And on the third day of In The City, Manchester’s legendary music industry jolly, I travelled due North-west to take part in a panel about … well, it was never really made totally explicit what it was about, either in the publicity or by fragmented punk-rock moderator John Robb, but it was something to do with writing books and rock music. This explained why I found myself squashed into a leather sofa alongside John Niven, A&R-turned-gamekeeper and author of scurrilous biz novel Kill Your Friends, Mark Hodkinson, genial boss of indie publisher Pomona and author of affectionate post-punk novel The Last Mad Surge Of Youth, Pete Frame, all-round beardy legend and architect of the mighty Rock’s Family Trees, and Peter Hook, musician, bon viveur and now author of just-published hardback memoir How Not To Run A Club. (John Robb is no literary slouch either, having collected his fragmented thoughts in many a bound volume, most recently Death To Trad Rock.) The suite at the Midland Hotel where the panel took place was well attended by biz types, and at least one spunky young band called My Name Is Animal – I think – and if anything there were too many good talkers onstage for the allotted hour. (I could have listened to Pete Frame for an hour – that man has lived a life.) But it was a lively one, and although we started by talking about whether the myth of rock music can be conveyed on the printed page, we soon got off the subject of books and onto the subject of the reduced influence and literary content of the music press in a digitally fragmented world. (John claimed, at 48, to be well up for this fragmented world, as it was the democracy that he sought during punk, but most of us disagreed, most eloquently Mark, who worried that a world where everybody is chattering about music on a democratically equal plane is too diffuse to nurture movements, such as those we have experienced in the past – I hope I haven’t paraphrased too much.)

Anyway, even though I was in Manchester for just four hours, I enjoyed returning to the scene of so many past music biz crimes. I attended In The City on an annual basis during my years in magazine publishing, and did as the Mancunians do whilst in Manchester. (It was, I always thought, healthy that the London-based media had to spend so much time in another city around the turn of the decade when Madchester was the centre of the universe.) This time, I drank two cups of peppermint tea and one glass of carbonated water. I ate a healthy packed lunch on the train. But hey, just wandering into the lobby of the Midland, going downstairs to pick up my delegate pass and goody bag, and feeling the industry vibe took me right back to the 90s, to the deregulated days of pluggers and BBC press officers and Select and the Hit Parade and taxis and Mark Lamarr and Mark Goodier and Indian food and lager and Tiny Monroe and their manager. God bless Manchester for continuing to generate its own electricity and sense of occasion. The old place doesn’t seem to have changed that much, and just hearing Hooky sparring with John Robb reassured me that the years may pass, but the song remains the same. Top one, nice one, get sorted etc.

The lead photo above was taken by Hobbsy. These were posted on Flickr by Martin at VisitManchester.


12 thoughts on “Fragmented

  1. Hm, I don't think it's quite true that everyone is chattering about music on an equal level? There are certainly more voices now (which I think can only be a good thing) but some are louder and more influential than others!

  2. True, Mat, but if you don't like what a critic is saying, you can write your own review on your own blog, instantly, and publish it, instantly. Look how many film posters now include quotes from reviews on websites. Equally, I get press releases about albums that give equal weight to reviews on websites as for reviews from, say, the NME. That's pretty fragmented. You say that it's a good thing – well, yes, theoretically, it is. But I actually preferred it when there were beacons of respected criticism. That's because I am over 25.

  3. Hooky's book is an excellent read, particularly after spending so much of my student days (and grant) at Fac51, but I must don my pedant's titfer and point out the exhaustive research for the book didn't flag up the (then) mighty Mantronix's appearance at said club. Must have been 1986.

  4. I think this period of fragmentation could be excellent, because it might prevent something that irritated me massively as a late-90s lad and beyond.If "chattering about music on a democratically equal plane is too diffuse to nurture movements, such as those we have experienced in the past", that's GREAT… Because a happy by-product is that it might also prevent the record industry's increasingly cynical and sophisticated manipulation of the music press to promote utter swill for profit.Perhaps it was different in the 70s and 80s, but much of the 'respected' music criticism about new music in the last two decades has been exactly the un-ending search for a new, vacuous, NME-style 'movement' (or more accurately bandwagon) to jump onto every 6 months or so. The situation is not so bad with the literary assessment of music greats from the past simply because it is a less profitable enterprise. Seriously, most of the stuff written today about any band less than two years old is rubbish.

  5. "…a world where everybody is chattering about music on a democratically equal plane is too diffuse to nurture movements, such as those we have experienced in the past…"That has a real ring of truth.It's a bit like PR vs First Past The Post. The former appears more democratic (I'm not convinced) but sometimes what you need is a ridiculous landslide: some probably useless tossers riding to power on a tidal wave of hype only to be totally rejected a year or two later. (At least you can claim you never voted for them.)I was thinking the other day that I haven't heard a single new record in the last five years that didn't remind me of something else – usually the one I heard before it. Maybe that's inevitable as you get older. And obviously there's some great stuff out there; it's just not doing quite what it did the first time around. And five more years of Razorhead, Coldlight, and Radioplay might do my head in.

  6. A blog *can* be a beacon of respected criticism. It's all just words. And all words are equal.Do you really think an article has more weight because it appears in a 'respected' journal?You pick the good blogs and you read them regularly as you would a paper – except you're not asked to pay for it. Until Murdoch sets his new precedent – which is either just what digital publishing needs or the kiss of death for blogging…The only bad thing about digital criticism is that you can't throw down what you're reading in disgust and curse the fact you exchanged it for coin, something I find myself doing constantly with my regular reads, decrying them going downhill and representing their core readership to a lesser and lesser degree.

  7. Good God, John Robb looks exactly the bloody same. Does the man age? I wonder if he's still blagging signatures offuv students to get student rail cards ;)I worked at the Boardwalk for more or less the whole three years I was there, I think. 1989-92. Damn good years.DAndrew, didn't you and Maconie come up and do that Madchester show toward the end of that? I've got a memory of you wearing a Carter-esque hat being filmed walking in to the Dry Bar?…I've got that on video somewhere – along with a bunch of local news footage of local bands as they got more and more famous. (Sorry, I could yack on about Manc for aaages).

  8. Thanks for coming Andrew. It was a pleasure to hear your thoughts on the admittedly vague topic! By the way, I registered you for your pass when you arrived – apologies if I was a bit of a gibbering buffoon but I'm a big fan of your work and unfortunatley didn't have anything witty or smart to chat about whilst taking your photo for your pass!cheersHesham

  9. I wish there was a facility on comment,um, facilities for withdrawing postings offered 'in drink'…or possibly some sort of USB breathaliser kit that could deactivate the keyboard before posting: I clearly thought I had an incisive opinion to contribute when i posted the message above this, but on reading it back it just looks brusque and curmudgeonly – and that's before I get to the fact that it really rather invites the charge that it is perhaps me that is out of touch rather than the 'in the city' event. Feel daft.Sorry!

  10. Emma, the goody bag contained literally nothing I would call a "goody". I was so thirsty on arrival I was grateful for the bottle of Vitamin Water, even though a) Vitamin Water is disgusting, especially when warm, b) it is made by the Coca Cola company, and c) by holding it in public was simply being a small cog in a cross-promotional marketing tie-in. Because I don't really work in the music industry, I was just passing through, really.

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