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Northcliffe House, built 1931, potent symbol of Art Deco influence in Manchester. Demolished 2002. Experimental montage for stereoscopic photograph
MANCHESTER HAD TRANSCENDED ITS ENGLISH ROOTS and become a place which had more in common with stateside cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and even New York, though on a smaller scale. Manchester, unlike, say, Cheltenham, had a big-city feel, skyscrapers, areas of downtown urban decay, freeways, elevated railroads, warehouse districts with metal fire escapes, and people from all over the world, including a large and growing Afro-Caribbean population. Many buildings in the downtown area showed an American influence, it had the docks, with direct shipping links to North America, Trafford Park with American company Kellogg's, and during the 20's, a car factory which turned out Model 'T' Fords.

Seeing America every night on TV, I wanted to be there but couldn't. Instead, I made Manchester into my own American city, and American soul was the musical backdrop which would capture the aura the city had taken on. The music of the city was broadcast from the nightclubs, and could be heard the open bedroom windows of adolescent music fans. Only in later years would it be played on the radio.

For me soul was the music of Manchester. Black music, in my opinion, was the source of popular music, though I didn't listen to it all the time.

'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' by The Temptations conjured up a night time vision of the ghetto, overlooked by downtown skyscrapers, a story of rootlessness and heartache, a song with a sound so big only a big city like Philadelphia PA - or Manchester UK - could provide a fitting backdrop.

Records by the all time greats of Motown played a big part in my life. soul music is all about genuine emotion from the heart, something we northern English kids perhaps found difficult to express, but recognised in the music.

'Move On Up' by Curtis Mayfield reminds me of visiting my father in 1971 who was at a convalescent facility in Marple. An uplifting message delivered against a powerful brass refrain and an incessant rhythm conjured up images of riding the D Train and looking out over the tenements of Harlem or Brooklyn. In reality I was looking out at the rooftops of Levenshulme and Longsight, but in my mind the two merged. It was also interesting that there was a disused station in Manchester named after Curtis Mayfield, or at least it shared the same name. Co-incidental but significant.

There were countless soul hits of the time which seemed to capture the mood of the moment, many of which now seem lost in the mists of time, until you start to look through the chart listings of the time and rediscover many familiar names. 'Here I Go Again' by Archie Bell and the Drells was just one among many favourites.

Of all soul hits, the one that for me most vividly projects a romantic vision of nighttime Manchester is the instrumental 'Walk in the night' (1972) by Junior Walker and the All Stars. The music provokes monochrome moving images of a lonely figure in a raincoat walking home along rainswept streets, alleyways, footpaths and railway footbridges.

Travis Street, under Piccadilly Station at night.

Set against a swaying minor key backdrop, the three note falling melody on the sax accompanies the figure as he walks down the street. The chorus, with its heavenly choral voices and improvised sax captures the background chatter of the people talking and laughing in the nightclub he has just left behind. The magic of the music and the magic of Manchester became one and the same with this record. My nighttime pictures of alleyways and railway arches are inspired by 'Walk in the Night' by Junior Walker and the All Stars.

Another artist famous as part of a songwriting trio but less well known as a solo artist is Lamont Dozier, part of the Holland Dozier Holland team who wrote many Motown hits. He went solo around 1972 and released 'Why can't we be lovers?'.

Two years later Lamont Dozier released the little-known single 'The Fish Aint Bitin', a song influenced by the movie 'Shaft', exploring the paranoid feelings of a man pursued by a contract killer. The title refers to the fact that the target hasn't responded to the bait and is lying low.

This song, taped off the radio, was to me the sound of quintessential urban America. I took it to heart and during summer 1974 I went on a very long cycle ride through south Manchester, past my school Xaverian College and into the inner city area. With the song ringing in my head, Moss Side became my 'Southside', the Hulme Crescents became my 'Projects'. It was almost like being in America. Some 20 years later Moss Side would acquire a reputation as the gun capital of Britain, following the example of cities in America.

Manchester Airport main terminal building seen from the end of the International Pier. Photo by Aidan O'Rourke 1971

On a happier note, and returning to the Airport, a song which provided a direct link from Manchester to America was The O'Jays 'Love Train' (1972) which came into my head at the sight of Freddie Laker's Skytrain. I remember standing at the end of the international pier admiring the giant red black and silver McDonnell Douglas DC10, which was just about to start carrying passengers across the Atlantic for a cut-price fare. The happy, bouncy beat of the song and its soaring vocal lines conjures up a vision of jetting around the world on a plane, though the 'train' in the title refers to one that runs on tracks..

