Jun 19, 2011

Before We Went Madchester...

(Exclusive guest post by FoB© Ian Hough)

Manchester, home of Coronation Street and Manchester United. Home of Morrissey and me, too. It's been a while since I lived there. Today, I decided to look back on my youth in the Rainy City. You should be warned; I have a gnarliness when it comes to things Mancunian, or 70s, or 80s. Or pretty much anything, to be honest. A healthy misanthropic bent never hurt anyone, surely...well, maybe a few people, maybe even a lot of people, but that's not the point. The world has changed a lot since the Peterloo Massacre, or even the Factory Nights at the Russell Club. The way we not only experience life, but indeed the way we package and present it as well. "Life" isn't a marketing metaphor here; I'm not talking about McFood containers, I'm talking about the language and media we use to express ad invent ourselves. When people today discuss music and its place in culture I marvel at how self-conscious we've become. By "recently" I probably mean "in the past ten years". Somewhere between the advent of the Web and the current debilitating social network epidemic, youth credibility became homogenized. Not so, back in the '70s. As an eleven year old, I was hooked on the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and The Stranglers. Today's kids want to find tickets to the Big 4 Tour, or - Lord help us - go to the Lollapalooza festival.

A "festival" back in the '80s often consisted of a few dozen flea-bitten pseudo-hippies hopped up on Paisley Underground music and something naughty but nice, and a few rain-lashed tents. Kids today wouldn't be able to live with that. I blame technology and soft parenting, but who knows, maybe the latest crop of young geeks will prove to be a bridge to another Punk era. If they do, let's hope their landmarks are as interesting as ours were. We took our world for granted, but it must have been more interesting than we realised. When mundane places we frequented twenty-five years ago are now pictured on t-shirts, thanks to "iconic" images like Salford Lads Club, you have to ask yourself what kind of behind-the-scenes promo went into it? Who was the first person to market those images? Tony Wilson? LS Lowry?

The Smiths never actually went to Salford Lads Club (as I'm sure you know), so the whole thing is based on an arranged photo. The story is that the Smiths would never have dared attend a rough inner-city youth club such as that, but today's hipsters wouldn't either, so perhaps it's become symbolic of that. The Hacienda is now a block of flats called (funnily enough) The Hacienda. What an amazing coincidence. The owners of the flats have licenced the club's name from Peter Hook, who owns the trademark. I well remember going into the Hac in 1983, when art student poseurs still ruled the place, before the bad boys took over. It was all long trenchcoats, weird boots and Flock of Seagulls haircuts. The line outside at half-seven on a Saturday night (if there even was a line), full of hand-wringing angst-riddled men with eye-liner on or a trilby with a blue feather in, was radically different from the masses who flocked there a few years later.

In the early-80s, Lou Reed wasn't played on the radio. The Doors and Jimi Hendrix were considered underground, even by cool people. We gratefully discovered California's Paisley Underground scene and Robyn Hitchcock. The harmonies and psychedelic terror of the Rain Parade and Naked Prey sent us silly in innumerable flats around my neighbourhood. When the Stone Roses did eventually appear it was old hat to us. Paisley Underground had nourished us for several years by then. It saved our lives; anything was better than the mainstream crap they were into in 1984: Paul McCartney concerts, U2's latest tours and tickets to see Def Leppard. Amazingly, all three of those abominations are still touring in 2011. It's probably further proof that even the dross from those innocent times are as good as anything the young 'uns of today can put out. Shocking.

Manchester is and was a working-class northern city. I grew up first in Salford, then in Prestwich, then back in Salford, then Prestwich, then Salford, criss-crossing the border where so much talent emerged all around like mutant brains infested with glowing slime mould. Mark E. Smith of the Fall came from along that borderland, as did drug-addled, bedraggled poet John Cooper Clarke. I would often see him, panicky and sweating, in leather trousers and shades in a Sedgely Park phone booth, talking desperately to someone who peddled misery. Steve Garvey of Buzzcocks fame went to our school, and there was even a member or two of 10CC knocking about the place. I used to go to a Salford Lads Club every Thursday night, not far from the iconic one made so famous by The Smiths. This one was called The Adelphi Lads Club and it was burnt down by arsonists in 2006. The Adelphi's rich history went back further than any other, but nobody has ever heard of it. How tragically hip is that? (check out the link - the website it goes to is clearly the work of people with no college education. I bet the Salford Lads Club website has a friggin' MP3 on it playing Happy Mondays and YouTubes about Gunchester gang wars...probably not, actually) Anyway, enough of this whingeing. Angst sucks. This is the 20th century, and it's all about achieving and packaging and taking pictures of outrageous people on your phone so you can breathlessly tweet it to a load of anonymous strangers. It is the time of Ego, when reality TV has us in its spell. Another English export. Damn those Brits, huh?

Only joking. It's just my Manchester moodiness. Our dour humour is celebrated in the city but reviled by the uncool outside it. Those factories, chimneys, immense warehouses and dockside cranes have left their mark. The Hacienda's been replaced by an apartment block but the newer acrchitecture in Manchester city centre is disturbingly industrial looking. It's hard to believe but it seems that some professional design people and politicians and other grown ups have conspired to bestow a kind of Smithsian or Curtisesque greyness on the place. There are apartment buildings, office blocks and shops that housed in units best suited to the inner workings of an oil rig or power station. Do I like it? I don't honestly know. The tallest building in the city, the famed Hilton Tower, has an awkward jutty edge that appears a third of the way up; a glass floor is installed there, in a bar, so people can stand and look down at the pavement far below. It looks like the pitheads in the colliery I lived opposite in Salford when I was a young lad. And I think it was done intentionally. They're a funny lot, these Mancs.

Ian Hough, a native of Manchester, was transplanted to the USA in 1993. He continues to dwell on his hometown, but denies missing the place. He is a liar. His two books, Perry Boys, and Perry Boys Abroad, have been critically acclaimed and won the adoration of Manchester’s musicians and soccer hooligans alike. Hough remains interested (some would say obsessed) with society’s underbelly, especially the parts that have been misreported or never discovered at all by the media. He seeks to put this to rights. Described by Irvine Welsh as “our sharpest cultural commentator,” he can be found online at The Nameless Thing, where you can buy his books and read some of his rantings.


quims said...

nothing wrong with having a manc misanthropic bent.

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.”

- G. B. Stern

quims said...

PS Hacienda member No.151

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