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Manchester’s musical misery

Elizabeth Alker thinks, after the Courteeners debate, it’s time for the city to get over itself and move on musically

Published on September 7th 2007.

Manchester’s musical misery

The reaction to last week’s Confidential story about the Courteeners deserves some kind of response. Firstly it’s worth mentioning that this feature sparked one of the biggest reactions a music feature has had in Manchester in recent months. This proves that the Courteeners are doing what all good rock bands ought to do: offend and delight in equal measure and get people talking about them.

Amongst the escalating anger, posted by Confidential readers, which read like a cyber scrap outside a Salford local, one particular ranter made the mention of hype. Surely unfolding before their very eyes was hype in all its rock’n’roll, abuse hurtling glory.

Manchester has never been much of a posey city. As soon as something becomes fashionable it's invariably trashed and considered arty wank.

Yet the only coherent criticism aimed at the band’s front man, Liam Fray, was that he was something of a ‘trendy’, ‘Chorlton and Northern Quarter’ ‘prat’. Well despite my own personal experience of Fray being different on these charges, it certainly says something about music fans that they would trash a band on account of being too ‘trendy’ and having a bit of attitude.

Manchester is a no-nonsense city and we like to think that it has always produced no-nonsense media personalities. In the past, that outlook has served us well. But unless you’ve been walking round with your head stuck in a pile of NMEs from 1996 you’ll have realised that the music business is less and less a no-nonsense business.

In defence of Fray, Liam Gallagher, Ian Curtis and Morrissey were certainly not famed for being ‘nice’ people. And, along with their unpredictable behaviour, though it might not have seemed obvious at the time, they all had a very carefully managed style.

Therefore the reason they were so popular is because that is what rock’n’roll is about; attitude and style. The pop song is by its very nature a limited genre. There’s only so much you can do with this tired old 3 chord (if you’re lucky) formula that generally goes verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, end. The sad but revelatory truth is, that there is probably as much musician ship in a Girls Aloud tune as there is in What’s The Story: Morning Glory. So, what sets our indie icons apart from mainstream pop is that they have something witty and often offensive to say, plus an individual style or ‘look.

The Gallagher’s, Morrissey, Curtis, Brown and others certainly embodied what many people felt at the time and that helped their success. Sometimes while the rest of the world has moved on, our city is slowly and painfully drowning in its own baggy heritage.

Phil Oakey of Human League fame was quoted recently saying that Manchester celebrates the dour unlike his hometown of Sheffield which embraces glamour. You only have to compare Sheffield groups like the Human League, Pulp, Pink Grease and the Long Blondes, even the Arctic Monkeys, with Manchester groups such as the Happy Mondays, Oasis, the Stone Roses and Doves to see where he’s coming from.

Maybe the attitudes mirror our former major industries. There is something about the sparkly, aesthetically exhilarating nature of steel that inspires a sharp, glitzy culture compared to the deep and intense density of cotton. Not that the aforementioned Manchester groups weren’t great but the point is that Manchester has never been much of a posey city, as soon as something becomes fashionable it's invariably trashed and considered arty wank. We’re a straight-up realistic people and when the nation was slowly becoming a post industrial wasteland that sentiment was in vogue. But things have changed.

For Manchester’s music scene to succeed in the current climate, musicians need to stop whining, tart themselves up a bit and understand that fashion and music are inextricably linked. The country prefers the ephemeral, stiletto heel edge of the Klaxons, the art school pop of CSS, Amy Winehouse’s extravagant beehive hairdo and Lily Allen’s jingly gold jewellery. And maybe in time they’ll learn to love the Courteeners skinny jeans, spiky hair, pointy shoes and gobby youthfulness.

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

The real Rod HullSeptember 7th 2007.

I've never heard the Courteeners, which is a bad name for a band anyway (but that's beside the point), but maybe the hype has passed me by. But if these whole arguements are based on hype created by NME, then I don't care. When you see what places are at the cutting-edge of music in Manchester (Tramp, High Voltage, and to a certain extent, Star and Garter) then you see whata forward thinking place Manchester can be. Bands like the Courteeners just make people think that Manchester is just reliant on past glories.....

Buddy HollySeptember 7th 2007.

Hmm, Elizabeth! When you've a spare lifetime sit down and listen to the entire history of pop music. Does it all sound the same? Does it make you feel the same? Do you need to see the performers clothes and interviews to experience this difference? Can you name another genre that has absorbed and transformed so many others?