Another record of the time is the novelty song 'Double Barrel' (1971) by Dave and Ansel Collins, with its honky tonk piano and reggae beat. It was going through my head as I went on another very long bike ride past Manchester Airport, this time to visit my sister in Halebarns who had recently married. Soon after I visited her more often.

Despite my return to the leafy suburbs, the urban sound of Motown continued to stimulate my adolescent imagination. Songs like 'I'm Still Waiting' by Diana Ross have an atmosphere of sleepless nights, creating vivid mental pictures of looking over moonlit gardens, of climbing the stairs in the dead of night, and seeing an ornamental stained glass window lit up by moonlight. These mental images are the inspiration for photographs I have yet to take.

I always felt more comfortable with pop music than Classical - for me it was superior, as it captured the mood and feel of now. But there were many examples of Classical music which conjured up potent images linked to Manchester. Attending Xaverian College and studying music, I came into contact with Manchester's classical - German influence, exemplified by the Hallé orchestra, founded by German-English conductor Sir Charles Hallé in 1858.

Marie Louise Gardens West Didsbury

The villas of Victoria Park, some of had been bought in the 1930's by Xaverian College, seemed to have a resonance about them which tied in with classics of German music of the 19th century.Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is one among many classical pieces of the Romantic era which for me have associations with the Free Trade Hall. (Incidentally, the main melody of this piece, played backwards, was John Lennon's inspiration for 'Because'on the Abbey Road album).

A melancholy piano piece by I think it was Schubert caught my imagination and became intertwined with visions of woodland - near Parrs Wood and West Didsbury. There are also associations with Marie Louse Gardens, donated to the City of Manchester by the family of wealthy German émigré Johann Georg Silkenstadt, to commemorate his daughter Marie-Louise, who died in 1904 aged 26.

There was a tension between pop and classical I found difficult to resolve. On the one hand I wanted to succeed in music - I learned the piano from local music teacher Miss Bunn, and went on to do O Level music at Xaverian. But my enthusiasm for pop was often frowned upon by teachers and certain pupils. On the one hand I was told off one lunchtime by bespectacled senior boy and talented tenor Bernard Longley for playing T Rex on the guitar in the room next to the school chapel. On the other hand, doing O Level music I was classed as a 'square' by some of the tougher lads, many of whom were Northern soul fans. I remember one incident which happened in the music room. The music teacher had gone out, and a tough kid who was on report and attending music lessons as a soft option decided to put his favourite record 'Little Piece of Leather' (1972) by Donnie Elbert on the record player, I told him he ought to take the it off before the teacher came back, then he punched me in the face.

A disco standard of the time 'Rock Your Baby' by George McCrae, a glittering, pulsating sound that marked the high point of countless soul nights, and is still a standard today.

Blurred street lights of Rusholme Manchester 1999

A major musical influence of the time was Bowie Roxy - both extremely popular in Manchester, with a large following among trend-conscious teenagers. I missed David Bowie's performance at the Hardrock (now B&Q) on Great Stone Road, but I remember seeing Roxy Music at the Ardwick Apollo, along with scores of young Ferry look-alikes sporting green safari shirts and greased back hair.

But Bowie and Roxy, though big in Manchester, had, for me, few associations with Manchester. Bowie had a strong flavour of London, his home city, and later places abroad, while Roxy Music encapsulated a kind of mid-Atlantic chic. There were some exceptions: 'Street Life' by Roxy Music, reminds me of the whirlwind pace of the city, as experienced during a taxi ride through Manchester at night ,and David Bowie's 'Young Americans', with its smoky, soul-inspired nighttime feel has an indirect connection with Manchester. The track 'Right' conjures up pictures of an imaginary Manchester skyline.

I was open to many musical influences at the time - Progressive Rock, Glam Rock, Bowie Roxy, Folk and Traditional, and the many appalling novelty records of the time which I won't mention, but for me, there was only one type of music which truly expressed the heartbeat of the city, and that was soul. It was played to only a limited extent on radio stations such as Radio Luxembourg, and Radio 1 which at the time broadcast only on medium wave. The opening of Piccadilly Radio in 1973 heralded a new era in music, providing a locally based FM music station. I remember listening to the test transmissions on FM. They broadcast from Piccadilly Plaza, and in my mind, the building became like a giant transistor radio radiating soul music all over Manchester.The Sunley Tower looks like a giant transistor radio placed on its side. Piccadilly Plaza, for me, is an American style building on an American scale, and is intimately associated with music, especially songs such as 'You're the First, the Last My Everything' by Barry White, and in a similar vein, 'Hang on in there baby' by Johnny Bristol, both hits from 1974 which I probably heard on Andy Peebles' shows on Piccadilly Radio.

