybody was anti-human, and it was so very cold. The flowers were a very human gesture.”
Steven Morrissey felt the need to just use his surname once the band hit the clubs. “When the Smiths began it was very important that I wouldn’t be that horrible, stupid, sloppy Steven,” he told The Face magazine. “He would have to be locked in a box and put on top of the wardrobe. I needed to feel differently, and rather than adopt some glamorous pop star name, I eradicated Steven which seemed to make perfect sense.” The band rehearsed on the top floor of a building on Portland Street, just opposite the Britannia Hotel, and recorded its debut single, “Hand In Glove,” at Strawberry Studios. They went on to score a number of top 20 hit singles in their native country, particularly with songs like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “Panic,” “Ask,” and “Sheila Take A Bow.”
Instead of going with Tony Wilson’s Factory label, they had signed with a London indie company called Rough Trade. “Factory aren’t really interested in new groups,” Morrissey scoffed to Sounds magazine at the time. “Factory have been good, but they now belong to a time that is past. Look, we had a great social life (referring to their gigs at The Hacienda club), Factory has been great, but let’s leave all that behind us now.”
In fact, Morrissey and his bandmates left behind Manchester altogether after a couple of years. “People in Manchester are really quite short-sighted and dim on the subject,” he told Hot Press magazine in 1984, referring to their departure, “because they feel if you leave the place you defect and you’re worthless and you’ve turned your back on the starving thousands in the back streets of Manchester, and so they spit on you. But really, when I was living there I can’t remember anybody that helped me, anybody in the diminutive music industry there, anybody on the club circuit or whatever. Nobody helped me so I literally do not owe anything to anybody in Manchester, which is a very pleasant way to be.”
Johnny Marr and Morrissey couldn’t continue their working relationship past 1987. After The Smiths disbanded, Marr went on to lend his guitar chop support to numerous artists and joined Electronic with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Morrissey suffered no love loss from his former Manchester roots and the rest of the U.K. when his first solo album, “Viva Hate,” charted at number one in Britain in 1988. Subsequent success followed, but the years were tempered with Morrissey’s erratic mood swings and fragile stage presence.
At the same time The Smiths’ career was taking off, Manchester’s most successful band fired onto the scene. And it was led by a man with fiery red hair. Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall had always been in some form of musical entertainment. Whether it was singing at pubs or warbling at weddings, the Manchester Polytechnic graduate had a deeply soulful sound. Raised in the suburb of Denton, 4 miles outside of Manchester, Hucknall’s being bullied on the grounds of Audenshaw Grammar for the color of his hair turned the fury to an early stint in the angry new wave group the Frantic Elevators. But he soon tired of the limitations of this musical genre, and in 1984, after signing a deal with Elektra Records, tapped into his soul/funk leanings with the hit single “Money’s Too Tight To Mention.” Simply Red’s follow-up single, “Holding Back The Years,” shot to number one on the U.S. charts. By the end of the 1990s, with over 45 million in record sales worldwide, Hucknall, by far became Manchester’s richest musician. Investing in the city that bore his first success, he opened the Barca Café Bar in the Castlefield district. In later Manchester history, a popular musician would be banned from entering the Barca’s premises.
Meanwhile, the musical metropolis seemed to have chugged into a bit of the doldrums. “There was no one about,” a fellow by the name of Ian Brown later told Uncut Magazine. “There was the Smiths, New Order. I liked a few singles, but there wasn’t anyone giving you a charge.” The time he referred to was 1984, and Brown was about to ignite the city’s next huge assault on the music industry. Having played in several bands throughout the early ‘80s, vocalist Brown assembled his friends guitarist John Squire, bassist Gary Mounfield, and drummer Alan “Reni” Wren to accompany him on a trip to Sweden to play gigs for a Scandinavian promoter. Shortly thereafter, at a rock benefit, Pete Townshend of The Who was heard to say that Reni was the best drummer he’d heard since Keith Moon. Who were these guys?
The Stone Roses became household names around Manchester. Their early performances were held in railroad arches along Fairfield Street near the city’s main station. They soon moved to warehouses and hundreds of teens would show up to enjoy the music, in early versions of what would later commonly be referred to as ‘raves.’ Vandals spray-painted the band’s logo on city buildings throughout town. The drug Ecstasy, an euphoric, hallucinogenic rush of a narcotic, became the party staple and would soon become incorporated into Manchester’s entire music scene. “We were isolated in Manchester,” Brown told Uncut, “but that made us more determined, because in them days they’d say to make it you had to move to London, go to all the parties, get your face about. The Smiths had moved to London, which disappointed us. We believed we could do it from Manchester, we stuck by that and we did.”