JennSeptember 7th 2007.

Very good point!

HenrySeptember 7th 2007.

Pauline, style and fashion are fundamentally different. your interpretation's fine but the statement is clear about fashion and music being inextricably linked. I dispute this as would most musicians I know. and, I said it would be fine arguing about us being mired in the past as that is true. Flesh, playground abuse. You're exercising your own hang ups by assuming saomone must want to be a writer i don't, never have wanted to. you, however, clearly do that you see it as something i should want to be. Personally, I do something more worthwhile. But all the journalists I do know write for decent publications on a national level and don't come out with the specious reasoning and nonsense found in this article.Your comment about th Hac defining a look or style says everything about you: dumb people appreciate dumb articles. well done peabrain.

AnonymousSeptember 7th 2007.

More publicity for them written by one of the Courteeners managers best mates....

FleshSeptember 7th 2007.

Pauline I agree. We're mired in the past - look at all the celebrations of the Hacienda this year. That was a moment that is now lost on the thousands who never went because they were too young at the time or never got it when it happened. And by the way during its Golden Age it defined a 'look' or 'style'.And during the flesh nights it was totally glamorous. Yet Tony Wilson himself said that its time had passed and was not concerned at all by its final fate as flats. That in-yer-face Gallagher attitude becomes very very boring after a while, what about a bit of grace and charm rather than a chip-on-the-shoulder snarl. As for you Henry it's funny how you impose your own clearly flawless writings on these postings - talk about a pathetic frustrated writer. Name a 'decent publication'in this city?

captain jaffaSeptember 7th 2007.

Real rod hull.... if you never heard of the Courteeners then how come you think they are relying on past glories?Also high voltage/star and garter etc are boring incestuous indie nights for 25 back slapping semesters to pretend they are 'cutting edge'...face up to it no-one gives a toss about your little scenes!

AnonymousSeptember 7th 2007.

i read to the end expecting it to be about something...it was....if ...'listen kids music and fashion are linked' is enough of a story to hinge an article on

RedFredSeptember 7th 2007.

yeah, Henry do one. You're almost as boring as the idiot who wrote this sh*t article. maybe you should work for manc conf. You, alker and that pompous tosser schofield - yikes

paulineSeptember 7th 2007.

I think Henry has misunderstood. This article isn't saying we should be led by fashion, but that style and image are important for pop musicians. Manchester forgets that style in the paradoxical form of the 'anti style' was just as important in past as it is now. But, its time to move on from the anti style!

JustHipperSeptember 7th 2007.

I don't understand all the Courteeners debate. We saw them at Islington Mill a few months ago and they sounded so much like everything else that the NME likes these days that they didn't even elicit a reaction from us, good or bad, from us. Just "meh." They weren't good, but neither were they bad enough to waste the energy emoting hate at them either. They really weren't ANYTHING other than merely there.

crossySeptember 7th 2007.


IggySeptember 7th 2007.

I saw them and thought they were really good...see you at Academy 2 in a few eeks....well I won't now its sold out!

Henry's CatSeptember 7th 2007.

Henry - you boring bint, why don't you just f**k off and bore someone else on and some other message board.

henrySeptember 7th 2007.

what a weakly argued, embarrassingly awful article. "musicians need to stop whining, tart themselves up a bit and understand that fashion and music are inextricably linked." why? Because some second rate hack who isn't good enough to write for a decent publication says so? Bands like these are always ephemeral as fashion moves so fast. If manc musicians embody alker's idiot-twitterings, then we'll be awash with the likes of performance who were fashionable for fifteen seconds. It's a shame also about this article that there is a strong case for saying we've been dining out on former glories for far too long. But to leap from this to the aformentioned quote completely misses the point. I still see no reason to doubt the likes of wilson who argued that London struggled to produce such a concentration of great bands in recent years because their scene was so fashion-led. We must innovate and produce stratling music just as our former luminaries, and being led by fashion will always act against this. Spandau Ballet vs the smiths anyone?

JennSeptember 7th 2007.

Having read ALL (!) of the responses to the last article I was under the inpression that Fray's friends were slagging of the trendy NQ/Chorlton types...the point being he was 'real' and not like them???

ChezSeptember 7th 2007.

It's gotta be "There is a light that never goes out" by The Smiths but "Dear God, Please Help Me" by Morrissey is also quite interesting.

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