MM’s top five… Manchester bands

By James Pomfret

With the release of Shane Meadow’s Made of Stone and Mat Whitecross’s, equally baggy, Spike Island hot on its heels, the music of Madchester is firmly back in the spotlight.

If you were to listen to the hype that’s surrounded these films, or the endless number of closet Stone Roses fan who have suddenly appeared, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Roses were the only good band to ever come out of Cottonopolis.

But that’s simply not true.

As something of a disclaimer, I love the Stone Roses. I was lucky enough to see them in 1994 in the small Yorkshire seaside town that I grew up in, in what was their first gig after a 5 year hiatus.

It was magical, they were brilliant and as a consequence I’ve listened to Waterfall innumerous times. 

The sheer wealth of musical talent that has come out of Manchester in the last 50 years may lead some of you to wonder, how on earth it’s possible to produce a top 5.

Let’s see shall we…?

5) Joy Division

Without Joy Division, much of Manchester’s infamous music scene would not have existed, making them one of the most important bands to have ever come out of the city.

When the band formed in 1976 Manchester was not the thriving, multicultural hub that it is today.

It was grey and grim, with little prospect for its youth outside of factory work and manual labour. Joy Division were at the head of a movement that would change all that.

Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris were working class kids who, inspired by the Sex Pistols’ legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, escaped the bleakness of 1970s Salford to form a band.

Joy Division was made up of real people, far removed from pop star contemporaries such as David Bowie – they could have lived next door.

Joy Division came to a tragic end in 1980, when lead singer Curtis unexpectedly hung himself on the eve of their first US tour.

But this isn’t the end of their story. Joy Division became New Order, which led to the Hacienda, which in turn led to the explosion of Madchester –  a legacy that has helped shaped the Manchester of today.

4) Happy Mondays

Joy Division may have been the roots of Madchester, but the Happy Mondays amplified its effect to full blast.

The band fronted by Shaun Ryder encapsulated the spirit of the time, incorporating the sonics and rhythms coming out of the warehouse parties of New York and Detroit.

Combining these with the Monday’s stripped down, chemically-enhanced beats produced Manchester’s very own post-punk sound.

The Happy Mondays re-created the Manchester sound in its own image, everything else is pure imitation.

The Inspiral Carpets, The Stone Roses and…er…Candy Flip, are all arguably their own take on Shaun Ryder and co’s music.

3) The Smiths 

Shaun Ryder may have been Tony Wilson’s 20th century W.B. Yeats, but Morrissey was a true poet in his own right.

The Smiths often get discarded as ‘depressing’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Introspective? Definitely. Melancholy? Perhaps. However, there was always an uncompromising optimism in Mozzers lyrics, whether talking death (there is a light that never goes out), politics (Panic), or just trying to kop a feel (Handsome Devil).

Casual listeners will always miss the wit and humour in songs by The Smiths and with titles like Girlfriend In A Coma it’s hardly surprising.

In a recent Red Bull Academy lecture, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy summed up The Smiths perfectly – they are one of those bands that, for a certain type of person, just fit.

Whether that person was born in 1974 or 2004, it doesn’t matter, at some point Morrissey’s lyrics will seem to perfectly sum up a moment in their life.

No one writes as eloquently on the topic of love, bar maybe Bob Dylan, and it takes a brave man to suggest a set of riffs that better Johnny Marr’s.

There’s a joke at the end of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People when Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson is speaking to God.

He tells him he’s done ok, but he should have signed The Smiths and who are we to argue?

2) The Fall

The Fall are what every band should aspire to be – inventive, raw, passionate, untarnished by fame and at times dysfunctional.

At the heart of an ever-changing line-up, that has included, among others, BBC Radio 6’s Mark Riley and Gok’s  fashion partner crime Brix Smith-Start, is the genius that is Mark E Smith.

This man epitomises the moody, two finger-saluting, party-til-you-drop, rock ‘n’ roll caricature with effortless, unassuming ease.

Over a near 40year, 30-album career, The Fall have never fallen foul of populist pandering and have served as muse to just about any band worth a mention.

If you still need convincing though John Peel, a man who knew his apples when it came to music, dedicated an entire section of his vast record collection to his favourite band.

Need we say more?

1) The Bee Gees

Ok, Ok, I can already hear the snickering at the back. The Bee Gees taking the top spot, surely you can’t be serious?

Well I am, and here’s why.

Manchester has spawned more than its fair share of incredible bands not yet mentioned.

From A Certain Ratio to The Charlatans, Oasis to M-People, Stack Waddy to Simply Red or from Take That to T-Coy – the list goes on.

All arguably could have made this list and all with good reason.

However, as magical as these bands’ back catalogues may be, all owe a debt to those that came before them.

The Gibb brothers on the other hand, for one classic album at least, took a sound previously reserved for New York’s gay community and propelled it into mainstream consciousness.

Once you get past the giant collars, the soul-glow hair and the Hollywood teeth, the band’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece – completely discarded by most at first glance, but more fool them.

Yes, Doves are a great Manchester band, as are Lamb, Buzzcocks or Autechre, but none have, nor will, stand the test of time like Barry, Robin and Maurice.

Do you agree with MM’s list? Or does it twist your melon that The Stone Roses didn’t make the shortlist? Have your say below.

Picture courtesy of Caligvla via Wiki Commons, with thanks.

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