Music Capital

Part 3

In the second half of the nineteen eighties a new music scene blossomed in Manchester, different from any previous pop music movement in the UK. As Shaun Ryder, of the Happy Mondays, said at the time, this was "Madchester". After bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and others, the rash of robust music from the city was a breath of pure fresh air. The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, the Charlatans, A Guy Called Gerald, 808 State and others were a big Hollywood calm-yourself-down slap across the face for pretension and artfulness. It was all so very non-London too: the music press had to follow on behind claiming false credit where they could. But this rebellion in the North not only surprised them, it shocked with its pure rawness. In the end it shocked us all.

So what was so different? For a start this was the first genuine sound of the British inner-city. Even Punk began as an orchestrated intellectual conceit of people like Malcolm McLaren. Nobody could mould the joyful chaos of The Happy Mondays. The fashion, the look, the excitement, the good feeling - often generated by Ecstasy - came from the falling apart housing estates around the city. Later from the same places came the bad feeling as the party decayed, gate crashed by uninvited criminals.

The Happy Mondays hailing from Little Hulton north west of the city centre, embodied the times - the good and the bad - better than any other band. The group kicked off in 1984 as a ramshackle unit of like minded individuals with little musical acumen. From the beginning they had a wild reckless charisma recognised by local fans and importantly, New Order and Anthony Wilson of Factory Music. National recognition came with their second LP Bummed, from Factory Music. Happy Mondays Critically acclaimed by the music press and much appreciated locally for its hallucinatory and clearly drug crazed dance rhythms, this was an album built to exploit the acid house sound popular in clubs. In 1989 the band, performing Hallelujah , shared billing with the other Manchester band of the moment, the Stone Roses. Both groups looked the part in their baggy clothes and pudding basin haircuts. In 1990 The Happy Mondays released a rolling shuffling cover version of John Kongo's 1971 hit He's Gonna Step on You Again, renaming the song Step On. The song became a club anthem, encouraging on to the dance floors every type of would be groover including those for whom dancing should be a form of self expression best performed alone. The superb album Pills'n'Thrills and Bellyaches confirmed the Happy Mondays position in UK music with classic numbers such as Kinky Afro and Loose Fit.. Meanwhile the over-indulgence of Class A substances by, in particular, band leader Shaun Ryder led to crisis. The last album from The Happy Mondays, Yes Please! was plagued by problems in its recording. Band members were sacked or replaced, Ryder had urgent drug-abuse treatment and dancer Bez, broke his arm twice. Chris Frantz, co-producer of the LP said later: "In the end we were lucky nobody died." The band finally split in 1993 after nine eventful years. In the wild mood of unrestrained fun that it brought to audiences followed by its seedy downfall the band was typical of the Madchester period and its ability for self-destruction. There will be more of Shaun Ryder and even a reincarnation of the Mondays, later in this history.

The other main driving force was The Stone Roses. The group was set up by near neighbours and close friends Ian Brown and John Squire in 1983. The original name was English Rose, taken from the song of the same name on The Jam's All Mod Cons LP. In 1985 the Stone Roses began to attract a growing following in the city through a series of late night, impromptu and often illegal warehouse parties, one of the best taking place in the arch of a railway viaduct near to Manchester's mainline station. The band's growing influence on the local music scene was underscored by accomplices who vandalised the city's public buildings with the band name. Stone Roses Thus was launched a very annoying promotional exercise which is still used from time to time today. In May 1989 the eponymous debut LP The Stone Roses was released and in time became the most important LP of this period. The future seemed secure and stone rosy. In John Squire the group had a guitarist of world class calibre, whilst in Ian Brown the band had a vocalist of true presence - if not always tunefulness. The band clearly thought so too, stating in a much publicised interview how they were better than the Rolling Stones. The single Fool's Gold confirmed the band's status. But with the success came the auto-destruct. The band fell out with their old label FM Revolver and staged a paint attack on their Wolverhampton office. Later they acrimoniously broke with subsequent label Silvertone. Problems also mounted within the band and it took more than four years for the second LP to be released. For many the best thing about the album was its title Second Coming, otherwise the songs were seen as stodgy and laboured. More to the point the Stone Roses moment had passed and the band split in 1995. But it wasn't forgotten. In 1998 the TV network Channel 4 launched a viewers poll to determine the best 100 LPs of all time. Astonishing everyone, but most of all those pundits who were too old to catch the Madchester mood,The Stone Roses by the Stone Roses came second, beaten only by the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was amusing to see Sir Bob Geldof bursting with indignation at the Roses' achievement. As a former punk with the Boomtown Rats he, of all people, should have been a little circumspect at telling people what the supposed classics were. Both Ian Brown and John Squire resurfaced separately in 1997 and 1998. Brown with a decent LP named Monkey and Squire in a weak and windy band named the SeaHorses. In keeping with his controversial past Brown received a short prison sentence in 1998 for threatening an air hostess. A charge he still denies.

