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Madchester Music...Rave On

Updated on December 3, 2013

Memories of Madchester and its music

'Manchester North of England', said the T-shirts. It was the best place to be if you were young at the end of the 1980s. The Stock, Aitken and Waterman horror show dominated the charts, but up North there was another muscial subculture that became famous around the world.

Here is my personal playlist for the Madchester era, a little bit of history and the things I remember most. Thanks for reading!

A classic Madchester track - The Hallelujah Club Mix by the Happy Mondays

This is a Factory Records classic, featuring Kirsty MacColl on vocals. The Happy Mondays formed in Salford in 1985 and came to the attention of Factory Records after entering a battle of the bands contest at the Hacienda (they came last). The Happy Mondays' fusion of funk, psychedelia and guitar music typifies the Madchester sound.

Before Madchester... - ...Things were a little more serious

This is the video by Anton Corbijn for the beautiful 'Atmosphere' by Joy Division, one of Factory Records' first signings. Joy Division were on the cusp of fame when lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980. The remaining band members reformed as New Order, added house music influences to their sound, and became leading members of the Madchester music scene.

...Then along came Madchester - 'I am the Resurrection' by the Stone Roses

The Stone Roses were formed in 1984 by singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire, who grew up as neighbours on the same street in Timperley. Their 1989 debut album, The Stone Roses, was a major breakthrough, winning Album of the Year in the NME readers' poll awards. Even today, the album regularly tops media polls for the best British album of all time.

Factory Records poster by Peter Saville
Factory Records poster by Peter Saville

A short history of Madchester

From punk to psychedelia

Punk comes to Manchester

Legend has it that the inspiration for many of those involved in the Madchester scene came from the Sex Pistols' first-ever gig outside London. Held at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in the summer of 1976, the gig attracted thirty to forty people, despite the hundreds who have since claimed to have been there. But amongst those thirty to forty people were future members of influential bands such as the Smiths, the Fall, the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. A second gig six weeks later was a sell-out. The audience included Tony Wilson, who went on to found Factory Records.

The inspiration generated by the Sex Pistols is explained by Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order: "The gig did offer a lot of encouragement. Because up to that point, you had to be a virtuoso to be in a group. And now it was like, you don't need that shit. Three chords, write a song, bingo."

The haçienda must be built*

Local journalist Anthony Wilson and out-of-work actor Alan Erasmus founded Factory in 1978. Their first venture was a club night at the Russell Club in Hulme, which featured Joy Division, the Durutti Column and Cabaret Voltaire. This was followed by the release of an EP featuring the bands that played at the club.

Factory's move into recording spawned a succession of singles and albums, including classics by Joy Division, whose influence remains strong today. Tony Wilson placed emphasis on creative and commercial freedom for Factory's bands, to the extent that the label often eschewed formal contracts and the bands, instead of the label, owned the rights to their music.

After the death of Ian Curtis of Joy Division in 1980, the remaining band members regrouped as New Order. The increasing influence of techo prompted the band to explore the club scene in New York, which was introduced to Manchester on the opening in 1982 of the Haçienda nightclub. A joint venture between Factory and New Order, the Haçienda lost money from its conception, most of which came, unbeknown to the band, from New Order's earnings. But the club became the epicentre of the emerging techno and acid house scenes. When bands such as New Order and the Happy Mondays amalgamated these sounds in the late 1980s with post-punk guitar music, the Madchester scene was born.

*"The haçienda must be built" was a slogan of the radical group Situationist International, later appropriated by Anthony Wilson.


The Mancunian fusion of dance music with indie guitars was given momentum by the increased availability of the drug ecstasy. According to Haçienda DJ Dave Haslem: "Ecstasy use changed clubs forever; a night at the Haçienda went from being a great night out, to an intense, life-changing experience".

In 1988 the national music press began to report on the emergent scene in Manchester. The increasing success of the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses in particular spear-headed the Madchester scene. As Clint Boon of the Inspiral Carpets explains:

"We'd arrived at that classic time in every decade where people say 'why all the sad faces?' A lot of bands then were painting a lot of grey pictures. Even though they made great records, they were downbeat. Suddenly, bands like the Inspirals, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, without any collaboration, were all celebrating colour and psychedelia with paisley patterns and funky shades. It came at a time when people needed something fresh."

Madchester became a nationwide influence. The singles charts featured tracks such as 'Sit Down' by James (which reached No.2) and 'Step On' by the Happy Mondays (No.5). The scene even made the cover of Time magazine in the US. But by the early 1990s, the Madchester scene broadened into a more general 'baggy' scene. The music press shifted focus from Manchester to emerging, often southern-based indie bands. Britpop was born.


New Fast Automatic Daffodils were formed by a group of graduates from drama school and Manchester Poly. Although the New FADS were never a major part of the Madchester scene, I loved 'Big', mainly because no one else had heard of it. Even my closest Madchester friends were unconvinced.

