Book: Sounds Northern
Chapter: 1. Manpool, the Musical: Harmony and Counterpoint on the Lancashire Plain
Since 2015 Liverpool has been designated a UNESCO ‘City of Music’. Not so its neighbour Manchester, which has nonetheless been hailed in the press as the ‘capital city of music’.
They remain globally valued as two of the chief cities identified with the development of popular music in the second half of the twentieth century. As de-industrialised centres seeking new engines of growth, they have invested in these cultural reputations in order to attract for themselves tourists, university students, the conference trade and foreign business. Yet across the past decade numerous claims have been made in a range of journalistic outputs that Liverpool and Manchester are cultural rivals. These claims appear to be predicated principally on sport and music, key meeting points of commerce and leisure.
There are certainly differences between the two conurbations – the industrial site of Manchester grew at the interstices of three rivers while Liverpool evolved as an Atlantic port. Yet the major transport initiatives in the area (the 1830 Manchester-Liverpool Railway, the 1894 Manchester Ship Canal, the 1934 East Lancs Road, the 1976 M62) were constructed in order to accelerate connections between the two cities. Most recently urban strategists such as Andreas Schulz-Baing have fused the diarchy by describing them as a potential polynuclear metropolitan zone, a megalopolis. From this the businessman Lord O’Neill has popularized the union as ‘Manpool’.
Taking this as its cue to correct the music history of the ‘adversary’ cities, this chapter examines three diverse examples of musical figures associated with one city who played in vital, but forgotten, part in life of the other. Firstly, Tony Wilson (1950-2007) who was associated with Factory Records and the building of the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, but started his career in Liverpool (the 1979 festival ‘Zoo Meets Factory Halfway’ will be referred to). Secondly, Roger Eagle (1942-99) who was associated with Liverpool post-punk club Eric’s but also Manchester’s Twisted Wheel (1960s) and The International (1980s); Eagle played a leading role in converting post-punk Frantic Elevators into soul-based Simply Red. Thirdly, the Griffiths brothers (The Real People, Liverpool, 1988–), the Gallagher brothers (Oasis, Manchester, 1992-2001), and the formation of 1990s ‘laddism’. Other cases are cited.
A critique of contemporary and historical literature, on the music scenes of the region, is offered. Examples of co-operation, reciprocation and solidarity remain hidden when ethnographic assumptions about separate ‘scenes’ are not tested by examining the common patterns of behaviour between sites of activity. Actors and events that are vital to the stories of both cities get consigned to one. Where the cohesive factor is music, there is a tendency to underestimate the extent of the patterns of interactions. The problem is that of the spatial relations between the administrative frame and the functional terrain of flows and exchanges. This chapter challenges that ethnography which cannot see the wood for the trees.