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The Buzzcocks to the Summer of Love
One of the most interesting aspects of having a notorious musical moment develop in a specific location is the way in which record companies beat a path there. Two bands of the time, from many, who were halfheartedly mooted as next big things, were Northside and Northern Uproar. In the end they proved to be a late and lacklustre flowering of the Manchester Summers of Love.
In all of this the role of clubs such as The Hacienda and The Boardwalk should not be forgotten. They were crucial players, almost as much as the bands themselves. Readers of these pages should also read through the special section dedicated to The Hacienda elsewhere on this website.
Indeed as stated above it was perhaps the first closure of the Hacienda in 1991 which signalled the beginning of the end for the good times of Madchester. Why? There were many factors, some of them sociological: ten years of decline in the inner suburbs of Manchester and its satellites, the growth of unemployment, a broke Council faced with budget cuts allowing whole districts to implode, a Police force apparently powerless to prevent a small and very nasty clique of criminals becoming powerful on the back of growing drug dependency. Whatever the cause, the gangs certainly found clubs sources of rich pickings. Run the door and you can take a cut of entrance fees whilst allowing your dealers a monopoly inside. You get free drinks as well. Coming from the inner city the Madchester phenomena was something criminals from those areas appreciated and understood. It was perhaps sadly inevitable that they should move in and spoil the party. Not that as a regular punter who has had a few drinks before turning up at the club you would notice.
There was a very positive legacy as well. As inner suburbs have declined the city centre has boomed. Apartments are transforming the old cotton warehouses upstairs whilst downstairs restaurants and bars are taking over. It all began with Madchester. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Northern Quarter of the city centre. Nowhere owes more to the period at the end of the eighties and the nineties than this area either. The halcyon days of the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses etc., seemed to give a whole generation of would be creative entrepreneurs whether it be fashion designers, graphic designers, property developers or retailers the confidence to start up. Retail centres such as Afflecks Palace Camden Market in one building became places of pilgrimage from all over the country. Madchester might have ended up just mad what doesn’t turn sour in the end ? but it was directly worth millions of pounds to its home city. Pop music is not always the seizing of an ephemeral moment, it can be worth a fortune.
James are a band who through their 1991 single Sit Down became associated with the Madchester scene but who are really a band with origins and inspirations far away from the spirit of those times. James from their early eighties origins have always been an unpredictable unit, even fey at times. There is none of the belligerent aggression of the Stone Roses in James but there are very adroit lyrics. Partly this is down to the lead singer Tim Booth. Oh rare Tim Booth! If Freddie Garrity of Freddie and the Dreamers danced like a frog in a blender in the 1960’s then Booth, when he gets in the mood, dances like a frog in a really, really fast blender. Proving their longevity the band achieved something they had never previously achieved when, in 1998, their Best Of album reached number 1. James had started out in 1983 at Factory Music. Championed by Morrissey of The Smiths and manipulating influences from very diverse sources early songs included sea shantie references they built an amazingly devoted following which sticks by them up to the present.
Their reputation grew through albums such as Stutter and One Hand Clapping to the excellent Gold Mother in 1990. The single Sit Down followed with its well known middle section where all the audience are required you guessed it to sit down. It reached number 2 in the singles charts and in no time at all James became a big stadium player on both sides of the Atlantic. This followed a re release of Gold Mother and a new album Seven . Their recording high point was reached with perhaps one of the finest albums by any Manchester band, Laid , in 1993. Here the group with Brian Eno in attendance produced an ethereal mix of innovative sounds which sustained itself over most of the songs. Laid came as close as any subsequent Manchester music had to the sheer inimitability of The Smiths. The band’s best work after Laid was Whiplash in 1997 which was followed by the Best of album mentioned above.
