Popular music of Manchester

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Manchester's music scene produced successful bands in the 1960s including the Hollies, the Bee Gees and Herman's Hermits. After the punk rock era, Manchester produced popular bands including Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths and Simply Red. In the late 1980s, the ecstasy-fuelled dance club scene played a part in the rise of Madchester with bands like the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays. In the 1990s, Manchester saw the rise of Britpop bands, notably Oasis.


Pop groups of the 1960s and early 1970s[edit]

Manchester and its surrounding area had an impressive music scene before 1976, with groups in the 1960s including the Hollies, the Bee Gees, Herman's Hermits, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and Freddie and the Dreamers. Barclay James Harvest formed in nearby Oldham in 1966 and 10cc in Stockport in the early 1970s. Top of the Pops was also recorded by the BBC at this time in the city.

Manchester bands Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and Herman's Hermits topped the American Billboard charts consecutively during mid-April – May 1965. In 1965, all three bands were numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the US Billboard top 100 for one week. Graham Nash of the Hollies moved to California to become part of the rapidly expanding music scene there. With the exception of Graham Gouldman of 10cc and Eric Stewart of the Mindbenders (who built Strawberry Studios in Stockport, the UK's first world class recording studio outside London), and Keith Hopwood of Herman's Hermits whose Pluto Studios started in the same building as Strawberry, then spent 1977–1987 in the centre of Manchester there was little reinvestment in Manchester from its local musicians who had been successful.

Philomena Lynott (1930-2019), the Irish mother of Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott, ran the Clifton Grange Hotel (on the corner of Wellington Road and Alness Road) in Whalley Range[1] from 1966 to 1980.[2] On visits to Manchester, Phil Lynott would stay with her there, and took inspiration from the colourful 'showbiz' clientele he met who frequented the hotel.[2] The Thin Lizzy songs Clifton Grange Hotel, Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed and The Boys Are Back in Town were inspired by characters and events in the hotel during the period.[2]

The Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall and punk rock[edit]

On 4 June 1976, at the invitation of Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols played at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.[3] In an audience of fewer than 42 people, several key members of Manchester's future music scene were present: Tony Wilson (Granada Television presenter and creator of Factory Records), Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner (Joy Division and New Order), Morrissey (later to form the Smiths with Johnny Marr), producer Martin Hannett, Mark E Smith of the Fall, Paul Morley later to become an influential music journalist and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red.[4] Another influential event was the release of Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP in early 1977 – the first independent-label punk record.

In the wake of the Buzzcocks' release, the old movers and shakers from the Manchester music collective Music Force, who included producer Martin Hannett, Tosh Ryan and Lawrence Beadle, formed a local label called Rabid Records and started putting out singles by local acts like Slaughter & the Dogs (Rob Gretton later to manage Joy Division and New Order was their roadie/tour manager – all Wythenshawe lads), John Cooper Clarke and Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds (whose lineup included Vini Reilly) and they licensed "Jilted John" by Jilted John to EMI records.

The timing of this record company coincided with Tony Wilson bringing the cream of both American and British punk and New Wave bands to the public on his acclaimed late night Granada Television show So It Goes. This meant that Manchester had televised the Sex Pistols long before they appeared on Thames Television with Bill Grundy (incidentally another Mancunian). Unlike other major cities, Manchester hosted The Sex Pistols Anarchy Tour twice at The Electric Circus; and it was these gigs more than the small Lesser Free Trade Hall gigs which really lit a fire under Manchester's assorted musicians and gave them that do-it-yourself philosophy which defined British punk.

When So It Goes concluded on Granada TV, Tony Wilson wanted to remain involved in the local music scene, so he started an event night at the old Russell Club in Hulme called The Factory along with his friends (soon to be business partners) Alan Erasmus and Alan Wise. Deeply Vale Festivals (1976–1979), just north of Manchester between Rochdale and Bury, was the first free festival in the country to introduce punk bands such as Durutti Column, Fast Cars, the Fall and the Drones. The festival was compered by Tony Wilson as a favour to friend and organiser Chris Hewitt. Wilson had been taking a great interest in Rabid Records and its set up.

After working on the research for a Granada TV feature about Rabid, he along with Alan Erasmus and Joy Division Manager Rob Gretton (the Ideal for Living EP had been distributed by Rabid) decided they would do their own version of Rabid Records, but instead of churning out singles and then licensing the album deals to major labels (Slaughter & the Dogs' debut appeared on Decca, John Cooper Clarke was licensed to CBS, and Jilted John to EMI), they would concentrate on albums. The first album following the Factory sampler EP (which included Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, and Od) was Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport.

Factory Records and the post-punk period[edit]

Taking the Industrial Revolution as its model, Factory Records played upon Manchester's traditions, invoking at once apparently incongruous images of the industrial north and the glamorous pop art world of Andy Warhol. While label mates A Certain Ratio and the Durutti Column each forged their own sound, it was Factory's Joy Division who were the most prominent. Other bands that walked through the door opened by punk included the Salford Jets, fronted by Mike Sweeney, and the Freshies, led by Chris Sievey (Frank Sidebottom). There was also the idiosyncratic post-punk of the Membranes

At the same time, and out of the same post-punk of Joy Division combining rock, pop, and dance music to earn much critical acclaim while selling millions of records. The group that would ultimately become the definitive Manchester group of the 1980s was the Smiths, led by Morrissey and Marr. With songs like "Rusholme Ruffians" and "Suffer Little Children", Morrissey sang explicitly about Manchester.


