An Extract From John Robb’s Manchester Music City 1976-1996

An excerpt from John Robb's latest book, charting Manchester's musical history through interviews with the people that made it

Manchester: A City United


Well, sort of! Punk, Joy Division and Factory were still the main story in the city, but after Ian Curtis’s suicide Joy Division were brought to a sudden halt, and in the meantime new projects and new bands were emerging. This was an interesting crossover period – the key players in the next big surge of Manchester bands were running around town making connections.


Richard Boon started the Beach Club. He wanted to bring people



Between the closure of the PSV/Russell Club and building of the Hacienda, the bunch of active misfits around New Hormones thought we – or the city – needed a space for regular counter-culture insurgency or just somewhere we’d like to hang out, with people we’d like to hang out with. It turned out to be Oozits in Shude Hill [one of the oldest parts of the city centre, and once Manchester’s Fleet Street]– a gay club with a bar on each of two floors. So we started the Beach Club.


I knew it as Oozits; it was a horrible firetrap sort of place! I used to go with Pip from the Distractions and it was full of butches and old-school lesbians like in The Killing of Sister George. Manchester was such a grim city then. Shude Hill was a dark Victorian maze of streets.


The idea was to have cult films in the first-floor bar area: the likes of Reefer Madness and Tod Browning’s Freaks, for instance; and upstairs, live music with the rounding-up of the usual subjects: Eric Random, Ludus, ACR, Swamp Children, Vini Reilly, etc., plus non-Manc bands. The Beach club was the live debut of New Order, who were unnamed at the time and topping a Factory bill with the Names and Wally Van Middendorp’s Dutch outfit, Minny Pops; New Order were sounding like Kraut-traum-rockers Popol Vuh, as it happened. The name of the club, natch, came from the Situationist Paris ’68 slogan: ‘Underneath the paving stones, the beach.’


People like Liz Naylor were very much around, with Cath Carroll as the Glass Animals; they were a terrifying pair in their sixties suits. I liked them a lot. Around that time I must have got to know Morrissey as well, because he lived in Stretford on Kings Road. I lived near Stretford and he came round to my house a few times to listen to records.


We would walk around Manchester dressed outrageously. Cath wore a cape! When we went back home to Harpurhey gangs of youths would stone us, and we wondered why we were being attacked by these horrible youths (laughs). Then for some reason I got pally with Jon Savage and he got me writing for Melody Maker. I was completely useless but he made me go and review a gig. I had no sense of self-motivation or worth. I was a depressed teenager. I didn’t have any get-up-and-go but somehow I ended up

writing for Melody Maker.


In 1979–80 there was a place in Piccadilly called Portland Bars. That’s Where me and our kid and Matt and our mates would watch bands. It was the Boardwalk* of the day, with all kinds of unknown bands like Clive Gregson’s Any Trouble. Four nights a week there was live music on. We went to the Apollo for Adam and the Ants, Teardrop Explodes, Human League.


Joe Moss is an important face in Manchester. He came up with the slogan ‘On the eighth day God created Manchester’ and he was the first person to get on to flares. Joe told Lloyd to make the trousers wider and wider before Phil Saxe got on them. I would rush over to Joe’s place on Portland Street in my half-hour lunch break and he would play me Little Richard and Phil Spector records. Joe . . . said, ‘Why don’t you come and work with me?’ I was like, ‘Can I do that?’ and I was given the basement of Portland Street, which Joe had filled full of secondhand clothes. I would get in at 11. Me and Joe would talk about John Lee Hooker for an hour and I would say, ‘I’d better open the shop.’ Joe would say, ‘Hang on a minute, let’s have another cup of tea,’ so I would sit there for another half hour talking about Elvis Presley or about the band I was trying to get together. To this day I don’t think there’s ever been a better boss.


At some point we started managing Ludus and we were rubbish at it. I guess Linder liked the idea of two weird lesbians managing her! Through Linder we were introduced to Richard Boon and I would run around gigs taking lots of speed. I remember Morrissey as some morose figure who was always [hanging] around Linder in an overcoat . . . In a sense Morrissey and Linder were quite similar; he was very switched on and seemed to be learning fromher. Me and Cath spent a lot of time in Newton Street. Nico would always be on the couch; we thought she was some strange woman in a sheepskin coat. She was living in Whalley Range at the time taking smack.

MELANIE SMITH (editor of Mudkiss)

My initial experience of Pips nightclub in Manchester was in 1981. It struck me as an adult fantasy playground, exotic creatures decked in wild and wonderful outfits. The first room I entered was the Bowie and Roxy room with its silver DJ booth on the lower level. It was a small cave-like room with paintings on the wall of Bowie and Ferry, the seating being alcove areas. It could be quite cliquey, though. In here you’d find the Ferry guys, Numan and Bowie clones in various stages of Bowie’s career. The dance floor was usually cleared so the Bowie clones could do their thing, dancing in an animated wild-gestured style. As I recall there seemed to be five rooms in total, all playing different



There is a tendency to think clubs started with the Hacienda, but there were a number of clubs already around, like Pips with its Bowie Room. That was where some of Joy Division went in the seventies. It was another network where people would meet in a room full of narcissists.

