Made In Manchester
Issy Murray gives a comprehensive run down of Manchester’s greats and their music.
Through the ages, Manchester has been a breeding ground for some of the best music ever produced. With such a rich musical history what would a rundown of some of the most iconic Mancunian bands look like? Wonder no longer, for here is a list spanning from the 60s to present day, of my favourite bands hailing from Manchester.
THE HOLLIES (Formed 1962)
When I mentioned that I’d be writing on Manchester music, this band was the first thing my dad replied with. Originating in Salford, The Hollies were a five-piece band within the 60s – mid-70s British rock genre (more specifically British beat) and were unique in their development of three-part harmony vocal style.
BEST SONG: ‘The Air That I Breathe’
A fantastic ballad with beautiful harmonies and soaring guitar playing.
BUZZCOCKS (Formed 1976)
One of my favourite punk bands, Buzzcocks are from Bolton. Their name was created after forming members Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto read a newspaper headline: ‘It’s the Buzz, Cock!’, ‘Buzz’ meaning excitement and ‘Cock’ northern slang for friend. Devoto left the band in 1977, but the band pushed forward and is still going despite the death of Shelley in 2018.
BEST SONG: ‘What Do I Get?’
Although ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ is an obvious classic, ‘What Do I Get?’ epitomises the band’s punk spirit. A more recent favourite of mine is ‘Wish I Never Loved You’, released in 2007.
THE FALL (Formed 1976)
A post-punk group formed in Prestwich, The Fall’s specialises in being hard to pin down sound-wise. The group’s composition was constantly changing (they had a total of 66 different members with only founder and vocalist Mark E. Smith remaining a constant) and so was their style, which makes for a very interesting listening experience.
BEST SONG: ‘Lost in Music’
Okay, this is probably not their actual best song but if you’re looking for an introduction to The Fall, this cover of a disco classic is a great place to start.
JOY DIVISION (Formed 1976)
Joy Division were formed in Salford and are another band frequently referenced as being part of the post-punk movement. In fact, the band formed after members Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook attended a Sex Pistols gig. The band’s music is often felt to reflect vocalist Ian Curtis’s own struggles with depression. Curtis also suffered with epilepsy and sometimes had seizures mid-performance. Tragically, Curtis committed suicide in 1980.
BEST SONG: ‘Isolation’
Closely followed by ‘She’s Lost Control’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
NEW ORDER (Formed 1980)
The remaining members of Joy Division became New Order after Curtis’s death. Their fusion of post-punk with a more electronic sound meant they became incredibly popular and are now widely acknowledged to be one of the most prominent bands of the 1980s.
BEST SONG: ‘Regret’
A toss-up between this and ‘True Faith’, ‘Regret’ wins only because it never fails to make me feel happy and in the mood to dance.
HAPPY MONDAYS (Formed 1980)
A rock band formed in Salford, Happy Mondays are often credited in leading the way in creating the ‘Madchester’ sound, which bridged the gap between the independent rock scene and that of the new rave culture that was sweeping the UK.
BEST SONG: ‘Loose Fit’
I first discovered this song amongst my dad’s old records and though I was very confused on first listen, I’ve grown to love it.
THE SMITHS (Formed 1982)
The Smiths are easily one of the most famous bands originating in Manchester, despite only spanning five years. You can find them at the intersection between doom and gloom and dark humoured lyrical genius, creating beauty in bleakness. Although in recent years lead singer Morrissey has disappointed many by voicing support for far-right politics, Johnny Marr and his magical guitar playing will forever be iconic.
BEST SONG: ‘I Know It’s Over’
One of my all-time favourite songs, I could listen to this sad but still amusing song all day.
JAMES (Formed 1982)
Another band heavily associated with ‘Madchester’, James is still together and creating music despite having a brief break between 2001-2007.
BEST SONG: ‘Laid’
This song has an upbeat, verging on crazy feel which is what makes it one of James’s best hits.
