Manchester — so much to answer for

Pete Mitchell offers a paean to the music scene of his home town and the north in general

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Arriving in Manchester, the city of my youth, on a Friday night to attend a book launch about the North, got me thinking a great deal about the city and what being “northern” or “Mancunian” means.

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I am in town to attend a conversation between journalist/DJ Dave Haslam and writer Paul Morley about his hefty new tome The North (And Almost Everything In It), out now on Bloomsbury.

Dave is a thoughtful and comfortable host and Paul insightful and interesting. He was raised in Reddish, Stockport, a place I know very well. I was brought up in Denton, Manchester, the town next door. The book is Morley’s own personal odyssey, one that is built on family, places, smells and vivid memories.

“The north of England, with England being north-west Europe, and Europe being in the northern hemisphere, and the North being a word that says so much and leaves plenty to the imagination,” states Morley.

His exhaustive investigation into what the grit and spit of his North means is heavy and fascinating. When Morrissey asked him where he was from, he replied “South Reddish”; it caused Mozza’s lip to curl in distaste because he probably knew that nothing ever happened in South Reddish, Morley observes.

He’s right. My Reddish was the Bulls Head pub hanging around with mates drinking every weekend on our way to Wigan Casino, to escape the mundane red brick of Reddish and Denton; to travel by bus to the red brick monochrome town of Wigan. Like most places these days it is cleaner, more homogenised and maybe a better place to live. But this was my North.

During the Q and A – my least favourite bit of the evening – a member of the gathered throng proudly boasted that his book weighed the same as a two pound bag of sugar. How do you know that, asked Morley quizzically.

“I had to weigh it because I’m sending it to a friend who lives in Italy.” Quick as you like, Paul snapped back brilliantly with, “Were you sending it to north or south Italy?” Big laughs ensued. I remember when you could knock on next door to borrow that same bag of sugar.

My north was “Granadaland”, the land mass in which the influential TV station served its viewers from its headquarters on Quay Street in Manchester. The famous illuminated red sign of Granada was like a friendly beacon that you could see for miles and miles. It’s now almost but gone, heading for the concrete landscape that is Salford’s MediaCityUK.

Thinking about it now, it strangely makes me feel safe and warm. Beaming from its transmitter on Winter Hill, it produced Coronation Street, World in Action and Granada Reports, a daily news and arts show where I first saw and heard the late, great Tony Wilson.

For people of a certain age Tony was the person who introduced them to the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and the Stone Roses. Check out the Roses playing Waterfall on Tony’s weekly show The Other Side of Midnight on YouTube (see below). It’s terrific. A picture taken on set by Ian Tilton adorns the inside cover of their debut album and really does capture a moment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhNS6MsCEpc

Wilson would go on to set up Factory Records and the Hacienda.

In recent weeks I have watched two films relating to the Roses, Made of Stone directed by Shane Meadows and Spike Island written and starring Manchester-born-and-bred actor Chris Coghill. He has appeared in Shameless, played Bez in 24 Hour Party People, and conceived this coming-of-age movie centred around one day in 1990 when 30,000 devotees descended on the Wirrall to see the band play.

For a generation the Stone Roses were the centre of their North, their life. Coghill explains, “For me their debut album will always sum up that period in my life. I was 15 or 16 and I had just started experimenting with things, going out with girls and that period will always be connected with my coming of age. Just being in Manchester at that time was amazing. Seeing the Stone Roses last year at Heaton Park was very special.

“I grew up in north Manchester, my mum and dad still live less than a mile from the stage where they appeared. My dad texted me from our back garden to say he could hear the band sound checking Waterfall. It was the first time in 20 years that I felt homesick and wanted to move back in with my parents.”

Spike Island is in cinemas this weekend.  

Arriving into a bustling sunny Manchester on an early Friday evening filled me with excitement. Piccadilly Station and its approach look smart and very continental, compared to the grubby station of my childhood.

The one constant as you arrived into the city via London Road was the birthplace of northern soul, the Twisted Wheel, a small rabbit warren of a club situated at the top of Whitworth Street. I walked past the club on my way to the book launch at the other end of the street.

Legendary DJ Roger Eagle first began playing hard to get hold of American imports here by Inez and Charlie Foxx, James Carr, Ike and Tina Turner, and Major Lance. The crowd stayed awake all night on coffee and speed.

The Wheel has always been there and has survived in many guises from gay to mainstream to electro and back to its northern soul all-dayers once a month. The building is an important and historical monument of the local music scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJC0mWIBGqw

It is totally disconcerting to see that the bulldozers have moved in. This is progress. These huge destructive metal machines are hacking away at this weak and frail remnant of the past and it’s sad. It is like seeing a once great heavyweight champion boxer coming back for one last fight to see if he can regain his former glory.

To witness this important place being razed to the ground fills me with melancholy. It has suffered the same ignominious end as the Hacienda, reduced to rubble to make way for hotels and more city centre apartments.

As I sadly shuffle along Whitworth Street towards the junction with Oxford Road, the whole evening takes on a surreal twist. As I stop and wait for the green light, a couple of hundred naked cyclists swoop around  the corner showing off their flabby asses as they peddle/wobble along.

The early evening crowd whistle and cheer as one cyclist lags behind embarrassingly waving to the crowd while trying to catch up. It’s not a pretty sight but it’s a funny one and I’ve not even got to the event yet.

As I enter the book launch at Gorilla, I am greeted by Chris Joyce, former drummer with Simply Red, and Mike Joyce of the Smiths; we catch up on things. A lovely evening is had by all. This is my North. 

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Actor Chris Coghill joins Pete Mitchell this Saturday at 10pm – absoluteradio.co.uk/listen