Manchester international festival: music gives it some fight

Manchester luminaries gave us a tour of the city's music scene, while upstarts Egyptian Hip Hop, Plank! and Lonelady showcased the local talent of the future

Has today's music lost its fight, its mystery, its ideology? That's what Stockport-born journalist and Late Review luminary Paul Morley reckons. Rock'n'roll isn't supposed to be about "wearing the right clothes and feeling groovy", he argued, but about "knowing who the enemy is, and fighting back with the imagination".

Speaking at one of Manchester international festival's Close Up evenings hosted by author and DJ Dave Haslam, Morley told a sell-out audience about his forthcoming book on the Manchester impressario Tony Wilson, without whom Mif would surely not even be taking place. "Tony made you realise you could do other things," said Morley. "He was an international figure." With his characteristically mournful vigour, Morley described days as an NME journalist, at record company ZTT, and his fascinating memoir, Nothing. And there were one or two stories about his mum, too: "Are you going to meet Mick Jagger, Paul? Don't let him give you any heroin!"

A week earlier, an eloquent and engaging Bernard Sumner, whose bands were never lacking in mystery, took us on an anecdotal tour of his Joy Division and New Order days, from playing to "three men and a dog – really! I remember the dog" at Joy Division's first gig in London, to the reasons behind the surname he sometimes went by: Albrecht. "I was dozing on the sofa watching a programme about that German playwright, and I misheard his name." There was also time for some finger-wagging in Peter Hook's direction for buying up the Hacienda name, and for touring the two Joy Division albums with his band, the Light.

But what of the new bands at the festival's True Faith, a showcase for new local bands? The mystery (and a little bit of Manchester mouth) were provided by Egyptian Hip Hop. "If you've come for the old ones you should probably leave," announced Alex Hewett, the singer of a group that has been going for all of two years. Their head-scratching sound is like a slightly funkier version of early Cure with a bit of Talking Heads tossed in. On the night, though, they were perhaps outclassed by the unpredictable prog of fruity instrumentalists, Plank!, while XXXY put in a thumping DJ set. But Lonelady gets my vote so far, for her nerve-jangling guitar lines, and lyrics that were sweet and harsh and meaningful.

Aftershows in the festival teepee have seen Terry Hall and Manchester favourites Everything Everything in the booth, and, best of all, DJ Dialog, who on Saturday night got the whole tent jumping. Which was no mean feat considering that just metres away, in the Town Hall, Marina Abramović was having a private party with Dave Haslam on the decks and Antony Hegarty dancing to Mark Morrison's Return of the Mack. There was also a guy dressed as the Pope, a monk, and a Patti Smith look-alike. "It was such a bizarre night," said Haslam. "I thought I was on magic mushrooms." And with a party like that, ideology can surely wait until dawn.


James Hopkin

The GuardianTramp

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