Celebrate The Catalog: Sonic Youth

In this, the sophomore edition of ‘Celebrate The Catalog’ there’s no sign of second album trouble as we examine one of the most prolific, enviable and most celebrated back catalogs in Indie Rock. Spat out of the death rattle of New York’s No Wave scene, Sonic Youth were art-rock heirs apparent to the Velvet Underground. The cliched ‘Underground’ adage says that “not many people listened to The Velvet Underground, but everyone who did started a band.” You get the impression that alot more people listened to Sonic Youth while they were in their ascendency, but were so blown away by their prescience that starting a band seemed entirely futile.

Confusion Is Sex (1983, SST)

As is to be expected from a band as long lastingly idiosyncratic as Sonic Youth, their birth was not an easy thing. Confusion Is Sex is sparse and brooding, shot-through with the screeching molestation of electric guitar that would underpin their sound for the duration of their career. Cultured in the shadow of avant garde guitarist Glenn Branca, in whose band Lee Ranaldo learned his trade, their first album proper (after their eponymous release, not tackled here due to its long lack of availability) is also steeped in the ambient experimentation of their No Wave influences, and cuts a twisted figure. When at 1:38 into the ominous drone of “Freezer Burn” a cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” smashes through, scaring the bejeezus out of you, it feels as though this juxtaposition is the formula for everything to come.

Rating 7.2 out of 10

Bad Moon Rising (1985, SST)

As its cover suggests, Bad Moon Rising is, on the whole, something of an ominous affair despite the rousing intro of “Brave Men Run (In My Family).” For example, never before has a song with a title like “I Love Her All The Time” sounded so bereft of sincerity or hope. Even its ‘hit’ “Death Valley ’69” is humming with an evil undercurrent. While still definitely effective, the malevolent pretensions of Bad Moon Rising are, as it’s CCR referencing title hints, somewhat cartoonish compared with the genuine Eraserhead-level anxiety evident on Confusion Is Sex, and the album marks the transition into more palatable offerings on the dichotomously titled…

Rating: 7.6 out of 10

EVOL (1986, SST)

We’re gonna kill the California Girls

Seemingly picking up where Bad Moon Rising left off, “Tom Violence” laconically rings-inEVOL. “My Violence is a dream…” It’s followed by the raindrop-reminiscent notes of the presumably Hitchcock-inspired “Shadow Of A Doubt,” which marks the first steps of a departure into a blissful, if still sinister, direction, before “Starpower” blasts through leaving any doubt, in the dust. Immediately after, Lee Ranaldo introduces his beat-inflected talking tunes to the band’s texture. While the majority of the album remains somewhat overcast, in the 7 minutes and 20 seconds of “Madonna, Sean & Me” (AKA ‘The Crucifixion of Sean Penn’, though more widely known as “Expressway To Yr Skull”) Sonic Youth metamorphose into the overall form we now know and love.

Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Sister (1987, Blast First-SST)

Feel around in the dark until you get the idea

After the woozy introduction of “Schizophrenia,” Sister thunders along with blistering intensity courtesy of “(I’ve Got A) Catholic Block” and “Stereo Sanctity,” with Kim & Lee’s inimitable styles separating them. When Thurston introduces a more conventional sounding ‘rock song’ in the form of a cover of Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart,” they make it sound more aurally deformed than anything else on the record. The schizophrenia is brought full-circle when on album closer “Master Dik” Thurston confirms that they were musically moonlighting as Ciccone Youth for The Whitey Album.
Rating: 8.2 out of 10

Daydream Nation (1988, Blast First)

Kids cruise away, pack of chickenshits
This guy is ours, dark stains on his pants
Enough to make a butcher out of the bone Take a walk in the park? Shit, yeah!

