What does it sound like?:
Manchester, North of England: A story of independent music, Greater Manchester 1977-1993 is a 7-CD box set from Cherry Red records, compiled by John Reed with a foreword by Mark Radcliffe and sleeve notes (half a page per track) by Mick Middles.
Each CD is a themed, roughly chronological, chapter in the story from early punk to the post-Hacienda beginnings of Britpop. Everyone you might initially think of features here although, in common with these Cherry Red boxes, it’s quite often not the obvious track. Everyone, that is, except The Smiths.
Mastering quality is good, given the wide variety of sources (and ages). Each of the seven CDs is packed with 79 minutes of music (one is ‘only’ 77 minutes).
Disc 1 (‘Cranked Up Really High’) covers the years of DIY punk. Buzzcocks kick things off, as you would expect, with most of the rest of the disc featuring minimal production. Only Joy Division, Magazine and John Cooper Clarke really break out of the murky sonics. The most notable thing about the remainder being what happened next to the performers – amongst them Vini Reilly, Billy Duffy, Graham Fellows, Mick Hucknall, Chris Sievey and Mark Radcliffe. Jon The Postman’s take on ‘Louie Louie’ is atrocious, the sound of a musically inept band fronted by Mark E. Smith at his most unhinged. The final two tracks are of social-reportage reggae, from X-O-Dus (’English Black Boys’) and Harlem Spirit (‘Dem A Sus (In The Moss)’), so it’s not quite all angry white boys with cheap guitars and a four-track recorder. Being Manchester, there’s humour, too, from Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias (the Quo pastiche ‘Heads Down, No Nonsense, Mindless Boogie’.
Disc 2 (‘Big Noise in the Jungle’) sees the beginnings of post-punk (The Fall, Blue Orchids), punk-funk (Manicured Noise, A Certain Ratio, Diagram Bros.) and sonic experimentation (The Tiller Boys, Bet Lynch’s Legs, The Durutti Column, Eric Random, Sons of Arqa). Keyboards, saxophones and clean guitars start to feature, as do musicians who can confidently play them, a refuge for pub-rockers who hadn’t previously jumped on the punk bandwagon (e.g. Clive Gregson’s Any Trouble). Humour comes from The Freshies (‘I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk’). Standout track for me is The Chameleons’ debut single ‘In Shreds’, sounding somewhere between Killing Joke, Echo & The Bunnymen, the Psychedelic Furs and early U2.
Disc 3 (‘Love at the Hacienda’) kicks off with New Order’s ‘Temptation’ – a clear statement of the arrival of sequencer-driven pop (52nd Street, Quando Quango, Marcel King). Section 25’s marvellous ‘Looking From A Hilltop’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Kraftwerk album. Latin rhythms appear (Carmel, Swamp Children). And, obviously, humour from Graham Fellows, (‘Love at the Hacienda’) amongst the grey-coated Joy Division copyists – I’m looking at you, Crispy Ambulance.
Disc 4 (‘Garage Full of Flowers’) is chock-full of indie-pop (James, Easterhouse, Bodines, Inspiral Carpets), white-boy-soul (Twang, The Man from Delmonte). Humour from Big Ed & His Rocking Rattlesnakes (‘D’You Think I Look Like Elvis Presley’) and Edward Barton (sounding like he’s on the borderline between humour and derangement). The appearance of the drum machine marks out the final few tracks – The Great Leap Forward remind me of Leeds’ Three Johns, Meat Mouth’s ‘Meat Mouth Is Murder’ is white-boy comedy-rap of the ‘Licensed To Ill’-era Beastie Boys variety (or Mark & Lard’s Shirehorses). Final track, T-Coy’s superb ‘Cariño’ marks the arrival of Acid House with a bang – it sounds like it has been beamed in from the future. It must have looked like time was up for all those jangly-guitars bands.
Disc 5 (’24 Hour Party People’) splits neatly between Smiths-influenced acts (Bradford, The Waltones, Jean Go Solo, and, er…, Morrissey) and Hacienda dance bangers (Chapter & Verse, A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’, Us’ ‘Born in the North’). Only The Jazz Defektors ‘Ooh! This Feeling’ (a Latin samba), Barry Adamson’s spy-noir theme ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ and King Of The Slums stray off these two paths – and Happy Mondays somehow straddle both. King Of The Slums ‘Fanciable Headcase’ is the outstanding track here (for me, anyway), a Fall-like motorik rhythm section and frankly bonkers electric violin drone.
Disc 6 (‘What the World Is Waiting For’) covers the ‘Madchester’ indie-dance boom years, with the namesake Stone Roses track and takes in ‘Baggy’ hits (and near-misses) from the Mock Turtles, Revenge, Electronic, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Northside, Paris Angels and The High. All supplemented by the Hacienda-friendly rap of MC Tunes, MC Buzz B, Ruthless Rap Assassins, Krispy 3 and Kiss AMC.
Disc 7 (‘Sons of the Stage’) documents the post-Madchester years as guitar-pop and dance music diverged. The Charlatans (the singer’s from Northwich, so they count, apparently), World Of Twist, The Adventure Babies, Intastella, Puresessence, Bandit Queen ( whose ‘Dirt And Soul’ borrows heavily from PJ Harvey’s ‘Dress’) play the guitars. Lionrock, Chemical Brothers, 808 State, Hypnotone, Sub Sub (the rare ‘Space Face’ sounding like a Technique-era New Order outtake) play the keyboards. Oasis round off the set with a demo of Columbia, which only goes to show they were right to scrap their over-complicated over-dubbed first attempts at recording and strip it back to the fundamentals for the real thing. They mark both the end of a chapter in Manchester’s history, and the beginning of a new period in British guitar-based pop.
What does it all *mean*?
Cherry Red have struck gold again, and John Reed really knows his onions.
Manchester has birthed more than its fair share of great music over the years, and this covers my favourite period in pop (I was young enough at the time to fully engage with it).
Manchester acts provide large chunk of my record collection, yet I only have a handful of these tracks. I clearly have some catching up to do, starting with The Chameleons and King of the Slums.
Goes well with…
Any punk/post-punk/Factory/Hacienda act or collection.
Might suit people who like…
Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, James, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, The Smiths, 808 State, Oasis