The ascent of Manchester (from the Hollies to the Hacienda)
Dave Haslam tells the story of how Wigan Casino Man evolved into an Oasis fan, by way of Morrissey and Happy Mondays
Sunday 15 August 1999
Manchester is the clubbing capital of England, the city with a renowned night-life and dozens of important bands. It is the city with the most highly developed music consciousness in the world, and sometimes you imagine you can reach out and touch it, a palpable buzz of a night- life culture that's evolving, absorbing. Thread your way through Castlefield on a summer Friday evening from Atlas past Nowhere, down to Quay Bar, or through Duke's to Barca and Jackson's Wharf; six bars and something like 7,000 people out on the bridges, the courtyards, the terraces, the cobbles.
Take a trip down Canal Street, and marvel at the queues outside Praguefive, Manto, Metz. Turn the corner to Berlin or cross Piccadilly to the Roadhouse or Dry Bar. Then duck along Deansgate to Bar Coast, drive back along Whitworth Street; on Oxford Street and Oldham Street clubs and bars are putting the "sold out" signs up.
In Manchester the night-life culture matters, and not just to the queues of club regulars or the DJs, the songwriters, the music moguls and night-club owners. It matters because it's one of the city's key cultures, something living and thriving, something made in Manchester. It also matters because it generates jobs. The Hacienda, at its height, employed something like 40 people on a Saturday night: cloakroom staff, DJs, pot collectors and bar staff, doormen, and someone to put fluid in the smoke machine. And for every person directly employed, there must be four or five jobs relying on the scene, from taxi driving to club-wear design.
The boom in the night-time economy since the rave revolution of 1988 has been responsible for rejuvenating bleak areas of Manchester; the Hacienda brought life to a dead end of Whitworth Street, Sankey's Soap from 1994 onwards was the first sign of new life in Ancoats, and Barca and Duke's 92 in Castlefield, the Boardwalk and Atlas in Knott Mill, and Dry in the Northern Quarter, all moved into run-down areas and kick-started the long process back to prosperity. The pop music and club culture has become a tourist attraction, as well as a source of employment and cultural expression.
Manchester's well-established and unique night-time culture didn't begin with the rave revolution. It can be traced further back than that moment when someone dropped an E at the Hacienda one Friday in February 1988 as "Strings of Life" resounded through the speakers. The explosion of 1989 and 1990 - the so-called "Madchester" era - was inevitable. But perhaps 1982 is the more accurate start date - when New Order visited the Funhouse in New York. Or further back, to the 1830s, when thousands poured into the first industrial city in the world and set about creating their own street culture and their own forms of entertainment. The traditions that feed into the growth of Manchester music go back decades; there are the historic and cultural links between the city and the east coast of North America, from the cotton trade to the jazz age, then, via the Ship Canal, Burtonwood and John Mayall's tape recorder, to the blues boom and the glory years of Northern Soul.
When Detroit and Chicago started flinging out house and techno, Manchester tuned in, greedily importing it all. These traditions, and more - the craving for drugs that goes at least as far back as De Quincey, the key role of entrepreneurs in the city's history, Manchester's independent spirit - all created the conditions that made Madchester inevitable.
However, the pace of change accelerated in the city during and after the rave revolution and the Madchester years. The house music explosion detonated in the city knocked Manchester, clubland and the world of music, on a new course. As the writer Jon Savage recalled in 1992: "I lived in Manchester in the late 1970s ... The music was doomy and the city was a mess. Now the music has changed and the city has changed."
We had more than 100 years of street culture, devised by and for a hard- living urban populace, enhanced by the 20th-century imports of cinema and jazz. And then came rock'n'roll, which could be refashioned. Early in the 1960s, Manchester was renowned for its night-life, its beat groups and basement venues, with nearly 30 successful clubs in the centre of town. It had become a mod city by the middle of the decade; not self- consciously so, but soul was the big soundtrack to a night out.
Then the club scene and the band scene went their separate ways in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when white youth took to lying in fields listening to guitar solos rather than crowding into basement clubs for rhythm-heavy soul or rhythm-and- blues. Prog-rock fans followed bands on the college circuit, and the live scene remained the cutting edge in the punk era and beyond.
In the late 1980s, it all changed when the dance-floor asserted its position as the focus of British youth culture. These were the years of Madchester, Manchester's own reaction to house music, the sound of the rave revolution. DJs selecting and mixing the records became the key figures. DJ-ing at the Hacienda, I got lucky, playing the right music in the right place in the right club in the most important music city of the era.
A decade or so later, DJ-ing has become a hugely glamorous profession attracting the aspirations of countless people. As unreconstructed soul- head Dean Johnson puts it: "You go to a party and 48 people out of 50 are DJs." DJ-ing can mean big bucks, photo shoots, groupies, hi-tech equipment, a jet-set lifestyle.
