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Manchester Music - Final Words..For Now....
By Jon Ashley21 December 2012



All (good) things must come to an end...I won’t pretend (nor ever have in fact) to be any kind of guru, but I did and still do love music. Like many people out there I need a tune to help soundtrack my life and break up the dreary machinations of any mundane day.

Hunting for music that inspires, is always a herculean task. It’s also easy to be distracted by the words of modern age prophets and leaders of fashion. The musical underground is as guilty as the mainstream for their emperor’s-new-clothes scenarios.

I’d been friends with Mike Gray for some time and in the early 90’s and we plugged away in pre-internet unsigned bands, begging gigs, paying to play and hand-balling cassette demo tapes to anyone that’d have them. It was a great time but thankless. Venues banned you for not getting enough people through the door, cliques ruled and the live music scene was completely on its proverbial arse ; and at risk of collapsing all together. Don’t get reeled in by all these 21st anniversary venue celebrations – these places were generally empty and riddled with incoherent line ups of desperate bands (and I’m sure many would have placed our efforts into that last category) - these are as much celebrations of survival as they are of success...

As the mid-nineties passed, our band recorded its best stuff on the day the Manchester bomb went off, but by ’97 the (song) writing was on the wall. Mike had become adept at analogue recording on 8 track tapes and I get a bit giddy about dial up internet connections. With some free webspace and a few ideas we decided to try and set up maybe one of the country’s first virtual record labels. We’d both scout, Mike would record and I’d work out what would happen next – although this final bit of the plan was far from clear.

It was difficult and expensive to burn CDs at home, MP3s were only just being recognised as a possible format and those lucky enough to have internet access found it painfully slow – more crucially the invention of the portable MP3 player was some way off. Locally, City Life seemed like the only publication half interested in unsigned reviews, publishing 3 (60 word) demo articles a fortnight – invariably one review would be 'ok', one would be told to try harder and one would be ripped to shreds for the personal literary gratification of the incumbent journalist.

Manchester seemed void of ideas (bar the continuing efforts of the annual In The City convention) but more frighteningly, we were finding it hard to hook up with like-minded people. From 1998 it took a good year of consistent A&R’ing – attending gigs 2-3 times a week, paying on entry and buying demos. As the material began to accumulate I started to post reviews on the label’s fledgling website sovietunion.co.uk. Before we knew it, it was turning into an internet magazine - which I coined ‘webzine’ at the time – I think that caught on...!

We even found our first bands and began recording with them, the most prolific of which were POLITBURO – they weren't long out of school and sounded like a cross between Joy Division, The Manics and MC5 – they struggled then despite our support, but there’s no doubt if their time and place had been now, they would have enjoyed an ecstatic press and major success...time and a place…

I think it’s important to recount this, as the way the site developed wasn't on the basis of a get rich quick, passer-bys looking for a quick buck, junior capitalist opportunity – it was because we were both M postcode Mancunians who loved the city and its music and looked way beyond Oasis, 1986 and instead were inspired by the City's post-industrial days of pre-punk, punk and Factory Records – we’d also been through the mill and knew EXACTLY what it was like for bands and how appalling certain aspects of the local music (and national) establishment were.

Our first efforts to promote the website ended up in the bin at both Piccadilly Records and Night & Day – they didn't know who we were and thought we were ‘in it for something’ and some kind of threat - we'd stepped into an almost Luddite culture (amazing given the city's modern proclamation as a digital city) – why they binned our modest flyers and posters and distanced themselves from this ground breaking initiative I’ll never really know or understand but it did confirm that much of the music in in the city still operated through a clique system – but there we were on reflection, pioneering music reviews on the new fangled internet in Manchester’s musical capital, with doors instantly closing.

Luckily we found like minded people, the Chairsmissing generation, aA, Jay Taylor, Prokult and a whole suite of bands that got us really excited about the Manchester underground - again another story that will be flagged up under 'Chairsmising'...not enough space here !!! (and it is a good story).

At one point it’d have been too easy to give up, but conversely it was just too easy going out there and spotting talent – astoundingly no-one else was doing it and we both enjoyed the whole deal. Before we knew it we’d put out a CD single with Politburo in March 2000 on Soviet Union and then had the mind blowing luck to work almost exclusively with Oceansize for a couple of years, releasing their debut CD EP and taking them on a regional tour – that is also a whole other story...indeed

So a few years in and the Soviet Union site had mushroomed into ‘Made In Manchester’ and then in 2000 into the web domain ManchesterMusic.Co.Uk. In 2002 the website was re-launched as a fully-fledged searchable webzine and article database (very much what you see here) – at its height it began to crunch 4 million hits per month. It’s astounding when you think back – the MEN and the BBC were following in our footsteps and had to employ salaried daytime staff to eventually catch then keep up.