It’s easy to let Indie idealism get the better of you when reflecting on Sonic Youth’s back catalog – and where better for it to settle than on their double LP, and last before signing to a major label. For those of us lucky enough to have fallen in love with its four sides of vinyl Daydream Nation is crystallized as the epitome of everything Sonic Youth represented and were best at. “Teen Age Riot” comes across as though they decided to write a musical explanation of their name. While the songs are sometimes abrasive, the production is austere and each song perfectly grounded, each existing in the same beige space as though lit simply by the cover’s sole candle, yet somehow as it unfolds it manages to transcend everything, until part three (or c.) of “Trilogy,” “Eliminator Jr.” kicks the shit out of yr head, before just as swiftly leaving, wondering what the fuck you just listened to.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Goo (1990, DGC)

…whirlwind, heat and flash…

Goo marked Sonic Youth’s departure from indie labels for the next 18 years, and blazed the trail for Nirvana to follow, prophesied by the kid in the video for “Dirty Boots,” which hits the hat-trick of consecutive monumental openers. The cover would go on to adorn a thousand uncaring wearers, and is arguably more famous than the material contained within, but Goo is a concise summation of the Sonic Youth sound and a firm favorite among fans, and for some is, along with Daydream Nation, the high water mark.

Rating: 8.3 out of 10

Dirty (1992, DGC)

Yeah the President sucks, ‘cos he’s a war-pig fuck.

While Goo was their first excursion on a major label, it actually sounded more like a sibling of Sister, with some of the breadth of Daydream Nation‘s epic pretensions. Dirty, while boasting arguably catchier tracks marking it for greater mainstream acclaim, does so among so much coruscating wire wool whirlwind, rendering the rockier riffs mostly unpalatable to mainstream audiences, and loading the album’s first side with the tremendous head fucks of, “Swimsuit Issue” “Theresa’s Soundworld” and “Drunken Butterfly.” In the midst of all this however are some of their most traditional sounding rock songs such as “Sugar Kane,” “Purr” and “Chapel Hill.”

Rating: 7.9 out of 10

Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star (1994, DGC)

Jesus is screaming yr name!

The acoustic “Winner’s Blues” is the preamble to an album that many were foolishly hoping to find solace in, just a month after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The fairly delicate and mildly unsettling “Bull in the Heather,” its lead single, is opening track proper, chugging along with Steve Shelley’s trademark maraca bashing, before “Starfield Road” jack-hammers things into more familiar territory, before being prematurely snuffed-out. Fittingly, the album itself is a bit of a Limbo, trailing off into murk after “Screaming Skull,” but salvaged by gorgeous closer “Sweet Shine.”

Rating: 7.2 out of 10

Washing Machine (1995, DGC)

Twister, Dustbuster, Hospital Bed, I’ll see you, see you, see you on the Highway!

Seldom is it said by anyone but me, so I suppose I’m in the minority…but this is my article so I’m thrilled to be able to announce that Washing Machine is unequivocally the most mercurial, transcendent, emotional, surreal thing in the Sonic Youth catalog so far. It takes me places Daydream Nation cannot. “Junkie’s Promise” indirectly addresses Cobain’s death, “Saucer Like” echoes The Byrds’ ‘Eight Miles High’ in its gliding overview of New York City, “Washing Machine” trips out of its spiky psychosis in to a blissful epiphany, Thurston’s lullaby “Unwind” hums lusciously like the space between dreams in a summer field while maintaining the level of malevolence inherent within the album as a whole, “Skip Tracer” sounds like the song God plays to you when your soul spills out of your head on a City sidewalk and “The Diamond Sea” is…well, “The Diamond Sea.”

Rating: 10.0 out of 10

A Thousand Leaves (1998, DGC)

Mille Feuille

The destination to be reached on the other side of the Diamond Sea could never really live up to expectations, and A Thousand Leaves finds SY reverting back to the meandering saggy midriff that beset Experimental Jet Set. Thurston’s “Sunday” comes fairly close to taking things up a notch, lurching the record forward with purpose after its mysterious, gawky opening chords. “Hits of Sunshine (For Allen Ginsberg)” and “Karen Koltrane” are somewhat mired by being too clichéd in their over reliance on bare-boned stalwarts from the SY musical lexicon.

