Monthly Archives: April 2013

Politics and Music: The personalities of the North

Most Shane Meadows films build towards an epic and decisive scene of violence. The Stone Roses have a turbulent history. The rational reaction to a Shane Meadows film about the Stone Roses is probably to duck for cover.

Yet this wasn’t my reaction to seeing the trailer. From which I learnt that Tom Howard of the NME has written that “grown men will cry” upon seeing the film, which is released on 5 June. Never mind the film, the 2 minutes and 17 seconds of the trailer are enough to move me. “Why are they”, as a fan asks during the trailer, “so important to people? You know and I know but you can’t write it down, can you?”

When put like that, it seems foolish to even try to write down why I feel as I do when I watch the trailer. But I am going to try, anyway. Most obviously and fundamentally, the Stone Roses are a great, life-affirming band. They are also one that, after their acrimonious breakup, many thought they would never see live again. There is a sense of answered prayers about seeing them on stage again.

But could they have existed at all if not hewn from the rich topsoil of Manchester? Could the Stone Roses possibly have come from anywhere else? If not then is not part of the reason for the importance of the Stone Roses where they come from?

As Jarvis Cocker, another indie icon, once said on the South Bank Show (after 5 minutes and 30 seconds): “I think Sheffield’s got a personality”. What can be said of Sheffield can also be said of Manchester. The easy charm and swagger of Ian Brown is the charm and swagger of Manchester. The self-depreciation and wry observation of Jarvis Cocker speak of Sheffield’s personality.

While the Stone Roses and Pulp embody the personalities of Manchester and Sheffield, it is less clear that the governance of these cities also expresses these personalities. The splendour of Manchester Town Hall seems more a reflection of the self-assurance of bygone city leaders, rather than mirroring the contemporary belief of the Stone Roses. The people of Manchester may see themselves in the Stone Roses but those nominally in charge of the city are beholden to national leaders for the powers and resources necessary to further improve their wonderful city.

Ian Brown has famously observed that Manchester has everything except a beach but, actually, compared to similarly sized cities in other countries, it also lacks political power over its own destiny. This can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s time in government, as Paul Salveson, General Secretary of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, wrote in Socialism with a Northern Accent: “As regional inequality was growing, the ability of local government to defend working people was also being undermined.”

One of the most eye-opening aspects of Salveson’s book for me is its documenting of a wide-ranging, northern, socialist, cultural tradition – including the working-class writers of fiction and poetry, often in dialect, the socialist newspapers and speaking tours, the Clarion cycling clubs, the importance of the countryside and the co-operative movement.

We might see Brown and Cocker as poets. Certainly as working class lads done good. But, as they infrequently comment publicly on politics, it would probably be a stretch to see them as explicitly part of a northern, socialist, cultural tradition.

Equally, they are massive presences on the cultural landscape of the north. It reaffirms me in my confidence in the native genius of the northern people that they are so. Possessed of these qualities, these people have nothing to fear and everything to gain from a more devolved political settlement.

The change could be so dramatic as to be the stuff of Shane Meadow’s next documentary. For now I eagerly anticipate his film on the Stone Roses and wish that the north had political leadership as dynamic and ground-breaking as the Stone Roses are as band.

Jonathan Todd is a former ministerial advisor and senior consultant at Europe Economics. An economist with high-level policy and political experience, he remains an associate at Europe Economics, Demos and ESL UK. He also writes for Labour Uncut. Currently he is undertaking a pioneering research project for UK Music on the economic contribution of the music industry to the British economy. @jonathan_todd