The Smiths were, as always, right. Manchester does have so much to answer for.
At the end of 5 years living in Manchester, the only UK city outside of London worth living in (sorry Birmingham, not sorry Liverpool), the time has now come to offer my review of the city and all it has to offer. How, you might ask, do I intend to assign a simple value to a vibrant and sprawling city, so diverse and rich that even a lifelong resident would admit to only scratching its surface? Through sweeping generalisations and egregiously making shit up, as is the way of my people. Onwards then.
Mancunians. Mancs. Our kids. The conventional wisdom is that the people of Manchester are a friendlier sort than their grey faced commuter golems trapped inside the M25, and this has a kernel of truth to it (as all cliches do). It’s a rare day that passes without making some temporary connection with a stranger, a smile on a bus or an sardonic exchange huddled under the Picadilly Burger King entrance avoiding a speciality August deluge. These temporary bonds are capable of genuinely lifting the spirit on a grim day, shoring the both of you up to weather the grinding heel of reality. On the other hand, these connections are often formed unilaterally, and occasionally a bond is formed with an actual lunatic or a villain. One moment you might be exchanging small talk with a bloke only for him to segue into a lurid and harrowing tale regarding a custody battle and his ‘cunt of a missus’, leaving you grasping around under the tram seat searching for the ejector seat lever.
Overall it’s a question of how much humanity you want whipping around you day to day. They say all of life can be found in London, and that may be true, but there it’s kept inside the jar. In Manchester it splashes in your face like brine, and oftentimes you’ll have your mouth open.
Also there’s an enormous amount of students. Make of that what you will. B+
The Music Scene
It’s always risky to speak about the much lauded music scene in the city that gave the world the Smiths and Joy Division (yes I know Salford is technically it’s own city, no I don’t care). Emotions run high, and so I’ll do my best to tread lightly: In the year of our Lord 2014, it’s shit.
Before you start trying to send me explosives by email allow me to explain. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about Manchester’s musical heritage. I for one love the oppressive gloom of the two bands mentioned above. What came after, in the 90s, I don’t love so well, but I can accept that other people did. In the present though, the scene is caught in a sort of purgatory of looking to the past while also feeling insecure about the present and the future. Local gigging bands fall generally into two categories; Dumb but fun throwback rock (The Genitals, now defunct, were perhaps the best of this), and painfully over serious ‘art collective’ projects playing tedious KrautRock and rather more dedicated to the aesthetic than any sense of musical exploration. Dance music is still big here, but has gone the way of the leftist movement and subgrouped itself into ridiculous oblivion. Roughly 90% of all males aged 18-25 run a DJ night here, and they battle it out to see who can be the most tediously obscure and self regarding in their selections. There are enough large and medium sized music venues to attract touring acts, so you can go and see Mumford and Sons at the MEN (or whatever I’m meant to call it), but it doesn’t really make up for the lack of an exciting and cogent scene. Summer in the City is an interesting idea but Manchester is still in dire need of a proper festival (no ParkLife doesn’t count you cretin).
I expect people will say that maybe I didn’t get it, or that I didn’t put enough effort in. To which I respond; If my overriding memories of half a decade spent trudging between overpriced venues is a bunch of has-beens wearing cowboy boots playing jangle-swagger songs about when they used to get laid, and sweaty gurning morons in Nike sports wear telling me in detail how extremely minimal the beats are at their DJ night in a bus stop in Gorton, then maybe the problem isn’t at my end. Then again, maybe it is. C-
P.S. I would be remiss to not mention Holy Other who I understand operates out of Manchester. He is of the painfully serious sort, but he is also painfully good. Have a listen.
