What a piece of work is Manchester! The city that reinvented itself, restored, revived, revitalised, out of the urban debris of the 1970s. And whatever you think today about the new Manchester, there’s no doubt that it’s exciting, vital, an international destination for culture and sport, a centre of business and academic excellence.
But Andy Spinoza recalls that when he first arrived in Manchester, it was “sliding into the dustbin of history.” The long decline from industrial and artistic greatness in Victorian times had left a city that seemed “locked in a fatal post-industrial tailspin”. Spinoza says that he and his student friends “were at the fag-end of an epic economic bust and were just partying in the debris”.
But he stayed, never felt drawn back “home” to London, and he’s watched with the keenest of writer’s eyes the gradual resurrection, the growing sense that here was a story of success, confidence, investment and importance. Now he has now produced a magisterial magnum opus: Manchester Unspun: Pop,Property and Power in the Original Modern City. This is more than 300 tightly-packed, impeccably researched pages which is part modern history and part love letter.
And at the heart of the revival of Manchester he says, of course, that it wouldn’t have happened without Factory Records and the Hacienda. Or at least, would have otherwise developed differently. So it feels that this book is a worthy follow-up to Paul Morley’s biography of Tony Wilson, From Manchester With Love.
Spinoza was an early member at the Hacienda club, and he reported on Manchester’s music scene for the NME and The Face. He founded the alternative magazine City Life, but also spent 10 years as a gossip columnist for the Manchester Evening News. So, naturally, he can tell the stories that haven’t been told before, with insight that comes from the beating heart of the city. And then, as head of his own PR firm, he promoted the dynamic post-industrial Manchester through the first 20 years of this millennium. Ergo, he knows what he’s talking about.
And he knows the people who add life to this story, from Hucknall to Ferguson, Roger Taylor (no, not the tennis player) and Bernstein (Howard, that is) to Richard Leese and Andy Burnham. But time and again, the name of the main protagonist, Anthony H. Wilson shines from the pages. It’s no hagiography, though; Spinoza is too thorough an historian for that. Nor is he dewy-eyed or sentimental about the old Manchester, or the new.
But his writing has an attractive lyricism that makes one (well, me, actually) proud to say, yes, I was there, that’s where I’m from. “The city boasted a tumultuous historical energy which seemed to live on in the modern day. From the massacre at Peterloo, the eye-witness accounts of Engels and the formulations of Marx, through to the early trade unions and the Suffragettes, the Chartists and the Free Trade movement…all this merged with modern pop culture into a swirling continuum in my mind.”
Spinoza says of early impressions that Manchester was a movie on perpetual loop in his head, “a revolving cast list of George Best, the Pankhursts, L.S. Lowry, the Moors Murderers and the cast of Coronation Street all set to a playlist of Joy Division, Jilted John and the mournful brass of the TV soap’s opening credits. The seventeen year old me could no more have escaped Manchester’s gravitational pull than Stan Ogden could have walked past the Rovers Return without nipping in for a pint.”
Today, he says, for all the creativity and the development, and the thrill of a new future emerging, in the inner city districts, “the unskilled left-behinds and have-nots can gawp at the eye candy, the twinkling lights hovering in the dusk across the serpentine Irwell, but they may feel the real benefits for them are elusive.” But the sense of pride, and affection, for his adopted city permeate every chapter. If you wanted to better understand what makes this north-west city tick and boom, there’s no question that this is the place to turn.