Manchester - North of England

Various Artists: “Manchester – North of England”

“This is Manchester,” Granada Television and Factory Records’ Anthony H. Wilson once observed, “we do things differently here.” He wasn’t wrong.

A collection of all the important music to have come from Manchester since the birth of punk would fill a small-to-medium sized room. Even a 7CD set like Cherry Red’s Manchester – North of England (subtitled “A Story of Independent Music, Greater Manchester 1977-1993”) can only hope to scratch the surface of the UK’s most consistently innovative and influential music scene. This mammoth set takes an early Buzzcocks demo as its starting point – the band’s Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto were behind the 1976 concert at the Free Trade Hall where the Sex Pistols played to an audience of 39 future punk legends and Mick Hucknall – and plots a 146-track course through punk (Slaughter and the Dogs, the Nosebleeds), post-punk (Magazine, Joy Division), early ’80s “new pop” and C86-era “jangle-pop” (A Certain Ratio, James), acid house and the “Madchester” scene (Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets) to the genesis of Britpop (Electronic, The Charlatans and, inevitably, Oasis).

Of course these major players can’t be ignored, but there’s plenty of room along the way for acts who play an important part in the story but didn’t quite reach the same level of success – the Salford Jets, the Durutti Column, Quando Quango, the Bodines and Intastella are all present and correct among a deluge of acts who never achieved the recognition they deserved. Lest things should become too self-congratulatory, of course, the ever-present Mancunian sense of humour permeates the set with contributions from John Cooper Clarke, Jilted John, The Fall, The Freshies and even Big Ed and his Rocking Rattlesnakes’ baffling D’You Think I Look Like Elvis Presley?.

The sheer size and scope of this set could be overwhelming, but with the addition of a fascinating booklet including track notation by Mick Middles and a foreword by Mark Radcliffe (who, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, features on disc one with one of his many bands She Cracked) the package is a constantly surprising and engaging journey – for every familiar track there are at least three gems you’ve never heard before, and it’s astonishing to realise that all this happened in the space of just sixteen years. Manchester has so much to answer for.

9/10