Confident with their abilities to record, they tapped famed local producer Martin Hannett to oversee their first single, “So Young.” By 1985, Hannett, according to Brown, “was in a bad way. We caught him snorting coke off the “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” gold disc! (This was a highly popular sentimental tune released in 1980 by the St. Winifred’s School Choir). He was a junkie: lovely man, but nothing else mattered.” This would be the only time they chose to work with Hannett. The band soon hooked up with Gareth Evans, who managed the rock club The International, and became pretty much the house band. In 1988, they recorded the hit single “Elephant Stone” with New Order’s Peter Hook producing for Silvertone Records. Their debut album, 1989’s “The Stone Roses,” charted and re-charted in the U.K. five times throughout that year. The group’s lively funky beat pitted behind charging guitarwork brought pep back to the British music scene that had sorely been missing. Their manner of dress, that of ‘flares,’ or baggy pants, along with floppy Kangol hats, became the couture sensation around the Manchester club scene until the end of the ‘80s.
By 1990, the band entered into a lengthy legal dispute with Silvertone, resulting in their not releasing a follow-up album until 1994 on Geffen Records. By then, the world had moved onto other fads in music. The Stone Roses could have had more of an impact on the rest of the world if they hadn’t been caught in the snafus of the music industry. Ian Brown issued a statement in 1996 saying, “Having spent ten years in the filthiest business in the universe, it’s a pleasure to announce the end of the Stone Roses. May God bless all who gave us love and support, special thanks to the people of Manchester who sent us on our way. Peace be upon you.” What the Stone Roses had started back in the mid-‘80s led to what a young man named Shaun Ryder dubbed the ‘Madchester’ scene.
Ryder and his group Happy Mondays became the undisputed leaders of the Madchester madness. Hailing from Little Hulton in the northwest part of the city, Shaun and his brother Paul formed the band in 1984, inspired to name the group after New Order’s single “Blue Monday.” The band members they pulled together had very little musical background, but they managed to play a few rough gigs throughout the city. Just like New Order’s earlier incarnation, Joy Division, the Happy Mondays were finally discovered during a “battle of the bands” benefit at the Hacienda club. DJ Mike Pickering at the nightspot agreed to produce their first single, “Delightful,” and Factory figurehead, Tony Wilson, signed the band to his label. In 1987, Wilson hired ex-Velvet Underground member John Cale to produce the band’s nutcase-named debut LP, “Squirrel & G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out).” The sounds were industrial-oriented and somber. The Mondays needed a new direction, so Wilson turned to the one man who had fashioned a musical revolution once before in the late ‘70s, Martin Hannett.
Where the Stone Roses had brought a raw pep and funk to the Ecstasy-laden crowds, Happy Mondays’ new sound drove the point home. Hannett dressed the production in acid-laced guitars and groovy dance beats, helping to define what would soon be the music that led to Manchester’s “Second Summer of Love.” Of course, Hannett was right at home in the drug-spun atmospherics. To the Mondays, he was their savior. “’E’s a f*****’ mate to the Mondays, Martin,” Shaun Ryder related to The Face Magazine in 1990. “He’s great when ‘e’s with us, man. Mind, ‘e likes workin’ with us ‘cos we give ‘im a lot of E (ecstasy) durin’ the sessions, right! E sorts ‘im right out! During the ‘Hallelujah’ sessions (in 1989 for the EP ‘Madchester Raves On’), we were givin’ him two a day and this were when they were twenty-five quid a go, right. But it were worth it ‘cos he kept saying, ‘I can’t feel anything but I’m in a f*****’ great frame of mind.”
That seemed to be the consensual notion for all the E-ravers that showed up to the Hacienda and the International during those final years of the 1980s to let the sounds of the Mondays wash over them. Wearing T-shirts that brashly proclaimed, “…and on the sixth day God created Manchester,” Mancunian musical pride was at an all-time high amongst the city’s youth culture. Acid-house music pumped from the speakers, especially under the guidance of Mike Pickering at the Hacienda during his Friday “Nude” night events. Pickering would go on to head the Manchester dance sensation M-People in the early ‘90s.
By 1990, the Happy Monday’s single “Step On” was the dance anthem that blared forth over stomping club floors across the globe. The band sold out London’s massive Wembley Stadium for one night and Manchester’s own G-Mex (the Greater Manchester Exchange Hall), the town’s largest performance venue, for two nights. Local DJs Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osbourne produced their breakthrough follow-up album entitled “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches,” which debuted at number 4 on the UK chart.
Joining the Madchester scene were The Charlatans, who came from Norwich, just south of the city. Noted for the swirling Hammond organ sound of their keyboardist Rob Collins, The Charlatans scored recognition with their #9 U.K. charting single “The Only One I Know” and their number one U.K. album “Some Friendly.” The Inspiral Carpets, who hailed from neighboring Oldham, leapt into the Madchester fray with their own organ trademark sound, courtesy of member Clint Boon. While bands flourished during this period, DJs were king as well. Martin Price ran a Manchester record shop at the time called Eastern Bloc and together with frequent customers Graham Marsey and Gerald Simpson, they became one of the town’s most renowned DJ acts, signed to ZTT records, forming the dance/acid house sounds of 808 State.
