I Seem to be Developing a Bit of a Crush on Manchester

I may sound like I work for the BBC, but if anyone asks me, I do tend to tell them that I am not really all that English.  My mum was born and raised in Moss Side though, which is one of the scummier parts of Manchester, and I lived in the city myself for a year apiece at the ages of seventeen and twenty-four, so if I am actually from anywhere in England in any meaningful sense, then it is probably Manchester.

I’ve always harboured a sort of simmering resentment for the place though, in that unfair way you do when your life is shit for all sorts of reasons and it ends up rather unreasonable reflecting on where you are living at the time.  I’ve been through this all before on the Manchester Podcast, but I’ll rehash it here quickly, just to explain myself a little.

The first time around was my first year of university.  Compared to everyone around me in Vienna and Singapore, where I was raised, I was really quite English.  I liked English and American music, I supported Manchester United and I visited England quite regularly to see my family in Manchester.  When I actually moved to England for the first time, however, I found it didn’t really work like that, that I wasn’t very English at all, and promptly endured a year of pretty severe culture shock.

The second time around I had been distracted for a year after graduation by accidentally becoming a restaurant manager, had been offered a design internship in Milan, only for that to fall through and for me to find myself stranded in Manchester again, flat broke, working in a pub and having a very hard time of getting the job for which my degree had allegedly prepared me.  This led to a few too many conversation which went roughly like this:

“What do you do for a job then?”
[I look around myself in a confused manner, as if the fact that I am standing behind a bar, pouring drinks and then demanding money in exchange for those drinks should make the answer to that question somewhat obvious.]
“I’m a barman.”
“No, I mean as a real job.”
“I am a bar man.”
“But surely you’re far too well-spoken and intelligent to be just a barman!”
“Well, you’d think.”

It was shit, but I did listen to some fine music while I was there.  Here are a couple of songs, one from the first spell and one from the second:

James – One of the Three (buy here)
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/James-OneoftheThree.mp3]
Yo La Tengo – Last Days of Disco (buy here)
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/YoLaTengo-LastDaysofDisco.mp3]

Anyhow, after my shite experiences living there have tainted my memories of Manchester for the last seventeen years, things have slowly started to change.  A few years ago I discovered Red Deer Club and Humble Soul, two of my favourite independent record labels in the UK.  Why, I am not sure, but for the last year or two I have just been bumping into one cool Manchester music enterprise after another, and suddenly I find my negative associations with the place starting to evaporate.

Firstly, I came across Cloud Sounds, now my favourite podcast, and the blogs Folly of Youth, A New Band a Day and Pigeon Post.  As well as being good in their own right, all of these lovely people have been incredibly supportive of what we’re up to here as well.

Secondly, Ruth from Fat Northerner kindly invited me to take part in two Unconvention events, one in Macclesfield, where my dear friend Tom Smith is from, and one in Salford, where United and stabbings are from.  Around the same time I went to last year’s In the City as well, so I ended up spending a fair bit of time in Manchester last year and honestly, I had a blast.

So with my good relationship with the city almost entirely restored, I now also seem to be finding all sorts of interesting music stuff happening there too, and have ordered a pile of vinyl from small labels in Manchester recently.

The above picture is the vinyl starter pack from Sways Records, which just dropped through my letterbox this morning, and I can’t wait to get stuck into it tonight.  I bought this for the debut single by The Louche FC, which can be heard below.  I first heard these guys on a Cloud Sounds podcast, and am trying to get them up to Edinburgh for a live show sometime soon.

The Louche F.C – Motorcycle Au Pair Boy by sways

I’ve also just received Suffering Jukebox singles from Milk Maid and Manchester’s current A&R darlings Brown Brogues, and have been playing them loads recently.  Brown Brogues are playing SXSW this year, and because they make a right old racket I might actually be able to persuade Mrs. Toad to go and see them.

I Just Don’t Know by brown brogues

Also, Static Caravan sent me through a whole pile of awesome 7″ aural pleasure recently as well – help yourself here.  I found them by searching out the debut single by The Maladies of Bellafontaine, and ended up with a pile of other records as well.

And finally, Debt Records is the home to the likes of Red Tides (whose lead singer – I think – is absolutely lovely – I accidentally bumped into her upstairs at Fuel Cafe in Withington, while she was doing some embroidery or something, if I remember – this whole thing has been bit random) and Louis Barabbas & the Bedlam Six who are, of course, playing this week’s Ides of Toad gig at Henry’s.  Debt Records’ ethos is to embrace live performance, focussing on good gigs in interesting places, as a way of reacting to an environment where in order to become popular recorded music is becoming more and more boring.

So apart from all these interesting projects which I have happened across in the last year or so, what I’ve found really interesting has been the self-image of Manchester’s music scene.  A certain friend of mind has dismissed it as being ‘full of fucking sneering hipsters’, and given the city itself reminds me heavily of Glasgow, I think I always thought of Manchester as fashionable hipster haven.

But when I told one of my friends there that Edinburgh is good to work in because all the ambitious fashion whores tend to fuck off to Glasgow sharpish, which makes it hard to make progress here, but at least tends to mean that the people who remain are interesting and stubborn and not focussed on celebrity or stardom, their response was ‘Oh right, a bit like Manchester is with London then?’

And I suppose I’d never thought of it that way before. I’d always thought of Manchester as somewhere cool, somewhere to kind of envy, as a lot of other Edinburgh people think of Glasgow I suppose.  I do forget that no matter how much you achieve, especially in something as status-orientated as the music industry, there is always someone more successful to cast envious glances towards.  So next time we Edinburghers whinge about Glasgow, maybe we should just stop whining and be grateful we aren’t as isolated as Aberdeen.

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