Rating: 7.7 out of 10

NYC Ghosts & Flowers (2000, DGC)

The Kids Are Up Late, Dreaming Quiet Questions in a Graceful Mood

The promise of the inclusion of Jim O’Rourke for the first of a three-record residency as bass master and general noise master in chief, and a William Burroughs painting emblazoning the cover perhaps raises expectations for what is ultimately a fairly desolate record. From the breezy scene-setting “Free City Rhymes” through the spartan heart of its four middling cuts to Lee Ranaldo’s spooky title track – NYC G&F floats in and out of your consciousness like a Ghost until you question whether or not it actually exists. The record is punctuated by the mad-as-a-raft-of-mustaches “Lightning,” a trumpet-underpinned experiment.

Rating: 7.0 of 10

Murray Street (2002, Interscope)

You smashed your head in the mirror baby, and kissed the frozen ground…yr ripped-up sound.

Had it been released in Murray Street’s place, NYC G&F would have perhaps made a lot more sense. Sonic Youth’s Murray Street studio ‘Echo Canyon’ was just a few blocks away from The WTC and O’Rourke was squirreled-away inside when the September 11 attacks took place, with Lee Ranaldo at his nearby home. Rather than dwell on the horror wrought on their postcode mistress, Murray Street chimes in as though nothing happened before thundering triumphantly into “The Empty Page,” one of the most righteous and satisfying songs Thurston has ever yelped out. Unfortunately the rest of the album never quite reaches these heights, and like its predecessor, its single-figure tracklisting leaves it feeling a little bit lacking.

Rating: 7.6 out of 10

Sonic Nurse (2004, Interscope)

Single fold sick insert design in junk

Jim O’Rourke’s last album as auxiliary seems to see them stop trying too hard to be themselves or anything else, and manages to plug the problem of lack of substance that leaves its two predecessors feeling a little lacking. While none of the songs are too insistent in establishing themselves as anything other than the sum of their parts, it is most definitely the most satisfying outing since Washing Machine. Lee Ranaldo’s “Paper Cup Exit” and Thurston’s “Peace Attack” belatedly and deftly address the country’s foreign policy in the aftermath of 9/11.

Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Rather Ripped (2006, Interscope)

I ripped your heart out from your chest, replaced it with a grenade blast

Rather Ripped peels-out with Kim’s “Reena,” which spouts off like a careering relationship’s reconciliation after a same-sex indiscretion, while “Incinerate” goes one better and shows that Thurston can still re-write the archetypal exhilarating, fretboard-grating Sonic Youth sound. Confusingly, Jim O’Rourke’s departure gifts them the freshness they sought by employing him, and Rather Ripped is easily their most satisfying outing for 10 years. Thurston’s “Pink Steam” rains down one of the most interesting and heart-wrenching songs of their entire back catalog, garroting the whole thing from slipping into sickeningly saccharine with its teenage lyrics.

Rating 8.1 out of 10

The Eternal (2009, Matador)

It’s hard for the listener not to consider the possibility of a change in mentality or approach on Sonic Youth’s first indie excursion in 18 years. Ironically The Eternal sounds more like it’s trying to hearken back to the big rock riffs and psychedelic feedback up-drafts of Dirty. Kim’s strained & strangled vocals seem more prevalent than in any record since Washing Machine. “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)” is a bit of a flimsy dinghy. The Beat poets are perpetually wrecked for us all by each semester’s Freshmen. The idea of Sonic Youth having to point-out a song is directed at one of them, let alone spelled out in its title for the listener is a little bit icky…but by this point, it’s just that we’re spoiled rotten. The Eternal is still a great album by a band that are endlessly inventive, without ever having to have resorted to re-invention.

Rating: 7.6 out of 10




“Pint Pot at 21:29 Winner of the night’s Gaudiest Jumper & Pants competition announced.”

