Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Sounds of the Other City - the Salford Music Map

SALFORD and Manchester, two cities next to each other but apart. To the rest of the world, Salford and Manchester are indistinguishable. However, in case you didn’t know, Salford is a different city marked out by the River Irwell towards the west of Manchester.

Until the Industrial Revolution, Salford was more powerful than its more famous neighbour. We stole the Industrial Revolution from them, and now, says a new exhibition and map celebrating 50 years of Salford music, we’re taking credit for their music too. “You wouldn’t get Glasgow and Edinburgh mixed up”, says the Salford Music Map’s researcher, David Nolan, so why Manchester and Salford?

Salfordians tend either to try and escape the city or wear their civic pride as a badge of honour. Being from Salford is sometimes seen as a mixed blessing: think of the 'Salford-Cambridge tones of Anthony H Wilson' (as we're reminded of in Mark Garry's BBC commissioned poem St Anthony, which can be listened to in the exhibition).

Nolan, a music author and lecturer at Salford University decided it was time to “address the balance a bit and clear up a few facts” spread by a Manchester Music Map that was created in the 1990s. He says “nearly all the stuff that was on it was actually in Salford.”

Disappointingly, though, the Salford Music Map isn’t really a map but a line of locations - you won’t be able to use it to find your way around Salford or any of the venues.

The ‘map’ is not drawn to scale; it promotes Salford as a tourist destination for visitors from both the UK and abroad, but you’re probably not going to track down all the sites, which are miles apart. Nolan suggests you “invest in a car or a bus ticket”, but admits the Salford Music Map is “more of a thing to put on your wall”.

Smiths fans already have Phil Gatenby’s books, Morrissey’s Manchester and Panic on the Streets, which contain instructions for foot, car and public transport and make for a fun musical tour around Manchester and Salford.

Some of the stories on the map could do with further exploration in the exhibition. Who are the Kersal Massive, and are they really something Salford should be proud of? I was amused to learn that a successful In The City slot at the Kings Arms, probably the nicest venue in the whole of Manchester, let alone Salford, was responsible for letting histrionic glam rockers the Darkness loose on the world, and Mark E Smith could have had a successful career in shipping was it not for The Fall, but both stories are barely referred to in the exhibition. The German singer Nico, who has a section on the map, is virtually unmentioned.

The 3D map on display in the gallery looks like something primary school children would create, with a big, jagged yellow sun peering over it optimistically. A river made of wool winds its way through cut out bits of paper indicating streets and buildings, some of which have already fallen over.

The exhibition is more substantial than the map, however. There are star shaped sunglasses to dress up in, and a stage set up with instruments for future rock stars. There’s a recreation of a record shop complete with posters, fliers and 7”s, as well work by Ray Lowry - Salford-born cartoonist and creator of the iconic cover of London Calling by the Clash - who died recently. You can pick up a telephone and listen to the fuzzy tones of punk poet John Cooper Clarke.

The exhibition is most interesting when it documents the 'development of a dirty northern city', to quote Mike Garry's poem again, and the changing ways we listen to music. Some sites on the map consisted of long-demolished terraced housing, and artefacts include a 1960s reel to reel cassette recorder, jukeboxes, Walkmen and IPODs.

A timeline relates musical occasions to what was going on elsewhere in the world, and there are films of key players for the different decades, as well as a Salford music fan’s Teddy Boy suit.

Bizarrely for an exhibition celebrating Salford, though, there's a big section on the Hacienda, which despite its various locations was never found in Salford. Perhaps because Salford doesn't have a recognisable city centre, Salford bands made a name for themselves playing in Manchester.

It's not just Salford bands Manchester takes credit for, though: it's associated with lots of music that’s not strictly Mancunian. Doves are a Cheshire band, Badly Drawn Boy is from Bolton, Inspiral Carpets are from Oldham. The Charlatans, who the music map claims as Salford’s own, have tenuous claims to being a Manchester band, let alone Salford. Singer Tim Burgess grew up in Cheshire and now lives in LA.

The map aims to find the future sounds of Salford, following the success of the Ting Tings. Bands like the Beep Seals look back to the sixties for their inspiration and are new, but not particularly futuristic. Nor is jaunty, brass heavy ska band The Mekkits.

Salford's annual new music festival Sounds of the Other City is hardly a collection of Salford sounds, either. Fun and commendable as it is, and successful at bringing people into Salford who wouldn't normally go there, bands at this year’s event included the sublime David Thomas Broughton from Leeds, as well as Rozi Plain from Bristol and even a band from New York, Talibam!. For the real 'new' sounds of Greater Manchester in the 21st century, listen to bands like Cats in Paris, Denis Jones or Voice of the Seven Woods, who sometimes even play at venues in Salford like the lovely Sacred Trinity Church.

However, Nolan hopes the exhibition and map will get “people to cross over the river who normally would have just gone to Manchester”.

Quiffs, Riffs and Tiffs will be at Salford Art Gallery, Peel Park Crescent, until 28 October 2009. The Salford Music Map is free and can be ordered from or picked up at the Salford Tourist Information Centre, the Salford Museum and Art Gallery and several of the venues on the map, including The Lowry, The King’s Arms, Salford Lads Club, Islington Mill and Salford University.

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