Manchester - Popchester!
Manchester’s long and distinguished roster of world-famous pop music stars and superstars has been a great source of pride among local Mancunians, especially since it gives some indication of the prominent role that the city’s musical heritage plays in the world music scene.
As early as the sixties and seventies, Manchester boasted several popular groups like The Hollies, The Bee Gees and 10cc. In addition, the BBC recorded the popular TV show “Top of the Pops” in the city, which was another reason to be proud of the local music scene. Several original members of The Hollies, founded in the early sixties, were raised in Manchester and nearby communities. Often called the British Everly Brothers, The Hollies’ rich harmonies rivalled those of the Beach Boys. Of course, the trio known as the Bee Gees is one of the most successful musical acts of all time, with total sales of over 180 million albums. By now, everyone knows that the Bee Gees were the Brothers Gibb: Barry, Maurice and Robin. 10cc achieved the pinnacle of their commercial success in the seventies before splitting up in 1976.
Historically, however, the big moment in Manchester’s music history came on June 4, 1976 when the Sex Pistols arrived in Castlefield to play their legendary gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. While it is true that the audience at that gig numbered less than 42 people, several key figures who would be instrumental in shaping Manchester’s future music scene were present. These included Tony Wilson (founder of Factory Records), Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order), Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), Ian Curtis, Peter Hook and producer Martin Hannett (who would later from The Smiths with Johnny Marr). Shortly following the gig, Wilson founded Factory Records and promptly signed Joy Division.
Factory Records soon made a splash with signature Manchester musicians who played their own distinct sound. The record label created its own unique image as well, combining images of the industrial north with Andy Warhol-inspired pop art glamour. This formed a rather incongruous image that nonetheless caught on.
With bands like A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column at the forefront, Factory Records became identified with a certain sound. However, the coup de grace was fashioned by Joy Division, which critics said successfully captured and “grimly defined” what it meant to be a Mancunian at the close of the seventies.
It was also at this time when The Fall, led by Mark E. Smith, began their groundbreaking run of producing unique, innovative and prolific hits that spanned the next three decades.
Following the footsteps of Joy Division, New Order embarked on their own odyssey that combined pop, rock and dance music and parlayed this into worldwide commercial success and millions of record sales.
Soon after, the musical act that would become ‘the definitive Manchester group of the eighties’ hit the ground running. The Smiths, led by Morrissey and Marr, created such iconic Manchester songs as “Rusholme Ruffians” and “Suffer Little Children.” Music critics noted that Morrisey’s lyrics were as explicitly about Manchester as the works of another great artist, the painter L.S. Lowry.
A point of clarification here, though. The famous American anti-war hippie musical from the late sixties, Hair, includes a song entitled "Manchester, England." However, the mention of the city in the song's title is somewhat irrelevant and serves mainly as punctuation in the song's lyrics.
With the dawn of the nineties, the Manchester music scene again metamorphosed, some say the new energy was propelled by the drug ecstasy. The Hacienda night club, which was owned by Factory Records, became the new music hub and created the so-called “Madchester Scene,” fuelled by the music of Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets and The Stone Roses. The 2002 movie “24 Hour Party People” by Michael Winterbottom aptly captured this period in Manchester’s music history.
After Madchester, much of the music scene’s energy died down but lots of local music groups still made their presence felt, such as Oasis, James, Take That, M People, 808 State, Elbow, Doves, Mr. Scruff, Drawn Boy and Michael McGoldrick. Of this group, Oasis emerged as the most popular act, with their Don’t Believe The Truth tour playing to over 1.7 million people around the world in 2005 and early 2006. It should be noted that The Fall continues to receive critical acclaim.
Today, with popular music venues such as the Manchester Evening News Arena, the Manchester Apollo and the Manchester Academy as well as over 30 smaller venues with their own musical acts, it will only be a matter of time until the next great Manchester musical act hits the scene.
Incidentally, the Manchester Evening News Arena, which is next to Manchester Victoria railway station, was recently voted as International Arena of the Year, edging out New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden. The News Arena has a seating capacity of 21,000 and is the largest arena of its type in Europe.