22:15 the Salford Arms There’s some bitch in an Abbey Rd tshirt who doesn’t know what it means”

“The Angel 22:50 Which is the witchcraft doo-wop hopscotch team DJing Talking Heads-athon.

“Islington Mill Wilson offers us drugs with C3PO’s gay-face on.”

“On a dick-binge scoffing cock”

“Foreskins and miniskirts pulled back in duressturbation”

“I’m breathing dry ice, tonight matthew i’m going to be…”

“We’re in the Death Star”.

“Allege whiye people startling listening to a”

“Cannonball soil pauper into the savage, teenage vagina of solemnitude”

Read all about it: http://www.manchesterscenewipe.co.uk/reviews/sounds-from-the-other-city-2011-in-words/

Bill Callahan||Central Methodist Church||6/5/2011

William Rahr Callahan makes an unassuming entrance via a door somewhere in front of stage right and climbs the negligible steps, standing momentarily in an off-white suit like a dodgy evangelist to a friendly welcome…before inexplicably leaving again, inadvertently making the welcome committee feel a little stupid, which is to be expected when attempting to communicate with a guy who has more than a little ‘otherness’ about him. This dispensation seems to be lost on the increasingly mainstream attendances that seem to be coming to see him, one that demands he fulfill requests before the set has even begun.

Read the rest…http://www.manchesterscenewipe.co.uk/reviews/bill-callahan-central-methodist-church-06-05-11/

UNEXPURGATED||High Llamas ‘Talahomi Way’||Sean O’Hagan

About 10 years ago, my pigheaded refusal to accept The Beach Boys as anything other than a West Coast preppy doo-wop band was obliterated by listening to the Pet SoundsSessions. Having grown up with certain songs as part of the cultural furniture, I could see nothing that elevated Brian Wilson above the Jan & Dean cover versions I had on bargain bin 12-inch as a kid, which didn’t seem all that far removed from the theme to the (Rinky-Dink) Pink Panther show I used to watch in-between listening jags on my sofa-cushion surfboard on the living room floor.

Unadulterated sun does funny things to us here in England. If Christmas has passed, and a sky that’s blue rather than off-white presents itself, even the leafless, skeletal trees pressed against it begin take on the appearance of splattered summer-bugs on the world’s windscreen, and lo and behold — picnic benches are assembled outside Pubs and duly used by the skimpily dressed and goose bump fleshed. It was during one such momentary solar acknowledgement that I finally gave-in to my Dad’s maintenance that the mid ’60s witnessed a Trans-Atlantic game of musical one-upmanship ping-ponging between the Beatles & Beach Boys in search of audacious pop evolution.

The High Llamas’ expansive 29-track 1996 release Hawaii attracted the attention of The (Rinky Dink) Beach Boys themselves, resulting in an apparently rather bizarre meeting with the recently Landy-amputated Brian, when Bruce Johnston was feeling-out The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan as possible producer of a Wilson-reintegrated Beach Boys reboot. Several years and albums later, those pet sounds still linger in the High Llamas’ music. First thoughts on listening to Talahomi Way: “Ooh lush production…” Second thoughts: “ew, Brian Wilson’s lush production. This is an unofficial straight-to-video Pet Sounds Sequel. ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile…Longer’.” Such complaints are not so uncommon an accusation to be leveled at Sean O’Hagan, and one that he regularly wafts away by saying he wears his influences on his sleeve…but its what’s beneath the records’ sleeve that counts.

No song on this record is in itself particularly bad, it’s just that, for me at least, their influences are insurmountable and left me longing for them. Walking around this week with the sun uncharacteristically blistering, and nature ejaculating everywhere, this record should, but doesn’t, make any sense. While numerous artists have in the past appropriated and referenced giants of production and/or songwriting in their production and/or songwriting, they’ve always mixed-in something unique to the milieu, or at least isolated the unadulterated fanboy homage to one or two tracks, but this album is relentlessly unabashed in its persistent impersonations. I spent all my time methodically attempting to identify where every one of its constituents originated from, leaving me with the feeling I was undertaking an aural autopsy.

