Unknown location, Salford, 4 February 2012
My companion slaps me hard round the face.
‘Stay with us,’ he commands, the sudden jolt reminding me of a night at home in the Nagasaki slums when I was a small child. My mother was in my room, shaking me. I’d been having evil dreams and woke up screaming. She caressed me and kissed me on the cheek. ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ she said. Then she told me that my grandmother was dead.
I’m slumped in the corner of some bar or other. My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my senses, as though I’ve been drinking a blood-thinning poison rather than red wine. As I come round, I survey the scene. There are familiar faces. On the far side of the room, Jamie from M O N E Y is sat at a chintzy bar flirting with a giant, burly bruiser dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Boys in black jeans and bobble hats stand side by side with gruff, middle-aged northern men wearing sparkly gold dresses and sipping pints of bitter. Do I wake or sleep? It’s like we’ve landed on the set of a David Lynch film. The musical dream world of Great Waves has been replaced by 80s electro pop. There’s a half empty neon dance floor that reminds me of Pulp’s Disco 2000 video and the Friday night hedonism of the bored laundrette girl … I look for my girl in gold dancing round her handbag on her own, but she’s not here. Instead, I’ve got a trashy Grayson Perry character wearing a blonde wig with a red bow and an I would beat you look in his eye.
Other men in bright dresses and makeup are dotted round the bar, drinking away the weariness, the fever, the fret of their weekday lives, stilling the shakes and cutting free from their troubles for a while, the reality of those few, sad, last grey hairs for the time being hidden by bright wigs. Here they can forget about youth growing pale, spectre-thin, finally dying, how beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes … Thought gives way to stupor as they flaunt the dying of the light. They don’t give a shit. These men are beautiful, like derelict buildings.
I long for a sip of the warm South though, some potent Mediterranean spirit to bring heat back to my bones. Manchester is freezing tonight. Reading my thoughts, my companion hands me a glass.
‘You have to stay with us,’ he repeats. ‘This night needs documenting. It might never happen again.’
‘What happened?’ I ask.
‘What do you mean, what happened?’ he replies.
THE TRUE HISTORY OF A WASTED GENERATION
Two or three years ago Manchester had lost its way. Being in a new band must have been a pretty soul-destroying experience, back then. Everything felt so tired. Gigs took place in characterless venues ran by grubby hucksters who were only out to make as much cash as they possibly could from dewy-eyed musicians and their friends. The music itself was a secondary consideration. Promoters were renowned for their blatant villainy. Yes you can play my gig … the tickets are in the post. Manchester music also had an Anthony Wilson-sized albatross round its neck and nobody seemed all that bothered about doing anything about it.
And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be consumed in the wilderness. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die. …
Then on 6 May 2010 David Cameron was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and almost overnight everything started to change for the better. All of a sudden, young people found they no longer had jobs or prospects or even the possibility of a decent education, so they set about creating an underworld in their own image. A wasted generation was born. Wasted as far as society is concerned, in the normal senses of the word, but hungry for other states of mind and experiences … The attitude was nothing new — rip it up and start again — but the end product was. There was a slow, steady, drawn-out eruption of creativity … Suddenly there were new promoters, venues, filmmakers, writers, artists, producers, photographers and bands, so many fucking amazing new bands. There was no template. No Manchester sound, this time round. The only thing holding it all together was its endless diversity. For this was immigrant music. Music made not just by those from Manchester and Salford but also those who’d been drawn to these cities because of those bands we all love who shaped an image for these places in the eyes of the world … The new bands didn’t want to replicate this music, having learnt well enough that they had to kick out against their fallen idols. As Serge Gainsbourg put it, ‘if your parents like what you do, then it’s shit’. Who wants to style themselves after their Mums and Dads? Well, quite a few of these charity-shoppers, as it happens, but that’s beside the point … The point being that these bands understood that the thing that first made Manchester great for music and which can make it great again was not trying to repeat what had gone before but experimenting, pushing boundaries, exploring new musical territories and opening doors … Where Manchester leads, the world will follow.
Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
These bands aren’t making a penny from this but they’re in it for the ride and in it together. They were at the bunker tonight because they had to be there. Just obeying their instincts. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower … It’s not even just the three bands who were playing but all the others who were watching and part of it, bands who we love like Ghost Outfit and Les Brogues Bruns and sexy sadists PINS — fuck, that would be a good line up, wouldn’t it? Here’s a collection of people who are defining the times and the city, bands who will play in the Führer Bunker and elsewhere, places we haven’t even discovered yet, singing songs they haven’t written yet, and there’s a sense that there’s nowhere we’d rather be than here and now — certainly not in the HMV Ritz or even the Carling Cathedral … Tonight everyone was where they needed to be, passionate and breathless in the long, Orwellian shadows of the Manchester Evening News Arena.
Tender is the night and haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne.
At the epicentre of all this lies M O N E Y, a band that encapsulates the romance and poetry of the wasted generation. When they’re not singing songs they’re singing hymns. They radiate passion and lust for the writing of a new chapter. There’s an elemental honesty in everything they do, moving with the spheres and answering only to their muse. Stripping it back we find the fragile Voice unadorned, rising to find its God then swooning, as though overcome by the blinding light, cracking and falling back into the embrace of rhythms and beats that cradle it tenderly, like pale-skinned lovers in a Renaissance masterpiece.
Apparently, SWAYS discovered them on Oldham Street one night and drunkenly berated them for not doing anything for a year. ‘We’re putting out a digital single,’ they pleaded. SWAYS said: ‘You could have it so much better.’ Heady words were exchanged and they fell in love through ideas.
Tonight lead singer Jamie Lee sports a fetching patterned bobble hat and stands with his eyes closed, lovingly easing his way through each song with languorous strokes of his red Stratocaster, wailing into the microphone. The sound is so perfect in here you can almost feel the air well in his lungs before it seers through his throat and out into the cold night air … The band look incredible in the wooden cage, which is the perfect stage for them. Bass player Scott Beaman has his hood up like a pleasant kind of thug and stands next to Lee with an urgent, expectant look in his eye, as though waiting to catch the wave of songs that haven’t been played before but which have rather been delivered to them on this night. Drummer Billy Byron crouches low and attentive over his kit and channels the undertow, his soft-tipped mallets poised, waiting for the current to take hold before smashing his way free in great crescendos, while guitarist Charlie Cocksedge is the master of noise, creating the band’s distinctive soundscapes through a combination of guitars, synths and samples.
M O N E Y always remind me of Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk with their organs and church music and in the way that they veer between minimalism and layered walls of sound, collapsing time and expanding the senses. The ultimate objective for other bands might be fame, music awards or appearing on the Letterman show, but M O N EY seem to transcend these distractions in the all-encompassing interests of being true to their art. Thus far, they seem completely authentic and real in everything that they do.
The band’s intensity is captured on their new single ‘Who’s Going to Love You Now’ — the lack of a question mark perhaps suggesting that the title itself implies an answer, but that’s maybe reading too much into it … The video distils modern history and culture into four minutes — pop icons, riots, porn, Vietnam and, of course, crazy Kinski …
‘So, that’s what happened,’ says my companion, holding me by the lapels of my coat as he tends to do when he wants to make a point. ‘Have you got that? Because you have to document this. It’s important. Very important.’
Right on cue, we’re joined by Jamie Money who has extracted himself from the attentions of his transvestite admirers. He’s dressed like an aristocratic rake from the nineteenth century, wearing a white frilled shirt that’s ruffled and unbuttoned and hanging limply from his shoulders like the clutches of a drowning lover. He has man lipstick smeared over his cheeks. He laughs at me and asks if I’m feeling better. I don’t know what he’s referring to. Something must’ve happened. I tell him that I feel fine.
‘Do you even know where you are?’ he asks. I consider this question. Isn’t this what doctors ask people when they’ve taken leave of their senses? Or if they suspect you’re suffering from dementia? They ask you where you are and who the Prime Minister is …
‘David Cameron,’ I reply.
He tilts his head. ‘We’re in Manchester,’ he says, pityingly. The lights from the turning glitter ball casts twinkling colours over his pretty face. ‘And what you need to understand is that Manchester is not just anywhere. Manchester is here to deliver you from evil, Atrocity Boy. There is nowhere better than this. Don’t you get it? Manchester is paradise.’
Photography © Magnus Aske Blikeng at www.mabvision.com and Pat Hill.