Professor Steve Redhead discusses the rivalry between Pep and Jose, the absurdities of the English Premier League, the popular culture of Manchester, Northern Powerhouse - and communist football.
Manchester is ‘buzzin’, as the locals would say. With the arrival this summer of the two best coaches in modern world football at Manchester City and Manchester United respectively a new global media circus narrative is being written. Manchester as Football City – Pep and Jose! Roll Up, Roll Up! Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have met before as rivals in Spain with eye gouging and high drama on the daily agenda but I am starting to feel that we ain’t seen nothing yet. The new news story will be framed in terms of the persona of the coaches not the (mostly) overpaid prima donna footballers who rarely disturb their hair gel on the pitch and barely get out of second gear.
Now 24 years old and a great example of Eric Hobsbawm’s idea of invented tradition, the English Premier League (EPL) gets more bloated, surreal and absurd every year and yet its global reach continues apace. But maybe we are on the cusp of a reaction. I am an ex-pat Manchester City fan living in Australia these days but for the first time since I emigrated in 2001 media company Fox has given up on the EPL and concentrated its money on the live broadcasting of all matches in the home grown product of Aussie Rules and Aussie rugby league. Anti-modern football with attitude is starting to pick up adherents all over the world as obscenely priced transfers, player and coach wages, boring styles of play, ticket pricing, policing, transport to away games, safe standing, match fixing, doping and governance have all become major issues for fans. Maybe we will get a future football which is what I have called a ‘dialectical game’ – modern football as thesis, anti-modern football as antithesis and future communist football as synthesis.
Manchester, as the post-industrial city is ripe for this dialectial game of football, so watch this space in the culture. Football and popular music have crossed over in Manchester for decades. Pop goes the City! The first interview done by Pep Guardiola when he arrived in Manchester was not with a sports journalist but with Oasis and High Flying Birds’ singer, songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher, an avid and knowledgeable City fan. The popular culture of Manchester as a whole is taking off but not necessarily in the way that David Cameron and George Osborne perceived it. The Tory buzzword for Northern cities like Manchester in the London-centric UK has for a few years now been Northern Powerhouse - a phrase cynically regarded by those who live in the North West especially when it comes from the mouth of an effete and cold hearted Tory Chancellor like Osborne. Since the Brexit debacle new Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled the end of the phrase, and the policy. From Cottonopolis to Northern Powerhouse? I don't think so. My more appropriate label is Northern Bauhaus and it can be sustained in an argument about the city's popular music history as well as its football history.
Post-war Manchester boasts a rich pop cultural tapestry (football, film, poetry, art, popular music, TV drama) which is unlikely ever to be repeated in intensity in one city anywhere else in the world. The late Tony Wilson always used to answer reporter’s questions about ‘why Manchester?’ with the rather glib point that ‘Manchester kids’ record collections were better’ although he was actually quoting someone else when he said that. Some more substantial factors behind the city’s popular music overdrive have also been offered. One of those reasons is the choice of recreational drugs. Since the 1950s dope and speed (marijuana and amphetamine), some of the cognoscenti argue, gave Manchester its specific globally mobile city culture even though in the mediatised public mind it is Ecstasy (MDMA) which stands out as the drug with which the city is associated for the brief ‘Madchester’ (‘Rave On’ as the Happy Mondays’ Wilson inspired EP had it) period in the late 1980s.
My own personal biography as an academic in Cultural Studies and Criminology and a long time popular music fan throws a light on the argument about the significance of popular music in one city and the various Cultural Studies attempts to capture it. I wasn’t at the Lesser Free Trade Hall at either of the two now historic Sex Pistol appearances in summer 1976 but I do vividly remember walking nervously through Collyhurst to see punk bands, including The Slits and Buzzcocks, at the Electric Circus in May 1977 just as massive flares gave way to straight legs and long hair mutated into spikey. Many histories start on the edge of this change in Manchester music and wider youth culture – Tony Wilson himself, an undoubted influence on all that followed as co-owner of Factory records and the Hacienda, was still going to see local rock bands like Sad Café (with Paul Young, later of Mike and the Mechanics, on vocals) in this period even in the wake of the Sex Pistols and all that ‘gobbing on life’ as Manchester's Albertos sang it. Iconic Salford punk poet John Cooper Clarke was reading ‘Beasley Street’ in Cheshire folk clubs just to get heard. Solstice, a local (non-punk) rock band, played alongside the Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. They are still gigging, whereas the Sex Pistols imploded thirty years ago. And they don’t do butter commercials!
