‘You seen Bez lately’?

A review of “Manchester 89-92”, Photographic exhibition
by Richard Davis. The Bookroom, Lancaster.
Runs until sat 22nd august.

by wes martin


Have you been to the Bookroom lately?, well you’ll be pleased to hear that some of your favourite agitators, outcasts, misfits and general geniuses from the erstwhile ‘madchester’ scene are loitering therein.

Photographer Richard Davis now resides in Lancaster, bringing his considerable talents as visual inquisitor to rest upon the alternative arts scene of our fair City, this exhibition however, gives us a concise round-up of the incredible talent that flourished during the 89-92 period in Manchester, and serves to enlighten us on the work of Davis. The description goes thus –

A collection of Portraits – The Stone Roses, John Cooper Clarke, Dave Gorman, New Order, Caroline Aherne, Terry Christian, Frank Sidebottom, Happy Mondays, Inspirial Carpets, Kiss A.M.C., John Thomson, Jon Ronson, Lemn Sissay & John Hegley.

I for one was surprised to see the likes of Hegley, Ronson and Gorman here, man they look young and excited. Many of the portraits were taken before widespread acclaim and fame took hold. Richard explained the sheers ballsiness (?) of the procedure that one would go through to get these photos, usually meaning phone calls, and mates providing inroads to some of the more sought after faces. It kinda helps if Henry Normal is your mate I guess. This of course illustrates the point about Richard, he has a great sense for what is genuinely interesting and worthwhile, stuff that others may have missed or overlooked. Of course, this and taking endless reels of 35mm film.


These images provide a great archive of life at a specific moment in time and place up here in the North, a time that affected everything that I, for one, did during my teens and early  twentys.  Also, interestingly, the process used in creating and colourising these photos also provides a ‘pre-photoshop’ glimpse into the very recent past where a scalpel, coloured paper, a laser printer and a keen sense of design where the weapons of choice. Davis has created an important body of work here.

Presently Richard is photographing some of our local freaks, genius’, oddballs and agitators in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition. He also runs ‘Totally Wired’, cementing his commitment to local, undiscovered talent. Only time and the vagaries of fate will determine whether our local boys and girls will shine so brightly. One thing is for sure, Richard will be there, getting involved, getting in peoples faces, making sure we all get to know about it.


21 Responses

  1. nice , best of luck .

  2. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll definately be going. Interesting point re pre-photoshop – it’s amazing how things have changed so dramatically since those times.

    I was 13 in 1989, and the Madchester thing was massively important to me as a Northerner – and in that it pointed a way out of Stock Aitken & Waterman or cock-rock and general crappy music, and was the first step into a wider musical world of my own.

  3. First off I would like to say that Richard D is a great photographer, and a real asset to the local arts community. Keep up the good work mate!

    One thing I would say tho’ is that I personally find the whole ‘Madchester’ scene to be somewhat overrated. Countless documentaries, books, exhibtions have been devoted to this scene. How much more do we really need to know about The Stone Roses/Happy Mondays and their fellow cohorts? Fair enough I was 10 when the ‘second summer of love’/Madchester thing blew up, so maybe I couldn’t really apprciate it. I do feel that there were other scenes out there such as the shoegazing stuff such as My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive etc as well as stuff like the pre-Nevermind grunge scene which consisted of some amazing bands such as The Melvins, Mudhoney, Tad etc. that deserve an equal amount of exposure.

    Just seems to me that in the UK, unless you dress in a trendy way that appeals to the likes of the NME then your never going to get mentioned. IE – The American Hardcore scene of the early 80’s hardly ever gets a look-in, or ever gets mentioned. This isn’t meant as a slight on you Rich of course as I’m sure the exhibition lived up to your usual high standards. I just get fed up with certain scenes being over exposured, whilst others get virtually ignored. Plus let’s not forget that a lot of these bands influenced some really horrible music such as Oasis and Cast later on, so it wasn’t all great.

    Ok, let the debate rage…

    • I think I remember at the time, it had been a tidy while since there had really been any youth culture movement in England – (time seemed slower then and the demise of The Smiths seemed aeons ago – creak creak). What was exciting was the crossover between dance music – or Acid House as it was called – and the guitar bands. It was no longer a social pre-requisite to nail your colours to any mast, and although I didn’t care for Acid as a listening music, the first raves in Blackburn and then on Spike Island leading up to The Stone Roses gig, were all about atmosphere, having a good time and forgetting that we’d just grown up under Margaret Thatcher’s beady eye and policies. And it worked. People got on, there were no fights, stabbings or drunken heroes.
      As Reza mentioned, the NME did have – and still has – a set ’em up, knock ’em down attitude, but I remember they did cover the American scene quite in depth and paved the way for them after the English scene had burnt out and gone fallow again. The much-missed Sounds magazine (NME’s main competitor) were more bent to the American side. I agree that the tail-enders such as Oasis were sickeningly crap, but at the time it was one of the most exciting culture movements I have ever witnessed in England. So, for Richards photos…

      • Paul: it was actually Melody Maker, and in particular Everett True (now editor of the excellent Plan B mag) who brought attention to Grunge. It was his friendship with Kurt and later Courtney that led to big features in MM, and if I recall it was one of his reviews that really brought The Walkabouts to my attention.

