Drawn back to Manchester recently by the photography of Aidan O'Rourke, an old low light inside me flickered and my deeply felt love for the city was rekindled.
Manchester, so much to answer for. No. Manchester so much to answer to.
It started a long time ago. Aged sixteen, a mate and I used to visit the city. We stayed with his sister's boyfriend who was a student at the University. We didn't know him but put upon him and he was a good sport about it. Weekends spent crashed out in tattered old sleeping bags on his bedroom floor. I would return soon enough as a student myself but this was my only taste of the cosseted halls of residence life. The format was straightforward. Arrive in Manchester at Chorlton Street Coach Station. Find music.
Music was the magnet which drew us here and it really was a magnet. I almost literally felt the pull of the place because of the music it produced. Too young for punk, but well aware of the legacy of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, I caught the fag end of the Smiths and loved New Order - I was besotted with a place I'd never seen. Family journeys through the fringes of Lancashire would see me straining to see road signs to Manchester, the magnetism pulling strong.
Stepping off the cramped, uncomfortable coach at Chorlton Street Station, Manchester sprawled out before us. First stop, as I said, find music. Tonight it's the Boardwalk and the Bodines, but it could have been anywhere and anyone. Manchester, stick a pin in the NME gig guide and go.
Next day, stumble hung over into Piccadilly Records, in its original home in that strip of run down shops facing the Gardens. By the time I came to live in Manchetser, the shop had uprooted to Brown Street and those Piccadilly shops all stank of rancid chip fat. But that's later. Back to Piccadilly Records. Attention to detail - it made (and still makes in my opinion) Piccadilly Records the best record shop in the world. Records with hand written reviews paper-clipped to them. This is a city that cares about its music. This is how I would run a record shop. My mind takes a photograph at the very moment my love affair with Manchester is consummated. It's busy, noisy and hot, an Inspiral Carpets 'Cool As F**k' t-shirt (two little spirals replace the 'u' and the 'c') hangs on a wire coat-hanger and in the corner of my mental photograph is a Man From Del Monte poster. It's blu-tacked to the wall and it's got spots on. Google now tells me it was promoting their 'Big Noise' live LP.
It really is at this moment that I know I have to live here.
Fast forward. I'm at the Poly. The Poly don't have much in the way of halls of residence. I'm given an address - Henrietta Street, Old Trafford, and it's strongly recommended I take it. Henrietta Street. Slugs on the kitchen carpet. Only two buses an hour, the 114 and the 115, will take us into the city so it's generally an edgy walk through the Hulme Crescents instead of a wait at the bus stop. It's catch 22. I get mugged in Hulme within a few months of arriving but you don't stand still for too long in Old Trafford either and with only two buses an hour, a bus stop can be a dangerous place. When the bloke from next-door-but-one threatens to stab you in the queue for the phone box you choose to walk through Hulme and not hang around at a bus stop. A moving target is harder to hit.
The Smiths are long gone, but not forgotten, and before the magnet finally dragged me across the Pennines the Stone Roses and, to a lesser extent the Happy Mondays had added to the pull of the place, alongside newer sounds like 808 State's 'Pacific' and A Guy Called Gerald's 'Voodoo Ray' The Stone Roses had played my home town and by curious chance, I'd been invited to share a drink with them after the gig. I talked to Ian Brown, shared a sandwich with him in fact, while John Squire brooded on the opposite side of the room. Manchester had come to visit. And it kept sending out messages. The Mock Turtles, excellent melodic pop. No frills. I bought an album by the Waltones. Their address was printed on the inner sleeve: Victoria Avenue East, Moston, Manchester. Manchester: A world of possibilities.
Fast forward. A world of possibilities replaced by a World of Twist. Formed by stall holders in Affleck's Palace, that wonderful jumble of tiny shops selling records, second-hand clothing and haircuts and decorated with a seven foot tall abominable snowman in a glass display case and a child-size piano emblazoned with the 'Jim'll Fix It' logo. There was a heady atmosphere in Affleck's and it felt like Jim really would be able to fix it for you if you hung around in there long enough. Which is exactly what had happened to World of Twist and 808 State who had also started out in Affleck's when their shop Eastern Bloc records was crammed in there, fronting on to Oldham Street.
By now I'm doing some DJing. It's at an appalling basement club called the Banshee. It's an embarrassment of a club, a Goth haunt with a cauldron painted on the walls but on Monday nights it's a small collective of like minded types playing the Byrds, MC5, Primal Scream and the rest. Sometimes, often times when I'm at the controls, at the wrong speed - album tracks sounding like Pinky And Perky, singles sounding like a drunk club singer. But still, it feels great. Aspirations of being in a band gone, I was at last able to make music move other people. Choosing a record and watching people dance to it is a powerful feeling, and for me, one only achievable in Manchester. Back home I'd have been playing to an empty room. The club is a car park now. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. No blue plaque commemorates what the spot means to me.
Other nightclubs were always central to my Manchester musical experiences. Not in my case the Hacienda - I never really felt comfortable in that sort of place and, a few tracks aside, house music did little for me. Other clubs though offered an eclectic and taste broadening mix. 42nd Street on a Tuesday night played the Stooges' 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' next to 'Superstitious' by Stevie Wonder. A night at the Brickhouse on Whitworth Street mixed up Acid Jazz, northern soul and funk. Whenever I think of the Brick House I hear 'The Champ' by The Mohawks. In the Brickhouse I was fully converted to the religion of Mod. DJs and musicians at The Band on the Wall introduced me to reggae and Latin jazz.
Rewind - pop stars are everywhere you look. Some of them are real pop stars who we've seen on Top of the Pops, some of them well kept secrets, but stars all the same. Vini Reilly carrying a duffle bag around town. Graham Massey in Eastern Bloc. Not being able to get to the bar in Dry bar because the way is being blocked by the Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets and countless other faces from the pages of the NME. Seeing a group of lads having their picture taken by the park gates next to my house in Rusholme and recognising them a while later as Oasis. The Stone Roses' Cressa selling hats in Affleck's Palace. Watching my mate's girlfriend twice leave him for the bald headed member of the Inspiral Carpets. James playing live on the roof of the Piccadilly Hotel. Pop stars from out of town too. Talking to St. Etienne in HMV about Charles Manson and the Monkees, having a pint with Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and sharing a late night drink in the Man Alive club with Robert 'P-Nut' Johnson of the P-Funk Allstars.
Fast forward - I've left Manchester but am visiting for the weekend. I'm on the bus with my friend and former flatmate Jeremy. He's talking on the phone to his boss - Tony Wilson. Love him or hate him, Tony Wilson is simply a very significant figure. I feel like announcing the fact that he's on the other end of this phone. Later we go to a club I don't know and listen to local DJ Mr Scruff playing a fantastically eclectic soundtrack. And that's what Manchester, more than any other city, has given my life - an incredibly eclectic soundtrack.
Fast forward again - June 2005. I'm standing in Piccadilly Records. It's shifted again to Oldham Street. The record and CD sleeves still have handwritten recommendations inside them and I know why I still love this city.
Jon Lymer email@example.com.
Click to see music-related photos by Aidan O'Rourke.
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