Manchester, UK: From the Sex Pistols to The Smiths - Sounds of Manchester walking tour

"Before the '70s, we didn't really have a music scene here," says Ed Glinert, tour guide and music writer. "In the '60s, the best Manchester had to offer was the Hollies."

But then the Sex Pistols performed at the city's Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 and everything changed." They were awful," says Glinert. "And that's what spurred the Manchester scene on. Local bands formed, thinking, 'We can do better than that.'"

The Sex Pistols' loss of face was Manchester's gain, for what happened next was an extraordinary surge of musical activity that stretched through the 1980s and 1990s.

At the heart of the late 1980s "Madchester" era was the Hacienda, a nightclub owned by Factory Records and housed in a dilapidated old warehouse on the Rochdale Canal.

It is that fabled club that inspires The Hacienda Years, a walking tour conducted by New Manchester Walks.

Glinert lived in Manchester during that frantically creative period and over the next two hours he takes us through the great city's streets, pointing out its musical highlights.

From the contemporary Home arts venue, with its restaurants and incongruous statue of communist philosopher Friedrich Engels, it is a short walk to where the Hacienda, a hotspot of acid house and rave music, once stood. Then it's past the warehouse location where Joy Division rehearsed, and the spot where the Boardwalk club hosted the debut of Oasis in 1991.

The Hacienda is now apartments looking on to the picturesque canal. Manchester's industrial decline in the 1970s gave birth to its over-achieving music scene, and now a new prosperity has driven out the grungy venues. The Hacienda itself closed in 1997, saddled with debt and plagued with problems involving drugs and violence.

For Glinert though, it seems like yesterday. "I wasn't there the first night the Hacienda opened, but I was on the second night," he says.

Advertisement

The inscribed steel panels that run along the side of the building tell the Hacienda's story, referencing famous performers including New Order, Boy George, Simple Minds, the Pogues and the Stone Roses. Even Madonna performed here before she was huge.

We watch a narrowboat making its way through the cleaned-up ex-industrial waterway ("Forty years ago you couldn't use the canals," says Ed), then make our way east to the Ritz. This 1920s relic is the only old-fashioned ballroom left in the city, and was the site of the Smiths' first live gig in 1982.

The central city is scattered with plenty more of these musical footnotes: a record shop where the Smiths' Morrissey once worked, the venue where the Sex Pistols played their legendary awful gig, and the former Free Trade Hall where the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan performed. It was here in 1966 that Dylan was booed for going electric, says our guide, with one of the audience shouting "Judas!". Tough crowd.

Though the tour focuses on the last two decades of the 20th century, one of Glinert's most interesting tales concerns the 1960s. In that decade, Manchester was dotted with so-called beat clubs, where people enjoyed the music of black American artists, such as James Brown and Marvin Gaye, who hardly received any airplay in Britain. Manchester's police force didn't like the drug scene associated with the clubs, and closed them down, including, in 1971, the pioneering Twisted Wheel, which had started in Lincoln Square, a plaza dominated by a statue of US president Abraham Lincoln.

"How ironic is it that this freer of slaves stands in a place which celebrated the music made by descendants of slaves?" asks Ed.

The city's musicians had the last say. The 1990 Happy Mondays' song God's Cop made fun of the moralistic police chief who campaigned for the closure of venues such as the Hacienda.

Manchester's music, like its ever-changing home town, refused to go quietly.

TRIP NOTES

Tim Richards was hosted by Cathay Pacific, Visit Britain and Marketing Manchester.

MORE

traveller.com.au/manchester

visitmanchester.com

FLY

Cathay Pacific flies from several Australian cities via Hong Kong to Manchester. See cathaypacific.com

STAY

The Midland is a grand historic hotel in the centre of Manchester with rooms from £107 a night. See themidlandhotel.co.uk

TOUR

The Hacienda Years tour costs £10 a person. See newmanchesterwalks.com

Comments