The lights are much brighter there

You've heard of the Philly sound, the sound of Nashville ... Pop is inextricably linked with the city. Yes, even British cities. Nick Coleman presents a guide to the music of urban Britain

"Long-distance information, get me Memphis, Tennessee ..."

Pop songwriters have always found it helpful to phone home. Phoning home is what keeps them honest, gives them a sense of proportion, reminds them of what's fundamentally important. And home is almost always in a city. Up on the roof, racing in the street, down in the tube station at midnight - up, down, all around but hardly ever out in the countryside where the lanes have no name.

Memphis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Kansas City, Oakland, Harlem, Bowery, Bronx and Queens. These are the fundamental places in popular music, the ones we think we know because of it. They're all American and they're all cities or bits of cities. Detroit is Motown. Memphis is Chess, Stax and Sun. Philadelphia is Philadelphia International. Nashville is Country. New Orleans is, well, New Orleans: more a groove than a city.

You could argue that pop is a metaphor for the city; certainly, that it is a continuation by other means of the urban mind. Pop is suspicious of wide open spaces.It is neurotically territorial. It conceives of community as an extraneous mass, not a local group. And while pop aspires to universality in its appeal to the senses, it gets a lot of material from the closet in which it keeps its most cherished and fetishistic clobber. Pop, when it's good, is frequentlya glimpse of the urban world through a macroscopic lens.

Think of Chuck Berry, The Drifters and Ben E King, Gerry And The Pacemakers, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Velvet Underground, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, The Specials, The Smiths, Ice-T, Blur: "Memphis", "Ferry `Cross the Mersey", "London Calling", "Home of the Body Bag". They're all pop stars with a grid reference. They write better about places than they write about themselves, and they wear clothes and strike attitudes that constitute the livery of those places.

The British have done their bit in this respect. We may not have a city- myth of perpetual musicianliness, a Memphis or a New Orleans, but we do have Liverpool, Canvey Island and Muswell Hill.

"Up and down the Westway/ In and out the lights/ What a great traffic system, it's so bright," bawled Joe Strummer of The Clash, deathlessly, in 1977, confirming the concrete purlieus of Ladbroke Grove, west London, not only as a Babylonian suburb of Trench Town but as a place in which subsequent generations of rebel rockers might convene to cock a leg against the street furniture, in the hope that the Westway might return the compliment by impregnating them with the real gone rocking vapours.

Also, they confirmed what The Kinks, Mel & Kim, Aswad, the Small Faces, Madness, Fairport Convention, Th' Faith Healers, Spandau Ballet, The Who, Soul II Soul, Dusty Springfield, George Michael, Tommy Steele and a thousand others already knew, or would come to know: that London is not one place but many - a composite city made up of a host of smaller, cellular cities with their own sound, their own mythologies andfetishes.

The simple factis that pop is better on cities than on anything else, apart from love. It's taught us to be intrigued by cities, to fear them, to face up to them. And until pop succumbs to the allure of cyberspace, it will need its cities as much as cities need people.

After all, how many teenagers today know Sheffield as the city that used to make steel, and how many know it as the place that made JarvisCocker?

These are our New Orleans, our Philadelphia and our Memphis, Tennessee.

MANCHESTER

Fauna: Herman's Hermits, The Hollies, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division/ New Order, A Certain Ratio, The Smiths (below), Simply Red, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Oasis

Clobber: grey macs, cumbersome trousers, baggy stuff, gladioli, pinched cheeks, pink eyes

Vocab: doom, gloom, urban decay

Mise-en-scne: urban decay, doom, gloom. And the Hacienda

Vibe: neither chirpy, cheeky nor pleased with itself, and as such Manchester is pop's anti-Liverpool. Herman's Hermits are the exception that proves the rule

LIVERPOOL

Fauna: Beatles (above), The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, The Real Thing, Echo & The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, various Wahs!, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Christians, The La's, Lightning Seeds, The Farm, Boo Radleys

Clobber: funny little collarless jackets, cuban heels, raincoats, leather trousers, floppy fringes, chubby cheeks

Vocab: cute, rhyming, perky, and lots of it

Mise-en-scne: docks, ferry, civic splendour, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, urban decay

Vibe: chirpy, cheeky and pleased with itself, except when it's feeling sorry for itself. Perhaps archetypally, Liverpool goes in phases. Not in one at present

CAMBRIDGE

Fauna: Pink Floyd (right), Nick Drake, Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock, Katrina & The Waves, The Bible/Boo Hewerdine

Clobber: don't go in for that sort of thing, though you can get nice cheesecloth shirts atthe market

Vocab: careful with that axe, Eugene

Mise-en-scne: Grantchester Meadows and the windmills of your mind

Vibe: the windmills of your mind, with reverb, andsyntax

NEWCASTLE, TYNE AND WEAR

Fauna: The Animals, Lindisfarne (above), Geordie, Bryan Ferry, Penetration, The Police/Sting, Mark & David Knopfler (Dire Straits), The Kane Gang, Martin Stephenson, Wildhearts, Jimmy Nail

Clobber: less butch than you'd expect, although Bryan Ferry would make an enchanting Versace stevedore

Vocab: not as chauvinist as you'd expect and often verbally expansive (see also Prefab Sprout down the road apiece in Durham), although Sting is given to literary over-reach

Mise-en-scne: fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine, and so were the shipyards, once, although they weren't really

Vibe: despite a good small-venue live music scene, very little of lasting iniquitousness has come out of north-east England. Jimmy Nail is the exception that proves the rule