As the Madchester scene reached a plateau of pleasure, it appeared the party was starting to sour. All of Manchester began to experience the nasty side effects of their years’-long rave scene. With unemployment and decay still permeating much of the inner city, drug gangs infiltrated the clubs, openly distributing their wares and intimidating the house security staff. In March 1990, a sixteen-year old girl died of an Ecstasy overdose at the Hacienda, and the police temporarily closed the club down. Ian Brown of the Stone Roses painted a harsh picture of these crumbling days of the scene. “You’d see kids stood at the bar of the Hacienda with an Uzi. And they were only 14 ‘ears old.” In fact it was at the Hacienda that Tony Wilson last saw his legendary producer, Martin Hannett, in a sad state of existence. The local band New Fads were filming a music video, and Hannett, who was by then in a zonked and bloated state, was being wheeled around the dance floor in a shopping cart. In April 1991, Martin died at the age of 41, presumably as a result of years of drug affliction.
Wilson’s Factory empire was crumbling as well. The label’s only two moneymaker artists, New Order and Happy Mondays, were either moving on or tearing apart. Because he did not adequately pay New Order for their 1989 album “Technique,” the band looked to upscale representation through London Records. Being business partners with Wilson in the label and with the Hacienda had led to stress between the two camps. “Every time they had a problem, they used to come to us to sort it out for them,” drummer Stephen Morris told interviewer Bob Gourley. “But we just don’t say, ‘Well look, if we’ve got a problem with music, what do we do, come to you? Can you explain MIDI to us? I don’t know why this lead isn’t working, could you fix it for us?’ The other way around would just be completely ridiculous.” Bernard Sumner continued with Noise magazine, “The reason we signed to London was because Factory Records, our mother company, went bust. They went broke…they went down owing us a lot of money.”
By 1991, Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays was up to 20 rocks of crack a day. The band had headed to the Caribbean to record their fourth album, “Yes, Please,” with ex-Talking Heads members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth producing. During their stay, Ryder phoned Wilson, demanding that Factory Records wire the group 40,000 British pounds that day or he would destroy all of the master tapes of songs the band had recorded. Wilson had to re-mortgage his home and complied with Ryder’s demands. Frantz later told the press his take on the condition of his Happy Mondays clients. “They just didn’t know how much trouble they were getting themselves into. In the end, we were lucky that nobody died.”
The end did shortly come for the Mondays when they disbanded in 1993. Ryder began a group in the mid-90s called Black Grape, releasing two albums, and in order to pay mounting tax debts, Happy Mondays feebly regrouped in 1999 for some lackluster gigs. But the Madchester scene, for all intents and purposes, was dead. Out of those ashes rose two music sensations with two very different sensibilities.
In 1991, a teen pop manager by the name of Nigel Martin-Smith decided to capitalize on America’s fascination with Boston boy band New Kids On The Block by creating his own Manchester version. Gary Barlow was a young singer who’d won a local contest that enabled him to record some demos at Strawberry Studios. Mark Owen was an employee with the studio who served tea to the clients. Together they decided to form a band, the Cutest Rush. But Nigel, whom Gary knew, wanted the two boys to pair with a couple of other lads he represented, Jason Orange and Howard Donald, to form his hoped-for sensation boy band. Believing his creation should be a quintet, Nigel placed an ad in the paper to which heartthrob Robbie Williams answered the call. And with that, Take That was formed.
The group’s squeaky-clean, sugary pop songs snared them a slew of #1 positions on the U.K. charts over the next 4 years including the singles “Pray,” “Relight My Fire,” “Babe,” “Everything Changes,” “Sure,” “Back For Good,” and “Never Forget.” By 1995, outspoken, and most handsome member, Robbie Williams was ousted from the band. Predictably, Take That folded within a year, but Williams’ solo career went through the roof over the second half of the ‘90s. With his sexual swagger and ear-candy hits, he is one of Britain’s best-loved current pop sensations. As with all superstars, he has been linked with some of the prettiest women in the business. One of them, his ex-fiancee, Nicole Appleton, is a singer in the all-girl outfit All Saints. She also left Robbie for another fellow Mancunian musician, someone who certainly doesn’t like to be considered ‘cute,’ the bad boy of English rock, Liam Gallagher.
