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Madchester

An Odd Appreciation of a Subculture

By Kendall Defoe Published 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 7 min read
Top Story - December 2023
43
Madchester
Photo by Surya Prasad on Unsplash

Do you remember Madchester? Maybe I am getting too nostalgic in my old age, but I have been thinking about that very brief gap of time when the city of Manchester was the focus of most of my attention, at least as a musical and cultural force. For a city with so many different bands and sounds in its history, it might seem strange to just pick one moment, but I am, as I said, nostalgic…and old. And I know that many of you have commented on how you like to hear about musical moments on my page. So, here I go again…

*

“I wrote for luck.

They sent me you.

I asked for juice.

You gave me poison.

I made a line.

You formed a queue.

You tried it all on.

There’s nothing else you can do.”

(Wrote for Luck – Happy Mondays)

Not exactly the Beatles or Nick Cave, is it? Yeah, lyrically, the bands were pretty weak. Nothing sung, or maybe “recited” and “bellowed” are better words for it, stands out. What interested me more was the music and the sounds that came together, fused, clashed, came apart, and fed into each other as this moment in musical history grew and grew.

This began in 1988… There is some dispute about this, but I think that ’88 was the year when things took off and my ears turned to England’s great Northern sounds until the early '90s. I had visited the country in that same year (see the link here), but I must confess, I knew nothing about what was happening beyond England’s great Southern region. London had its own sound, and there were other noises coming in from abroad that were new and exciting (Björk, Public Enemy, various other indie bands, etc.) And I was not having the best of times with the relations I was with (I was a fourteen-year-old pain in the ass; my relative was a control freak who tried to make me carry a small and fragile statue in my luggage – don’t ask). I was focused on London. And then I came back home…

What the hell?

Who were these people, and what were these groups up to?

I came home at the end of August and started school…and my ears had been totally and completely adjusted. I was listening to more rap music than ever before, and dance music began to creep up the charts after many years of hard rock and heavy metal, along with some independent bands that I never thought would be loved (R.E.M. anyone?).

And then I saw her…

Neneh Cherry!

I had never heard a woman like that before. To hear her sing about something called a Buffalo Stance – still not sure what it is; still do not care – and to eventually see her perform on a program singing and dancing…while being quite visibly pregnant was a revelation. And I did my homework: daughter of the jazz musician Don Cherry – “Brown Rice” was a great discovery – and one of the earliest female figures in British punk; resident of Bristol (up in The North); friends with other musicians, like Tricky (soon to be on the charts), Massive Attack and Portishead…and I was hooked. And I kept up the research.

If Bristol could do it, maybe there was something in the water up there, especially in their close neighbour.

Now, this is not to say that I knew nothing about Manchester or its sounds. All the great beat groups from the sixties (Freddy and the Dreamers, The Searchers), and then the fantastic sounds of late-seventies (The Buzzcocks, The Fall, Joy Division – and should I point out that punk first gained a real foothold outside of London because the Sex Pistols were booked to play an unbanned concert by future members of the certain above-mentioned groups). Into the eighties, I drifted away from that sound for a while – New Order was not enough to pull me back – and it was years before I finally listened to the Smiths (a friend loaned me “Strangeways, Here We Come” and I worked my way backwards). So, I was intrigued when I kept finding out more about places like Factory Records (hello, Tony Parsons), The Hacienda…and the drugs, dancing and clothes.

…And the band names: Inspiral Carpets, 808 State (kind of revealed the source of their sound with this one), Stone Roses, Happy Mondays… Could you really guess what the bands were like with monikers like those? They were as unique as their names and I still feel a lot of affection for what they brought to the party. But I notice now that I am not so enamored of the ones that were popular at the time. Stone Roses were all over the British press before their album came out, and quite frankly, it did not do much for me (“I Wanna Be Adored” was fine; “Fools Gold” was much better). Primal Scream seemed the next big group that should have made it…and did not do a thing over here (I have much more respect for them now). Instead, I was drawn to the Inspirals (their motto was “Cool as F**k”; asterisks included...sometimes), 808 State (“Ninety” and “In Yer Face” were in my Walkman-ride-to-school collection), A Guy Called Gerald (“Voodoo Ray” should be studied and analysed by anyone interested in what a DJ and artist can do with the right technology), and more than any of the others, Happy Mondays. Seriously, how did a band that incompetent and drug-addled manage to produce so many records that were really weak in retrospect, but seemed exciting and different at the time (even a late release like “Yes, Please!” suckered me - and Factory Records - and my ears)? They reminded me of what a punk band could be…if that band did not really consider instruments important, and just wanted to dance and take drugs and have sex without the rock and roll. They still make me nostalgic, and they were the only Madchester group I had any merch for (where did that long sleeve shirt go?)

