Sunday 3 April 2016

it's so full circle: matt healy, manchester and the north/south divide

“and as for you and i, may we never be further apart" - morrissey at manchester arena, july 2012

as i begin writing this post, it's 1:19am and i was planning on going to bed about half an hour ago. that, however, was before i fell down the watching-interviews-with-my-current-musical-obsession rabbit hole and now i'm tearing up watching this interview with matt healy and feeling seriously homesick. pathetic really, given that i've only been back at uni for five days. that off-peak return ticket i was forced to buy after missing my original train is calling my name, but unfortunately the briefing for my next uni project (for those on my course unfortunate enough not to find a work placement for the next thee weeks) (i feel like the kid who gets left behind at school while everyone else is away on a trip, promised a "fun" week of activities) is tomorrow. so i'm stuck here and trying to resist the urge to run away from it all (for now). 

needless to say, this interview is only making it harder. in it, matty talks about playing a homecoming gig in support of their latest album (i'm not writing out the whole title; if you've somehow been living under a rock for the last month or so and missed the release/its surrounding hysteria, please google it) in the band's native manchester. as matty was born in london to rather well-known parents - actor tim healy and loose women star denise welch -  i tend to associate him with the plush celebrity lifestyle of his family, though if the track she lays down from their aforementioned second album is anything to go by, it wasn't all glitz and glamour. nevertheless, hearing him speak fondly of his time spent growing up in wilmslow and travelling to and from the city centre to gigs tugs on my heart strings and makes me think about all those trips i've made to the very same venues as one of my musical heroes. 

it also makes me think about a conversation i had with my friend in london a few months ago, in which they, hailing from the south, talked about their love of the libertines. having grown up at the other end of the country, it struck me that the north/south divide so often discussed in the media can very much be applied to music. there's a reason why i've seen the courteeners six times, and it's because they evoke within me a certain sense of being at home. for me, their music perfectly encapsulates the spirit of manchester, seen in their searingly honest lyrics and sharp guitar riffs. it's hard to believe there was a time when the thing i wanted most in life was to get away from this place, though getting away was the one thing that made me appreciate it more when i eventually returned. spending time in london, home to the libertines, made me realise that i don't feel that same emotional connection to all the city's major attractions as i do when i drag my stupidly heavy suitcase through piccadilly gardens on my way back from the train station. 

but for those out there who grew up in and around london, i can see why the music of the libertines would resonate so strongly with them. the band perfectly captures london's thriving indie scene during the early 2000s, and serves as an insight into an era long gone as they made their name playing in the capital's pubs and clubs. from signing with london label rough trade to an impromptu gig at the band's flat in bethnal green that was shut down by police in 2003, they perfectly encapsulated that ramshackle, hedonistic lifestyle. 

up north in middleton, the courteeners were formed in 2006 after singer liam fray got his start as a singer-songwriter playing acoustic sets around the city while studying creative writing at the university of salford. this in itself is emotional for me; as i pass it on the bus on my way into manchester i can't help but feel motivated and inspired knowing that one of my (many) musical heroes got their start at a place just minutes away from where i grew up. it reminds me that there's hope yet, that i really can build a career in the city i love, something i once thought impossible. 

after seeing the courteeners in venues all over the city, from the MEN (now known as the manchester arena) to the apollo and the ritz, i totally understand why matty and the rest of his band feel such a strong connection to the city when they return. as much as i like the libertines, when i listen to can't stand me now or anthem for doomed youth, i don't feel the same emotional connection as i do when the opener or dreamers come up on my ipod's shuffle. 

it's all in the lyrics. when liam fray sings about the deansgate firefiles and the ladies who like to congregate on fairfield street, i can visualise these places, even visit them myself should i so desire. this creates a much more personal bond with artists i've never met as we've walked the same streets and swayed in the midst of a sweaty crowd at all the same venues. when i saw the courteeners for the fifth time at brixton's apollo in novmember 2014, it just didn't feel quite right. 

something was missing, and it was the mancunian accent, thousands of voices filling the venue all the way up to the top-tier seats i found myself in due to a last minute ticket booking. even pete doherty himself has noticed the difference. "it's like they say: oasis is the sound of a council estate singing its heart out, and the libertines is the sound of someone just put in the rubbish chute at the back of the estate, trying to work out what day it was", he said of his band's sound compared to his northern counterparts.

there's so much history behind these lyrics. doherty sings of his love for bandmate carl barât, declaring that he's his waterloo and barât his gypsy line, though these places have no emotional connotations for me. 

for me, it's all the manchester bands that came before my beloved courteeners. 

it's my dad (badly) singing wonderwall to me, trying to send me to sleep as a child when my mother worked nights. 

it's bitter sweet symphony, another one of my dad's favourites, that takes me back to growing up in the early 2000s (or what i can remember of it). 

it's turning on the TV to hear girlfriend in a coma on NME's (now-defunct) music channel and later discovering a shitty live version of this charming man during one of my aforementioned youtube browsing sessions. it's this strange man in his charity shop cardigans (and very little else), cavorting around a stage with a bunch of gladioli in his back pocket.

it's watching this video over and over, and later driving past salford lads' club, that warm feeling i get inside knowing that morrissey has walked those very streets. living in manchester, the pleasure, the privilege is mine, as it's a city so rich in musical legacy. 

it's the ache i feel in my heart five years on, morrissey's lyrics still hitting me hard, words that resonated so deeply with my 14 year old self who felt like they didn't have a friend in the world. 

it's all the gigs i've ever dragged my mother to across the city since i was 13, and all the ones we've got lined up (we're seeing coldplay (for the fourth time) and the stone roses this summer, and if this news is anything to go by, i'm not sure i'll make it to the end of the gig).

it's me and my best friend walking through manchester in our matching morrissey t-shirts, our very own (fake) gladiolis poking out the tops of our bags on the way to see our hero, back when we were naive and thought we had the whole world figured out. it's me crying my eyes out when he played this song, overcome with emotion at seeing that strange man who seemed to understand me so well, still flouncing around the stage like thirty years hadn't gone by since he first wrote this song. 

it's every night out where they've ever played champagne supernova just before the lights go up, the crowd drunkenly serenading the people nearest (and dearest) to them with lyrics that somehow never get old, even though i hadn't even been born at the time of the album's release. 

it's the moment when it all came full circle (as the title - a quote from matty's interview - suggests) and i got to see this live, got to stand squashed up against the barrier with tears in my eyes, mouthing every word, desperately clinging onto liam's arm when he came down from the stage at the end of the gig, much to the delight of the people on the front row. watching this back now is surreal because i was there. i got to experience it first hand, not just wistfully imagining what it must have been like to be a part of it.

you get the picture. 

now make no mistake, the libertines are a perfectly good indie-rock band, but that connection with the place that made you, streets to define you and streets to confine you, as morrissey said in the first chapter of his autobiography, is simply lacking. 

this is a love letter to my city, and in the words of oasis, it's gonna be the one that saves me

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