        Reviewing a Ride album he once wrote ‘It’s quite good, bus since when did the merely quite good get so eulogized?’ A sentiment i approve of totally.
        — Kev

  4. Definitely going to see this. Wild hogs couldn’t have kept me away from Manchester and The Hacienda at that time. Looking forward to it.

  5. Yeah, I was just so relieved at the time that the new romantic, SAW, U2, psychobilly stuff of the mid eighties was replaced with a genuinely homegrown, northern tribe of ragged arsed chancers who wrote ace tunes, looked good, had attitude and couldn’t have given a shit what the NME thought. Believe me Reza, in the indie clubs I frequented, MBV and Slowdive were played alongside Northside and James,and later Nirvana ripped up the rule book and joined the party( ok, signalled its demise), it was a celebration of a lot of stuff, and meant different things to different people. Hacienda scared the shit out of me, never seen so many people on acid or E, but hey, I had been used to folk clubs in Fleetwood ferchissakes.
    Ha, Richard has done a fantastic job. Many of these people, especially Henry Normal (i know, he’s not featured directly) have had a long lasting impact on British culture, and I for one am dead pleased about that

  6. I would also add that the ‘shoegaze’ bands got TONS of attention at the time, and in 1992 I went to see the Charlatans (madchester) and Ride (shoegaze) who did a double headliner, one in Blackpool, one in Brighton and Tim (charlies) and Mark (Ride) were on the cover of the NME together, sucking a stick of rock between them. Nice.

    As I said, it was a first step into a wider musical world which definately included things like Mudhoney (pre-Nevermind) which of course in turn lead to discovering the Stooges, Neil Young etc. And the Manchester scene was pivotal in making me aware of 60’s bands.

    Eventually I realised that most of the things I liked about (for example) the Charlatans were actually ripped off other stuff, but it was good way in…

  7. Yes, Kev, you’re absolutely correct – it was Melody Maker (memory’s not what it was!) and Everett True was the one who got me to listen to ‘Bleach’ for the first time. I think I was correct in that Sounds did cover quite a bit of the first Seattle murmurings, is that right? Or were they more Wedding Present? And I agree, Ride, Northside and a few others were slightly unduly bigged-up. In retrospect, there weren’t THAT many outstanding bands, but I felt it was more about the attitude and the sensation of a grass-roots English movement that carried it along. Either way, it was a whole load of fun.

  8. Hi All, missed all this, away in the Lakes!! Thanks for the review Wes. The point i would like to make about Manc 89 – 92 was it wasn’t just about music, the real beauty for me at that time was the attitude of people living in Manchester, across many artforms. There was a real feeling of community and support, and many people had the balls to do stuff, and many people would encourage one another to keep going or to experiment further etc etc. This created a really healthy environment where lots of good things happened. I arrived in Manchester a real Music freak ( Mainly Joy Division/Bunnymen/Killing Joke/Sonic Youth etc ) but soon got caught up with everything that was going on – comedy, poetry, dance as well as the music. For the record Reza, one of the best gigs i saw in Manc was The Membranes and My Bloody Valentine at The Boardwalk. In otherwords i’m not just a madchester freak. When i look back at this time, i think it was the comedy scene which was the most unique – Steve Coogan, John Thomson, Caroline Aherne, Lemn Sissay, Henry Normal & Dave Gorman all starting out at the same time, all have gone on to massive success. As Wes pointed out, i was lucky in that i was good friends with Henry Normal which opened a lot of doors for me, that and been in the right place at the right time of course.
    I have great memories of this time, but my heart is now totally into Lancaster and Lancaster artists. Manchester is yesterday and Lancaster is very much today.

  9. hey,
    nice one richard. loved the boardwalk in manc, saw great early Boo Radleys gig there, pity they were from Merseyside, they may have made it into your portfolio otherwise. Yeah, was a good time, no doubt.

  10. It was important for me in that it was the first time I was conscious that something of cultural significance was happening in my neck of the woods. I was born and lived til I was 5 in Manchester, and grew up an hour away in Preston.

    Instead of the faraway feel of the 80’s pop music I grew up on, or the mystique of America, this was something more tangible. These were just people like me and my mates doing something – and that meant that we could have a go too.

    Still haven’t seen the exhibition though!!!

  11. Well I grew up in London and the god awful town of High Wycombe so I guess I can’t really relate to the whole Manchester thing. That said The Fall are one of my favourite bands from that area.

