Monster and Nasty from Dancing Tarantulas with their friend Dubwise-er. Otherwise known as the 336 Charles Barry Crescent Crew. Photo by Richard Watt.
The protracted demolition of the Victorian back-to-back houses during the notorious redevelopment of Moss Side and Hulme in the 1960s and 70s form my earliest memories of the area. Of course as a young ‘un I was blissfully unaware of the implications of this developers’ wet dream, which for many, quickly disintegrated into a nightmare of urban sprawl and social dysfunction. For what seemed an eternity there were never-ending vistas of destruction and derelict wastelands all along the Princess Road corridor and over to where the old Paulden’s once stood. There were newly erupted mountains of rock and rubble springing up across the landscape, alongside smouldering bonfires piled high from timbers ripped from those old homes. Mixed in with all this was the permanent noxious smell of the brewery that permeated the air and caught your breath if the breeze happened your way. On almost every second Saturday, down the narrow streets, alleys and ginnels, the heavy footfalls of the marching hoards would echo out as the zealous crowds gathered religiously to watch their local heroes do battle at the home of the Cool Cats, Maine Road.
In the closing days of the 60s, I recall tagging along with elders on a day out to watch hippy-type bands play to that generation up on the big stage in Alexandra Park. I was more interested in feeding the ducks, though - quite right too! But it would be here, a decade or so later, that I would be listening to live bands playing benefits for Rock Against Racism and other worthy causes such as Anti-Nuclear and Anti-Apartheid rallies. It was a time of teenage musical and political awakening. Such gigs were common in the latter days of the 70s and early 80s, and culminated in the rise of the 2 Tone movement, which, with its multiracial and socially aware platform, seemed to capture the essence and spirit of the time. With Misty In Roots alongside The Ruts, Aswad alongside The Au Pairs, we sported our badges and expressed our support for diverse and worthwhile causes, whilst being musically spoiled. There were also the annual Moss Side Carnivals at the same location, with the odd international headliner, and more often than not a heavy police presence to boot.
“…so much things to say…” as Robert Nesta Marley hypnotically intoned.
And so living in an area that was synonymous with reggae music, and like many of my generation I was drawn to much of what it had to offer, as it seemed to have a purpose and depth beyond the obvious chart fayre. The 70s had predominantly been a time of long-haired, bare-chested, and for the most part clapped-out rock god types, accompanied by histrionic guitar noodlings. This new music seemed to turn the general rulebook inside out and upside down with its bass heavy, spacious sound and latent drive behind every second and fourth beat; and typically on the B-sides, echoes and reverbs galore to fill out the soundscape. You could ‘feel it in the one drop’, if you were lucky, and most did.
It had always been the case that pretty much every year there’d be at least one token ska/ reggae hit in the UK charts, from the days of Prince Buster and Andy Capp, up to Susan Cadogan, Junior Murvin, Althea and Donna and beyond. These brief moments of reggaedom and its culture just whetted our appetites to follow down the path to the roots of the music. And so we did, with Moss Side and district being the place to see it, hear it and feel it.
Although the area was a hive of musical activity and creativity it was mostly of the spontaneous and short-lived kind, and so much of it went undocumented and unrecorded, especially from the black musical perspective of soundsystems and Blues.
Except for the odd blimp on the radar from the likes of Sweet Sensation, (mirrored much later by pop sensations Cleopatra), most of it passed into a faded, untold memory. Much of the vibrancy was lost, though it left an indelible mark on the musical pulse in the heart of the city, and exponentially added to the city’s musical nous.
Hopefully the artefacts and articles contained in this online exhibition will tap into that rich seam. Soul, funk and reggae certainly influenced the latent explosion of all things Manc, especially the Madchester and House scenes when, with ‘a rush and a push the land was theirs’. No doubt a plethora of bands and projects that were spawned in and around the Oldham Street area were directly or indirectly influenced by some of reggae music’s approach and sensibilities on their many and varied electronic diversions and excursions. It all certainly helped put the city in pole position across the globe for a couple of dizzying years. I won’t be going there though as it’s a story well and truly told.
