So. Last month I finally made it. After many youthful daydreams about the city from whose loins an infinite number of my musical faves sprung, it happened. How’d it go? Well. Manchester.
Firstly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the reason for my being in the drafty, NW England town: My Bloody Valentine live at the O2 Apollo. NOTE: I managed to wind my way around not writing a review following the release of mbv back in February when the entire blogosphere, megamagazines and even your grandma had something to say about the chaos surrounding it. Given everyone’s knowledge of my superfandom it was a bit too predictable for me to go on about how much I loved it at first listen (and still do). Bor-ing. Right. Anyway. Manchester. I was there to see MBV.
While I realize the possibility and reality that I am writing this to an audience who largely doesn’t give a fuck, I’m giving it a go anyway. I’m not stupid. When after seeing the line-up more than a handful of 2013 Coachella ticket buyers snorted on Twitter about having no idea who The Stone Roses were (“maybe the promoters meant The Rolling Stones WTF?”) I had serious reservations about mentioning anything about this, or continuing to write at all. Good loving lordy. But, I have faith that a few folks out there are interested. It is an important part of musical history, this Man/Madchester. Genius the likes of Martin Hannett and Tony Wilson cannot be ignored. To take a completely selfish view: I care about it and so should you.
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My entire adolescence in the US was steeped in the real-time water of Greater Manchester: New Order. The Smiths. Joy Division. The Stone Roses. Happy Mondays. Factory Records. Come on, I mean there are just too many to mention. So, visiting for more than an overnighter was a given. Arriving on a Saturday morning and departing on a Monday afternoon gave me just enough time to explore all I had imagined as I listened to cassette tapes and paged through airmail mangled, week-old issues of NME back in the day.
I wasn’t so much interested in visiting landmarks. Making a pit stop just to breathe the air where The Haçienda once stood is a little too wackadoo, even for me. All I really wanted to do was shop for records and wander the streets of the city, gleefully. I did have a little inside info via a Mancunian friend who now lives in the US, who admits the city’s landscape bears little resemblance to the place where he grew up in the 1970s and 80s. I ended up limiting my jaunts to the Northern Quarter exclusively. My apologies if I missed something and any locals feel insulted. I am/was a tourist. That said, the record shops suggested to me are still standing, albeit in different buildings, and the passion for music in the town is palpable. A passion unlike any I have ever visited. Truly. In this neighborhood at least.
It was an absolute dream shopping in Piccadilly Records and The Vinyl Exchange where I spent more money than I should have. While it can be said that the Madchester lemon is still being squeezed for every penny it can bring to the economy there, almost embarrassingly so (Mani Mounfield t-shirts?), the shops, especially Piccadilly, are some of the most progressive and friendly I’ve ever set foot in. A vinyl vendor who will gladly pull Natural Snow Buildings’, 4 LP reissue Night Coercion into the Company of Witches from the shelf and let you listen to it for as long as you want…with a smile? Yes please. Wrap it up, thanks. We went back. Twice. Lengthy visits. Sandwiched between the days of shopping was the most amazing live gig and really good food. I’ve said it before: music and food (and sex, but that’s private)…they evoke many of the same emotions. The absolute highlight food-wise was a late Saturday dinner at The Blue Pig. Charcuterie a go-go. Gorgeous. But I digress.
What was glaringly apparent to both myself and my husband, music super-nerds, was the joy exuding from within the walls of the shops we visited. It sounds terribly cornball, I know. On both Saturday and Sunday afternoon an ultra-multi-generational group of patrons, despite race and life direction, could be seen doing the same thing: shopping for music and buying. Tons of it. Vinyl, CDs, used and new. I’ve spent hours in giants like Amoeba, tiny-arty mom and pops and even the big chains and never did I see this kind of unspoken camaraderie. Glorious.
After all was said and done and the dust settled, I was, and still am, left with one looming question in my melon: what is today’s Manchester of the late 70s to mid-90s? I mean does one exist? Is there one city presently, one that is home to an unbelievable number of musicians and bands while also having nurtured them as children, for better or worse? One that after its first generation/genre cut its teeth (with success) a new one burst forth from its coattails and succeeded as well? I can’t think of one, though, like most of (musical) history, a genre or a locale’s impact usually isn’t realized or understood for decades. Everyone is too busy enjoying the fruits of its players labor in the here and now to care about staying power. I can’t imagine Brooklyn being that place today, despite the astronomical bands based there. I mean, which Captured Tracks band members grew up next door to one another, sucking from the teat of Prospect Park as infants? Any? You tell me. I don’t have an answer really. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps if we could speed up time but still savor the ride, as if that’s possible. You know, “Faster, but slower.”
[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]