    I’m not trying to denigrate the Manchester scene by any means, its’ obviously had quite an impact on a few people here and that’s great. I guess for me its’ like people who rave about The Beatles 24/7, I like them but they do tend to overshadow some of the other great music coming out at that time. Personally I was always more of a Byrds fan myself. There were loads of cool garage rock, psych, acid-rock stuff coming out, yet all anyone talks about is the British Invasion bands. Quite infuriating. One of the reasons I guess I do my radio show, to expose people to scenes they might not be aware of.

    BTW Wes – I wouldn’t mention The Boos to Kev, he hates them (I think their great btw) 🙂

  12. I can totally understand the frustration with whole over-egging the Beatles etc – I mean how many MOJO covers do they really need?!

    But on the other hand they were brilliant. I’m just about the biggest Byrds fan in the world – got the box set – even got the later not-so-good albums, all the various solo albums and off-shoots. In fact, the Byrds are possibly my favourite band (thought sometimes that’s the Velvet Underground).

    I could quite seriously go on Mastermind about the Byrds and do well.

    But the Byrds wouldn’t have even formed without the Beatles. And the great thing is that they were mutual fans of eachother, which helped push both bands to greater things.

    And actually come to think of it, I got into the Byrds largely cos of hearing about their influence on the Stone Roses!

  13. Past Sweetheart of the Rodeo things start to get a little patchy. In my opinion that was the last consistently decent record they did. Got a couple of Roger Mcguinn solo albums plus David Crosby and CSNY. Gene Clark did some cool stuff too. My favourite Byrds albums have to be Fifth Dimension and Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

    Thing about The Beatles is that their early pop stuff sucks. Unlike The Byrds early work. They started coming into their own from Rubber Soul imo.

    First Stone Roses album was decent, unfortunately it did help to influence the rubbish Britpop scene, but what can you do?

  14. Manchester has always been an important city in terms of culture & music even, dare i say football. It’s main point been it doesn’t give a f..k about London, and that has always been it’s strength. It also has a fairly small city centre – making it easy to get around ( A lot of people call it Village Manchester ) It has a really healthy student environment, where lots of students stay on in the city after their courses have finished. Most of the time there is a really good mix of locals/students/drop outs/artists etc. Over the years this is the reason why Manchester is the most important city in the U.K. in terms of consistancy regarding music & culture. From Shelley/Devoto/Linder to Joy Division/Factory to Morrissey/Marr to Stone Roses/Happy Mondays to Acid House/Hacienda to Ruthless Rap Assassins/M.C. Buzz B to Oasis. Manchester is constantly evolving.
    No other British city can come anywhere near the list of bands Manchester has produced.
    We are lucky that Lancaster is one hour’s drive away!!!!

  15. Shoulod really bring it up to date and mention Elbow.

  16. As I told John Robb at that excellent night at The Bookroom the other week, Manchester has always been great at self-mythologising. The Sex Pistols’ at The Free Trade Hall that everyboy claims to have been to but as John said, he’s never met anyone who claims to ahve been there…, The Factory Records set-up, Madchester, Oasis, and beyond, yea even unto Elbow.
    Take the myth of The Hacienda. Frequently empty, regularly host to events that have no part in the Madchester/Factory mythos like the night I saw Johnny Thunders and Hanoi Rocks play there.
    I like Manchester, I love some of the music that’s come from there, but I lived there in the mid 80s and its not that special.
    Richard’s photos are great, but he could have done a similar series as great in any city in the country at the right three year span in the past thirty years.
    — Kev

  17. Totally disagree with you there Kev, in terms of mixing up the arts in a 3 year span, only one other city could match Manchester for attitude, variety, consistancy & community – NEW YORK.
    The Hacienda was always packed at weekends in the early 80’s , it was empty during the week, but then it did open every night!! What normal nightclub would do that. Many bands played the Hacienda, not just Factory bands ( Remember Madonna’s Appearance ).
    Really should mention the likes of Peter Saville & Ben Kelly who did such a fantastic job regarding Design ( Working For Factory ) Then of course there’s Martin Hannett ( who did a fantastic job with the sound of Joy Division ) Rob Gretton ( The fifth member of Joy Div/New Order ) and lets not forgot Anthony H Wilson who was a massive figure, he did so much to make Manchester the vibrant city it is today.
    So sorry Kev, don’t think i could of done anything remotely as interesting in terms of photos in another city, which would have stood the test of time 20 years later ( except New York ).

  18. Surely the point is that Richard captured a time in cultural history – one that will always be remembered. Whether you were into the scene or otherwise it was impossible to ignore it. The photos are fantastic and evocative of the time and feel of the city – the North, in fact – looking at them now made me realise (shocked) that it is 20 years ago and took me back there beautifully. No, Manchester on a ‘street’ level isn’t that special, but then again where is? The great things that come from anywhere are usually by a couple of hand-fulls of innovators, and thank the stars for them. The very fact we are talking about it 20 years later proves that it broke ground. Thanks for a great exhibition, Richard.

  19. Nice to see Mr Sidebottom represented.

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