Reissued and Revisited: Manchester North of England (Cherry Red)

Oct 30, 2017 Web Exclusive By Frank Valish Bookmark and Share

Manchester North of England is more than just a box set. It's a history lesson. At 7 CDs, each with over 78 minutes of music, Manchester North of England is an exhaustive exploration of independent music out of Manchester from 1977 to 1993. The discs are ordered chronologically, with each taking on a two- to three-year period. Over the course of its 146 tracks, Manchester chronicles a detailed history of forward-thinking Manchester music from punk's heyday to when Britpop began to take the world by storm.

The set begins at the most perfect of places, Buzzcocks, and a demo of "Breakdown" from the band's Time's Up bootleg. Much of disc 1 features melodic punk, but also includes the odd poetry of John Cooper Clarke, the melodic silliness of Jilted John's "Going Steady," and a young Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) fronting Frantic Elevators. Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" surfaces at track 16, the band being showcased here as part of a greater whole of Manchester music in the late '70s rather than the messianic be-all, end-all it has often been viewed as since.

Aside from the jubilant power pop of Any Trouble's "Yesterday's Love," most of the second disc of this set is all manner of post-punk, an eccentric mix beginning with The Fall's "Rowche Rumble" and including tracks like The Mothmen's avant garde noise "Does It Matter Irene?," much of which can be a difficult listen. Disc 3 chronicles 1982 through 1985, starting with New Order's "Temptation" and ending with Graham Fellows' "Love at the Haҫienda."  Nico's one single with The Invisible Girls is included, as is the jazz of Swamp Children, the a cappella styling of Jane, and the electro dance of Quando Quango. Of the entirety of Manchester, these second and third discs are the most eclectic and, at times, challenging. But they are a statement as to how truly experimental and boundary pushing the Manchester scene was at the time.

The fourth CD of the set is the run-up to the "Madchester" scene of the later '80s, and it finds Manchester largely moving back into melodic territory. James makes its debut here, with "Chain Mail" from its debut JIMONE EP, as does Inspiral Carpets, with "Garage Full of Flowers" from 1987. Elsewhere, Thirst features a post-Blue Orchids Martin Bramah, The Man from Delmonte is featured for its jumpy pop "Drive Drive Drive," and TOT brings an electro-danceability.

Disc 5, subtitled "24 Hour Party People," begins with Happy Mondays' song of the same name, but not all here is dance-y rave music. The Morrissey-esque "Skin Storm," by Bradford, the pure pop of Too Much Texas, and Morrissey himself, with "The Last of The Famous International Playboys," are included. Disc 6 finds the set edging into the '90s, starting with The Stone Roses' "What the World is Waiting For," and including standout tracks by bands Dub Sex, The Train Set, and Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr's Electronic. The disc also features some stellar old-school rap, including MC Buzz B's forgotten 1989 cut "How Sleep The Brave."

And the final CD of this monstrous set finds the '90s coming into full swing, with The Charlatans' "Sproston Green," The Adventure Babies (the last band to sign to Factory Records), Kill Laura, which almost sounds like a precursor to mid-'90s pop punk, and "Space Face" by Sub Sub, the band that became Doves after its studio burned down in 1996.

Manchester North of England ends then at the cusp of a new era, with the 1993 demo of Oasis' "Columbia."  Things would not be the same. Throughout this set a singular history is put forth. Being a regional one, most of the tracks herein will probably not be familiar to the average Yank. But this is what makes Manchester a study. One will read through the accompanying 92-page book, complete with essays and detailed track information for each disc, and discover more than one might have ever dreamed. Your new favorite missed band (or more likely, several) will be found. Endless wormholes of further exploration will be spurred. It may sound silly to suggest that such a mammoth box be a jumping off point, but it will be, as one takes any of literally hundreds of new paths down the streets of Manchester.

Where this set ends, Britpop begins and, in the Oasis track that ends the compilation, you can glimpse the future. But in Manchester North of England, you can hear where it all came from.



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