[sic] Magazine

Manchester; North Of England – Various Artists


Rooted to the streets. Staring at the stars.

It’s July 1997 and Oasis Noel Gallagher is pictured sharing a joke with Tony Blair at No10 Downing Street. Manchester music ruled the nation, figuratively and literally (well, almost) Yet as the saying goes – big things have humble beginnings. Well scratch that. Humility? This is Manchester we’re speaking of. Big things had brazen beginnings.

This lavish collection from Cherry Red Records covers the Manchester music scene from its punk rock inception through to the Cool Britannia heights of Britpop. Across seven (yes) discs, this box set documents the musical rise of a proud Northern City. From scratchy beginnings, Manchester forced itself upon the musical map eventually cementing its position as the UKs Alternative Music Capital (in more ways than one) Along the way there’d be plenty of trademark angst and swagger.

I’m not proposing a history lesson here. In many ways the box set is the lesson. Mick Middles provides exhaustive sleeve notes on this set and the Forward is by Mark Radcliffe. Two fine men and two fine choices. As you’ll therefore see, Manchester the city, the scene pulled itself up from the rubble and decay of the seventies and rejuvenated itself time and again. The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ of it are up for endless debate, making only interesting conversation points if we’re honest. Was it the likes of Lou Reed and Bowie at the Free trade Hall, or the two, now legendary Sex Pistols shows that sparked the City’s ignition? Does it matter? Manchester rose. It managed this through force of sheer personality. By this I mean a number of things. Certainly the celebrated individuals such as Wilson, Morley, Cooper Clarke, Devoto …. we could fill a review quota with a list of credits, honestly. Each played their part and more. Yet if you’re looking for personality, look no further than the city itself – a fascinating fusion of modernity with the historic, fiercely proud, self-depreciating and funny as f***.

Just like its people.

The rivalry that Manchester shares with neighbouring Liverpool may have played its part too. After all Merseyside had its own musical ‘successes’ in the not too distant past. It won’t have been the main factor though. Mancunians are too parochial to have noticed and too proud to admit. Or simply too busy doing their thing, their way and achieving dazzling results;
The seven discs here take us through the famous post-punk era into the indie label explosion and beyond, taking in C86’s jangle-pop, the ‘baggy’ period (dubbed Madchester) and of course Britpop. The city’s main players are all present and correct across this collection – Buzzcocks and Joy Division from the beginning of our journey, Charlatans and Oasis from the end. Except it isn’t the end, just a punctuation mark in an already exhaustive essay. Personally I always approach compilations with more interest in ‘the rest’. I.e. those other bands which may have flown more under the radar. Perhaps we knew of them, knew the name from Manchester’s famous music heritage. This compilation shines an albeit brief spotlight on those artists, placing them in context with their contemporaries at the time. Case in point, The Chameleons remain one of Manchester’s ‘best kept secret’ bands despite a huge local following. They existed at the same time as New Order and The Smiths but never garnered the national acclaim afforded their peers. There are a hundred potential ‘Chameleons’ for newcomers to discover on this box set. For completists among you, you also have a number of tracks here appearing on CD for the first time.

A history lesson, a tasting kit and a collectors Holy Grail, the Manchester Box is nothing less than a coveted musical artifact replete with lavish packaging. Put simply, you want it. So seek it out. For me it’s something else as well. As I close my eyes to listen to almost any random cut here, I’m transported to Manchester, all dim lit archways, proud Victorian buildings and dripping underpasses.. And the people – warm, funny, irascible, ridiculous…. I’ve never lived in Manchester but it feels like a second home. This box set takes me back there.

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