Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution uploaded by DJ Empress Licensed under CC-BY-SA.
Steel Pulse burst onto the scene in 1975 and were one of the reggae bands closely associated with the Rock Against Racism campaign. They played alongside punk bands the Buzzcocks at the Northern Carnival and the Clash in Victoria park.
DJ Empress shares her memory of seeing Steel Pulse perform and their music on the People’s History of Pop.
“The first time I saw Steel Pulse perform was in the 1970s in a Birmingham City Centre nightclub called Rebecca’s, I was about 10 feet away from them, there wasn’t even a stage, but the music was incredible, and I became a fan from that night. Handsworth Revolution was the first album I ever bought back in 1978; and I still have that album today.
I never really heard music by Steele Pulse being played on the sound systems in the dancehalls, and although back then, the reggae music scene was predominately about black culture, Rasta, Marcus Garvey and going back to Africa, with deep lyrics, the more popular tunes were by Dennis Brown, Culture and Burning Spear amongst many others out of Jamaica. Then when it came to UK reggae you predominately heard London Lovers Rock on the sound systems.” DJ Empress
In an article about the Manchester gay club scene from NSM magazine in 1986, a photo depicts two women posing as they drink Breaker beers in a club. In the background, two others are slumped asleep on the sofa, done in by the night of partying. “I love that photo. I think it captures the scene at that time,” says Abigail Ward. “It wasn’t until the 1990s that Manchester was dubbed ‘Gaychester’, house music took over and LGBT music culture in the city went boom.”
The clipping is just one of thousands of pieces uploaded to the online archive Abigail runs to celebrate Manchester’s long and varied music history – the Manchester District Music Archive.
The idea for the archive came from two filmmakers – Matthew Norman and Alison Surtees. Inspired by historian C.P Lee’s book about Manchester music, ‘Shake, Rattle and Rain’, they started a campaign, with the help of C.P Lee and band manger Dave Rofe, to set up a physical museum in the city. Abigail got involved to develop the website soon after and found that people were sending her stuff from their personal collections, which she would upload onto the site herself. “One day I thought ‘God, I really wish people could do this for themselves!’ It was before Facebook had really taken off so I set about creating a site that would allow people to upload their own images. As the online presence took hold we let go of the idea of doing a museum. Instead of it being a large dreary institution, we took a more of a guerrilla approach.”
The online archive grew quickly as word spread and has allowed Abigail and her colleagues to create pop-up events and exhibitions giving a voice to untold stories. ‘Queer Noise’, for instance, explored the hidden history of Manchester’s LGBT music culture and club life, while ‘Moss Side Stories’ told the history of clubs in the area and ‘City Fun’ collected together memorabilia of the post-punk fanzine collective.
“For a long time, the mainstream perception of Manchester was a very laddish one. It was about celebrating a very white, male culture. We felt that there were other stories that needed to be told and the way to destabilise the dominant historical narrative was to give people a platform to talk about what’s important to them.”
For Abigail, the stories about Manchester’s music scene reveal it as a “radical, pioneering and political city”. That’s her personal experience too. “I am from Preston in Lancashire, which is about 40 minutes away, but it might as well have been 40 million miles away in terms of my ability to get to Manchester. I grew up obsessing about bands like Magazine and The Smiths. Listening to Morrissey in particular made me feel less lonely as a person who was confused about my sexuality. I would pound the streets with my Walkman listening to what he was saying and, when I was very young, Manchester seemed like a romantic place to be. It also seemed like a safer city to come out in.
“With my focus on LGBT club culture I have tried to tell a story about how lots of people only a few years older than me protested on the streets against things like Section 28 in the 80s and 90s. These demos helped to make Manchester a safer space for gay people, so that when someone like me came along, there were good clubs to go to. I’d never even met another gay person before I came here.”
It was in the 1990s, when Abigail arrived in Manchester, that Manto club was launched on Canal Street, flouting the secrecy of gay venues by installing full-height plate glass windows. DJ Tim Lennox had been building the house and dance music scene at the gay-friendly Number 1 Club and that led to the birth of Flesh, a popular house night at the Haçienda billed as ‘Serious Pleasure for Dykes and Queers’.
“As a curator, I would say the thread in my work is celebrating and exploring when communities come together through their music and club life to protest oppression. It doesn’t have to be under a specifically political banner. It’s the coming together and being visible that’s a political act. That’s when the best parties happen.”
You can explore the Manchester District Music Archive here and their collections on Historypin are here.
Abigail’s favourite pieces change all the time, but here are her current top three:
1. The article from NSM magazine in 1986 about lesbian nightlife in Manchester (pages 1, 2 and 3) – with photos by Michelle Smith.
2. A reggae poster for when the reggae artist Johnney Osbourne came to play at the PSV club. “When he came on stage it turned out he was an imposter who was performing under Johnny Osbourne’s name. It obviously kicked off massively in the club.”
3. A photo of Jonny Cash at the Astoria Plymouth Grove: “This is a beautiful shot by a guy called Brian Smith, who was just a fan in the audience. The venue is on the street that I first moved to in Manchester. It’s a fantastic picture of Jonny. It’s his first ever gig in the UK. It’s an Irish social club. And in the background you can see the clock and it’s just past midnight. It just really does it for me.”
Anyone listening to Muse’s Muscle Museum would be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the lyric “I have played in every toilet”. Rather than a reference to the extremes a band might go to for exposure, the words are an affectionate nod to the string of independent music venues in the UK, known as the “toilet circuit”.
Named after latrine-turned-venue, the Tunbridge Wells Forum, grassroots places like these have played a crucial role in the development of British music, providing a platform for live performance experience. From Richmond’s Crawdaddy Club, where the Rolling Stones got their first residency in 1963, King Tut’s in Glasgow, where Oasis were first signed in 1993, to more contemporary artists like Adele and Ed Sheeran, the network of small venues has been the bedrock from which the next stadium-filler might emerge.
The People’s History of Pop continues to unearth incredible stories of first gigs, spontaneous backstage trips and sweaty all nighters. More often than not the scene for these memories is set in the shuddering basements of independent venues.
Lindsay Gregory remembers her favourite hangout as a 15-year-old punk in 1973.
“Our local town Retford in Nottinghamshire had this tiny music venue called Retford Porterhouse where pretty much every punk band that ever existed played, from The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Slits… A bunch of us went every week without fail, drank cider and blackcurrant and pogoed until the band finished and then carried on dancing on the stage until we were thrown out.”
“Nottingham Rock City is the greatest music venue in the world,” says Britpop fan Alan Holland. “I spent my formative years there seeing all the greats – Oasis, Shed Seven, Supergrass, The Charlatans, The Bluetones. Everyone played there, and have continued to do so since.”
Since 2007, London has lost 35% of its grassroots music venues and this is a trend being seen across the country. In places where there is just one alternative music venue, they are of huge importance in that area, whilst also providing the first step on the ladder for many aspiring musicians.
Independent Venue Week, which launches this Monday, will celebrate the places that made those memories and raise awareness of grassroots venues by hosting a weeklong series of gigs. BBC Radio 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq will tour five cities around the UK, shining a light on the alternative music scene in each area and getting the latest on the best new local bands coming through the ranks.
This year they are collaborating with PHOP to re-discover some of our most memorable gigs on the alternative circuit. Explore what people have uploaded so far here.
To share memories of your favourite venue, visit www.phop.co.uk or email email@example.com
Celebrating Bowie fan memories on the People’s History of Pop. Ziggy Stardust tour ticket stub uploaded by Rosie2603. Licensed under CC BY-SA
“This was my first David Bowie concert, I was so excited to be going to see such a great and iconic performer. It was also the first date with my boyfriend, John who was and still is, a huge David Bowie fan. We celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this year. We have seen David Bowie several times since, but that concert will always be the most magical.” Rosie
David Bowie ticket stub uploaded by Gary Jordan. Licensed under CC-BY-SA
“My first Bowie concert. I’d been an avid Bowie fan since 1972 but had to wait 4 years before seeing him live. He did not disappoint. Instead of a support group they showed Bunuel and Dali’s classic surrealist film Un Chien Andalous.” Gary Jordan
Bowie Jacket uploaded by Laughing Gnome. Licensed under CC-BY-SA.
“Embroidered by my mum and worn the first time I saw Bowie at Stafford Bingley in 1978” Laughing Gnome
Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou featured the Brazilian musician Seu Jorge performing a collection of David Bowie songs
Seu Jorge – The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions
“Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
David Bowie. Source: Musician Guide