There are many flyers, posters and playlists in the exhibition, particularly from The Russell (Factory, P.S.V., Caribbean Club) circa mid-80s on, that reflect this cross-pollination very well. You knew when you entered that club and were greeted by a large notice stating ‘No Drugs Allowed’ (albeit posted upside down!), that things may not be quite as they seemed. There was music ranging from U Roy to Gang of Four, from Horace Andy to Public Enemy; all of which was enthusiastically devoured by the same fervent and appreciative crowd. It was a wholly healthy and wonderful mixed bag of goodies to suit all comers and tastes.
On a musical tip, the mid-to-late 80s in that club was a particular highlight, with sounds like Tenor Saw’s ‘Ring The Alarm’ (over the classic ‘Stalag 17’ riddim; big chooooon!), Nitro Deluxe and Stacker Humanoid all doin’ the business. The homegrown Ruthless Rap Assassins, A Guy Called Gerald and MC Buzz B were on high rotation, while Finley Quaye, Frannie Ewbanks and spoken word maestro Lemn Sissay, were up and coming. It seemed a particularly productive time to be young, gifted and black in Manchester. All this was livened up by dance troops like Foot Patrol and She Devils mingling with the crowd, and the music was kept bumping along nicely by MCs aplenty, popping up around the dance floor, with only the tell-tale glow of the red LED light to give away that the guy bustin’ moves next to you and the guy chatting on the mic over the bottom end, just happened to be one and the same. It helped whip the vibe along nicely, having a mic chanter move through the wavy, ravy crowd.
Of course in earlier times the club had been put on the radar when, on the weekends, it was renamed The Factory for the purposes of promoting up-and-coming New Wave acts. As was often the case, local reggae bands would play alongside them as, for a time at least, there seemed to be some common ground with this sometimes cantankerous and militant new music. Witness local band Harlem Spirit’s staunch 7” classic ‘Dem a Sus’ - a clarion call about the archaic and discriminatory ‘Sus’ laws of the time, enforced in this particular locale by a Chief Constable with a Messiah complex. The lyrics would have rung true ‘for the people of the ghetto….’ across any inner city in the UK at that time. When Steel Pulse made it onto the Electric Circus ‘Short Circuit’ album, it was no surprise at all.
As is common knowledge, Mr. Wilson, a news reporter on the local Granada station, was involved in The Factory nights at that club, and probably the one and only time I ever saw a live segment on the telly about the workings of a soundsystem with accompanying ‘toasting’, was when he had Jamaican legend Tapper Zukie doing a guest appearance on his Friday evening ‘What’s On’ slot, circa ’79. It was probably yet another groundbreaking first for the show and went a little way in exposing what was still quite an underground musical culture.
It was probably in that venue, more than anywhere that I developed a particular passion and appreciation for soundsystems and reggae music, as it’s where most of the Jamaican bands played. Although it was nominally a social club for bus drivers (many of whom happened to be migrants from the West Indies; P.S.V. = Public Service Vehicles), it really was better suited to being a nightclub, with its lack of any windows or natural light, but well equipped with an ample P.A..
Often on a Sunday evening the mighty Baron Hi Fi (name checked on Y.T’s classic “England Story” roll call of great U.K. soundsystems ) ,would set up shop on the dancefloor and commence to drop the latest pre-releases and their own custom-made dub plates, all the while passing round the mic with ‘musical efficiency and lyrical stability’ - intelligent and conscious lyrics to nice-up any dance. Being in that club on a Sunday was a good way to wind down the weekend and listen out for big ups promoting upcoming events, especially ones live and direct from far Atlantic shores.
And so in that venue I got to see, besides the punk stylee stuff, many of the Roots and Dancehall legends from that small but volatile island in the sun.
Dennis Brown alongside ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, quaking those walls to their foundation; Barrington Levy coaxing and teasing the willing masses with calls and response. With ear- piercing whistles blowing, cans, bottles, anything and everything banging against walls and tables, it was a cacophony of deafening appreciation in a sweat -dripped room, to a man at his unique peak. Then there was the young Frankie Paul crooning so sweetly and doing his darndest to woo the ladies, Charlie Chaplin proving what a showman he was, and DJ legend U Brown rocking the house.
There were the beautiful classic vocal groups of the Mighty Diamonds, Wailing Souls and Culture, turned out resplendently in their very best dressed and best pressed Ites, gold and green tracksuits, tams an’ ting. After the show, if
Artefact added : 31st January 2012