Whilst the tide of musical fame washed over the Hacienda which they part owned, New Order maintained their musical reputation. The 1989 album Technique was full of good tracks including the single Round and Round, Fine Time and Mr Disco. The quality of Technique was also recognised by the record buying public as it sailed to the number 1 spot the first top spot the band had ever achieved. After Technique the various band members took time off. Sumner working with Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths, formed Electronic and released the single Getting Away With It, featuring Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys; Hook formed the band Revenge and released One True Passion ; Morris and Gilbert,
later wryly calling themselves The Other Two, worked on TV themes and later produced their own album. During this time the band briefly reassembled as England New Order and did the impossible: they made a football song which was trendy and up to date.
World in Motion featuring the England football squad with rapping wide player John Barnes shot to number 1. The tune, written for the 1990 World Cup, still reduces grown men to tears as it jogs memories of penalty misses in the semifinal. The following year Electronic released the album Get the Message. Then in 1992 New Order started working together again and produced the excellent Republic in May 1993. This again reached number 1 in the charts and included the rip roaring single Regret. And that was that for a while. Despite the release and success of the Best of New Order in late 1994 the band didn’t work together again until 1998.
Two major selling Greater Manchester acts of the late eighties and the early to mid nineties, Lisa Stansfield and Take That, stand even further removed from the Madchester scene than either James or New Order.
Lisa Stansfield is from Rochdale, one of the Greater Manchester conurbation towns, 11 miles north of the city centre. She has a rich, powerful singing voice that was magnificently displayed on the number 1 hit All Around the World in 1989. This song also hit number 3 in the USA in 1991 and topped the US R chart Stansfield became only the second white artist to do so. In 1992 she was voted the Best New Female Singer by the Rolling Stone critics. Her albums Affection , Real Love, Lisa Stansfield and the +1 Remixes EP all co written with Ian Devaney and Andy Morris who met at Oulder Hill School in Rochdale have been very good but a meagre return for the number of years the band has been together. Of course Stansfield has been busy guesting on a number of other albums, 1995’s tribute LP, City Blues the Music of Marvin Gaye for instance.
Her singles hits include, People Hold On ( with group Coldcut),This Is The Right Time, Change, Time To Make You Mine, All Woman, Someday( I’m coming back) and So Natural. The singer has been around a long time winning local and national talent competitions almost from a Shirley Temple age. In one such competition she beat to first place a local comedian who was none other than the father of Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays. In 1999 Lisa Stansfield starred, to critical approval, in the classy British film Swing. The role required Stansfield to take on the part of a Liverpudlian singer.
Take That could have been just another irritating teen boy band but they rose above their mediocre rivals. Assembled in 1991 by manager Nigel Martin Smith from a number of areas around the city they contained the songwriting and lead singer skills of Gary Barlow, the stage presence of Robbie Williams, the endearing charm of Mark Owen and the less obvious but somehow necessary dancing talents of Jason Orange and Howard Donald. Their mix of weepy ballads and good dancing music made its breakthrough in 1992 with a cover of the Tavares hit It Only Takes a Minute followed by the Barry Manilow cover Could it be Magic. Take That and Party their debut LP largely penned by Gary Barlow included the hit Why Can’t I Wake Up With You? . They then acheived number 1 with Pray, Relight my Fire, Babe and Everything Changes whilst the album Everything Changes also debuted at top spot. In fact the group were the first in UK history to enter at number 1 in the singles charts four times in a row.
Success continued into 1995 with the single Back for Good which sold 300,000 in its first week, the highest number for ten years, and the album chart topping Nobody Else . Then in July 1995 Robbie Williams quit after showing dangerous signs of individuality and a long legal battle between him and Martin Smith began. The other four members continued through a successful tour but decided to call it a day in early 1996. The child charity Childline had to put on special ‘phone lines to deal with the distraught deluge of teenage girls. Both the final single, the cover, How Deep is Your Love,
and the LP Greatest Hits inevitably and effortlessly reached number 1. One critic described the achievement of Take That as being the only boy band whose names you remembered.
As Take That were starting out in 1991 another Mancunian band were making their first tentative steps to world fame. Their story and the story of Manchester music up to the present day is the subject of the next chapter.