Jonathan Schofield says get over yourselves and celebrate the Hacienda/Madchester years

The Memphis Question

“I’m from Memphis,” the leader of the tour group said. “It’s a great place but there’s a downside. Memphis trades on past musical glories, calls itself the Home of the Blues and goes on about Elvis Presley. It’s just like we’re more interested in commodifying our past cultural exports…rather than nurturing new artists.”

Of course, he didn’t say that.

The Tennessee tourists were in Manchester on a music tour. They were loving hearing the stories and listening to a selection of intros to classic tracks, but they also wanted to tell me stories about Memphis’s musical tradition. They glowed with pride. "If you go, you got to get along to see the Blues Hall of Fame," said one. 

Chanel, as we all know, came to town last week. After the circus had left Helen Pidd wrote a piece in the Guardian using exactly those lines (almost) I put in the mouth of my visitors. She wrote: ‘Manchester is trading on past glories, more interested in commodifying/beatifying its cultural exports of 30 or 40 years ago (rather) than nurturing new artists.’

The Guardian article was provocatively titled: ‘Is soggy old Manchester having a cultural buzz or trading on past glories?’

This was bound to happen. It was as predictable as all the media cliches about rain. 

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The Millstone, the home of raucous karoake, had some fun with it blow-in catwalk neighbour Image: Confidentials

‘I Am The Resurrection’:  sorry, Ian, some of us don’t want it

It was grimly inevitable Chanel’s Manchester event would drag out the naysayers, despite the millions of pounds of boosterism and actual cash it offered the city and region. The volume of complaint hit ten when Chanel’s declared reason for coming to Manchester was discovered.

Blue Monday would be played, Factory Records, Joy Division and the Hacienda would be referenced, it would be all about the ‘effervescence’ of that musical golden age. Goody bags would be designed by Peter Saville.

Many in Manchester stamped their foot. They've argued until they're blue in the face that harking back to the Hacienda and Madchester is wrong, retrogressive. They think those heady years have become an albatross around the neck of new music and a fresher cultural engagement in the city. They complain about the Beatle-isation of Manchester. They lecture you on how the city doesn’t need what was once young and fresh, memorialised, fossilised by the old dinosaurs who were there and young fogeys who want reflected glory. Cease with the bloody Hac hazard strips they bellow as they look back in anger.

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The Salford Lads Club souvenir shop did a roaring trade during Chanel's visit Image: Confidentials

DJ and writer Dave Haslam wrote a particularly lugubrious piece on his Substack which was really a howl against capitalism; a melancholy broadstroke polemic against Tory evils and the sins of the city awkwardly hung off the occasion of a visit by Chanel, which, in the scheme of things, was really quite a small moment. He thought it ‘sad that Manchester in 2023 is giving off such a retro vibe’.

The Guardian article described how ‘new bands struggle to find affordable rehearsal space as the old mills are turned into luxury flats, and long-established grassroots venues such as the Night & Day face an uncertain future after noise complaints from new neighbours.’

Thing is, Night & Day is only one venue and will probably survive and new bands aren’t in the hole the piece painted. If people took time to get out and about then the feeling there’s a ‘retro vibe’ everywhere would dissipate.

The music goes on. 

So while models strutted their stuff down the catwalk on the evening of Thursday 7 December there were young musicians performing within a two-minute walk at 33 Oldham Street, Night & Day, Gullivers and Off the Square. 

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Stereo Cupid performing at 33 Oldham Street Image: Confidentials

Don't take my word for that. 

Twenty-three-year-old James ‘Budgie’ Thomas, promoter and artist manager, dismisses the gloom with: “It’s bullshit. The scene in Manchester with bands and acts is better than any of the other cities I know. There are plenty of venues in Manchester, you can go out every night and get live music. I suppose there's always room for improvement but it's a really good scene.”

He pauses for a second before adding: “In fact a new venue for live music has just opened in the basement of Disorder.” He points out Disorder is named after the Joy Division track and sports a large image of Ian Curtis. My son Ralph plays in a band, Stereo Cupid, and he's proud to come from the city of The Smiths and other great groups. He's 23 like James. 

It's good to talk to a generation who knows the scene right now rather than Manchester's large coterie of generally middle-aged grumps preoccupied with not being preoccupied by the past (of which of course I’ve been one).

Talking to James, it would seem we can have the best of both worlds, a lively contemporary scene and a healthy reverence for the history. So instead of complaining maybe we should go all out and exploit that rich seam of musical history while emphasising how the music plays on and telling people where they can grab some of the new action. 

This is all about tourist prestige, money and above all jobs.

Let’s do a Liverpool. A Nashville. A Seatle. A Dublin. An Atlanta. A Detroit.

Or even a Saltzberg, the self-styled ‘City of Mozart’. How old is that?

There are other cities who exploit this. If those cities do it why not Manchester? 

Remember Tony Wilson never said: 'This is Manchester, we do things differently.' Exceptionalism is a bore if it's a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Perhaps it's hard for some in the city to understand we now have a huge tourist trade. This isn't about you folks. 

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The Blues Hall of Fame, Memphis - nothing shy about this place Image: Wikimedia

Count the coins

Chase the money. 