While the sounds are ‘sun-soaked’ and pretty enough, and the arrangements are tight and methodical, the lack of substance makes it feel as though it was written by, at best, a committee, and at worst a machine. While I understand the existence of an audience that sees albums of this type as a welcome tribute and perpetuation to an idyllic sound, I’d argue that the difference is as stark as the radiation of the sun to a generous microwave blast, and this like the latter leaves me feeling cold in the center.

Similar Albums:
Brian Wilson – SMiLE
Jim O’Rourke – Eureka
Ennio Morricone – Gli Scassinatori (The Burglars) OST

From: sean o’hagan <———-@———-com>
To: editor@treblezine.com
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 8:11 AM
Subject: Talahomi way / The High Llamas/ Chester Whelks

Jeff/ Terrance

Could you get thid to Chester Whelks. First timr I have ever  replied to a reveiew.

Just read Chester’s  review of our  record  and  thought I would  clear a few things up .
While I accept that this  record  did not  resonate  with the  writer  I  do take a exception with the idea that the music is over observed or  lacks  substance .
As much as I love the  Beach Boys , the  Californian sound was not on my radar while making the  record .  Basil Kirchin was , as was  marcos Vale , Michellea Legrand , Piero Piiccionni,  Edwin  Astley , Dion ……………. the list is endless . Yes i listen to music .
99% of  contemporary music  is recorded with a an auto assumption that  gtr / bass  drums…. verse / chorus/  mid 8 return….. is perfectly acceptable .
I happen to think in  harmony of instrumentation , a  writing  style that owes  as much to the  a century of music as opposed to a  a recent cult ( take  your  pick ) and I don’t explore anything personal with  words . I also happen to believe in the strength of male unison singing … and have  exploited this  for 15 years,  I also try to naturally represent my interest in  20th century experimental music ,  concrete or just playful.
What  ever  i do , its with  commitment , i attempt originality and I follow instinct as opposed cowering to critics and prevailing  change. i believe that there is  so little experience in understanding arrangement. An arranged  sound with  a pad of brass  or strings seems to have only one or two comparison Bacharach , Wilson.
My music  is not a  micro wave  nor a facsimile . The one  pursuit i  love is twisting a chord  change , years of writing  and I still love this . We lack passion and substance ??????
Most  supposed passion in modern music is  the result o artists in love  with them selves . I trade in honesty , the band make no money and we do it  because we love it  and we are  despite Chesters attempts at belittling us , unique…which is more than canbe said for the 99% i referred to  at the beginning.
I am  also nit erudite , trained ,  studious, I started life as a builder , left school at 14 , worked in car factories in the early 80s  and still have  trouble reading  fluently . but I love  putting  chords  together .  Allow me that  and don’t belittle me .
Sean o’Hagan

Inertia/Modernity: A Mancunian Missive

Market Street: Where once leant ramshackle stalls now parades homogenised malls, but the varying competing degrees of Mancunian humanity are thronged on its cobbles just the same. The greasy black-clad weasel of doom in his dandruff dappled black jacket, paces up and down, his pants half-mast, hee-hawing out his damnation lambast at you all. The ‘mature student’-looking lefty protesters are all bench-prepared vying for the leftovers of your soul: a scribble or quid. Some dreadlocked honky tosspot whose Gap Year fell short of what their parental ordained shortfall could afford, tries Gameshow-hosting their way into your affections in order to lighten-you of what you can ill-afford for a cause theoretically simpatico with their newly expanded moral horizons. As his bean-methane-laden-spiel bleeds over the Lilliputian hillsides of his wooden necklace beads, you scan frantically for an ‘out’…
The façade of The Turnpike on Wilmslow Road in Withington is positively throbbing with animosity. Look at it: it’s nullifying your existence with a stony-faced obliviousness to your ant-like insignificance. Behind the mottled glass of its door’s panes dances light, but you’d still be forgiven for tricking yourself into thinking there was no one home. It’d be so much easier to ponce-on down the road and pass under the hanging baskets, through the Hobbiton portal of the Red Lion and carouse among the recreational Rugger Buggers and affably mannered menopausal…But no – boldly go, I beseech thee: for those hair and blood-encrusted glass shards peppered on the threshold are but a mirage.

