Review: Various Artists - Manchester North of England boxset

The Manchester North of England boxset, out now on Cherry Red Records.
The Manchester North of England boxset, out now on Cherry Red Records.

Manchester is a city which has been at the forefront of the independent music for years, and this lovingly-compiled boxset rounds up a particularly rich period in its history.

Covering the years 1977-1993, it features 143 tracks across seven CDs in a deluxe box set which also contains a lavish glossy booklet.

It covers the period from the adrenaline rush of punk, all the way through the 'Madchester' sound, and through to what would become known as Britpop.

It kicks off in wonderfully snotty style with a demo version of Breakdown by Buzzcocks, one of the first wave of punk bands, who were hugely influential and still around today.

The first disc includes many of the bands who followed in their wake, and there are some well-known names featured - Slaughter and the Dogs, John Cooper Clarke, the one-hit wonder Jilted John, and Magazine, alongside lesser-known acts like the Frantic Elevators and Salford Jets.

The standout track is She's Lost Control, one of the classics recorded by Joy Division as punk morphed to post-punk and Ian Curtis and co became trailblazers for the often sparse, repetitive sound which denoted through the genre.

Disc two begins with Rowche Rumble by another band who have showed real longevity, The Fall, and the Buzzcocks-influenced Fast Cars explain why The Kids Just Wanna Dance.

The scene was dominated by boys with guitars, and there's classic throwaway pop that I haven't heard for years, such as Yesterday's Love by Any Trouble, rubbing shoulders with ultra-local acts like The Manchester Mekon and Bet Lynch's Legs.

It's sometimes the oddities that stand out, and Bricks by The Diagram Bros was just such a track for me. I'd never heard it before, and found it ludicrous yet loveable at the same time.

Indie favourites Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio and Crispy Ambulance all feature on this disc, and it closes with another band who are still going strong, The Chameleons.

By disc three, things are starting to change, and it gets underway with a stone-cold classic in Temptation, by another of Manchester's legendary groups, New Order, who had changed their sound as well as their name after Ian Curtis's untimely demise.

Inca Babies and The Membranes are among the highlights of this disc, which ends with the reappearance of another Mancunian with a knack for reinvention, Graham Fellows (aka Jilted John) with Love At The Hacienda.

James kick off disc four with one of their lesser-known songs, Chain Mail, and listening to this disc is a bit like tuning into John Peel's radio show, with contributions from the likes of Easterhouse and The Bodines, as well as the splendidly-named The Man From Delmonte and Big Ed & His Rocking Rattlesnakes.

Times certainly were a-changing as guitars gave way to dance music, and by disc five we're heading full speed into 'Madchester' with Happy Mondays and A Guy Called Gerald, though Morrissey reminds us of his trend-transcending majesty with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys.

The Stone Roses, The Mock Turtles, New Fast Automatic Daffodils and 808 State are all given their turn in the spotlight on disc six, while Electronic's Getting Away With It is another contender for the standout track of the whole set.

Disc seven kicks off with another heavyweight, The Charlatans, and includes songs by The Chemical Brothers, Intastella (featuring Shaun Ryder) and another band with a wonderful moniker, Molly Half Head, and to close out the set there's a demo version of Columbia by a band who would go on to define '90s music, Oasis.

If you like guitar music, you'll love this set, and there's plenty to keep dance fans happy too. There's also a smattering of reggae, soul, hip-hop, avant garde and techno, showing that the Manchester scene has always been much more diverse than you might think.

Cherry Red really have set the gold standard for this kind of retrospective boxset. It's just a shame they couldn't get a track by possibly the greatest Manchester band of them all, The Smiths, licensed for inclusion. 8/10.