As the 1980s drew to a close, a new energy arrived in Manchester fueled by the drug ecstasy. A new scene developed around The Haçienda night club (part of the Factory Records empire), creating what would become known as the Madchester scene, the main proponents being Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Northside, and the Stone Roses alongside the already legendary Hacienda co-owners New Order and Cheshire band the Charlatans. The history of the Manchester music scene over this period was dramatised in Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film 24 Hour Party People and the life of Joy Division's Ian Curtis was also dramatised in the 2007 film Control.

1990s and after[edit]

Following the Madchester period, Manchester music lost much of its provincial energy, though many successful and interesting acts were still to emerge.

Morrissey, New Order, the Fall, James, and the Verve still continue to garner critical acclaim while Oasis remains the most popular, having played to more than 1.7 million people worldwide during their Don't Believe the Truth tour of 2005 and early 2006. In 2010, Manchester was named the UK's seventh "most musical" city by PRS for Music per head to some bemusement.[5]

Venues of the early 21st century[edit]

Manchester's biggest popular music venue is the Manchester Arena, which seats over twenty thousand one of the largest arena of its type in Europe (largest being Paris La Défense Arena with forty thousand seats), with the Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford's cricket grounds also providing large ad hoc open air venues outside of the sporting season. Other major venues include the Manchester Apollo, Manchester Central (formerly, and informally, known as the GMEX) and the Manchester Academy. There are over 30 smaller venues for signed and unsigned artists of all genres to perform in, ensuring that the music scene in Manchester constantly remains vibrant and interesting. Manchester is also home to Victoria Warehouse, one of the biggest electronic music venues in the country. Victoria Warehouse has been the stage to artists like Hardwell and Steve Aoki, as well as holding the BBC 6 Music Festival in 2014 and Warehouse Project in 2013.

An area known as the Northern Quarter, considered the cultural and musical heart of the city, houses some of the best known of these venues such as Band on the Wall, the Roadhouse and The Night and Day Cafe. Various other venues exist in pubs and clubs throughout the city.

In 2018, Manchester was named the UK's rock and indie capital, largely due to the high number of gigs hosted by the city's small and medium-sized venues. Research found that Manchester Academy had hosted the most rock and indie events in Manchester since its records began in 2015 – and the 5th most in the UK.[6]

Broadcast media[edit]

Granada TV, the BBC on Oxford Road and Key 103 have all played prominent roles in supporting and expanding various parts of the music scene in Manchester. Terry Christian on Key 103 weekday evenings throughout 1988/89 championed the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets, Yargo, and many others, pushing the local Manchester scene into the mainstream in Greater Manchester. The region is now served well by its own local radio shows, most notably via some regular weekly slots on BBC Radio GMR. London based commercial station Xfm Manchester in Manchester has also established itself, delivering a strictly indie diet to the populace and offering regular and effective exposure to local unsigned acts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (staff writer) (17 November 2020). "The bizarre Whalley Range hotel full of "pop stars, magicians, ventriloquists, and other random entertainers"". manchestersfinest.com. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Taylor, Paul (28 February 2011). "Phil Lynott's mother recalls exciting days in Manchester". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  3. ^ "Sex Pistols gig: the truth". BBC Manchester. 27 June 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  4. ^ Morley Paul (21 May 2006). "A northern soul". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  5. ^ Chester, Tim (15 March 2010). "Is Bristol Really Britain's Most Musical City?". NME Magazine. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  6. ^ Ogden, Chris (1 November 2018). "Manchester: the UK's rock and indie music capital". TickX. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  • Crossley, James (April 2011): "For EveryManc a Religion: Biblical and Religious Language in the Manchester Music Scene, 1976–1994". Biblical Interpretation 19 (2): 151–180. doi:10.1163/156851511X557343
  • Christian Terry: My Word, Orion Books, London 2007 (ISBN 978-0-7528-7437-1)
  • Luck, Richard: The Madchester Scene, Pocket Essentials, London, 2002 (ISBN 1-903047-80-3)
  • Wilson, Tony: 24-hour Party People, Channel 4 Books, London, 2002 (ISBN 0-7522-2025-X)
  • McNichols, Conor (ed): NME Originals: Madchester, IPC, London, 2003
  • Middles, Mick, From Joy Division to New Order: The True Story of Anthony H. Wilson and Factory Records, London, Virgin, 1996
  • Robb, John: The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976–1996, Aurum Press, London, 2009

Further reading[edit]

  • Gatenby, Phill & Gill, Craig (2011) The Manchester Musical History Tour. Manchester: Empire Publications ISBN 1-901746-71-2

External links[edit]