Like warm, all-encompassing amber, untouched since The Beatles broke in 1963: The Turnpike, Wilmslow Rd.

Those wishing for a true taste of unfettered Mancunia would be better placed reclining on the cigarette-burn peppered upholstered leather benches of the Turnpike on a weekday afternoon, than mouth-agog, tongue lolling and tumbling their clenched fist in the air to the unexpurgated version of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ at 42nd Street at 01:36am on a Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, or getting their instagram snapped outside Salford Lad’s Club.

above: Kurt R.I.P. Graffiti on London Road Fire Station, Whitworth street appeared the night Kurt Cobain’s death was announced: Fri 8th/Sat 9th April 1994. Oasis’ ‘Supersonic’ was released the ensuing Monday, 11th April 1994


Manchester’s modern musical ascendancy can be tracked back to Oasis occupying the fertile cultural chasm left by the hole in Kurt Cobain’s head. Britpop itself was only ever viable as a pseudo-movement once Oasis offered up their “rum cunt” juxtaposition to Blur’s cheeky-chappery. While Blur proffered well thought-out and executed pantomimes of British culture, Oasis were too busy actually living the Northern equivalent; the authenticity of which turned out to be something that many in this country, irrespective of the North/South divide could identify-with and clamoured for a piece of.

Oasis it turned-out were, for a brief moment in time – too good for any one of their members to actually get a handle on, and so unfortunately sometime in 1996 or 97, disappeared up the nearest rolled-up note, or Gallagher backside (lets not split nasal/anal hairs: its the same thing). These Beatle-wannabes could manage nothing more than the odd string arrangement or Helicopter populated promo in progression’s stead. But thanks to these much needed testosterone envoys, Manchester managed to wrest the baton from, and circumnavigate the overblown and preposterous ‘Second Coming’ of The Stone Roses. Though ultimately both these cases in point; some of Manchester’s ballsiest, most celebrated sons – were seen to inexplicably suffer an embarrassing drubbing in public.

In the absence of anything left to actually get excited about, the luke-warm corpse of ‘Madchester’ was duly exhumed, melon well and truly twisted to clear the airways, porridgey narcotic vomit brushed from the spongey circumference of it’s cracked mouth and set-upon zombily and frantically CPR’d by the young, menial-job working men-folk of the City and it’s scattered outposts, hoping to carve-out an identity for themselves – one last perfunctory couplet worthy of shyster-messiah Shaun Ryder by which to live their dead-end lives.


Adopting the simian haircut and gait (maybe at the same ‘finishing’ school the scallies learn their intimidating limp?), this new breed of common-man music fan could, for the week’s swansong, feel like a Rock N’ Roll Star by blowing all their hard-earned minimum wage on cigarettes and alcohol chased by the occasional white line – and scattershot themselves across the length and breadth of the City centre, dragging their B&H stained knuckles along the hallowed, piss-stained ground where once trod the 18-hole Doc Martens of the survivors of the original Punk community, seemingly (fittingly) blown away by the bomb of 15/6/96…or maybe purged by Councillor Pat Karney?

John Robb, perhaps fearing for his own pompadour could not be reached for comment.


There have been a lot of great bands emerge from Manchester over the last 30 years…

…all of them have been The Fall.

Insouciance personified: Mark E. Smith nullifying your existence with a stony-faced obliviousness to your ant-like insignificance…sporting the hackneyed skin and description of an intellectual Gecko, haranguing a slew of personnel to play the part of burnt-out sparks along his comet’s tail, gluttons for the inevitable punishment of his revolving door policy: All are pushed, none Fall…that is of course unless you’re the sassy young lass behind the Keyboard Elena Poulou a.k.a. Mrs Mark E. Smith…immovable for as long as she can put up with him.

