Ah Manchester. Lovely Manchester. With its pulsing industrial veins, derelict warehouses, terraced rows and slighty-above-average rainfall, it’s never really been considered a beauty.
Except to those lucky enough to have lived here, of course. Forget Paris, forget London, forget New York. Because beauty’s only brick deep, and once you fall in love with Manchester, you fall hook, line and sinker. You fall for its soul, for its strength, for its sense of humour. Well, with weather like this, you’ve gotta find something to laugh about, haven’t you?
While Manchester may not be everyone’s choice of muse, its ‘personality’ has been time and again immortalised in song by musicians who’ve been inspired by the place in one way or another. From the ‘factory wall’ of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’ to the underground toilet-cum-bar referenced in Elbow’s ‘Grounds for Divorce’, Manchester has been the inspiration for many a song over the years. Here’s Forever Manchester’s pick of some of our favourite songs inspired by our favourite city.
1. Elbow – ‘Station Approach‘
The first track off Elbow’s second LP Leader’s of the Free World describes that familiar feeling of returning home to the city that you love, documenting singer Guy Garvey’s walk from Piccadilly Station along Station Approach: ‘The streets are full of goths and Greeks/ I haven’t seen my mum for weeks/ But coming home I feel like I/ Designed the buildings I walk by.’ One of the band’s most bewitching songs (a grand claim, we know), the track builds gradually into a life affirming crescendo as the singer is reunited with his city, and his love. We also like it when he mentions his mum. Well, that’s always nice, isn’t it.
2. Ian Brown – ‘Longsight M13’
Former Stone Roses frontman, mega-successful solo artist and all round King Monkey Ian Brown has documented his relationship with his hometown in many songs. In ‘Longsight M13’ Brown talks about all the wonderful places and things he’s seen, yet comes back to honours this small pocket of South Manchester with the lyrics ‘Let the stars shine on/ And let her move, move like a queen/ Of Longsight M13’.
3. Gomez – ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’
Perhaps the Southport fivepiece’s most recognisable song and the one guaranteed to invoke a ‘yeah, but that one’s nothing like the rest of their stuff’ from fans, ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ documents a day and evening out in Manchester in which the band ‘Played a bit of football, fell into the union’ (the ‘union’ being Manchester University Students Union which houses the Academy venues), before boarding a train to Sheffield from Piccadilly Station later that night. It’s been said that the song is about a time when the band were studying at Sheffield University and took a trip to Manchester to see Beck – the ‘someone dressed in a suit, looking like a lunatic’ referenced in the song. This may or may not be true. Either way, we like the story.
4.The Fall – ‘Cheetham Hill‘
One of Mark E Smith’s many odes to Manchester’s less salubrious areas, the surly singer captures life, love and unfaithfulness north east of the city centre with lyrics such as ‘Where you going, boy? Are you cheatin’? / Is that why you come from Cheetham Hill? /When you stopped up at the station / Was it an excuse to get away from your wife for the evening?’ Pretty self explanatory stuff, really.
5. Elbow – ‘Grounds for Divorce‘
A huge single for the band from the album that propelled them into superstardom, the familiar ‘hole in my neighbourhood down which of late I cannot help but fall’ from the chorus of this track actually refers to a popular Manchester drinking hole; the Temple of Convenience. This former underground Victorian public toilet turned rock n roll drinking den is located on Great Bridgewater Street, next door to the flat that Guy Garvey was living in at the time. The song was written after the death of the band’s friend, singer/songwriter Bryan Glancy (aka ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’) and Elbow’s Pete Turner said that The Temple of Convenience “was a place to go and think about him, and be miserable.”
6. Take That – ‘Mancunian Way‘
Taken from Take That’s 2006 comeback album Beautiful World, ‘Mancunian Way’ is the band’s only musical tribute to their hometown, and one which sees Droylsden’s Howard Donald on lead vocals. The ‘Mancunian Way’ in question takes on two meanings in the song; as both the traditional ‘ladrock’Gallagheresque walk so often associated with Manchester (We used to walk Mancunian Way/We used to swagger we used to sway) and the elevated city centre bypass (I’m driving home again/ Back down Mancunian Way). They even manage to get in a reference to the famous Manchester weather with ‘I’m gonna bring this town alive/ Through this acidic rain/ I’m gonna come back to life again.’ This lyric prompted us to google ‘Manchester acid rain’ and would you know it, apparently we have the most acidic rain in Europe. God love us.
7. Doves – ‘Northenden’
Another song painting less-than-flattering pictures of life in Manchester’s suburbs, the beautiful, ambling quality of ‘Northenden’ clashes with its less peaceful lyrics ‘The kids are deranged, they love guns and kidnap/ That’s just the way we do things here/ The day dies down not a moment too soon/ Under the Northenden afternoon’. Still, even guns and kidnap aren’t enough to put off vocalist Jimi Goodwin who said at an Oxford gig ‘in some respects I kinda wish I still lived there’.
8. Ewan MacCall – ‘Dirty Old Town’
Made famous by bands such as The Dubliners and The Pogues and therefore sometimes confused with Dublin, the ‘Dirty Old Town’ in question is in fact MacCall’s home town of Salford. The 1949 song describes working class life in an industrial town and dreams of betterment, with lyrics such as ‘I met my love by the gas works wall/ Dreamed a dream by the old canal/ I Kissed my girl by the factory wall/ Dirty old town’. MacColl’s original line of ‘I Smelled the spring on the Salford wind’ was apparently changed to ‘I smelled the spring on the smoky wind’ after a campaign by Salford Council, who were unhappy at Salford being called a ‘Dirty Old Town’. The new lyrics made famous by The Dubliners and The Pogues are now the most commonly sung.
9.The Smiths – ‘Still Ill‘
When he’s not causing mass offence with silly comments in the news and throwing hissy fits on stage, good old Mozza likes to write songs; many of them about Manchester. ‘Rusholme Ruffians’, ‘Miserable Lie’ (‘What do we get for our trouble and pain ?/ Just a rented room in Whalley Range) and ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ all reference Morrissey’s home town, while the ‘Iron Bridge’of ‘Still ill’ refers to the bridge in Stretford off Kings Road where the singer used to live.
10. The Beautiful South – ‘Manchester’
‘From Northenden to Partington, it’s rain/ From Altrincham to Chadderton, it’s rain / From Moss Side to Swinton, hardly Spain’. Talk about pointing out the obvious. Jeez. But it’s not all rain and gloom, as this jaunty lil’ number by Hull’s finest goes on to big up the rainy city with ‘If rain makes Britain great/ Then Manchester is greater’. Hurrah! And anyway The Beautiful South, you’re from Hull. So there.