Besides the crap but reliable chain establishments (Kro for example, who serve good salmon and horrible poached eggs) there are exactly 2.5 good bars in Manchester. It turns out that this isn’t a problem since you can only physically inhabit one bar at a time. If you are the sort of person who likes to go out and have an expensive cocktail at 4000 different little boutique places, you might be disappointed, but then you deserve to be disappointed and what’s more, to drown in a well. If instead you prefer to settle down for a session at somewhere comfy and minimally offensive, you’ll be fine. B
Sports and Leisure
Apparently the sports facilities here for swimming, cycling, and all other forms of body fascism are very good and reasonably priced, so get down the gym you quivering lump of suet. For supporters, I understand there is a red team and a blue team and from this springs the iron scented promise of one thousand years of strife. I actually went to Old Trafford, and found it quite enjoyable. The atmosphere crackled but never felt threatening, and the stadium is so rousing as to border on the spiritual. But then Marouane Fellaini scored the winning goal in the last minute of extra time, proving once and for all that all organised sport is ultimately meaningless. Overall it’s a recommend.
If you for some reason like visual art, there are a smattering of good galleries with varied collections. Of particular note is the Whitworth which hosts some genuinely interesting modern art, and exhibitions on thrilling themes such as ‘Wallpaper’ that usually turn out to be quite good. The collection also changes frequently enough that a overpriced sandwich and a slow walk round interspersed with clever looking nods makes a good back up lunch-date. It’s under renovation at the moment but is shaping up to be even nicer when it reopens in mid Autumn. Immediately after I leave town. Typical.
The Museum of Science and Industry (mozzy to it’s friends) deserves a special mention for two reasons. Firstly, it is the perfect example of a curious Manchester phenomenon whereby every publicly funded building must have an extensive and sumptuously furnished exhibition focussing on looms, and the applications of looms, and their products, and the proper procedure for operating them. I never found the University Hospital loom exhibit, but I know it’s there somewhere, and it haunts me in my nightmares, seeming almost to
loom over me OF COURSE NOT. Moving on to the second reason to visit the museum; The kids play area is amazing fun. You can blow a giant bubble and fuck around with magnets and all sorts, and there is even a special winch that lets you lift up a car with one hand, which is sure to make you seem like a sexy Heracles to whoever you’ve dragged along with you. Have a few pints and go on a school day. B
The city is made up of various little districts that each have their own character and foibles. To properly cover them all would require a full length article each, but I’m not a proper person so here’s an arbitrary list of 10 word free association gibberish.
- Ardwick – Pound shops and crime. I think there’s a McDonald’s there
- Piccadilly – Monolithic Primark, other shops. Drum circles and teenage drug dealers
- Longsight – Ethnically diverse. Good market, big ASDA. Is secretly quite nice
- Levenshulme – Students that got old. Thinks it’s quite cool. It isn’t
- Victoria Park – Not a proper district. Leafy and quiet. A bit boring
- Fallowfield – Student mothership. Shit bars, shit takeaways. Everyone wears flip flops
- Withington – Wants to be upmarket / trendy. Mostly charity shops and skinheads
- Gorton and Hulme – Ha.
- Salford – What Manchester would be if it was actually Silent Hill.
If your area isn’t on the list that’s because it is somehow even more forgettable than Hulme (looking at you Altrincham) and therefore doesn’t even deserve to exist, never mind to be reviewed by my lofty eye. Using a special algorithm I just made up and that doesn’t actually exist, I give the actual city a B.
What about all the other stuff you ask? Well it’s a city, so the council is shit and it’s a bit noisy, but there are also festivals and pride parades and thai food restaurants. There are a frankly unimaginable amount of busses, so you can always get around on the cheap, but on the other hand you are quite likely to get run over at least once if you stick around. It goes on and on and trying to sum it all up seems impossible, like counting ants in a bucket on a roller coaster.
As always, I reach the end of an undertaking only to realise that even beginning it was a folly. How can you review a city, especially one as contradictory and diverse and shit and generous as Manchester? You can’t you idiot, but I can say that I enjoyed living here quite a bit, and I hardly ever enjoy anything.
Overall : B+ / Strongly recommend