“Most of all, I love Manchester. The crumbling warehouses, the railway arches, the cheap abundant drugs. That’s what did it in the end. Not the money, not the music, not even the guns. That is my heroic flaw: my excess of civic pride.” – Tony Wilson.
That is a “Heroic” quote taken from 24-Hour Party People and, contrary to his civic pride claim, the true focus of the film, Tony Wilson himself. The film is an indulgent, tedious “celebration” of the Manchester scene throughout the 1980’s and Wilson’s not insignificant part in it. I can forgive the indulgence, all art is indulgence, it’s the parochial assertions of a man in the perpetual depths of a midlife crisis, desperately trying to seek favour in a generation and class not of his own by pandering to their worst instincts, that offends me.
Put simply, parochialism does not belong in music. It’s a cliché of course, but music really is an international language, borne out in cultures beyond each other’s influence. In my eyes, it is criminal to assert football terrace politics to something so much bigger.
Now that is not to say that musicians should subscribe to some wallpaper paste expression of multiculturalism in a bid to show how international they are. In fact, most evocative music is inspired by its locality. So, what differentiates the evocative from the parochial?
The best example I can think of is from another city in the North West of England, Liverpool.
Strawberry Fields Forever is a song dripping with nostalgia, belonging and wonder. I’ve never been there, but feel as if I know it intimately. Lennon essentially invited the world to a joyful place, partly of his making, and I can picture it as vividly as I can places from my own childhood.
Ferry Across the Mersey, on the other hand, paints a picture of an island, a place where you are not invited. It’s an expression of the previously mentioned “Civic pride” that borders on the cult and feels small, grey and grubby as a result. “Cause this land’s the place I love – and here I’ll stay,” is not a celebration, it’s nostril flared posturing. It is hard to imagine Gerry and the Pacemakers are talking of the corner of the world as conjured by Lennon.
In a bid to show his Punk credentials, Tony Wilson often used to like to criticise Rick Wakeman, but I find it ironic that a man who played on Life On Mars was brought back down to earth by a man who lacked the imagination to leave the crumbling warehouses of other people’s misery.