The Inspiral Carpets led by Clint Boon, were another band of this time imbued with good Madchester credentials. They certainly looked the part in their full baggy, big fringed appearance, but they lacked the powerful chugging rhythm of the other bands with the music choked in too much retro organ. They could produce some catchy numbers though, notably with "This is how it feels" and "Joe". Many locals recall with affection their concerts at the G-Mex centre in Manchester and also their clever merchandise which featured a disorientated Freisian cow.

The Charlatans were more or less right up there with The Roses and The Mondays. In some respects they had more success probably because as a band they were a more settled unit. Fronted by pretty boy Tim Burgess the group settled in Manchester from the nearby town of Northwich when the mood in the city began to match the mood in the band...or vice versa. The sound of the band quickly became associated with the swirly Hammond organ - utilised with more success than in the Inspiral Carpets - of founder member Rob Collins. The summer of 1990 wouldn't have been the same without the Charlatans' magnificent signature tune of The Only One I Know . This was of those tunes which hit the moment and the mood perfectly. If you were around sing it in your head now and bam...you're straight back there. The Charlatans The group's debut album Some Friendly entered the charts at number 1 and everything seemed fine with the world. In November 1991 the shadows began to grow as band member Martin Blunt suffered a nervous breakdown after the release of substandard single Me in Time. Then the follow up album Between 10th and 11th received an uncertain welcome by the critics and reached only 21 in the charts. In its own way this was as much a symbol of the demise of the Madchester phenomenon as the earlier temporary closure of the Hacienda. But the Charlatans soldiered on, despite a four month incarceration of Rob Collins following an armed robbery. In 1994 the album Up to Our Hips entered the charts at 8 but again failed to make an impression on the music critics. In 1995 the group proved their long appeal to their fans by going back to number 1 with the LP The Charlatans . But tragedy wasn't far away. In July 1996, towards the end of the recording sessions for their fifth album, Rob Collins was killed in a car crash in South Wales. The subsequent release Tellin' Stories was a fine album which contained a eulogy to Collins' called How Can You Leave Us. The song included a 3 year Rob Collins chatting away to his aunt - it could have been horrible and cheesy but instead it was deeply moving.

Inescapably part of the mood of the times but with little direct relation to the above bands was 808 State. Comprising Graham Massey, Darren Partington and Martin Price of the innovative Eastern Bloc record company and retail outlet, 808 State created another classic of its age, the lyricless dance anthem Pacific State. That was in 1989 but it was pioneering stuff. Here's a little test for you. If you have a copy of Pacific State dig it out and play it. Are you surprised by how little dance music has evolved in 10 years? The use of rhythm and the melodic overlay of synthesisers was already in place a decade ago.Pacific State was followed by Ex:El which featured tracks sung by Bernard Sumner and Björk, later the band would collaborate with Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen. 808 State They also scored chart success with Nicky Lockett, Manchester's very own rapper, who hit the heights with The Only Rhyme that Bites as MC Tunes. Lockett would later in 1997 help form the wonderful Dust Junkies, a musically rock solid combination of hip hop meets rock and roll. Meanwhile 808 State have worked throughout the nineties with a whole range of different artists and also branched out into writing theme tunes and incidental music for TV and films. Their LP Don Solaris, despite a critical leathering, remains for this writer one of their best. The song Azura with singer Louise Rhodes, from local band Lamb, is a beauty.

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