MM’s top five… Manchester guitarists

Everyone knows Manchester has had its fair share of incredible bands and last summer MM explored our top five of all time.

But it is almost always the case that it is the lead singer and not the whole band who grabs all the attention – for better or for worse.

Whether it’s flouncing on stage with a bunch of flowers complaining about meat-eaters and just being generally miserable like Morrissey, or media coverage following the suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, the media love a troubled frontman.

However, a frontman is nothing without ‘his’ band, and a rock band is nothing without a great guitarist.

So here’s a rundown of the top five Mancunian guitarists without which singers like Morrissey wouldn’t have much of a career outside of complaining on a street corner selling flowers like a Manc Eliza Doolittle.

5. Rick Fenn – 10cc

Nothing makes reggae like a good guitar playing off the 4/4 beat, and nobody makes reggae like white guys from Manchester… Okay that might not necessarily be true, white guys from Birmingham do just as well.

10cc are mostly known for their depressing anti-love song I’m Not in Love, but for me their reggae hit Dreadlock Holiday has got to be the best.

Most guitarists are known for solos and riffs, however the craft in reggae is in the rhythm, and it is something which Fenn takes in his stride.

The song, appearing on the 1978 album Bloody Tourists paved the way for white reggae of UB40, who formed in the same year, thus earning Fenn’s place on this list.

4. Pete Shelley –Buzzcocks

It would be difficult to argue that Manchester music would be the same without Buzzcocks.

They had a symbiotic relationship with punk – both influencing and being influenced by it, and also aiding the popularity of the independent record label movement.

Other than the simple lyrics, the thing that really sets apart songs such as Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve is both a raw rhythm guitar and catchy main riff which exemplifies the pop-punk hybrid, and Mancs throughout the ages know what makes it special – it’s the buzz, cocks!

3. Peter Hook – Joy Division/New Order

Now I can already hear guitarists everywhere shouting ‘He’s a bassist!’, and bassists are often spat at in the street by guitarists, because everybody knows that 6 strings are better than 4.

But in the case of Peter Hook, his bass-playing style is very guitar-y.

This probably has a lot to do with Hook’s distinctive style, which is played right at the top-end of the instrument, making it much higher than usual bass-lines.

This was brought about because of the poor quality of Hook’s bass, and the volume of guitarist Bernard Sumner’s guitar, causing Hook to struggle to hear his own instrument.

Whatever the reason, in songs such as Love Will Tear Us Apart, Hook’s bass is a distinctive signature that helped make Joy Division, and, following Ian Curtis’ suicide, New Order, the international stars they have been since the 70s.

2. Noel Gallagher – Oasis

Say what you want about Oasis (and I often do), but it’s impossible to discount their success.

The difficult relationship between the Gallagher brothers always got them in the media spotlight, but what is it that makes their songs so great?

Most people would say the lyrics (or rather they’ll scream them drunkenly on a night out), but the guitar riffs and solos in Oasis’ catalogue are nothing if not accessible.

Noel has always said he’s not the greatest guitarist, and whilst that may be true, his twangings are a favourite amongst beginner guitarists.

As a mediocre guitarist myself, I can tell you that there’s nothing better than the feeling of finally nailing a solo you’ve been practicing for weeks, and the ability to write songs which are both easy to play and incredibly popular is something that Noel’s a master of.


1. Johnny Marr – The Smiths

Johnny Marr is one of the most important guitarists of all time. I don’t say that lightly – Q Magazine’s Simon Goddard called The Smiths ‘the most influential British guitar group’, and NME named them as ‘the most influential artist ever’ in a poll, beating artists such as The Beatles or David Bowie.

But what is it that sets them apart? For me, it’s the juxtaposition of Marr’s bouncy and light riffs to Morrissey’s depressing droll that makes The Smiths great.

Johnny Marr’s bright guitar tone- partly down to the Rickenbacker brand of guitar Marr favours – is something which epitomises Brit-pop, especially that which originates in Manchester.

It’s almost impossible not to bop along to the riff of This Charming Man, for example, and the happiness/sadness contrast in songs such as that which renders The Smiths inimitable. 

Main image courtesy of Facundo Gaisler, via Flickr, with thanks

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