Monday, January 20, 2003

Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and canals

"The Happy Mondays are one of Manchester's most successful exports. Other exports from Manchester include crime, poverty and arrogance" - 'Rock Profiles'

"No, I forgot, you're from Manchester - cotton and guns!" - Alan Partridge

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I hated Manchester. A large part of it was down to the whiny nasal accent and swaggeringly arrogant self-importance of Oasis, as adopted in the mid 90s by hordes of teenage tossers from Dundee to Dover. Another contributory factor would be that in October 1998 I got punched in the face on my one and only visit to Rockworld (never mind the fact that I'd taken it upon myself to take the piss out of some halfwit Durst-a-like and his gaggle of nu-metal gonk associates). The Smiths and The Happy Mondays had passed me by, and the city struck me as a grimy smoghole, with the pus-filled boil that is the Arndale Centre stuck right in the middle of its fuck-ugly face.

Well, things change. Not all things, I should add. I still wince every time a good night at an indie disco (that sounds horribly quaint and Belle-And-Sebastian-esque, sorry) is blighted by the Stone fucking Roses. And I still live in the hope that some higher being will strike down Fish-Eyed Ferguson and all his damned minions for the psychological and emotional torment they inflicted upon myself and the good burghers of Newcastle in the latter stages of the 1995-96 Premiership season. But I can confess to, y'know, quite liking the place now. It's something that's come with having a girlfriend from Bury and friends who have forced The Smiths onto me, not even fervently believing but KNOWING it was for my own good. I'm not quite sure how to explain it, except to say that repeat visits seem to allow the city to begin to exert some kind of supernatural hold over you. It's got to the point that, on my last visit, I found myself at indie club Fifth Avenue nodding along to 'Pounding' by Doves and thinking "This wouldn't sound as good anywhere else in the world".

All of which brings me to '24 Hour Party People', the story of Anthony Wilson and Factory Records. I've seen the film and have just finished reading the book (essentially, Wilson set loose on the film script in the hope that it might emerge as a vaguely readable and coherent novelisation). Whereas a couple of years ago Wilson's inflated sense of civic pride would have stuck in my throat, now I can just about stomach it. So, the story: cotton, guns, crime, poverty and arrogance certainly feature heavily (well, not so much the cotton). At heart it's the cockle-warming and frequently comical tale of a bunch of bumbling idiots armed with zero idea how to run a successful business enterprise but with an unbridled collective passion for music and the desire to make Manchester a real cultural force. We see their first tentative steps as a label, gig riots, Ian Curtis's suicide, New Order rising out of Joy Division's ashes, the Ryder brothers kicking pigeons, the foundation of the Hacienda, drug-taking on a monumental scale with The Happy Mondays, and Wilson's stoned meditations on broccoli, all woven into a narrative that encompasses appearances from the likes of The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols, The Fall and Elvis Costello.

Ultimately the fragile empire crumbles - but their failure is glorious. The minute the film credits finished, and the minute I read the final sentence, I wanted to listen to everything Joy Division ever recorded. Wilson comes across as the endearingly misguided buffoon he undoubtedly is, but what the viewer or reader cannot escape is the realisation that Wilson and Factory have left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. And, lest we forget, without Anthony Wilson there would be no Alan Partridge. The world is a better place.

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