North By North West – a Review (The Post-Punk Thing, Part 2)

When bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash toured during the zenith of the punk phenomenon in the mid 70s they left a trail of inspired youth in their wake. The Sex Pistols effect on the music scene of Manchester has been well documented, most recently in Michael Winterbottom’s ’24 Hour Party People’. It is said that two concerts by the band in mid 1976 effectively gave birth to the Manchester post punk scene that would eventually include The Fall, Magazine, Joy Division, The Smiths and others.

In nearby Liverpool, a concert by The Clash brought about a similar reaction, inspiring people like Ian Broudie, Bill Drummond, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch to start their own punk bands. More colorful and flamboyant than the dour Manchester scene, the Liverpool bands included Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, Big In Japan, Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and others.

A new collection compiled (appropriately) by former NME journalist, Paul Morley, celebrates these two centres of post punk activity. Spread over three cds, the collection, entitled ‘North By North West’, devotes one disc each to Manchester and Liverpool, while the ‘limited edition’ third disc contains a selection of tracks from both cities.

For those already familiar with the era, the Manchester disc might not hold too many surprises, with tracks like Joy Division’s ‘Transmission’, New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ and The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now’ having already been regularly anthologised. For me, the treats on this disc are ‘My Cherry Is In Sherry’ by Ludus and ‘Work’ by The Blue Orchids. Also of interest is the grim synth-laden ‘Fear’ by The Passage.

The Liverpool disc includes two Bunnymen tracks, The Teardrop Explodes, OMD and Frankie, but also lesser-known acts like The Pale Fountains (fronted by Shack’s Michael Head), Lori And The Chameleons and electro outfit Dalek I Love You, as well as a fabulous tune by Care, the ‘band’ formed by Ian Broudie and Paul Simpson (Wild Swans, Teardrop Explodes).

The third disc (‘Liverchest’) contains an assortment of curios and treasures – Section 25, Swamp Children, Pink Industry, Stockholm Monsters, China Crisis, along with Big In Japan’s signature tune, and a very early track by Manchester pop band, James. This disc probably contains the least essential music of the three, although in some ways, it’s also the most interesting. After all, it’s not often you get to hear Those Naughty Lumps (Cope, Drummond and co) sing something called ‘Iggy Pop’s Jacket’

The accompanying booklet is filled with Morley’s idiosyncratic (some would say annoyingly pretentious) ramblings, although among the nonsense is plenty of interesting anecdote and detail. This snippet about Zoo Records guru Bill Drummond is one of my favourites:

Drummond, who was like Tony Wilson, Rob Gretton and Martin Hannett in one, would tell Julian Cope that a good way to increase record sales was to kill himself. When he was questioned about the point of a Bunnymen tour of bizarre and apparently random sites, Drummond’s response was, ‘It’s not random, if you look at a map of the world, the whole tour’s in the shape of a rabbit’s ears.”

All in all, it’s a nicely compiled and well-presented package, celebrating a particularly fertile region of post punk UK. It’s also essential listening for anyone with an interest in the music of the era.

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