Why am I thinking of this tonight? As some of you know, I had been promising to finish this up for quite some time…and then I lost a close friend from my past; a past where she played a role in what I listened to and enjoyed (she was that first person to introduce me to the Smiths). And it is also the end of another year in one month. This is the moment when we all read about the top lists of music, movies, people, places, and other things that should probably never be on a list. Nostalgia and memory will not leave anyone alone at this time of the year.

There is also another fact that I cannot avoid: most of you reading this have probably never heard of most of these groups, not even the beloved Ms. Cherry. And I refuse to let this movement be forgotten and superseded by something like Cool Britannia (that was the cultural moment that followed the end of Madchester and gave us a truly dull group like Oasis). Those late nights listening to my imagined trip to the Hacienda and parsing lyrics like these should not be forgotten:

“Son, I’m thirty.

I only went with your mother ‘cause she’s dirty.

And I don’t have a decent bone in me.

What you get is just what you see, yeah.”

(Kinky Afro – Happy Mondays)

True bards of the age, folks…

Tony and his '24-Hour Party People' stand in (see that movie?)

*

Thank you for reading!

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You can find more poems, stories, and articles by Kendall Defoe on my Vocal profile. I complain, argue, provoke and create...just like everybody else.

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Kendall Defoe

Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page.

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Comments (27)

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  • Rachel Robbins3 months ago

    Moved to Manchester in 1987 and like to think just by my being there it got cool. (I’d moved from Sheffield which had a cool moment in the early 80’s with Human League, Heaven 17 and ABC, so I have form in making places cool)😉 Lovely bit of nostalgia.

  • Paul Stewart3 months ago

    Love love loved this. Love that era of music, love the fact you mentioned Bristol music and Neneh Cherrry! Well done on a fine Top Story, Kendall! Manchester was and still is a breeding ground for creativity just like Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol and of course London! Did I say I loved this? Lol!

  • Syeda Umama3 months ago

    nice

  • Frankie Martinelli3 months ago

    My city 💙

  • mona sadeghi3 months ago

    I am the author of articles in the field of civil engineering and architecture. I am happy to read it https://wheon.com/sustainable-infrastructure-the-future-of-civil-engineering/?__cf_chl_tk=uaLRpgBZ6N_DOq6KAv.2ItO35vt3d3DfZxTQJkBBPOo-1697393913-0-gaNycGzNEHs

  • Teresa Renton3 months ago

    Ooh what a trip down memory lane! I was lucky enough to have grown up in Manchester in the eighties. Hacienda was a frequent haunt. Saw Orange Juice there! Great times!

  • Naveed 3 months ago

    Amazing job! Keep up the outstanding work—congrats!

  • Scott Christenson3 months ago

    That's quite an impressive list of bands on wikipedia (My hometown of about the same population only has 1 minor rock band)!. "Bands that have emerged from the Manchester music scene include Van der Graaf Generator, Oasis, the Smiths, Joy Division and its successor group New Order, Buzzcocks, the Stone Roses, the Fall, the Durutti Column, 10cc, Godley & Creme, the Verve, Elbow, Doves, the Charlatans, M People, the 1975, Simply Red, Take That, Dutch Uncles, Everything Everything, Pale Waves, and the Outfield. Manchester was credited as the main driving force behind British indie music of the 1980s led by the Smiths, later including the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and James. The later groups came from what became known as the "Madchester" scene that also centred on The Haçienda nightclub developed by the founder of Factory Records, Tony Wilson. Although from southern England, the Chemical Brothers subsequently formed in Manchester.[161] Former Smiths frontman Morrissey, whose lyrics often refer to Manchester locations and culture, later found international success as a solo artist. Previously, notable Manchester acts of the 1960s include the Hollies, Herman's Hermits, and Davy Jones of the Monkees (famed in the mid-1960s for their albums and their American TV show), and the earlier Bee Gees, who grew up in Chorlton.[162] "

