MM’s top five… Iconic Manchester musical frontmen

By Reece Lawrence

You would have to be a little on the slow side not to recognise that Manchester is considered by many to be the cradle of musical brilliance, particularly over the last 30 years.

The city famously gave birth to the Madchester phenomenon in the late 80s and early 90s – a period of musical progression that arguably displayed sound in the city at its zenith, and cemented its reputation as one of the world’s leading lights of popular music.

Of course, every iconic band boasts an iconic frontman no matter what era they graced, and Manchester’s musical heritage flows through several decades, so choosing the artists behind the microphone is no easy task… but I’ll have a go.

5. Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks)

While the Sex Pistols were empowering people with the punk rock movement, the Buzzcocks were doing very much the same (though not as anarchically) by continuing the trend from Manchester, headed by Pete Shelley.

In the 70s his youthful looks and variation with which he cried out the lyrics were a winning formula.

Despite breaking up with the Buzzcocks in 1981 and forging a solo career (the group would later reform), Shelley arguably did more for punk rock during the period than any other artist.

Years later his style would influence many of the punk-esque modern greats, such as Green Day, as the genre revived.

4. Liam Gallagher (Oasis)

While Noel may have been the lyrical mastermind behind it all, younger brother Liam was Oasis’s unforgettable drawl. 

Styling himself partially on his musical idol, John Lennon, Liam Gallagher became an unofficial ambassador for Britpop during the 1990s and beyond.

The stance rarely altered. Hands clasped behind his back, leaning slightly forward and never more than half an inch away from the microphone, Gallagher became as famous for this as he did for his ability to divide opinion in public culture.

Frequent reports of arguments and fights – both inside and outside of Oasis – became the norm for the Burnage-born rock figure, and the intrigue surrounding him never quite died down.

3. Allan Clarke (The Hollies)

Clarke was the voice of the Hollies over several decades and his energetic and powerful vocals helped the group to a number of chart hits at a time when 60s pop was ruling the world.

As Manchester’s answer to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Clarke and The Hollies certainly held their own.

The well-dressed crooner from Salford was part of an often changing line-up and, despite a brief absence from the group in the early 70s, was an ever-present until his retirement from the music business in 1999.

2. Ian Brown (The Stone Roses)

Something of a legend among followers of The Stone Roses, Ian Brown was the face of a generation of ravers looking for enlightenment.

The cult status of the band he fronted so boldly as the 80s morphed into the 90s only grew, largely in part to his distinctive on-stage swagger and attitude that appealed to so many. 

As many who have had the privilege to witness the band will testify that, although Brown’s vocal performances in live shows are not that great, all will agree it is his music that lives on, even if he does slide in and out of tune.

Indeed, as the recent reunion gigs at Heaton Park showed, many fans were quite thrilled just to be able to sing along to the Brown-inspired classics such as I Wanna Be Adored, She Bangs the Drums, and I am the Resurrection. He still possesses that special something.

1. Ian Curtis (Joy Divison)

Here was a tragic genius who headed Joy Division in their post-punk heyday, and whose suicide in 1980 aged 23 left a deep void in the genre.

While he lived, his problems with epilepsy and depression characterised his unique music and stage habits. His cavernous and monotonous singing method was captivating; an expression of many dark thoughts that troubled his short life.

Poignantly, Joy Division’s second and final album was released after Curtis’s death and was hailed critically, creating a legacy well-remembered within British music.

The band Curtis left behind became New Order, who were successful in their own right.

And here are five who didn’t make the list:

Mick Hucknall (Simply Red)

Simply an icon among gingers, and highly-regarded by everyone else too. If you don’t know him by now, you never will.

Mark E. Smith (The Fall)

There’s little doubt that Smith is The Fall, and the eclectic style of his work makes him a popular figure with fans.

Morrissey (The Smiths)

This charming man led the way for a plethora of fabulous 80s nightlife anthems, and the band’s relatively short-lived existence only increased his status as an icon from an age fondly remembered.

Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays)

His stint in the jungle may have made people sit up and take notice, but in reality Manchester noticed Ryder years ago. Madchester would have been poorer without him.

Guy Garvey (Elbow)

Garvey is a face for a more modern landscape of music from Manchester, and has propelled Elbow to stardom through powerful songwriting and even more powerful vocals.

Do you agree with MM’s list? Or does it annoy you that Morrissey isn’t No.1? Have your say below.

Picture courtesy of notalike via Flickr, with thanks.

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