Check the record, check the record check the guy’s track record.

(Photo courtesy of Dullhunk)

While perhaps not transcending divides of musical taste in the same sense as the genre-straddling, populace pleasing Roses or Mondays – the decades have succumbed to his constant onslaught. Plaudits of the highest caliber abound, they’re just relatively thin on the ground. A Market Street Poll would probably garner only the odd spot of praise based on the vague knowledge that they originate from Manchester – the same endemic bollocks-logic that sees certain Mancunians adopt anyone of note to have farted within the City limits before making it big.

“Always different, always the same…” is how the oft-paraphrased John Peel quote goes.

Like a City, whose citizens blister in and out of existence.

A terrifying specimen of a Mancunian – The bile simmering in his distended belly is prophesied in his chewing away at the inside of his face as he readies to spew his next torrent of vitriolic lyrics, chunky gold wrist bracelet tapping across a beer-soaked bar top, inadvertently gathering soggy crisp bits…

…like this guy in the vault of The Turnpike with a bandage crowning his completely bald head. I set myself-to ‘eye contact avoidance’ until he welcomes us outsiders to his second home, before rejoining his table to play some archaic card game. Its possible I’m guilty of expanding my accent a little when reciprocating his salutation, but I needn’t have bothered, as when 9 O’clock rolls round, The Turnpike is suddenly deluged with students while the regulars bob along as obliviously as they have since the 60s…

Market Stead Lane, 1640: Turgid little Serfs hobble hither and thither gingerly on Trench Foote. A gaggle of mud-encrusted street urchins play ‘footeball’ with a decomposing nobleman’s head. There’s a two-for one-deal on Women and Negroids in the shadow of the Chapel. A religious zealot pogos around on one pathetic leg, yelling at anyone within earshot to repent: for there’s not a Badger in ASDA’s chance that any of this will remain beyond Micklemas…

…okay, I didn’t read THAT far back.

Arndale Office Tower: completed in 1976 – the year the BBC occupied their Oxford Road home and the  Sex Pistols played The Free Trade Hall, inadvertently forming Warsaw in the process.

Arndale Office Tower is stabbed like a betrayal into the shoulder of Market Street, like some tobacco-stained Lego-headstone for Manchester past. Looming with its dull red epitaph, it looks down on its shelled-brethren now re-covered with crystalline fly-wings, seeming increasingly bothered by the knowledge its number is surely up. It was assembled on the labyrinthine site of what had previously served as Manchester’s Boho heart, before of course Oldham Street’s voice eventually broke and spoke-up. Shudehill is the last surviving tentacle of the City’s mid 20th century den of inequity, where until the 70s (*gasp*) “men of colour”, musicians and artists had quaffed coffee and shared London newspapers, incendiary opinion and original ideas. Today if you want to buy a safe in which to keep the vintage nudie books you bought from a one-armed man, you’re in the right place.

The jaundiced monolith whose remaining old-man yellow toenails poke out from the palatial glass slipper of the Neo-Arndale by whom its been disowned, bears all the hallmarks of a well-intentioned modernist gesture sanctioned by some Geometrically-obsessed, sub-mental City official, but was at its inception intended as a much needed…yadda yadda…for the city, and has eventually…whoop-dee-fucking-shit…Europe’s biggest City Centre Shopping…blah, blah, blah…

Lets face it, however ugly it was, or intermittently continues to be – it’s nowhere near as repugnant as the Unmitigated Palace of Faggotry that is ‘The Trafford Centre’, no hindsight required.

Well intentioned or not, Manchester’s beige Rubik’s zirconia sucked all and sundry into its thrall from every other shopping area, rendering formerly thriving High Streets such as nearby Oldham Street, a wilderness…

Photo courtesy ofDullhunk


Lasting half the time it took to complete the Arndale, Joy Division endure with the sort of legacy that demands their mention in that hushed utterance normally reserved for culture’s uppermost echelon, and will on a spiritual level be sewn into the fabric of this City’s heart far longer than any shopping centre ever will. Unfortunately it is perhaps owed in large part to the fact that Ian Curtis decided to go neck-bungee-jumping off the Sheila Maid clothes airer.