The Only One I Know (Live BBC Radio Wales In Concert 29/7/06)
The Only One I Know (Live BBC Radio Wales In Concert 29/7/06)

A classic Charlatans track, chosen here because it's so compelling. Including the Charlatans is a slight cheat, since they're from the West Midlands and Cheshire. However, due to the many appearances the band made in Manchester, tracks such as this became a key part of the soundtrack to the Madchester scene.


Memories of Madchester

It would be great to hear yours in the comment box

Saturday afternoons in town

Going to Affleck's Palace to buy Joy Division posters from the shop up the stairs and to rifle through the T-shirts at Identity, which at that point took up what seemed like half the ground floor.

Browsing the racks of vinyl at Polar records on Deansgate, hanging around all afternoon because someone knew someone who once saw Morrissey there. Not forgetting Eastern Bloc Records (before they moved to bigger premises at Affleck's) and Piccadilly Records.

Buying FAC51 badges at Area 251, the Factory Records shop in Affleck's.

The Mock Turtles playing at HMV on Market Street, with someone's brother drafted in on bass because their usual bassist wasn't available. He had sheets of notes on the floor but didn't do too bad a job, just looked a bit like he was going to throw up.

Dancing - repetitively - until dawn

DJs everywhere playing 'The Storm' by the World of Twist on slow (i.e. 33rpm). Much disappointment when downloading the track many years later on iTunes, only to discover that it doesn't sound half as good when played at normal speed (why can't iPods do 'slow'?).

Hacienda bouncers wearing latex gloves at Flesh Night (the gay night) in case they caught anything. God almighty.

All the students drinking Newky Brown (i.e. Newcastle Brown Ale) from the bottle at indie club nights. Often accessorised with a flowery James T-shirt.

Referring to the Hacienda as "The Hac" in moments of pretentiousness.

Peeking through the curtains of the City Road Inn to see whether or not the Hacienda queue had started to build. And a whole coach full of people from Leeds (Leeds!) turning up.

It wasn't just guitars...the Acid House influence - 'Voodoo Ray' by A Guy Called Gerald

A Guy Called Gerald is Gerald Simpson, a musician and DJ from Moss Side. First played at the Hacienda in 1988, 'Voodoo Ray' was one of the first acid house tracks produced in the UK.

An acid house and guitar fusion - 'Fine Time' by New Order

'Fine Time' is the first track on the 1989 album 'Technique' by New Order. It shows how the guitar-influenced band blended their original sound with acid house. 'Technique' was released in February 1989 and entered the UK charts straight at number one.

Madchester memories on Amazon

The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club
The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club

Peter Hook's engrossing account of the rise and fall of the Hacienda is by turns hilarious, sad and revealing. A fantastic guide to the scene, from someone who was at its centre.

24 Hour Party People
24 Hour Party People

The DVD of Mike Winterbottom's film celebrating the Madchester scene. Very funny and extremely scurrilous, with a fantastic soundtrack.

Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl: The Story of Tony and Lindsay Wilson
Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl: The Story of Tony and Lindsay Wilson

A revealing story by Anthony Wilson's first wife, describing the early days of Factory and the course of the Madchester scene.

Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album
Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album

A comprehensive collection of Factory memorabilia, charting the graphic design work that helped turn Factory Records into a legend.

Inspiral carpets
Inspiral carpets

What we wore

We wore this kind of thing and it wasn't pretty...

The Madchester look was part rave, part football casual and part 60s hippie. The Inspiral Carpets, never Manchester's prettiest band, give a good idea in the picture on the right of how we looked.

The music-orientated nature of the Madchester scene meant that it was all about the T-shirts.

  • Hacienda t-shirts had flower graphics, adding a note of psychedelia, and a large 'Fac 51' on the bottom hem.
  • T-shirts referencing the band James continued the floral theme, with J and an A on the front, an M on the left sleeve and an E and an S on the back.
  • 'Manchester North of England' t-shirts were available from the Manchester-based Identity clothing label. The bold, black-on-white typography was similar to Katherine Hamnett's political T-shirts.

The T-shirts were worn with pale baggy jeans for the boys and leggings for the girls. The more laddish elements went for Joe Bloggs jeans.

Hair was general reflective of national fashion trends. The boys often sported a floppy fringe, parted in the centre. Fishing hats added a Mancunian twist, popularised by Reni, the Stone Roses drummer.

Madchester on celluloid

Shame there weren't camera phones in 1989...

This seminal BBC documentary on Factory Records is a fantastic introduction to the mayhem and madness that was Manchester during the Factory years: BBC documentary on Factory Records. It includes interviews with key figures such as Anthony Wilson and members of New Order.

Mike Winterbottom directed a vivid recreation of the Madchester scene in his 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People (pictured right). The trailer can be found at: 24 Hour Party People trailer. Much of the film is driven by myth-making rather than reality, but it is thoroughly entertaining and has a great soundtrack. The scenes recreating the Hacienda are particularly accurate.

Your thoughts on Madchester - The bands, the places, it's your turn!

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    • GeoffSteen profile image

      GeoffSteen 5 years ago

      @smadamij: I followed the link - great post and I suspect it's very true. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      smadamij 5 years ago

      Found this which backs you up entirely. Great music, great times, great city