A good friend of mine, also a writer, said: “Not sure why some Mancunians felt guilty about Chanel and the city making money on this. London doesn’t feel guilty about making money on such things. We moan on and on about London getting everything but then when we get something, it’s not ok especially if it’s the wrong something, such as a big rich fashion company descending on the city.”

That's right.

Take the dosh, feel the rush of the moment, let the circus come and go, stop moaning. It was ludicrous to complain about the closing of a small part of Thomas Street and a couple of alleyways for a week and a bit. Businesses were compensated and other bars and restaurants received a financial uplift as rubber-neckers scrambled to get a glimpse of the razzmatazz. 

At the same time the event brought money to charities and much-loved buildings such as Salford Lads Club and Victoria Baths.

During those cheerful Chanel days I helped escort beautiful and exotic creatures around Salford Lad’s Club with Leslie Holmes, the club’s project manager. We found all the guests, I mean all, charming, polite and absolutely fascinated by the club and its place in the city. They all wanted to recreate that picture of the four Smiths' boys standing outside the club for a photoshoot in December 1985.

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The Smiths' Room in Salford Lads Club Images: Confidential

When given a presentation, punctuated with music, but telling the broader story of Manchester and Salford they asked questions and were blown-away by the contribution and achievements of both cities. The guests knew the songs with some dancing away to ‘True Faith’ or singing along to ‘Don’t look back in Anger’. It was sweet. And every time we emphasised there is an excellent contemporary music scene still here.  

It was all very joyful, fun - as with David Adamson’s article here. The juxtaposition of the karaoke chaos of the Millstone pub with an haute couture catwalk was hilarious. In Affleck & Brown bar there were lads out for the night in Christmas jumpers and on nearby tables individuals dressed to kill and thrill clearly hoping to be talent spotted by the Gallic blow-ins.

Back at Salford Lads Club the money raised from hiring the venue to Chanel for two and half days plus the absolute raid on the souvenir shop by the beautiful people will reinforce its ability to survive. It needs to hold on. The work begun in 1903 in helping local lads (and now lasses) in a deprived area play sport, learn skills and get to see the countryside on the annual camping trip is just as relevant in 2023 as it was 120 years ago. Both the club and Victoria Baths look certain to be booked for future events and photo-shoots because of the Chanel visit. 

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The show comes to town: crowds mill round the covered Chanel catwalk Image: Confidentials

The Memphis question answered

As a guide and writer in the city I have direct experience of people hiring me for music tours as do many other tour guides. 

People love this part of the city story, it's approachable, familiar to many. It has broad appeal across the ages. Tourists stay in hotels and go for meals, spend money. Some of the commentators mentioned perhaps don’t have that direct engagement with people coming to Manchester because of the musical legacy. They theorise in a silo. Chanel appears to have come to the city without being pitched. They wanted to be here, just like the tourists. Isn’t that lovely?

I honestly can't recall any guests on my tours saying, oh stop it with New Order would you? Playing them a song strengthens a connection. 

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Cilla Black statue and fans in Liverpool Image: Cilla Black News

Liverpool around Mathew Street is saturated with statues of musicians, there’s even Cilla Black for God’s sake. It’s selfie heaven all around that area. Liverpool makes a fortune from it and gets criticised. Has any musical talent from Liverpool, if they're any good, suffered because their home city celebrates a band which broke up 53 years ago. Of course not. 

The people at Salford Lads Club describe how 40% of the income comes from Smiths tourism via events, bookings and the souvenir shop. In ‘the Smiths room’, you can even get married. The club now admits that one photograph from 38-years-ago on The Queen is Dead album has saved the one of the only remaining lads clubs in the country and allowed it to continue working with the youth in their neighbourhood. Leslie Holmes on tours describes The Smiths as “our Beatles”. They certainly attract more people to Manchester than any other band.

Rather than complaining it would be better if the city and the region had a coordinated plan to exploit this tourism, a dedicated museum perhaps, some of those Liverpool-style statues. Piccadilly ‘Gardens’ is such a mess, why not seduce mass tourism money into the space with a bronze of the Smiths, of Joy Division, what about Take That? Oh, come on, don’t be so po-faced? Fans would be queuing up for a pic. 

So, to that question posed by the Guardian: ‘Is Manchester having a cultural buzz or trading on past glories’. The answer is easy. It's a yes, it’s doing both. And that’s a very good thing, the right thing. So, let’s celebrate it, shall we, not get chippy?

Manchester is a city with a past, a present and a future. The music was, is and will be part of that. We should take the money and use that musical legacy to bring in more tourists. They love it and we should flaunt it. 

Let's be more Memphis, brimming with pride about its continuing musical legacy. 

Right, does anybody want to nip down to the Millstone for a laugh and some karaoke. We could bash out a tuneless version of ‘Blue Monday’. Chanel loved that one. All together now: ‘How does it feel/to treat me like you do…dah-de-dah, dum-de-dum, dee dee.'

If you liked this you might like: 

The video of Chanel's Manchester show

Manchester in the eighties through 70 photographs

Taking Chanel to the Millstone: some regulars discuss the fashions

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