THE STONES ROSES (Formed 1983)
The Stone Roses debut and self-titled album released in 1989 was an instant hit and rightfully so. Ranging from garage rock to more psychedelic stuff, and even going into more electronic sounds, they became a landmark in British sonic history. Despite their second album Second Coming was receiving much less critical acclaim and deciding to dissolve the group in 1996 after several line-up changes, the buzz around their much-anticipated reunion in 2011 was not dampened.
BEST SONG: ‘I Wanna Be Adored’
I hate to be basic, but sometimes classics are classic for a reason.
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS (Formed 1989)
Known for their insane visuals as well as their electronic music, this duo (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) are integral in the big beat genre within 90s pop culture.
BEST SONG: ‘MAH’
Having seen this particular set first-hand, I can vouch that it is equal parts terrifying and brilliant. It’s well worth looking up on Youtube.
OASIS (Formed 1991)
Many, if not all of you will have heard of Oasis. The band’s music, though very popular, was often overshadowed by the rivalry between the two key figures in the band: brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher. After 18 years, seven studio albums and several bust ups later (one involving a cricket bat over the head) the band finally split in 2009. Both brothers have gone on to have solo careers, but arguably have produced nothing as memorable as Oasis’s original songs. It’s worth noting they did many covers during their time, some good (see ‘I Am the Walrus’), others terrible (see ‘Heroes’).
BEST SONG: ‘Acquiesce’
I like Oasis particularly for their influence and legacy in terms of Britpop culture and while some of their songs may be a bit overplayed, ‘Acquiesce’ is a lesser-known track that still embodies Oasis.
THE 1975 (Formed 2002)
Previously called such names as Drive Like I Do, Bigsleep, and Talkhouse, I’m sure you recognise this band’s current name. Formed out of four teenage best-friends, they’re known for oscillating around the indie-pop genre, with each of their albums typically centring around a different sound, or array of different sounds. They’ve proven to be very polarising amongst critics, especially frontman Matty Healy who is sometimes labelled as pretentious, something he has himself owned up to being.
BEST SONG: ‘Surrounded by Heads and Bodies’
Being one of my favourite bands it was difficult to narrow down just one song, but I chose this one because of its sense of intimacy and vulnerability.
THE TING TINGS (Formed 2007)
An indie-pop band from Salford, The Ting Tings are a band from my childhood that I hold close to my heart. Their best known and debut album We Started Nothing hopefully holds some singles you will remember having heard.
BEST SONG: ‘Shut Up and Let Me Go’
EVERYTHING EVERYTHING (Formed 2007)
This band is unique in that it falls into the art rock subgenre, which involves a more experimental, avant-garde perspective on rock which results in a very diverse musical style.
BEST SONG: ‘Regret’
BLOSSOMS (Formed 2013)
Originating in Stockport, Blossoms was formed in 2013 and is an indie-pop band that often incorporates synth into their sound which is reminiscent of songs of 80s past.
BEST SONG: ‘The Keeper’
A happy-go-lucky, catchy song that seems to embed itself in my brain for days on end after I hear it.
PALE WAVES (Formed 2014)
Created when Heather Baron-Gracie met Ciara Doran while studying in Manchester originally under the name Creek, Pale Waves are on the same label as the 1975 and are often cited as having a similar sound. Similar though it may be, Pale Waves is also influenced by bands like The Cure and Baron-Gracie’s vocals are distinctive…
BEST SONG: ‘Karl (I Wonder What It’s Like to Die)’
A really touching rumination on what it’s like to lose a loved one.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Manchester’s claim to musical greatness and only includes 16 bands that I personally love (note the absence of Simply Red, Take That, Elbow). It also doesn’t include the countless talent solo artists Manchester has produced. In particular, Manchester is a key city in terms of rap, hip-hop and grime artists like Bugzy Malone, Aitch and IAMDDB. Whichever way you look at it, Manchester’s rich musical heritage goes someway to dispelling the myth that it’s grim up north.