BRIAN CANNON (sleeve designer for Oasis and the Verve)

When I found out about New Order and the Fall it made a huge difference that they were from Manchester. It really clicked that you didn’t have to be from Mars to be in a band.


I was the first person to lay a brick down on what has now become Sankeys.* Then it was Decibel Studios and it saved me from being thrown in the nick. I was there on New Year’s Eve to get free studio time.


We got connected with Tony Wilson and the Biting Tongues† got signed to Factory, but things didn’t really improve for us. When we did a gig we were 100 per cent committed and there was that idiotic, joyful enthusiasm to make music. I always liked the idea of being the non-musician, the sound manipulator. I liked the idea of that role and I carried it forward from the Biting Tongues. I always liked the idea of being Snakefinger more than Jimi Hendrix. It’s about organising sound; it’s not about middle eights, verses and choruses.


In ’80–’81 my friend John Kennedy persuaded Bernard Slingsby, who owned Bernard’s Bar, to let us use his nightclub Slingsby’s on Wood Street. Renaming it the Exit, we set about trying to get a Manchester scene going on. i-D and the Face came down, Spandau and Wham. I was the DJ, pre-Smiths Johnny Marr would play funk and soul tunes . . .


Andrew was someone I knew in Wythenshawe in 1976 and he very publicly decided he was going to be a hairdresser. At that time that meant saying, ‘I’m a big poof,’ which he was not; the graffiti went round Wythenshawe saying, ‘Andrew Berry is a big poof,’ but he was super hip. Andrew had four sisters and he knew how girls ticked. He knew they liked a guy who could give them great hair. Andrew was a Roxy kid and a Bowie kid. Later, when the Smiths were forming, he was this very exotic creature who helped me earn dough by DJing with him at the Exit club just off Deansgate. We would play what became known later as rare groove.


When I started hairdressing in ’78, there wasn’t that much going on as far as clubs were concerned. The best club at the time was Deville’s just off Albert Square. It was hard to get in because it was a gay club and gay and straight clubs were separate then. All the best looking girls would go there. People were slightly older and seemed to have money. They drank cocktails and danced to Giorgio Moroder and Chic in a haze of dry ice and strobe light, whilst sniffing poppers and dressed in Fiorucci. It was the closest thing to Studio 54 we had.


You can’t underestimate the importance of Andrew Berry. He was one of the DJs at the early Hacienda and he knew everybody. He still does. He furnished Bernard Sumner with his haircut, which was very important, and then he would do mine and eventually Morrissey’s. He decided that his salon was going to be in the dressing room of the Hacienda . . .

One of the crucial things Andrew brought in was that he played absolutely up-to-the-minute electro at the Hacienda – up-to-date, early electro. That’s why in ‘How Soon Is Now’ the harmonic lick is from Lovebug Starski (Bronx-born electro/hip-hop pioneer): that was me getting one up on the journalists, putting a lick from a hip-hop record into a Smiths song. All the Bobby O releases were amazing stuff. Andrew, from the late seventies, had been very very involved in the Manchester gay disco scene. He brought into my life an awareness of what was going on in the gay scene in Manchester, whether it was Bobby O records or the fashions . . .

Very importantly, Andrew brought me into gay clubs, and very important to me and the Smiths was a club called Manhattan run by this fantastic guy called Dennis. It was a little club, and me and Andrew would go in there at seven when there was no one in there. We would go up to the DJ booth and play the records we wanted. We liked gay clubs – the people who ran them were funny and there was frankly no alternative apart from Corbieres; that was all right, but aside from that it was clubs and pubs, which meant football fans and dickheads.


Heroes on King Street (entrance at rear) was another gay club but this time more hardcore – a real clone club, San Francisco, almost like Skin Two, slightly fetishy, druggie, a bit seedy with rent boys and old men. The music was amazing: DJ Les Cockell who had come from the northern soul scene and had got into hardcore hi-energy. It was open every night and was always packed. I met Diana Dors there! And Quentin Crisp.


When the Hacienda opened, Andrew quickly became one of the DJs. He was really into the electro scene coming out of New York. He had everything on the Ze label, like Suicide, James Chance, Was (Not Was), Lydia Lunch, James White and the Blacks, the Contortions, Mars.


When The Hacienda opened, we were fucked. No one came to the club any more so we had to find a new venue. John Kennedy was amazing; he could talk anyone into anything. We took over a club on King Street and called it Berlin. It was small, a recently refurbished basement where George Best hung out during his seventies champagne years. We would go to the Hacienda midweek to watch the gigs and on Friday and Saturday DJ at Berlin.

‘The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996’ by John Robb is out now, published by Aurum Press.

John Robb is a proud Northern music journalist that cut his teeth writing for Sounds in the 70s, and today can be seen donning his well coiffured flat-top mop on the telly, as well as singing in his punk ‘n’ roll band, Goldblade.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today