Tag Archives: Manchester

Rocks In The Attic #772: Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979)

RITA#772The post-punk period must be one of the most interesting times in terms of British music. If punk rose to combat the swathes of prog-rock and endless keyboard warbling that was troubling the charts, then post-punk is the natural progression of that art form.

Where 1977’s UK punk music was often drenched in distorted guitars, and the vocalists made little attempt to carry a tune, post-punk seems to offer a little more. Joy Division’s instrumentation is stark but audible. You can clearly hear that they’re not masters of their instruments yet. Bernard Sumner plays his guitar like a sixth-form student who only picked it up a couple of months ago, Peter Hook’s noodling suggests he doesn’t understand the purpose of a bassline and would rather be playing guitar, and Steven Morris’s drums are only interesting because of Martin Hannet’s brilliant, ahead-of-its-time production.

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We’re all here for Ian Curtis’ vocals though. Crooning over such disparate music sure makes for an interesting mix of styles. I often wonder how much Curtis’ style of singing influenced the New Wave of the early 1980s, and wider pop music through the rest of the decade. If the Beatles and their contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic retained the scream of late ‘50s rock and roll, which then evolved into the back-to-basics growl of punk, then Curtis seems to do something completely different. His vocal style is more in line with the drawn-out drawl of Jim Morrison. I shudder to think that this might be responsible for Neil Tennant’s horribly over-enunciated vocals for the Pet Shop Boys. Ugh, I hope not.

RITA#772bI might not listen to Unknown Pleasures often – it’s musically too primitive for my likings – but I understand and appreciate its importance. The album’s just turned 40, and people are still talking about it. The desolate nature of the music reminds me of Manchester too – of cold, stark streets and empty bus-rides when your only warmth is from that night’s beer. When I think of Manchester music, I don’t think of Mick Hucknall’s plastic soul, or Shaun Ryder’s baggy party music. I don’t think of the jangle of the Smiths or, thankfully, the mediocre Dad-rock of Oasis. I think of Curtis, Sumner, Hook and Morris standing next to a dual-carriageway in the snow.

Hit: Shadowplay

Hidden Gem: Day Of The Lords

Portrait of Joy Division

Rocks In The Attic #394: Happy Mondays – ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches’ (1990)

RITA#394I think I might be allergic to music that comes from Manchester. I’ve never hid my dislike of Oasis, but I also never liked the wave of bands that came before them. Only now, half way around the world and twenty five years later can I finally start to appreciate bands like the Smiths, the Stone Roses and these fellas, the Happy Monday.

I don’t think it’s the music by these bands that turned me off them. Instead it was the type of people who liked these bands that alienated me. They’re all popular bands, and just like with any popular bands, there’ll be an element of non-music fans following them. Or sheep, you could say.

In the case of the ‘Madchester’ years, those non-music fans represented the distasteful element in Manchester. They still do. Lads in Ben Sherman shirts, roaming the city centre; or retards walking around in cagoules in the middle of summer. Are you going on a hiking trip? No? Just going to the football? Hmm.

I once passed Tony Wilson doing his shopping in the Sainsburys at the end of Mancunian Way, heading towards Salford. He was leaning over the trolley he was pushing slowly down the aisle, and I remember he was shopping from a list. I was too nervous to say hello, and I’ll never get the chance now, but what I would say to him – if I had the balls, which I know I don’t – was that I thought he was wrong about the Happy Mondays.

In 24 Hour Party People, Wilson refers to Shaun Ryder as a genius. I just can’t stomach that. I’ll accept that Ryder might have been the spokesman for that generation – the Ecstasy generation – in the UK, but the word ‘genius’ does not apply. ‘Lucky fool’ is more apt.

Hit: Step On

Hidden Gem: Dennis And Lois

Rocks In The Attic #382: Simply Red – ‘Picture Book’ (1985)

RITA#382I remember Simply Red being around when I was younger. Not the band themselves, I didn’t bump into them at social gatherings or anything, but I do remember them being played on the radio a lot. For some reason, I associate their music with being in the underground market in Manchester’s Arndale Centre. I’m not exactly sure why. It might have been the first time I recall hearing one of their songs, blaring out from a radio inside a shop.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s an unfortunate association – you know that horrible, rancid odour you smell inside a butcher’s shop? The whole of Manchester’s underground market essentially smells like that, because of its one butcher’s shop that doesn’t have a door or anything to keep the stench inside. Your Mum thinks she’s doing you a favour by picking you up a few pairs of cheap socks, but you soon realise that they smell of mince. Same with the three pack of white t-shirts she bought you for P.E. They might eventually smell of B.O., but brand-new they smell like beef and onions.

I would have been seven years old when this album was released. I remember cuts from this and the follow-up albums being played on Atlantic 252 – a new radio station that we could get on the long wave frequency, discovered when we were on holiday in Cornwall. Broadcast out of Ireland, it was the first commercial radio station available across the UK.

It’s now commonplace to ridicule Mick Hucknall and Simply Red, but this debut album is great. They might have quickly devolved from a blue-eyed soul group into a no-frills pop band, but when I hear something like Come To My Aid or Money’s Too Tight To Mention, all I want to do is dance.

Just before I left the UK, I was temping for Cooperative Financial Services in Manchester. A couple of us had started a new email game where we were passing comment on things in the office through the medium of song. It started from one guy ridiculing our new filing trays, whose bold primary colours he described as ‘red, gold and green’ (from Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon). My retort was a comment on one of the hot girls in his team who had come to work that morning in short shorts (hot pants really), much to the dismay of their Manager – ‘shorts are too tight to mention’. My colleague enjoyed it so much, he stood up and applauded, from the other side of our open-plan office.