Over the years we’d cobbled together some odd bits of funding, but it really didn't amount to much more than £5-6k over the decade, begged in small pots from various funding bodies and paling into insignificance when compared to a local un-established ‘labels’ audacious £70k publicly funded windfall bonanza that eventually amounted to nothing in terms of changing the city’s cultural landscape. Sour? not really but disappointed we couldn't put that sum of money behind MM- the results could have been amazing and prevented this article... I think we always struggled to sell ourselves, as we were gigging, writing and updating the site, proving the concept and integrity of what we did and didn't have much time for form filling (things like work, family and sleep got in the way...).

There are many firsts from MM – but the tri-part of Webzine, Label and Live Night was a first that became a template for the many that followed. Our live night CHAIRSMSSING (another story again) included regular attendees who would go on to develop this model further for themselves; they and you know who they are...

As we started finding good bands, the scene then began to self-perpetuate through the community we seemed to have facilitated and we eventually found like-minded friends who jumped on-board for key moments in their life – Tom Kirk brought an energy that helped define MM’s move to a more organised web presence. His friend Dave Himelfield became a key member of the editorial staff and from a contributing interest, Ged Camera has probably been our longest collaborator. Cath Aubergine became a critical key figure in MMs direction and especially its live coverage. Latterly thanks must go to David Edwards and Adam Wheeldon for their sterling service to MM and well scribed articles in its final year. There are many more to name and this will be covered in a separate article as I'm really afraid of missing anyone off...

I've had a more recent conversation with Mike and we both agree that like the Chairsmissing nights we should have shut MM at its peak – we’d always had an underlying punk ethic and a mischievous streak. The overall aim really was to prove it could be done and that you don’t need to economically or morally exploit anyone to do it. There was no reason why it couldn't be done on a shoestring as long as your heart can carry you.

I reverted to record reviews in January 2011 and Cath took on a larger chunk of work at the very hefty MM helm, whilst Mike gracefully retired – maybe that should have been the end, but I suppose when you’re in love with something it’s hard to let go.

The world has changed and there’s no doubt that the fast pace of the web, broadband connections and social networking (with its walled garden sub-nets) have sucked the life out of independent communities.

There are just too many tales to tell here and now, but we’ll write more commemorative bits and pieces for posting up here as time goes on...

Personally I just can’t thank Mike, Cath, Dave and Tom enough together with everyone else who has contributed something to MM...what a privilege - and to everyone I've met or worked with - it's been a brilliant part of my life.

I've highlighted a few hurdles and barriers in the piece above - our motto was 'become the media' (stolen from Eno) - I don't hold anything against the outfits that made it difficult or stood in our way - this message is for all those out there who want to do something themselves - basically you need a good idea, time and above all, an undying dedication to make it happen..that last bit is the defining element - anything is possible and if you believe in it it will happen...in essence MM never existed - we had no offices or payroll and it was only ever virtual...all you need is a computer and a passionate love of music...go on, believe...

So time to say goodbye ?

Yes for now, but I’ll be joining as a contributor to Louder Than War and have a few other escapades planned hopefully alongside Mike...so keep ‘em peeled

All I can say is a massive thanks for having us...until the next time...


JonMM








Mike Gray

Mike dropped a note to pass on his gratitude and a non-exhaustive list of thanks - like me he's struggling to recount everyone who's been part of MM - there's just so many - here's his starter for ten....

A Massive Massive thank you for the memories...

...These are the bands and people I remember today - Tomorrow I will remember more....


JonAshleyOceansizeJohnFlahertyPolitburoSonarYenTsujiGiriTHEtidesMarkHartConnieMonomaniaTranselementFiloRadioObsessionGlassGabriellesWishTheFlowTomHingleyJulianDonkeyBoyLisaBrownKieran
JayTaylorJohnRobbLookinLosNachosMissedHerBlissNorthsideRedVinylFurGedCameraAlltheStaffAtTheRoadhouseStarlessAndTheBibleBlackSuperstringTribecaMocoJackieOPolytheneStrangerSonOfWB
AmplifierKevAndJimmyPuressencePaloAltoRichardLynchSovietUnionRecordsChairsmissingTheElectricCircusAllThe PeopleWhoHaveContributedToManchestermusic


Mike Gray - December 2012


Word!

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U2 : NO TAX ON THE HORIZON ...

INDIETRACKS 2008 !...

ITC07 - A NEW CHAPTER ?...

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged Too - A Critique of the Critic...

Opportunism Knocks...

Square Pegs, Round Holes....

BAND AID 20 - It's Christmas record time, and there's every need to be afraid......

TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION AND NOT PETE TOWNSEND'S...

THE KIDS KNOW WHERE IT'S AT? WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THE CITY?...

A and Arse...

Rubbish Removal...

REVIEWS FROM THE DUSTBIN IN THE SKY...

Music IS Dead* / Shit * (* delete as appropriate) ...


Yesterday/Tomorrow

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THE MANCHESTER MUSICIANS COLLECTIVE - Where maybe the past is more contemporary than the present...

THE CHAMELEONS...

The Stone Roses...

Easterhouse...