The MADchester years
DJs & ballgowns
The class of ’92 were gathered for the last time, our high school leavers’ dinner. We sat down to a 3-course meal to celebrate finishing our A-levels, looking forward to our impending results with feelings varying between nervous excitement and sheer terror. Ready at last to spread our wings and speed off to various universities around the British Isles. Rushing with indecent haste towards adulthood – and the Madchester years.
“Oops upside your head” was played, we all sat on the dance floor; long, swaying lines of teenagers dressed up in their finest. “Sit down” by James followed, which I will forever remember as the anthem of that night. My friend completely ruined the dress she’d hired – a full-length, off- the-shoulder, blue ballgown. An expensive date indeed.
I didn’t know it then, but I should have taken that song as an omen. I’d been planning to head for Liverpool and English Literature, but A-level results that fell short of my expectations meant that fate and clearing conspired to send me to study Sociology in Manchester instead.
Last-minute nerves aside, freedom beckoned and I could not wait. The Soup Dragons’ cover of “I’m Free” played on an endless loop inside my head. I couldn’t quite believe my luck. I was about to be allowed to come home as late as I liked; in fact I could stay out all night and no-one could stop me. If I wanted to exist on nothing but toast, ditto. No one could tell me my skirt was too short or my hair too messy. As I got nearer and nearer to my new home, I was high on trepidation and elation.
What a place to be. Manchester, smack-bang in the middle of where it was all happening right then. ‘Madchester’ was the music genre of the moment, and I landed right in the middle of where it was all going on, the twin strands of the indie music scene and clubbing culture running parallel and sometimes, almost completely intertwined. The Madchester music scene – and the Madchester fashion that went with it – was quite unlike any other.
In 1993, my second year as a student, I got a bar job at the Boardwalk, one of Manchester’s most popular clubs at the time, a place that very successfully capitalised on the popularity of both indie and house music. James had played the venue, among other Madchester bands such as the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, the Charlatans and the psychedelically-named Inspiral Carpets. Oasis even made their live debut there.
DJ Dave Haslam had a weekly slot, hosting the club’s legendary “Yellow” night every Friday. It wasn’t all about the Hacienda, although Haslam did DJ there too. He clearly remembers the Boardwalk very fondly; “you get that kind of club once in a generation”, he says on his website.
One of my classmates dabbled in DJ-ing, and spent many absorbed hours in the city’s record shops, the infamous Affleck’s Palace and the Corn Exchange, rooting through racks of vinyl for rare 12 inch remixes. Vinyl was at the time petering out in popularity among the masses, making way for smaller, shinier, tougher CDs. It was, though, still the medium of choice for those who manned the decks every weekend, drawing huge crowds of clubbers in from across the North West and even further afield.
Unable to unwind
They say youth is wasted on the young. I’m not sure if I agree with that – I certainly enjoyed my younger years – but one thing I do know is that I did not realise, or therefore appreciate, how much I was immersed in music history as it was being made. I showed up for my shifts, I pulled pint after pint, mopped floors and replenished the toilet rolls, and, while I enjoyed it, the music was really just something that was going on in the background while I toiled. Something that kept me awake after I got back to my student flat, my ringing ears rendering me wide-eyed and alert, unable to unwind at 3am. Not thinking at all about my minuscule role in Manchester music history.
By the time I graduated in 1995, the sounds of Madchester were morphing into Britpop, with the explosion of Blur, Oasis, Pulp and their like onto the scene, all still to this day some of my favourite bands of all time. Though I may have been blissfully unaware of it at the time, high as I was on freedom and making my own way in the world, the Madchester scene must have seeped into my consciousness and influenced my musical preferences. The word ‘eclectic’ probably sums up my music collection very accurately.
In 1996, just a year after I left Manchester, the IRA bombed the city centre, changing it irrevocably. The entire city centre was remodelled; two medieval pubs in which I’d spent many a happy hour were even moved, brick by brick, to a new location for the old Shambles Square, 70 metres away from its original site. People of Manchester were shaken, but stirred into action. Today, the city thrives – it is industrious, modern and upbeat. The Corn Exchange is now a restaurant complex and Affleck’s Palace, safely tucked away in the Northern quarter, is still going strong.
The Hac (“hass”) – as it was known locally – closed its doors for good in 1997, Dave Haslam joining Elliot Eastwick on the decks for the final swansong. The club had been plagued by financial problems for some time and was apparently subsidised by funds from Factory records and New Order, the label’s biggest band. Ironically, New Order’s “Blue Monday”, the biggest selling 12 inch single of all time, lost about 5 pence per copy sold due to the intricate die-cast sleeve costing so much to produce.
The 2002 film “24 Hour Party People” documents the rise and fall of the Hac, the latter allegedly largely down to ecstasy use and the detrimental effect of this on drink sales. It also reportedly brought gang-related violence to the already troubled club.
Come home to Madchester
The Has is no more, the building was razed to the ground in 2002 and there are now flats where it once stood, which were marketed with the controversial slogan, ‘now the party’s over, you can come home.’ The Boardwalk closed in 1999 and the building still stands – converted, predictably, into luxury apartments. A blue plaque marks the building; “1984-1999. The Boardwalk. Madchester venue nightclub and rehearsal rooms.” Underneath, the notorious yellow acid house smiley face.
Funkademia, started at the Boardwalk in 1995, has become Manchester’s longest running club night – it is now held at the Mint Lounge in the Northern Quarter, so something of those 1990s Manchester clubbing days still lives on.
People now play out their everyday lives where clubbers and gig-goers once had the time of theirs. Perhaps some have no idea that the likes of the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses and Oasis once played right there, where they work, eat or wash – or even host their own parties.
Recently, I saw photos of old school pals – the same ones from that 1992 leavers’ dinner – at Hacienda Classical in Newcastle. I really did get the feeling that things had come full circle. The same feeling that I get when I see today’s teenagers, rifling through racks of vinyl just as I did in the 80s and early 90s. In November 2017, Hacienda Classical returned to Manchester once more, following rave (ahem!) reviews of the summer events.
The MADchester years live on
The teenagers and twenty-somethings of the 1990s might be all grown and mortgaged up these days, but good music will always live on. Hurrah for the “Madchester Years” and its bands that gave us something to dance to, sing along to, and the city and clubs that gave them venues in which to hone their talent and blossom, before bursting out into the wider world. They also gave a lot of happy, smiley people nights out to live for – the time of their lives. A precious gift indeed.
If you’re planning to visit the city, check out a complete guide to a Weekend in Manchester HERE.
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