Pre-rave, I'm not sure you would confess to being a DJ; there were too many embarrassing characters hogging the record decks. During the 1970s and early 1980s, when the mass of Mancunians went into town for middle-of-the-road discos and cabaret clubs, the average city-centre disco was flouted by a so-called "personality" DJ; a joker, a juke box with a chest wig. It was par for a very dodgy course.
On the live music scene, in the early 1980s, music-making in the city was still one-dimensional, with most Manchester bands in a stolid rock tradition. Punk had changed the face of the city's music in many positive ways; it had gained groups a certain amount of street credibility, and one of its healthy legacies was that bands like Joy Division and the Fall held on to their Manchester roots.
What was beginning to grow in these post-punk days was a strong attitude of doing things in an uncompromised Mancunian way; it was an attitude that later generations took for granted, shared by 808 State, Oasis and a host of others. This was in stark contrast to the earlier parts of the 1970s, when much locally-made rock music, pre-punk, was rootless, bland, performed in a gutless style all too prevalent in British music of the time. 10cc were one example, Sad Cafe another. These groups were so over-stylised, so frilly, so blow-dried, it seemed like rock music had merely become a branch of bad hairdressing.
But whatever the fiercely independent attitudes brought to Manchester music by punk, the business remained based in London, and the local infrastructure was in its infancy. And if Manchester bands were a long way from the centre of power in pop, then black Manchester bands were further still. In music, as in life.
The achievements of the Manchester band Sweet Sensation, who had a No 1 hit in 1974 with "Sad Sweet Dreamer", were therefore even more remarkable. The band revolved round the great singing voice of Marcel King, who had something of the young Michael Jackson about him; it was King's voice which dominated the band's debut album on Pye Records. The band took their inspiration from America for one obvious reason: there were no home-grown role models for black groups in Manchester, England. "We had to look across the water to America; Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, even the Jackson Five," says the band's Sinclair Palmer. Sweet Sensation went on to be the first black British group on Top of the Pops.
Sweet Sensation, however, were never in control of their destiny; this too was a sign of the times for black groups. Their songs were written and produced by the pop svengali Tony Hatch - the Pete Waterman of his day. It was like a version of Tin Pan Alley. Nevertheless, Sinclair Palmer says: "People looked upon us later as the British answer to the Jackson Five. Groups like Heatwave, Imagination, came after us."
It was primarily the Jamaican sound systems which provided the focus for young black Manchester in the 1970s. The black community had always had their own shebeens and drinking clubs, their own DJs cranking up Nat King Cole, calypso and blues for the first generation, reggae and soul for the second. And elsewhere, away from the rock scene, there were other DJs serving specialist markets. This is where the best music-loving DJs from the pre-rave era were - in the underground scenes created after mod, the fragmented funk and soul fraternities where black music true believers who'd been turned on to Jimmy Smith, perhaps, or Marvin Gaye, gathered.
The most visible and thriving fraternity was Northern Soul, which evolved directly from mod roots and attracted fans through the 1970s who, despite the disco craze and the rise of funk, took a purist dance stance and kept the old soul flame alive in the North of England and the Midlands. The genre label "Northern Soul" was originated by music journalist Dave Godin in 1970. He believed there were clear distinctions between the music favoured by soul fans in this area and those in London and the South, which, in turn, mirrored the distinctions between soul music in the southern USA and soul sounds from the urban northern states.
But soul fans in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and north Staffordshire were attracted not just to the faster soul sound of Detroit; the music had become entwined with another ingredient in the culture - amphetamines. Speed was the drug of choice in Northern Soul circles from the early 1970s onwards; an upper for an all-nighter.
There was a time-lag; American soul records in the 1960s had been hard to get, but early in the 1970s imports began to be available. Northern Soul fans jumped in feet first. The appetite for rare records among them turned many into collectors - part of the furniture at Northern Soul all-nighters was always trestle tables
covered with crates of old 7in singles. Dean Johnson believes the Northern Soul scene was a self-conscious rejection of the predominantly middle- class, long-haired hippy, post-Sergeant Pepper rock scene. It was about amphetamines, not acid; crisp drum beats and concise songs, not psychedelic meanderings; Northern basement clubs, not trippy festivals in southern fields. "The Northern Soul scene developed because the aesthetic angle up here was not into the `Summer of Love'. Everybody wanted to be neat, sharp, urban - they looked good and they weren't going to be hippies."
When the Twisted Wheel closed, other venues kept the northern circuit alive: Up the Junction in Crewe and the Mojo in Sheffield, and the Torch in Turnstall (Stoke-on-Trent). When the Torch was closed by the local council after the police had provided evidence of drug-taking in the venue, Wigan Casino, which opened on 23 September 1973, emerged as the new spiritual home of Northern Soul.
