Manchester Missives from the Rock 'n' Roll Frontline
Twenty years on from the baggy ‘Madchester’ scene, 24-hour party people and the endless shenanigans of being one of the all-night drug-prowling wolves in a city that never slept, my hometown of Manchester is finally waking up again.
For sure there have been some great moments in the interim. You can’t get past the Doves, Elbow and I Am Kloot et cetera, but now there suddenly seems to be a buzz across the whole city.
The city centre is four times bigger than it was in the baggy days, and ten times busier. Where there were once a motley crew of drug fiends you get hen parties, poncey bars are invading once feral back streets and the warehouses that were once full of dead pigeons and all-night raves are now expensive flats, but somehow there is still music - loads of it.
Every time I go out I’m bombarded with great CDs of new bands and get to see classic gigs. The city is full of bands, the rehearsal rooms are overflowing and there are already bands breaking out.
The Courteeners are already through and revelling in their own controversy. Frontman Liam Frey doesn’t back down from a good old-fashioned Manc word scrap and spits his was through interviews like Noel Gallagher or Mark E. Smith, spleen is his middle name and he doesn’t mind winding people up with his invective. Good job he can back it up with tunes and next week’s sold out show at the 1,400 capacity Ritz is proof proper that Frey and his band have the backing of the people. The debut album will be out next year and already Frey is winding people up by claiming it will be as good as Oasis or the Roses debuts- bizarrely some people are up in arms at these claims- are these the same people who doubted the Roses and Oasis when they said the same things just before their debuts were released?
Just behind The Courteeners at the moment there is whole host of bands lining up. Twisted Wheel have a tight sinewy sound that takes up from where the Libertines and Artic Monkeys left off and skews it with a Manc attitude and a curiously Johnny Cash-style stripped-down engine room of rock n roll. They write brilliant songs and have a taut passion that has just landed them one of those record deals that seems to get bigger by the day. Don’t let the money put you off: this is a brilliant young band who fully deserve their break, and their gig at October’s_ In The City _was one of the highlights of the annual conference. They packed the room with a youth crew, proving that they are not some no-mark northern quarter band with trendy mates but The Real Deal. Twisted Wheel are gonna be massive – there can be no doubt about that.
Danny McNamara from Embrace has been putting on some great new band bills at his Aftershow night at Sankeys Soap. Every Thursday night he finds five more great new bands to celebrate this sudden burst of electricity round the region’s rehearsal rooms. It’s all very altruistic from the Embrace man, putting his money where his mouth is and supporting the up and coming.
It was down there that I saw the Paris Riots, whose rock ‘n’ roll is as sloppy as the prime time Stones- you know- the right kind of sloppy, the slightly off kilter funk that makes great rock n roll great, they also have a charismatic frontman and fistful of top tunes, anthems in the waiting and you got to admit that Paris Riots is a killer name for a band.
The old guard haven’t been found wanting, though. Last week* I Am Kloot *filmed a great show for local TV station Channel M, where the band were caught recording several songs at a studio in Stockport. They were loose and the stark confessional nature of their songs was captured perfectly. The show is still up on Channel M’s website (link) and is well worth checking out. Kloot are at the top of their powers and played two sold out nights at the university- they should be a national treasure by now.
The *Sex Pistols *finally made it back to Manchester after 30 years. The four gigs they played in the city in 1976 have gone down in local lore as key events in the formation of the city’s music scene, with their Free Trade Hall gigs often mooted as the catalytic point at which the city’s punk scene kicked off, and their two dates on the Anarchy tour were two of the only shows that were allowed to go ahead on that momentous tour. They changed a lot of lives and seemed to change more in Manchester, the second city of punk, than anywhere.
Thirty years is a very long time in rock ‘n’ roll, and of course the Sex Pistols arrive at the sold-out 20,000 capacity MEN Arena meaning very little of what they meant in those heady mid-‘70s days. The reviews were mediocre but they were missing the point: The Sex Pistols were stunning. In 2007 they are merely a brilliant rock ‘n’ roll band with enough caustic bile and sheer power to justify their existence. They stormed the Arena with a celebration of the one thing that they never get any credit for: their sheer power as a rock band. Cook and Jones are power chord machines and Rotten was injecting the songs with the venom and soul power necessary to make them work. Don’t believe the anti-hype, the band were killer! And the Arena gig also featured the biggest mosh pit I’ve ever seen.
A few days later another band that are having problems with press, Babyshambles, played the same place and this time it was only a third full. But this didn’t stop the band from delivering a great gig. There is some debate as to whether Pete Doherty is any good without the props of drugs, but this whole drug debate is deathly dull. I don’t give a fuck about what drugs he takes. That’s his problem, why are the tabloids so obsessed with his chemical intake? If you wanna see junkies I can round up 20 smack heads in five minutes – it’s a miserable, shitty drug.
Let’s get to what we are really interested in here – the music. The Babyshambles show is brilliant, the songs are great and the band is very tight; the whole performance is well worked out from the Steptoe theme as its intro to the World War III backdrops and matchbox stage props – it looks like the seedy set from some mid-‘50s sitcom, a homage to Doherty’s favourite comedian Tony Hancock, and adds to the intimacy of the spectacle. It’s a great night and underlines the special talent of Doherty, the edgy songs that just won’t collapse and the street poetry of the lyrics. Doherty delivers with a brilliant wonky charm in a city that has been a big influence on his muse.
After the gig we wander back through the freezing streets of the northern quarter and note how many kids are wandering around carrying guitars, the next generation dreaming and the next generation of Manchester rock ‘n’ roll already carving out its own new legend.
Sex Pistols photograph borrowed from RollingStone.com
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