One contemporary way of understanding music cities is through ‘creative industries’ debates and their refraction in the history of Cultural Studies. Popular music is seen to be one of more than a dozen industries classified as creative industries and subject to ever changing local, national and international cultural policies. Always interested in intellectual life, however obliquely, Tony Wilson, after a while, cottoned on to these debates and briefly fell, until he died in 2007, for the ideas of one of the gurus, US management theorist Richard Florida, in the mid 2000s. The idea of ‘the creative class’ in Florida’s work helped to explain to Wilson what the previous anarchic thirty years had been about. And what the future might hold for his beloved Manchester and surrounding hinterland. For Wilson, young creatives, or creative entrepreneurs, abounded in the North West and he even went as far as to write a Florida-influenced report on the ‘post-industrial’ Pennine region and its creative potential. ‘Please don’t think the idea of name-checking Richard Florida is redundant for poor old East Lancashire - artists are already moving to Bacup, and Ramsbottom is already a desirable suburb for young creatives in Manchester’, stated Tony Wilson at the time.
Even before this, in the early 2000s, Wilson had been an enthusiastic participant at the inaugural meeting in the city centre of The Independents, a group of Manchester-based small entrepreneurs (from stall holders to music label owners) inspired by the theories of creative industries and the knowledge economy by British writers like Charles Leadbeater and Kate Oakley. In 1992, ironically just before the bankruptcy of Factory in the November of that year, Tony Wilson joined the board of the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture (MIPC) which I had set up with my colleague Derek Wynne at Manchester Metropolitan University. In the next three years he gave his time freely to us despite the enormous impact of Factory’s financial troubles and was always keen to plug into the MIPC debates about what I have called over the years ‘mobile city cultures’, especially where popular music and Manchester were concerned. The notion of mobile city cultures explains the longevity of Manchester as a ‘music city’. Whereas most music cultures in second tier cities (Liverpool, Seattle, Dusseldorf, Dunedin) have, as Wilson himself noted, their ‘three years in the sun’, Manchester maintained its pole position for at least the period 1976-1996.
The fact that Quando Quango’s bass lines were picked up by black Chicago house musicians in the mid-1980s and then recycled back to Manchester on the dancefloor of the Hacienda is one example of mobile city cultures. A DAT (Digital Audio Tape) belonging to Manchester exile Pete Carroll (Shaun Ryder’s cousin) passing between Manchester and Perth in the late 1990s expanding the roster of Western Australian labels Offworld Sounds (OWS) and littleBIGMAN is another. Another explanation for Manchester music’s sustainability is, though, the anti-Factory thing. Factory wasn’t a major, it was an independent. But in the context of Manchester and the North West, Factory was as good as a major. Its very existence, as well as its dominance in the media, caused resentment locally and the small labels which popped up from time to time over the years (Dave Haslam and Nathan McGough’s Play Hard, Paula Greenwood’s Playtime, for instance) were formed in a counterculture ‘against’ the Factory line. ‘Outside’ influences were important, too, implicitly questioning the one dimensional Situationism of Factory and expanding the range and reach of what Manchester music meant.
Tony Wilson’s famous theory of ‘thirteen year’ cycles in popular music also had its genesis in Manchester music history. The theory went that The Beatles (who often played in Manc beat clubs) in 1963 represented one musical upheaval, punk in 1976 represented another and acid house in 1989 yet another. The second Summer of Love in 1988 slightly altered this historical sweep but you kinda knew what Wilson meant when he expounded the theory. I remember directly asking Tony Wilson in a Manchester hostelry in 2002 ‘well, it’s time, where is the next big thing?’ and being met by an exasperated splutter! It certainly didn’t occur in Wilson’s lifetime and maybe it just ain’t going to happen anyway, anywhere. For a while The Ting Tings, from Salford, Everything Everything and Bernard Sumner’s Bad Lieutenant post-New Order project were interesting foragers but hardly the revolution in popular music culture predicted by Wilson’s enchanting linear theory of cultural change. However, pop hope always springs eternal. The Tens (2010 onwards) began with a solid suggestion that bands like Delphic, whose first record Acolyte was released to critical acclaim as well as a second album in 2013, were in the vanguard of a new New Wave, their modernist fonts and single-word song-titles allowing Delphic to be sons and heirs of New Order, while their ravey bleeps and beats recalled the city’s role in the acid-house movement of the late 1980s.
Then in 2012 young Manchester filmmakers Serious Feather produced a ninety minute documentary film, entitled Manchester: Beyond Oasis, documenting, in a diverse coverage of forty bands and singers from Manchester currently playing, the vibrancy of a new era of the Pop City of Manchester. New New Order and Peter Hook’s The Light roared back with theor own projects which are still lighting up the whole world. The post-industrial Sharp Project (named after Sharp the electronics company on whose abandoned premises the project stands), a creative industries project par excellence including work space in shipping containers, sound stages and cutting edge technology, also began and started to grow.