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Where have all the Morrisseys and Ian Browns gone?

John Robb wonders where all the Manc frontmen have gone and looks to the future of the city's rock and pop

Published on January 25th 2010.

Where have all the Morrisseys and Ian Browns gone?

Once upon a time the legendary Manchester punk band Slaughter and the Dogs sang, ‘Where have all the bootboys gone?’ in 2010 they could be singing ‘Where have all the icons gone?’

Yet we could just be in the calm before the storm. There's a whole new tide of Manchester bands ready to take up the reins of national notoriety. In the BBC's Sound of 2010 list three Manchester acts were featured in an international fifteen: Delphic, Hurts and Everything Everything.

On the face of it Manchester music is in rude health. That endless conveyer belt of bands that manages to combine selling truckloads of tunes with an obstinate northern artfulness is as strong as ever.

There’s Elbow grabbing all the awards, with genuinely moving music. There’s the Ting Tings quirkily churning out hits and Doves quietly selling out arenas, while the Courteeners sharp guitar action packs out the 10,000 capacity Manchester Central and puts an album in the top five.

Each band is making its music on its own terms and loads of people are buying into them. That’s pop perfection.

But where are the iconic frontmen?

Where's the new Ian Brown, Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Noel Gallagher and his kid brother, Sean Ryder and Mark E Smith? The larger than life mavericks who each defined a huge swathe of the sweaty pop consensus with their vastly differing characters. These were the sort of people who spoke for a generation. The sort of people whose every interview was a battlefield of great quotes and era defining remarks, the sort of people whose wardrobe, way they walked, and every follicle of their hair defined their generation.

I mean, Guy Garvey of Elbow or Jimi Goodwin of Doves are great and there is a lot to be said for their modesty and talent, but they are not icons – in the mould of Morrissey or Brown. And that’s probably exactly as they would like it.

Maybe we are living in the post icon age in Manchester. Maybe in the internet era everyone knows far too much to fall for the feet-of-clay hero routine. Maybe Manchester has become a city where no-one dare stick their head above the parapet.

Perhaps the closest we have these days to a rent-a-quote musician is Liam Fray from the Courteeners. His early run-ins with the music press were littered with the kind of quote aggro that Noel Gallagher made his own while capturing something of the twinkly eyed wit of prime time Mozza.

James Cook - Delphic

So while some Manchester bands are bigger than many of their ancestors they aren't right in the face of the nation's consciousness. They make great records but don’t take part in the cultural battlefield, they fill stadiums but don’t cause pub arguments, they make music on their own terms but they are not the iconic shapeshifters that stalk the pop landscape.

This could be a good thing - maybe now it really is just about the music. Still you kinda miss the fierce wit of Morrissey versus the world, the exhilarating swagger of Ian Brown, the endless soap opera of Oasis and the mesmerising charisma of Ian Curtis or Sean Ryder’s hipster cool.

Yet we could just be in the calm before the storm. There's a whole new tide of Manchester bands ready to take up the reins of national notoriety. In the BBC's Sound of 2010 list three Manchester acts were featured in an international fifteen: Delphic, Hurts and Everything Everything.

And there are others too coming through the bowels of the local scene like Dirty North, 1913 or Fraser King - who certainly have a loose cannon charismatic frontman.

What's certain is that a situation today might have reversed in months and one of the frontmen in these outfits might be charming and alarming the nation in equal measure.

Delphic (with frontman James Cook) are perhaps the front runners, despite the fact they expressly want to be a world removed from Liam Gallagher and his belligerence. Still they have all the qualities needed to make a Manchester mark; there's the Kafka-esque everyman look of early Joy Division, they are sharp, cool and hip and they sound great. As a young band they don't need to do any talking yet. Their music has the right euphoric/melancholic balance that has been the hallmark of all great Manchester music for decades and their videos are darkly imaginative works of genius.

They are also the first UK group to breakout in 2010 proving like, New Order did all those years ago, the journalist's worst nightmare - that the music speaks for itself.

Perhaps if we wait long enough the next mouthy Manc icon is just round the corner.

You can listen to a Delphic interview and music here, to a Hurts interview and music here and a Everything Everything interview and music here.

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

AnonymousJanuary 27th 2010.

Ian Brown ... Morrissey. I'm miserable enough thank you.... maybe Martin's new boyband will help bring a smile to my lips

JonquistJanuary 29th 2010.

Good piece. This is a great time for Manchester music

AnonymousJanuary 29th 2010.

Good point, well made. It feels like there is an alarming number of career bands out at the moment just in for the $$$.

Where are the huge personalities that make everyone sit up and bloody well listen? I tell you where they're not - in our charts.

newyJanuary 29th 2010.

Never mind the blokes, How about a decent rock and roll frontwoman? There hasnt ever been any!! I nominate myself.....watch this space Mancunia!!!!

CarnationsAugust 23rd 2010.

Try Andrew Boland from Carnations



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