Liam, along with his brother Noel, are the U.K.’s premier hooligans, having boozed, drugged and slugged their way through the headlines since their band Oasis burst on the scene in 1992. It was Liam who had confronted Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall first in London’s Metropolitan Hotel and later was banned from Mick’s Manchester establishment, the Barca Café Bar. While it always appears Liam is the one with the shorter fuse, older sibling Noel is certainly known for leveling targets with his wicked tongue. (In October 1995, Noel acidly broached the subject of rivalry between his group and that of Blur, another British sensation, to The Observer newspaper by saying he hoped Blur’s members Damon Albarn and Alex James would catch AIDS and die).
The two brothers grew up in the Manchester suburb of Burnage and worked for their dad in his concrete business. Noel had already begun strumming a guitar at age 14 and was continually jotting down songs and lyrics. When Madchester was king, they saw The Stone Roses perform in 1989 and were awestruck. Noel later acknowledged to Uncut magazine that, without the Stone Roses, “there would not have been an Oasis.” (To which the Stone Roses’ drummer Mani proudly exclaimed to the press at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival, “We love Oasis; we’re their dads”). Noel subsequently went on tour with the Inspiral Carpets for two years as their guitar roadie, while brother Liam, having been kicked out of school at age 16, formed a group called Rain. Returning from touring, Noel offered his brother songwriting services in joining their band, provided he had control over their direction. Now calling themselves Oasis, the quintet spent much of 1992 ceaselessly rehearsing songs.
Accompanying fellow friends in a band called Sister Lovers to a gig at King Tut’s Wah Wah Club in Glasgow, Scotland on May 31, 1993, Creation Records boss Alan McGhee spotted the band’s performance and signed them to his label. With their straightforward, melodic rock, described more than once as ‘Beatlesque,’ the group had a much different vibe than their Madchester dance/funk co-horts. Noel, for one, was extremely unimpressed by his city’s recent musical accomplishments. “Music doesn’t belong to Manchester,” he opined to The Face magazine. “Besides, the place is a joke. All these kids buying flares and ‘God created Manchester’ T-shirts, then realizing it was the emperor’s new clothes, and the scene was f***ed.”
The releases of their 1994 album, “Definitely Maybe,” 1995’s “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?,” and 1997’s “Be Here Now” all debuted on the U.K. chart at number one. The last two albums went to number 4 and number 2 respectively in the U.S. While their music has been artfully crafted over the years, the boys of Oasis still maintain a level of immaturity that always lands them in the news.
Like The Smiths before them, Oasis relocated to London in the midst of their career without as much as a backward glance at their hometown. “We played there for years and no one took any notice,” Noel continued in his rant. “Now, all of a sudden, we’re Manchester’s long-lost sons. Either that or they hate us. All these so-called friends who are saying, ‘I remember you when you were nothing.’ Well, I don’t want to remember it so f*** off.” He elaborated some more to Q magazine, “As soon as I got some money, I was out of there. In Manchester, I was sick and tired of going into pubs I’d been going into since I was 15 and everyone saying, ‘Tight bastard!’ if I didn’t buy the drinks and ‘Flash bastard!’ if I did. I was sick and tired of young crack heads coming up to me in clubs sticking a screwdriver in me back and saying, ‘We’re doing the merchandising on your next tour,’ or ‘We’re going to be your security team.”
Indeed, the town’s wondrous Hacienda days were finally waning. After several more mandated closures due to violence throughout the ‘90s, the club finally locked its doors for good in 1997. Meanwhile, Tony Wilson’s Factory label went into bankruptcy with a 2.5 million pound debt on November 23, 1992. His record company never recovered. The end of an era had truly passed. Hannett was gone. New Order’s manager and former founding partner of the Hacienda, Rob Gretton, had died in 1999 at the age of 47. On November 13, 2000, Peter Hook and Tony Wilson stood outside the Hacienda club as bulldozers plowed in and toppled it to the ground. New apartment buildings, in the millions of pounds, would be built in its place. “It’s a little bit unsettling,” Hook observed to NME.com, “but I’m glad that it’s disappearing because I want it to be a memory. There’s places that I drive past in Manchester, and I go, ‘That’s where Electric Circus used to be,’ and now I’ll be going, ‘That’s where The Hacienda used to be.’ I would have hated somebody to open it again, because it wouldn’t have been the same.”
Manchester has inarguably spawned some of the greatest acts in rock ‘n’ roll. The city still has a bristling vibe of nightclubs, including places like The Infinity, along with Jilly’s Rockworld and The Music Box, both on Oxford Road, that bring promise of a new musical direction in the near future. But the location can only foster so much. For guys like New Order’s Bernard Sumner, the magical spark that ignites revolutionary talent lies solely in individuals who are waiting to be discovered amongst the hardscrabble populace. “It’s not the city I like,” he revealed to Noise magazine. “It’s the people who live here. There’s some really great people here.” So sit back and enjoy. If history is any indicator, the great people of Manchester are due to spring another musical revolution upon us any day now.
© 2000 Ned Truslow