Northern Soul began to find its most dedicated followers not in the major conurbations but in more marginal, semi-urban places; small towns like Wigan and Stoke and Blackpool. The scene was self-contained, undiscovered and not media-led, and maintained its underground status through the mid-1970s. Its dedicated followers took their music very seriously. The scene demanded "faith", and the soulsters talked in terms of keeping the soul flame alive.
Uniquely, it revolved around old records. Thus it was an anachronism from day one. The northern fans, who now follow the Black Lodge DJs, travel to Sunday sessions in out-of-the-way halls and big, bank holiday Northern Soul gatherings at the Ritz are no less authentic than their early 1970s counterparts; they share the same rejection of every other music since Sixties soul and the same desire to dance all night.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that the most dedicated followers are the white working class from the small one-industry towns; buffeted by economic and social change since the 1960s, a rejection of the past 30 years seems rational.
By the end of the 1970s the scene had become split by raging arguments regarding the merits of "classics" nights versus "modern" nights, beat- heavy "stompers" versus vocal soul tunes, and accusations that clubs were being overrun by sightseers. The closure of the Wigan Casino in December 1981 sent the scene back to the underground.
Many venues around in the current era are descendants of earlier incarnations. For instance, in the early 1980s Placemate 7 at 6 Whitworth Street took on the site previously housing the Twisted Wheel; later it would be known as the State, now it's Follies. Some clubs from the early 1980s have gone for ever.
The early 1980s also saw the emergence of regular nights that attempted to cross over the soul scene, from the Northern fans on the one hand, and the modern soul and funk fans on the other; nights at Rafters, for instance. The crossover was rarely successful, according to Dean Johnson. Soul DJs were catering for two distinct audiences: "It would be a blacker and more Manchester audience who'd be into the jazz funk and a whiter, travelling-from-all- over-the-place audience for the Northern."
These pockets of activity, these little communities - whether Marc Berry at the Exit, or John Grant at Rafters - all required searching out. Good events were unstable and under-promoted. The infrastructure of clubland was fragmented. The small scenes were happy to stay small - deriving their power from their insularity - but at the same time something more ambitious was being dreamt up by the team behind Factory Records. They went in search of possible sites for a club in 1981 and settled on an old yacht showroom on Whitworth Street West.
Mike Pickering recalls: "When we found the site for the Hacienda, that part of town was a ghost town, derelict. None of the railway arches were in use for anything apart from garages. No one could understand why we wanted a place there. The Hacienda was right out of the way. But you look along Whitworth Street now and there's so much, the Boardwalk, the Venue, Atlas, Alaska; the whole of the town has changed."
Although their choice of building was perfect for the dancefloor revolutions to come - a club in a warehouse in the era of warehouse raves - in 1982 they were looking for something more prosaic; a gig venue not a dance venue. The Hacienda opened in May 1982. Pickering recalls the spirit of punk amateurism in the club, noting that the bills weren't paid and no money was made. "But it was like one big party."
By 1983, the Hacienda was still serving a community for whom disco music was anathema. It was a struggling club, leaking money as predictably as the roof leaked rain. In the early years there were probably only three big sell-out nights - when New Order played in June 1982 and January 1983, and the Smiths in November 1983.
It changed as dance music began to break down the walls of anti-disco prejudice. Punk had achieved much, but not the broadening of tastes; in a reaction against dinosaur rock acts, like Pink Floyd, it shared rock's disdain for disco. Among the post-punk generation any secret fondness for Donna Summer was rarely communicated to the fans. Thus, the Buzzcocks' singer Pete Shelley proclaimed, "I hate modern music, disco boogie and pop."
In clubs, punk and funk fans seldom met, unless to trade blows. The early and mid-1980s saw the birth of "alternative" nights, Goth nights, miserable affairs featuring hours of Spear of Destiny, the Cramps and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" by the Clash. As a mark of the stranglehold of so-called "alternative" clubs in Manchester, the busiest club night at the Hacienda up to 1985 was their Tuesday night named, unambiguously, "No Funk Night".
The Hacienda was looking for a direction in an era when the rock music scene was jaded. The great days of Northern Soul looked to be over, and the black dance scene was half-heartedly pinning its faith in jazz funk. Manchester was living off the past, run-down, beset by bad drugs (heroin, cheap speed). Its football teams couldn't repeat old glories. The plug had been pulled on the old industries; the mass employers were being hammered by a Conservative government restructuring the economy.
But changes in the music scene were about to have profound repercussions on the image and regeneration of the city at large. The key catalyst was the advance in black dance music in the early 1980s; the groundbreaking hip hop and electro scene in New York. Black dance music from America made extraordinary advances, flinging out ideas, discovering and using computer-reliant new technology, taking the creative cutting edge of music well away from rock artists wedded to their guitars and drum kits.
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