Momentarily stoked by the Sex Pistols’ first shots at the Free Trade Hall, ‘Warsaw’ echoed that frenetic barbed guitar and vehement stage presence, but gradually abandoned it in favour of a new name and more sparse, foreboding sound, shot-through with encroaching electronica, it’s Limbo-soul reverberating beneath Martin Hannett’s Bell Jar production.

Joy Division’s legacy remains brooding and complex – untouchable, despite Peter Hook’s best efforts to butt-fuck it, and that of New Order into oblivion.

And he’s tried…

…oh my, how he’s tried:

0:19: Having emitted his shrill mating-call in the hopes it will lubricate the fundament of his musical legacies, he squats and snakes-out a long hot log to make way for the possibility his legacy wants to reciprocate. Trust me Pete, it’s a one-way street.

The ‘Richard Madeley with-a-way-with-words’ that was Tony Wilson, has thankfully had the ‘twat’ forever erased from his brow in the event of his tragic passing. A Salfordian boy, the Cambridge-educated Wilson was scathingly berated and ostracized as an outsider by rivals and peers alike – his need to simultaneously prove himself & his City to their respective peers arguably the catalyst for his success. Upon seeing how Joy Division had clasped the baton from the starter Pistols and legged-it in an unprecedented direction – he was presented with a vision of how it could outshine it’s bastard past.


Factory’s greatest achievements endure not in some laughable rehash of a former site once integral to the ‘Legend’ (I’m glowering at you Hooky, you money-grabbing motherFaçer) but in the form of the music and self-confidence it facilitated, or vicariously embellished. The musical achievements of this city, from the seminal Joy Division to the self-indulgent/destructive drugged-up sub-culture-of-yuppiedom that was ‘Madchester’ – while not representative of us all, did provide every denizen with a sense of pride and identity that had been independently carved-out, with a reverence for – disavowal of – its long-lapsed and outdated tag and stature as ‘The World’s First and Greatest Industrial City’.

After a stint doing a topical programme on Sunday morning BBC TV, (I can’t recall or electrically locate the name of the show, but it might as well have been titled: ‘Skeleton Presents’) Wilson died from complications relating to Renal Cancer in 2007 at The Christie Hospital on Wilmslow Road, Withington.

Ponce-on 100 yards down the road and pass under the hanging baskets, through the Hobbiton portal of the Red Lion and carouse among the recreational Rugger Buggers and affably mannered menopausal? No – boldly go.

While having remained untouched since 1963, 9 O’clock rolls round, and The Turnpike is suddenly deluged with students while the regulars bob along as obliviously as they have since the 60s.

Like a City, whose citizens blister in and out of existence…

Tony Wilson’s Peter Saville-designed headstone in the sprawling ‘Guess Who’ game of Southern Cemetary – Sandwiched between West Didsbury & Chorlton.



1. Abbr. Tnpk. or Tpk. A toll road, especially an expressway with tollgates.

2. A tollgate.


While Tony Wilson’s Factory dream flourished and snuffed-it, The Oldham Street that was abandoned by its consumers, drawn like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ to the Mall on Market Street, was gradually inhabited by the bottom feeders who occupied its abandoned outlets, their creativity and fresh-perspective making it not only cool, but eventually profitable and inhabitable. South Manchester suburbs like Chorlton and West Didsbury have likewise been gentrified, making them desirable hives of City Centre rivalry for it’s well-to-do residents as well as honorarily-naturalised émigrés to the City.

It seems always to have taken an outsider’s perspective, to identify and bring out the best that exists in this City. With Media City’s sprouting on the site of Manchester’s formative glories almost complete, any fears of the selling of the City’s soul can be allayed by the knowledge that whatever it’s impact – its surroundings will respond accordingly.