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Music Capital

Chapter 1

There are several reasons why Manchester had success in the early years of pop.

Firstly, there was a long tradition of musical performance and appreciation. Manchester had been Britain's biggest provincial center for music hall for a hundred years or more and it was here that Sir Charles Halle set up the first permanent, professional orchestra and where musical education in all schools was pioneered. Secondly the city was a melting pot, a centre of immigrant communities and containing a major port. This meant there was a constant exchange of ideas and experience and of exposure to new types of music. Thirdly there was also proximity to direct supplies of new music. Halfway between Liverpool and Manchester was the vast American Airforce Base at Burtonwood where, frequently the authorities would put on parties in the hangars and invite the public along. At the end of the evening our amiable occupiers would hand out 78s to the bemused civvies, giving them access to music the BBC just never played.

As all these factors began to mesh new music started to grow in popularity. Typically much of it was seen by the establishment as subversive. The first culprit being a divided jazz scene. On the one side trad jazz supported by middle-class student types complete with duffle-coats and beards: on the other modern jazz appreciated by cleanly groomed, sharp suited working class folk. Dozens of pubs and venues opened to serve these very serious passions.

By the mid-fifties skiffle had arrived courtesy of the legendary Lonnie Donegan. This was punk without the anger and as few chords: US blues and work songs performed in essence on guitar, bass and drum, the classic tools of the future rock band. Anybody could do skiffle and thousands tried including many of Manchester's soon to be stars. Modern jazz began to lose out to skiffle which itself hardened into an appreciation of rock and roll and pop.

But the most important influence of the fifties was a marketing creation of America's most aggressive companies. This was the entity known as ' teenager' complete with money to spend and bad attitude. Usually without knowing it these teenagers became the new revolutionaries, especially in the fields of fashion and music.

Teenagers in Manchester found expression for the new mood in Beat clubs such as the Jung Frau, the Forty Thieves and most famously the Oasis and the Twisted Wheel. These, viewed from the fag end of the twentieth century, seem odd places, packed to the ginnels with punters enjoying Coca Cola and coffee but no alcohol. By some local legal quibble the lack of an alcohol licence put the venues in the private members club bracket and enabled them to stay open as long as required. When the Twisted Wheel opened the Spencer Davis Group and the Graham Bond Quartet played until dawn. Many young people came out for the night, all night, to see the bands, taking blankets to spread on the floor of the clubs and grab forty winks when fatigue hit. Exciting times and again from our perspective, innocent and trouble-free.

But where did the music come from? There was the usual rash of big name imports but local demand also led to local supply. Manchester began to develop a very strong network of groups, frequently playing covers but gradually becoming more confident with their own material. At the same time individuals such as Danny Betesh and Roger Eagle, one a group manager and promoter the other a DJ, were becoming influential local figures. Then in the early sixties everything went wild on the back of the Beatles and the Merseybeat bands. Not far away, the Manchester groups were ready for a slice of the action, after all didn't the River Mersey also flow through south and east Manchester?

The Hollies The Hollies, stalwarts of the local scene, led by Allan Clarke, Graham Nash and Eric Haydock, had their first hit in June 1963 with a cover of the Coasters song (Ain't that) Just Like Me. The Hollies had taken their name from the Christmas decorations in the Oasis Club and were frequent guests there, being much preferred on account of their allegedly better musicianship to that unknown four-piece from Liverpool, the Beatles. The Hollies would have 24 Top 30 hits over the next ten years including, Look Through Any Window, Bus Stop, Jennifer Eccles, and The Air That I Breathe. They would re-emerge as late as 1988 high in the charts with a re-release of their earlier hit He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother. Nash left the band in 1968 and the following year helped found Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Another Manchester band, Herman's Hermits, achieved phenomenal success with an instantly recognisable blend of sentimental and sing-a-long numbers. Fronted by Peter Noone and managed by Mickey Most, the group chalked up sales of over 60 million worldwide with a string of hits including Silhouettes, I'm Henry VIII I am, No Milk Today and Something's Happening. Noone was just 17 at the time of the band's first hit I'm Into Something Good in 1964. They were particularly big in the States, becoming the acceptable face of British music in the Bible Belt following John Lennon's infamous 'we're more popular than Jesus' quote. The group reformed in 1974 for a concert in Madison Square Gardens commemorating the British invasion of ten years before. Noone wryly noted that he was doing a golden oldies show at the grand old age of 27.

The Manchester curiosity act of the sixties was Freddie and the Dreamers. To see front man Freddie Garrity dance on archive film footage is like watching a frog in a mangle. All you can say is that he's putting a lot into it as he combines, jumping, giggling and high level kicks. Songs like If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody and You Were Made For Me gave them a national profile. But they really cracked it in April 1965 when I'm Telling You Now topped the US charts for two weeks. The lively group were popular TV favourites and even starred in feature length productions such as 'Every day's A Holiday' in which they appeared as singing holiday camp chefs.

Freddie and the Dreamers April 1965 was a remarkable month for Manchester music. Following Freddie and the Dreamers to the top of the US charts was The Game Of Love from Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. Strangely the band were refused performance visas in the States as US officials feared local groups were losing their jobs to the rush of British artists. Wayne Fontana, really just plain Glynn Ellis from Levenshulme, left the band in winter 1965 to go solo. The Mindbenders carried on and scored a massive success with A Groovy Kind Of Love. Fontana later put together a new Mindbenders in 1986 for Manchester's Festival of the Tenth Summer.

There were thousands of other groups playing in Manchester in that era when music defined the teenagers world without competition from designer clothes and trainers and computer games. The four highlighted groups were simply the most successful and in one form or another still perform regularly, often to surprisingly large audiences, across the globe.

Meanwhile the beat clubs in which the bands were performing were being closed down left, right and centre. Professor C.P.Lee has researched the sorry story of the Manchester Corporation Act 1965. This was passed following a report by the wonderfully named Chief Superintendent Dingwall who wrote "the majority (of clubs) were dirty, crudely decorated with the minimum of furniture and.... were poorly illuminated They were patronised by 'Individuals of exaggerated dress and deportment, commonly known as mods, rockers and beatniks." The act allowed the Police and Magistrates to close down any club they wished to without cause. From 250 Beat clubs in 1965 there were only 3 left by the end of 1966. The measure now seems utterly excessive given the low amount of trouble from the venues and the lack of alcohol available, although, it must be said, there was some consumption of hashish and amphetamines.

If the beat clubs suffered, the larger clubs and discos prospered. One of the great figures of the time was Jimmy Saville, who ran the Ritz, along with sessions at the Plaza and the big nights at the Belle Vue Ballroom in front of an audience of 4000. Saville also pioneered the lunchtime dances at the Plaza where many a Mancunian met their future spouse. One evening at the same venue, Saville boosted the crowd by advertising free polio jabs with the entrance ticket. Extraordinarily, the man also claims to have invented in Manchester the whole worldwide experience of disco in the late fifties. Who said modesty was a virtue?

The city also gave birth to Britain's longest running pop show, Top of the Pops, which was unveiled on New year's Day 1964 with a line-up including The Hollies, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and the Dave Clark Five. The venue was a converted Wesleyan chapel and the warm-up band were the Mockingbirds. Originally scheduled for a run of just sixteen programmes, TOTP continues on BBC1 to this day and fled to London in 1967.

The Mockingbirds were fronted by a young genius songwriter by the name of Graham Gouldman. Gouldman had already penned classics for other groups such as Bus Stop, For Your Love, No Milk Today and Evil Hearted You. In 1969 he teamed up with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme to form 10CC... but they are part of Chapter Two and the Seventies.

Chapter 2