Manchester, so much to answer for
Manchester was always a place of my schoolgirl dreams, even though I lived hundreds of miles away.
The dreary northern streets might as well have been paved with gold for me, a fan of The Smiths, who swore one day to make a pilgrimage here. To walk in the footsteps of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, to see the old mills and canals and know what Ancoats and Hulme and Salford were really like - all the places that were referenced in Smiths’ lyrics and artwork, and which seemed so far away and exotic.
My first trip to the city was in 2001, and it wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind - the tired buildings of Didsbury serving as a weekend bolthole as I visited a university friend and did little other than sit in an Irish pub and dodge the typical torrents. But by the time I ventured back here in 2014, it felt so different - and on that occasion, it was to make it my permanent home.
Nowadays, I walk those self-same roads that my musical heroes did, and none of it gets tired or boring, or old. When I pass the Manchester Free Trade Hall, I think of the Sex Pistols bursting onto the punk scene in 1976 - which Morrissey reportedly attended - or even Bob Dylan’s ‘Judas’ moment a decade before which changed the face of music forever.
Sunny days catching one of my beloved Metrolinks from Burton Road to St Peter’s Square are best soundtracked by The Stone Roses, Waterfall or She Bangs the Drums being the tracks most imbued with the Manchester spirit which makes me thrill to live here still. Meanwhile, when the rain is bouncing off the window of the MediaCityUK tram and Salford moves into view, New Order or Joy Division are likely pumping through my headphones, with a timely rendering of Blue Monday beating an intense tattoo into my inner ear.
Manchester’s heart and soul comes from somewhere unknown.
But its part in the UK’s rich past, be it in suffrage, unions, industry or politics, that all came from that indefatigable Mancunian heart, and it’s the same heart that gave me the music which I love so dearly.
It’s the same heart which helped the people of this great city emerge bowed but not broken from May 2017, a suicide bombing on our own turf bringing terror and horror to our doors. From now until the end of time, it’s a place of solace and love, a place where being yourself is a pre-requisite and where bravery and self-belief have helped to make its people world beaters and history makers.