  • Phil Flannery3 months ago

    I loved this. Anyone so excited about music, even music i have no opinion about, is always great to find. I get nostalgic about music too. I think it's an age thing for me. I was offered to travel to England in '87 and I declined. I wonder how my musical tastes might have changed if I'd gone. I'm glad you shared this. Have a great Christmas.

  • Brenton F3 months ago

    Assumes the Buffalo Stance Brilliant piece KD!

  • Donna Fox (HKB)3 months ago

    This was great Kendall, although I am not familiar with the majority of the bands you spoke of this still gave me pause for some self reflection. You had me going down my own nostalgic road, remembering my musical journey and how my taste evolved and I appreciate that! Congrats on Top Story! 💚

  • Annie Kapur3 months ago

    Congratulations on your top story! <3

  • JBaz3 months ago

    Back to say congratulations

  • Sid Aaron Hirji3 months ago

    never heard much about this-only knew of soccer team

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Great article. I heard of about half of them. Brings back some memories. Congrats on the TS.

  • L.C. Schäfer3 months ago

    I always forget Stone Roses were fron Manchester 😁

  • Caroline Jane3 months ago

    Love this!!! I was born in Manchester. Whoop! Going to read this more later.. only skim read... want to soak in the nostalgia (emphasis on the 'a' obvs.) ❤️

  • Celia in Underland3 months ago

    Super interesting read- enjoyed it and love Neneh Cherry! Didn't realise she was the daughter of Don Cherry🤍 Congrats on TS 🤍

  • Always been a punk fan. Especially from across the pond. You mentioned so many good bands in this. Really enjoyed the read!

  • I would like to know about the small and fragile statue please 😁

  • Nice retrospective, though it's not really my style of music. Enjoyed the article & the sense of nostalgia.

  • Hannah Moore3 months ago

    I loved in Manchester for about 5 years in the late nineties/early naughties. After the hacienda closed, and was bought by a housing developer, we had a big party there. I was sitting an exam the next day, but decided to go. The plumbing was off, the toilets were a catastrophe, but somehow we had power. We ended up besieged by the police (obviously this was not a legal situation), and I found myself trapped in this party, due to sit an exam the following day....with the professor who's exam I was sitting! Fantastic night.

  • Shirley Belk3 months ago

    Very well written. Love your passion for music.

  • Lana V Lynx3 months ago

    This is really cool and informative.

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    Kendall, this is my era too. Madchester was a truly wonderful time in British music and I still view the songs that you've mentioned with love and have them on playlists. Personally, I have different views to you about the lyrics of the Happy Mondays - I like them and think that they have some depth. I think they are representative of the band, where they come from and what they were into. Drug-addled - maybe but there's something to them, nonetheless. I love The Stone Roses! I am the Resurrection by the Stone Roses is, like Fools Gold, a timeless piece which I hope will be played into the future and recognised for the musical masterpiece it is. The music that came out of Bristol too- masterly. A truly unique sound, mournful and orchestral in a way, using modern synthesised sounds. It was raw and unlike anything that had gone before. I would say that it is more south west than north as in British terms, it is a long way from both London and Manchester. Britain is a small island but the identities of different areas are very distinct - it is strange like that! And Screamadelica! What a record. Oh man. Such a time of musical diversity. I'd like to thank you for the trip (no pun intended despite the drug fuelled times of Madchester!) down memory lane and I hope you don't mind me citing my opinion. I think that that is Steve Coogan standing with Tony Wilson too who is an excellent comic actor who you may know? I had a Factory records t-shirt which my mum now wears to cook in. I'm not sure if she was ever a Madchester fan!

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