Piccadilly 2003 - test shot for cover of 'Destinations Manchester ' compilation CD, published by Bar de Lune

Another romantic connection with Piccadilly Plaza was the Portland Bars, on the corner of Portland Street and York Street. By the mid-seventies it had become a regular meeting place for Xaverian boys and St Josephs girls. The boys wore wide flared trousers, tank tops, and platform soles. The girls had high waisted floral dresses, feathery hair styles and lots of make-up. Much lager and lime was consumed. soul was still in the air, though it had got a lot softer and sweeter in the invervening years. Barry White, The Stylistics and other soul artists provided the musical background music for late night snogging sessions at the bus stop or down secluded footpaths. soul had become smooth and syrupy, but being soul it was still in good taste, unlike many other unmentionable musical acts of the time. The Stylistics and other afro-haired vocal groups could now be seen on colour TV with excerpts from American shows such as soul Train. Converted from American broadcasts the colours were flickery and over-saturated, with flashes across the screen when the sequins caught the studio lights.

Reflections in pond, impessionitic soft-focus effect, Bramall Park Stockport

International hit 'I'm Not In Love' recorded at Strawberry Studios (the name inspired by the Beatles Strawberry Fields) in Stockport by local band 10cc captured a mood of the mid-70's, a more suburban and subdued mood. The song presented a vast low key impressionistic canvas painted with countless vocal overdubs and echoey electric piano. It had a semi-dreamlike quality and its soft-edged sound was the aural equivalent to the soft-focus filter, much used by creative artists and film-makers of the time, including photographer David Hamilton. I saw the woods, parks and countryside of the local area through this filter, which I would use in later years in my photography.

Round about 1975 I remember being transfixed by the roads, the countryside and the landscape of England after a long car ride up through Shropshire and Cheshire - It wasn't just the city which captivated my attention. But at this time I hadn't yet found a way to turn my mental images into pictures other people could look at..

There was still a magic in the air, but the magic was about to die. Maybe it was the fact that my childhood years were about to end and I had opted to leave Manchester and study away from home. Maybe it was the social and economic changes that were bringing a chill wind to the comfortable expectations of the first half of the seventies. The oil crisis, inflation, economic collapse were all bad news for Manchester. The Docks by 1975 had all but ceased to function, the victim of motorways and containerisation. My bus fare on the 192, formerly 92, had recently doubled and I now had to pay with a pocketful of two shilling or 10 new pence pieces.

Many of Manchester's industries were in the process of disappearing, along with many notable buildings, the destruction of which I've only found out about in recent years. A quarter of the city centre, including one half of Market Street, had been swept away and replaced by the Arndale Centre. The Hulme Crescents and the Ardwick flats were classed as slums only a couple of years after they'd been built. Manchester was in many respects no longer the place it was.


Local government changes in 1974 brought loss of identity, 1000 year old county boundaries had been obscured - the town I was born in was now apparently in a different county. The classic red, green and blue colour schemes of the municipally run buses had several years before been overpainted in the ugly dayglo orange and white livery of SELNEC, later Greater Manchester Transport. The railways and steam engines had of course been gone for over five years. Exchange and Central stations were empty shells. As the summer of 76 approached, there was still a residue of magic in the air, but it was rapidly disappearing. One soul record of significance springs out and that's 'You To Me Are Everything' by The Real Thing. This Liverpool band were another 'Opportunity Knocks' discovery, and were hailed as the UK's answer to The Temptations and other classic soul acts from America. Now the UK was producing its own soul acts, though in number and influence, they would never equal those from the USA.

In autumn 1976, in a sense, for me, the music died. Or at least it changed - a crazed new form of rock was about take control of the rising generation - Punk, leading to New Wave. I was involved in it too, on the Manchester and Dublin music scenes. There would be new records with strong Manchester connections -15 years later Manchester would get its very own style of music recognised the world over - Madchester would be used to describe a brand of music and a brand of local council, both of which would achieve notoriety during the 80's. Soul along with Funk developed into Disco and what's now called R&B. Simply Red and other bands would create a new Manchester sound - Jamiroquai, not from around here, but for me quintessentially 90's Manchester in feel, and other forms of music both local and international, would become the music of the city.

Regeneration, started in the early 80's by the short-lived Greater Manchester Metropolitan County and gathering pace in the 90's, would revive Manchester's fortunes and turn it into the UK's most vibrant and exciting city.

But for me, my experience of Manchester during my childhood years, from 1958 to 1976, bathed in the music of the time, left a deep impression. The magic of Manchester would stay with me and inspire my photography and writing in later years.


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