BRISTOL

Fauna: Subway Sect, The Pop Group, Rip Rig And Panic, Mark Stewart And The Mafia, Blue Aeroplanes, Massive Attack, Portishead (right), Tricky

Clobber: unsavoury

Vocab: "karmacoma", "glorybox", "pigbag" and other intriguing portmanteau words that probably mean something important

Mise-en-scne: basements, lofts, squats and priest-holes

Vibe: in the airing cupboard with soul, jazz and reggae on the turntables and someone spikey on the mike. Spacey yetclaustrophobic

SOUTHEND, CANVEY ISLAND and all points west on the A13

Fauna: Procul Harum, Mickey Jupp, Kursaal Flyers, Dr Feelgood (right), Lew Lewis, Eddie & The Hot Rods, Billy Bragg, Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart

Clobber: mohair suits, sheepskin car-coats, Edwardian clobber, Ford Orion Ghia, 1988, fully loaded, pas, alloys

Vocab: I got my cheque book, baby, got my bags all packed with an assortment of mojos and black cat bones

Mise-en-scne: gantries, derricks, Roxettes, whelk stalls, bookies and I'll see you in the morning down by the jetty

Vibe: the first Americans. Rescued from Seventies time-warp by the push inland towards new centre of Estuary Pop: Barking

SHEFFIELD

Fauna: Joe Cocker, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Heaven 17, ABC, Human League (left), Def Leppard, Pulp; also the home of "cutting edge" dance label Warp whose roster includes Black Dog and Sabres Of Paradise

Clobber: post-industrial, asymmetrical, glitzy-drab, technical, plus loads of slap (not Joe Cocker)

Vocab: post-industrial, technical, minimalist, form following function at all times. Example: "Don't you want me, baby? Whoah, oah-woah"

Mise-en-scne:the post-industrial non-production continuum standing metaphorically for human inner space. Except in the case of Def Leppard who are entirely unaware of human inner space

Vibe: current success of Warp - dance music put through the post-industrial mangle - serves to conceal the dwindling influence of the trad Sheffield aesthetic. If cyberspace is ever discovered, it'll be in someone's airing cupboard in Sheffield

CANTERBURY

Fauna: The Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine, Caravan, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Matching Mole, Hatfield And The North, Gong/Steve Hillage

Clobber: Canterbury in the late Sixties/early Seventies was a lagoon in time and space. All clobber, like all things in Canterbury, effloresced from The Wilde Flowers, who were awful but gave rise to an awful lot

Vocab: genteel, quietly doctrinaire Workers' Revolutionary Party parables and incomprehensible gibberish, conflated and set in 13/8

Mise-en-scne: genteel, idyllic, floral; mud-caked children playing on the Aga

Vibe: pothead pixies with serious chops

BIRMINGHAM & WEST MIDLANDS

Fauna: Spencer Davis Group, Moody Blues, The Move (+ ELO, Wizzard), Robert Plant, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slade, Steve Gibbons, Steel Pulse, The Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Specials, Selecter, UB40, Duran Duran, Fine Young Cannibals, Jaki Graham, Fuzzbox, Pop Will Eat Itself, Wonderstuff

Clobber: anything goes, from paisley cravats to spangly spex to bovver boots to S&M gear to donkey jackets to tams to tonic suits to angora sweaters to Byronic ruffles to whatever Jaki Graham used to wear on breakfast TV: and that's just Duran Duran's spring wardrobe

Vocab: baroque bordering on the flowery (The Move, Robert Plant, Duran Duran), yet alsodemotic (Specials, Selecter, Dexy's) and gormless (Slade, Judas Priest, Sabbath)

Mise-en-scne: usually indoors, under bright lights, in front of a bed- sheet or creation by a local sixth-form Hieronymus Bosch. Otherwise, urban decay

Vibe: despite a reputation for perpetual riffiness, the conurbation isgoing through a fallow period. The West Midlands, like London, is not one place but many.Unlike London,not many musicians are in a hurry to get there

LONDON SUBURBS

Fauna: Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Ian Dury,Sham 69, Merton Parkas, Shakatak, The Cure, Alison Moyet, Nitzer Ebb, Depeche Mode, Erasure, James Taylor Quartet and "the Medway sound", St Etienne, Suede, Orbital, Eternal

Clobber: never mind the quality, feel the trousers - it is incumbent on all musical suburbanites to cut a bolder/sharper/ kitschier dash than the ponces in town. Yes, even Eric in his Armani suit

Vocab: no nonsense. Who needs words when you got trousers?

Mise-en-scne: London's musical suburbs garland the metropolis as a laurel, without end. And like the M25, suburban music goes on and on forever and is not one place but many, from Basildon to Basildon via Woking and round again the other way, in 14 lanes. Not to be confused with Estuary Pop

Vibe: music is fashion

GLASGOW & STRATHCLYDE

Fauna: Lulu, Marmalade, Alex Harvey, Incredible String Band, Frankie Miller, Average White Band, Simple Minds,Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Altered Images, The Bluebells, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions (left), The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Blue Nile, Wet Wet Wet, Hue & Cry, Eddie Reader, Teenage Fanclub

Clobber: no rules, although Glasgow has seen its fair share of stripey trousers, billowing grand-daddy shirts, top hats and, mostdistasteful of all, waistcoats. Guiding precept: "this is music, not fashion"

Vocab: romantic social-realism, wind-swept, gritty, although Glasgow's finest lyric moment was one word written by Jacques Brel and pronounced, at some length, "nnnn-e-e-e-e-e-ext''

Mise-en-scne: walk across the rooftops, headlights on the parade and the rusting hulk of a ship called Dignity

Vibe: this is music, not fashion

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert