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Concerning Manc Lad Bands

Take That were marketed to the gay community before they were scooped up by the girls but, more often, Manchester boy bands have been aimed squarely at the straight boys. Their music (and images) have regularly embodied the sights, sounds and sensations of football fandom… something which Manchester males feel particularly at home with.

Self-confident swagger, arrogant bragging, male-bonding, boozing, casual clothes, safety in numbers, the subtle threat of violence, rousing anthems in major keys, pre-occupation with ‘the glory days’, an overwhelmingly white crowd… it’s all there in the music and attitude of Oasis and The Stone Roses.

English football culture and the Manc Lad Bands are made from the same stuff.

I went to Bop Local’s First Birthday last Friday, and was treated to Clint Boon (of Inspiral Carpet fame) DJing a selection of Manc Lad Band records… all real crowd pleasers… culminating in a rendition of ‘This Is How It Feels To Be Lonely’ with him singing over the top, karaoke style. It was funny… he’s really nice. If he’d been the lead singer of Inspirals I might have liked them, instead of being put off by Tom’s ponderous vocals.

But it was weird to see a room full of middle-class 30 and 40 somethings, drunkenly waving their arms in the air to song after song, in a show of nostalgia for Manchester music’s ‘glory days’. And it wasn’t just the men who were misty-eyed. What on earth were the women nostalgic about? There was never anything in it for them; didn’t they notice?

(I’ve always thought ‘This Is How It Feels To Be Lonely’ sounded very much like an older song and I’ve just realised, it’s ‘Eton Rifles’ by The Jam, 1979).

The Jam (1977-82) and The Clash (1976-86) had serious lad appeal in my youth… but their home-towns were of little consequence to their dedicated followers. The Manc Lad Bands, by contrast, have rammed the name of their home-town down everyone’s throats from day one. I’m sure this habit is football-related.

The Smiths (1982-87) were the first of these Manc Lad Bands, although I think, in their case, the football parallels were probably co-incidental. It just so happened that Morrissey’s lyrical and vocal style polarised opinion to such a degree that emotions ran high around The Smiths in the same way that they do around the Manchester teams. The Smiths inspired a zeal and a partisanship which was football-fan-like, in spite of the obvious challenges within The Smiths’ image and lyrics to conventional footy culture:

The Smiths' First Single Release 1983

The Stone Roses’ music, by contrast, didn’t create great controversy… and perhaps this is why they felt the need to spray the band’s name on buildings all down Oxford Road. The stunt achieved the local notorierty they craved overnight.

Their problem was that The Smiths had set the bar so high that subsequent guitar bands were doomed to appear inadequate by comparison. A few years had to elapse to allow a potential fan-base to come of age for whom The Smiths were old news… only then could The Stone Roses (1983-1996) gain some traction.

Here they are being introduced by Tony Wilson on The Other Side Of Midnight:

The Stone Roses – Waterfall (1989)

Ringo and Tony had obviously been neglecting their Simon & Garfunkel records that year, otherwise they might have spotted a striking similarity to this:

Simon & Garfunkel – April Come She Will
(Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Graduate’ 1967)

You could put this down to accident if it wasn’t for the fact that both sets of lyrics tell the same story, and the tune to Scarborough Fayre (from The Graduate) also features on The Stone Roses’ first album (Elizabeth My Dear).

The album ‘The Stone Roses’ was generally derivative. The tunes were familiar-sounding melodies from the sixties brought up-to-date by Ian Brown’s dead-pan delivery. The lyrics seemed to contain only one basic message… that Ian Brown was the new messiah. I’d heard the words ‘I am the Resurrection and I am the Light’ a thousand times in church and school; it didn’t suddenly become fascinating because a local boy was singing it about himself… it was just extremely unlikely to be true.

But the music suited the local football-fan mentality very well: the simple tunes; the unschooled singing voice; the self-agrandising lyrics; the pseudo-religious references. The music was perfect football-chant material… and was also well-suited to drunkenly bellowing in unison, while staggering down the road after one too many at the pub.

Admittedly, The Stone Roses had a moment of brilliance with Fool’s Gold, only to be stopped in their tracks by circumstances beyond their control. Their long-awaited second album ‘The Second Coming’ (1994) was different again: still over-reliant upon religious imagery, it was musically accomplished and ambitious (though somewhat muso-ish.)

‘Daybreak’ and ‘Love Spreads’ protest against the exploitation of black music by the white-male-dominated Manchester music business; black music is personified by a woman in both songs. Sister Rosa Lee Parks, the African-American civil rights activist, is named in ‘Daybreak’, and there are the lyrics:
‘From Atlanta Georgia, To Moss Side Manchester…. So why no black on a radio station in this, the city?
‘Love Spreads’ references Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in the lyrics:
‘I have a dream, I’ve seen the light.’

The central idea seems to be that the band now appreciates and embraces black music instead of ignorantly exploiting it, like most of the Manchester music business. Black musical influences can be heard throughout the album.

But the footy crowd didn’t give a toss about any of this; these ideas were far too abstract and demanding to be of interest to them.

Anyway, they’d already found Oasis, whose message was ‘Carry On As Usual’.

In the case of Oasis (1991-2009), the football influences were intentional. Noel Gallagher channelled The Beatles and football culture in equal measure and then stuck his brother in front of the band to make it all look natural and spontaneous… because clearly Liam wasn’t capable of contriving anything. Sadly, the Gallaghers encouraged a whole generation of people to believe that it’s acceptable to be that shallow.

Noel Gallagher wrote some great tunes but most Oasis lyrics have the emotional depth of your average TV football commentary and contain a similar combination of cliches, predictable ideas, sweeping general statements and complete nonsense. In fact it’s quite an achievement to have generated so many words (seven albums’ worth) and to have communicated so little.

The music of Oasis was extremely unlikely to cause offense, which was why they courted controversy ‘off the pitch’, so as to create energy around themselves and make themselves appear challenging.

Oasis fans - Wembley - 2009

The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis are the Premier Division Manc Lad Bands: groups of men who can safely be hero-worshipped by other men, without anyone being accused of being gay.

But there are plenty of other Manc Lad Bands in the lower divisions… James, The Charlatans, The Inspiral Carpets, The Happy Mondays, The Doves, Elbow, The Verve… and I’m sure there’ll be many more to come. Like football, they seem to perform some vital function… providing a release valve for the oppressed white males of modern Britain.

Through football and music, Manchester has been flying the flag for (so-called) ‘working class’ white male culture for the past two decades – although alot of people into it aren’t working class at all; they’re the ones who want it both ways… the ‘cred’ of being working class with the comfort of being better off.

Prior to this conservative phase, Manchester innovators were heavily influenced by the New York scene… but generally people in Manchester seemed to be open to influences from everywhere… or that’s how it felt living here at the time. Manchester was culturally very diverse and exciting in the 80s. Then, through the ‘Madchester phase’, the city developed a voice which was all its own.

What a shame Manchester’s voice turned out to be the voice of the footy crowd… …especially for all the individual voices and interests which have been drowned out by the footy crowd’s excessive volume, simplistic messages and mass appeal since then.

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  1. A very interesting thought provoking read. Would you then, by default, put say The New FADs in there or maybe Intastella? And was that Intastella’s downfall, having the temerity to have a female lead vocalist in a psychedelic Mancunian band of the time. Just trying to think of female contributions to the era, MC Shells in World Of Twist, maybe? The female vocal on Voodoo Ray or the sonorous sounds of Denise Johnson on anything from ACR to The Primals?
    Great article, let’s have more, Phil.

    • There haven’t been many female contributions. I never particularly noticed myself until recently, although i did notice that music and footy had somehow (irritatingly) become entwined… because music used to be the refuge for non-sporty people, like me… and then suddenly it wasn’t any more.
      Manchester people got behind The New FADs and Intastella in a big way… the Manchester crowd can’t be criticised for failing to embrace those bands.
      In fact, I remember being irritated by the weight of expectation locally at the time, particularly on New FADs (some of my friends were into them). The band seemed to attract an army of sycophants who were more interested in the band’s imminent success than the music itself. Everyone was expecting there to be another big band coming out of Manchester and they wanted to be on that band’s wagon when it rolled out of town… I’m not sure why… so they could be part of history? Maybe Mancunians and their bands became too obsessed with making history.
      Thanks for your comment and encouragement, Phil.

  2. scherben

    “[I]n their case [The Smiths], the football parallels were probably co-incidental.”

    That’s probably correct. However, Morrissey was a regular at Old Trafford in the 70s.

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