Manchester draws solace from musical heritage

2017-05-25 12:04

Manchester - "There is a light that never goes out." As the sun set on a vigil for victims of the Manchester bombing, a lone voice drew on the city's deep well of musical genius for comfort.

The lyric shouted by a mourner in the crowd is from a 1986 song by indie rockers The Smiths, just one of the world-renowned bands and musicians that hail from the city, making the attack on a music venue an attack on the city's essence.

Other seminal artists to come from the northwest English city include the Bee Gees, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, 808 State, New Order, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Verve and Take That, bridging generations and genres.

It was at the forefront of the punk revolution in the 1970s, the "Acid House" dance floor movement of the late 1980s and the subsequent "Madchester" scene that fused guitars and grooves to spawn bands such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

DJ Dave Haslam, a resident at the legendary Hacienda nightclub at the epicentre of Acid House, told AFP that the city's independence and working-class instincts were key to its creative fertility and to its fightback against Monday's terror attack, which claimed 22 lives.

"It's always had an independent spirit, sometimes that has been expressed politically through the Suffragettes, in more recent decades it's expressed itself through music," he said.

Manchester was home to Emmeline Pankhurst, who led the Suffragette movement that fought for women's right to vote.

"Its raison d'etre was an industrial power, but that faded away. By the end of the 1970s there wasn't really much in the city; warehouses and unemployment," added Haslam.

"People went back to being resourceful and to having things to express that weren't being heard.

"It's historically a very working-class city, I think that breeds a certain attitude of not really imitating but feeling it's important to say what's real and not compromise."

'Nothing will keep us down'

The city's musical heritage also owes a debt to the literary romanticism brought by thousands of Irish immigrants over the centuries, helping to marry the poetic with the pragmatic.

Manchester and neighbouring Liverpool - also known for its musical history - were the first ports of call for those crossing the Irish Sea.

Some of the city's most celebrated musicians, including Morrissey and Johnny Marr from The Smiths, and the Oasis Gallagher brothers, are of Irish descent.

The city's cotton industry created huge wealth and civic pride in the early 19th century, becoming a hotbed of political and economic reform at the vanguard of free trade, recognised by the city's grand Free Trade Hall.

The building later hosted music concerts including Bob Dylan in 1966, during which a disgruntled punter famously shouted "Judas" as the US folk singer plugged in an electric guitar, and the Sex Pistols in 1976, a gig that The Smiths, The Fall and Joy Division all directly credit for their existence.

The enduring streak of civic pride was evident in the response of the city's musicians to Monday's attack.

Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher posted a picture of a keyring bearing the words "I Love Manchester" along with the caption: "NO WORDS" while Smiths guitarist Marr tweeted the message "Manchester stands together".

A post shared by Noel Gallagher (@themightyi) on

He also performed with Canadian band Broken Social Scene in the city on Tuesday for a poignant rendition of the band's Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.

Peter Hook, responsible for some of the city's most recognisable bass-lines as a member of Joy Division and New Order, told BBC radio that his daughter was at the concert, but was safe.

"I can't imagine what other people are going through today," he said. "The people are very resilient and they go for it - nothing will keep us down."

DJ Haslam insisted that the attack would not break the city's values.

"Manchester's dance floors are known throughout the world for being some of the most fervent and integrated," he said.

"There's an old song called 'One Nation Under a Groove', and that spirit is something people in Manchester really value and will continue to take forward."

(Photos: AP)

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