Hit: Holding Back The Years

Hidden Gem: Come To My Aid

Rocks In The Attic #330: Betty Boo – ‘Boomania’ (1990)

RITA#330A lot of dodgy music came out around the time the 1980s turned into the 1990s. I remember there was a faction of kids at school who were very interested in Acid House culture and ‘musical’ acts like 2 Unlimited. It was also considered fashionable to wear Joe Bloggs t-shirts. This was the less talented branch of the tree that was rooted in Manchester’s Hacienda and the rise of the DJ as the cultural medium of the times.

I don’t know what’s worse – the fact that Betty Boo seems to take her lead from the flirtatious Betty Boop (and tainting the cartoon’s image for evermore), or the fact that when she’s not singing she’s rapping in a strong Brooklyn accent. She’s from Kensington for Christ’s sake. Salt-n-Pepa have a lot to answer for.

Where Are You Baby? is a great little pop song – away from the Brooklyn posturing that spoils Doin’ The Do, and it remains my favourite song on an otherwise dated slice of 1990.

Betty Boo’s Wikipedia page clearly states ‘Not to be confused with Betty Boop’. You’re damn right.

Hit: Doin’ The Do

Hidden Gem: Boo’s Boogie

Rocks In The Attic #324: Creedence Clearwater Revival – ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ (1968)

RITA#324Three hundred and twenty four records in, and this is the first Creedence record I’m writing about. Disgraceful! There’s a reason for it though.

Back in Manchester, I made do with a best of compilation – Creedence Gold – and just never got around to buying any of the studio records. I had to stop buying vinyl for a while – as I moved over to New Zealand, got a haircut and a real job – and during that time I listened to a lot of music through my iPod. It was during this time that I listened to lot of Creedence – probably an unhealthy amount.  A lot of 85 and 86 bus trips into Manchester, and back to Chorlton, were soundtracked by Creedence.

For me, they’re comparable to the Beach Boys. I can put them on the turntable, and it feels like slipping into a warm bath – great American music of an effortlessly high calibre. They’re the alternative Beach Boys even – the dirtier, scruffier version, with a focus on groove instead of harmony, and songs about levees and bayous instead of T-Birds and surfboards.

I had to avoid listing Suzie-Q as the hidden gem of this album – it’s a little too well-known from its appearance in Apocalypse Now to be considered ‘hidden’ – but that’s the real groove of the album; its centrepiece. Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do) is another favourite – written by Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett.

Hit: I Put A Spell On You

Hidden Gem: Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)

Rocks In The Attic #310: Stone Temple Pilots – ‘Core’ (1992)

RITA#310I’ve been lucky with finding coloured vinyl copies of STP’s back catalogue. I love coloured vinyl and I love Stone Temple Pilots so it’s nice to have their first three albums on yellow, purple and blue marble vinyl respectively.

Core was the first STP album I bought – in the Boxing Day sale in 1994 if I remember correctly. I also bought the Beatle’s Revolver and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on the same day. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Those were the days too when I would buy CDs and be able to listen to them almost instantly on the bus ride home on my Discman. I bought the CDs from the original Virgin Megastore on Market Street – the cool building with the cash from the tills going round the building in pneumatic pipes. Core would have found its way into my Discman by the time I had marched back up Market Street to get the 24 or 181 home.

Of the first three STP albums, Core is clearly the best although Purple and Tiny Music… both have their strong points. Core just sounds more cohesive, like they had toured the shit out of these songs before Brendan O’Brien put them down on record. It’s also the heaviest album of the three, with fewer departures into other genres than its successors. While those musical variations characterise the second and third album, it’s the straightforward and no-nonsense approach that sums up the sound on Core.

My first exposure to the band was seeing them perform Plush on some MTV awards – probably in 1993. I immediately disliked them because Weiland came from the Eddie Vedder school of grunty singing. It wasn’t until I heard Vasoline – the second single off their second album – that I started to change my mind. They’re constantly looked at as opportunists, riding the tailcoats of grunge with little in the way of originality but when you take the grunge lens off them they probably have a lot more in common with classic American rock of the 1970s.

Guitarist Dean DeLeo and brother Robert DeLeo on bass are true heroes of mine, and one of their greatest accomplishments is managing to lay down so much great material while dealing with the challenge of Scott Weiland. I’m very lucky to have been able to finally see the band play in the New Zealand in 2011 – before the latest spat in 2013 saw the band fire Weiland and record with another singer.

They played Crackerman – my favourite STP song – only a few songs into that set at the Vector Arena and I could have walked out there and then, a very happy man.

Hit: Plush

Hidden Gem: Crackerman

Rocks In The Attic #115: Whistler – ‘Whistler’ (1999)

Rocks In The Attic #115: Whistler - ‘Whistler’ (1999)Whistler are an acoustic trio, put together by ex-EMF guitarist Ian Dench.

I came across this band when they were supporting Wiiija labelmates Bis at a gig in Leeds. I then saw them a few nights later in Manchester, on the same tour and finally on the acoustic stage at Glastonbury that summer.

It’s definitely nice music – I don’t think anybody would disagree with that – but Kerry Shaw’s posh voice does grate on some tracks. Singing clearly and over-enunciating every word isn’t a great idea when you sound like you come from the privileged classes. The songwriting is very good on this album though, good enough in most cases to ignore Shaw’s vocals; and there’s a massive influence of Nick Drake on this LP, which is why I like it.

Hit: Don’t Jump In Front Of My Train

Hidden Gem: The End