Manchester calling: Punk’s not dead

By Andrew Cream

It’s Saturday May 28, and I’m at Manchester Rugby Club in Cheadle Hulme near Stockport.

Around me young and old are milling about, running between marquees and the bar, trying to squeeze in as much into their weekend as possible.

As this weekend, the club is not hosting a match in the National League 2 North, but a music festival called Strummercamp. As the name suggests, Strummercamp celebrates the life of the late Joe Strummer, former lead singer of The Clash, and one of the most important figures in UK punk history, if not British rock music in general.

While possibly not the most comprehensive snapshot of the scope and importance of Manchester’s punk scene, the festival does well to showcase local talent, as well as bringing in many bands from around the country, including ska and punk stalwarts like UK Subs, The Selecter and Captain Sensible.

One of the stages at Strummercamp is hosted by Manchester-based label/fanzine TNS. This years’ TNS stage hosted some of Manchester’s brightest talents, including Stand Out Riot, Sonic Boom 6, Leagues Apart and Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man.

Andy Davies is one of the driving forces behind TNS. Since moving to Manchester 10 years ago he’s been heavily involved in Manchester’s music scene, putting on countless gigs.

He explained the significance of the festival: “Strummercamp is an independent, non-profit, volunteer run festival and that is so inspiring.

“It is a huge testament to DIY culture and the fact that our subculture doesn’t need the mainstream in order to thrive. I can’t speak highly enough of the festival and other similar festivals.”

Andy believes that even in the past decade, Manchester has undergone many changes; most of them for the better.

“I think [the scene has] grown loads and changed loads,” he said. “It’s been constantly evolving.

“I do think there is a real community spirit here and that people from different parts of the scene get on well and are supportive of each other.”

To the average music fan, Manchester is associated with the “Madchester” scene of the late 80s and early 90s, or the global success of Oasis. The city has a thriving scene in general, but if you dig a little deeper you can uncover an eclectic range of bands that fly the banner for punk and DIY music.

Mikey Wong is also part of the TNS team, and gets the word out about their gigs and releases by relentlessly handing out flyers at the many events around the city.

He believes that as there is so much to do locally, people often overlook the punk gigs.

“People have to pick and choose which gigs to go, and will end up going to whichever gigs the majority of their friends are going to, rather than experiencing new bands that they would probably end up liking,” he said. “Come dip your toe into the world of Manchester punk, you’ll never look back!”

When looking at punk music in Manchester however, you cannot discount the other genres that have helped shape the city.

Dean Diggle puts on gigs under the guise of SLIT Promotions. It was set up four years ago in Oldham but he expanded to Manchester after a year.

He said: “Manchester has a strong musical history and we have some amazing venues due to this.

“I’d say there was more going on in and around Manchester than anywhere else in the UK outside of London. I get people telling me that they’ve moved to Manchester because of this.”

It’s not just local punk enthusiasts that speak highly of Manchester’s scene. Above Them are an up-and-coming rock trio from Pontefract, and have built up a strong following after many gigs in the city.

Bass player Mark Young said: “It’s an awesome place. It’s definitely up there with the best places to play.

“You only have to look at what gigs are going on there to know that it’s a good place to play. It draws bands from all over, of all sizes.”

Right now, there are lots of promoters in Manchester that are dedicated to putting on exciting, varied gigs with a DIY ethos. That is, doing everything themselves – from booking the bands to making the flyers – and doing it for the love of promoting.

This attitude however was not as prominent 10 years ago. Andy explained: “We did find that a lot of the promoters were putting on pay-to-play gigs at the time.

“There certainly weren’t as many opportunities to get decent gigs as there are now.”

Pay-to-play gigs are essentially frowned upon within the punk scene. Promoters are seen to pass the buck, getting bands to buy tickets for the gig to do the legwork for them.

Dean cites the internet as a pivotal tool in helping to cement the DIY scene. He said it has made it a lot easier to organise gigs, and now bands from overseas have a much better chance of playing in front of the Manchester punk crowd.

Andy summed up what is so good about Manchester:  “I’ve played all over the country and it’s certainly one of the strongest [scenes] I’ve come across. There are loads of good promoters doing things for the right reasons and loads of good bands.”

Mark agrees: “There are shows happening regularly, touring bands seem to always call in there, all the promoters we’ve ever come across are great, and the people at the shows and the club nights are cool.”

With so much going on in Manchester, it could be easy to miss these sweaty, intimate shows. But if you’re getting bored of Morrissey, or don’t fancy listening to another Stone Roses rip-off, take the plunge into Manchester’s extensive punk scene – from the chaotic gypsy-flavoured Stand Out Riot, to the chilled out tunes of Black Star Dub Collective, to the blistering speed of Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man – you’re bound to find something you like.

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