Stephen Dalton from ‘Uncut’ asks Dave about the Stone Roses, Spike Island etc (Jan 2009)

From the outside, Manchester looked like the centre of the pop universe in the late 80s & early 90s. Did it feel that way to you? In your view, what factors made this happen?

“It felt like a long revolution, three years or more between the first signs that there was clearly a new generation and a load of great activity bubbling under the surface, and the moment when you felt the world was finally listening. I was freelancing in the NME in 1987 and I reviewed the Roses playing at the International that year and I fought for weeks to get that review placed. At this point the band were getting 700 people to their gigs in Manchester, and some tiny live review in NME, grudgingly given. But they were good days in a way, being unheralded or ignored wasn’t really a problem.

“Once the band emerged into the limelight they were fully formed, all their mistakes had been made in secret. And being ignored just made the Roses more bolshy. And being ignored meant that everything kept that underground secret vibe. At the Hacienda at the end of 1987 into 1988 we were getting a thousand people a night but no-one knew, we were on an island, away from anything that was happening anywhere else; it was like being part of a different world altogether.

“In the mid-1980s there wasn’t much to do in Manchester – unemployment and boredom – and I guess that was one of the reasons people took to music. We’d become a music city – thanks to the Buzzcocks, the Fall, Factory, the Smiths etc – so there were role models, of a kind. Also you could live cheaply (in 1988 I was doing two nights a week at the Hacienda for a grand total of 140 pounds). There were empty warehouses which made for cheap rehearsal spaces and gig venues and it was all very DIY; there was a sense you had to make a life for yourself.”

It is generally accepted that house music and Ecstasy were key to bands like the Roses and Mondays becoming huge – do you agree? Why were the dance and rock scenes so closely intertwined in Manchester specifically?

“One of the things that differentiated the Roses and the Mondays were that they had a real sense of rhythm to what they did, and space too; compared to the indie bands of that era like the Wedding Present, say, where the music was very cluttered and uptight. With the Roses and the Mondays it was looser, and Reni was very important in this, a proper hero; he had funkiness.

“But it wasn’t just dance and rock intertwined, it was funk, hip hop reggae, and soul too. This eclectic attitude to music came before ecstasy; there were already open-minded music lovers in Manchester lapping up good stuff in a totally non-ghettoised, no-tribal way. It did feel like a generational thing. The generation slightly older than us in town seemed much more Stalinist about what was and wasn’t allowed.

“In terms of being very precious and tribal, London was even worse; I remember journalists like Paulo Hewitt refusing to allow that anyone could like both Public Enemy and the Smiths (and Morrissey appearing to agree with him). But why not? I never got that, and neither did the 1000 people who came into the Hacienda every Thursday to hear me play stuff like that back-to-back.

“Looking back maybe we were reacting against the divide and rule spirit of that era; Thatcher versus the Miners etc, North versus South, Public Enemy versus the Smiths. I think our utopia was more about inclusion not exclusion. And maybe ecstasy intensified that, the hug drug. And maybe ecstasy created the audience for the music as well; even more people stopped worrying about what was acceptable and just trusted their instincts.”

How early did you become aware of the Roses? What did you think of their early singles and gigs? Was it always obvious they would become huge?

“Well, everyone took notice when they got Hannett to produce the first single. Personally I wasn’t a fan of that record, but I was still intrigued. It was also a fashion thing; there was a young character called Martin Prendergast who was a DJ at the Hacienda and used to play alongside Mike Pickering. This was 1986 I guess. Him, Steve Cressa, and Alan Smith and a few others, they had a great look, no-one knew what to call it, they were like psychedelic street urchins, with twenty-four inch flares. The Roses were part of that, young kids giving the Hacienda a bit of a shake-up…”

You DJ’d at their legendary shows – e.g. Empress Ballroom, Spike Island. What do you recall about them?

“Blackpool came around, the band didn’t want a support act. Ian was of the opinion that no band was worthy enough to share the stage with them, which was funny, and maybe even true. So they got a couple of their favourite DJs to play; they used to come and hear me at the Hacienda and they got Dave Booth who did a psychedelic night on a Tuesday at a club George Best used to own called the Playpen. I was playing just before the band came on, electric – it was like Manchester had decamped to that ballroom, it was totally fucking rocking. But they’d set up the decks at the back of the stage and I was playing they were loading a few extra things onto the stage. I played ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and then the band came on and that rumble of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ started and I realised that my route off the stage had been blocked. I watched the whole set stuck behind John’s guitar amp. From the stage it was amazing though, and I remember feeling the power of the audience; you could feel their excitement in an almost physical way, like a rush of thunder that could knock you over.

“When it came to Alexandra Palace, they added Paul Oakenfold to the DJs, but there were still no support acts. I remember playing ‘Good Life’ by Inner City and I remember the event didn’t quite have the magic it couldn’t have done; the sound was a bit sludgy for one thing. But it was still it a big step in terms of coverage, in terms of the band’s rise; this was when the fact they really mattered couldn’t be denied. The media were all over it, which was fair enough; Hall or Nothing were doing a great job. I remember getting into a row with a TV researcher who for years had been dismissive of the band and the whole Manchester scene, and there he was, saying ‘top one’ all the time and recording a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the band. I didn’t need some LWT researcher telling me how ‘top’ the Roses were.”

Did you/do you know any of the Roses personally? What are your impressions of them as people?

“Ian is a massive music fan. He’d go on about Bob Marley relentlessly. And he once said to me ‘Do you know what the best record you ever played at the Hacienda was?’, I didn’t, and I thought it was going to be some acid house tune, and he said it was Ciccone Youth ‘Into the Groovey’, that Sonic Youth record. He said he used to love it when that came on. That must have been 1986,7.

“In my book ‘Manchester, England’ I talk about how the city was founded on the cotton trade – importing raw cotton and colouring it with chemicals, refashioning it, mixing it up – and then selling it on. And that’s the how the music was working in the mid-1980s. I remember in 1986 the Jesus & Mary Chain played at the Hacienda. Ian and John were both there. You can hear some of that early Creation stuff – like ‘Velocity Girl’ – in the music they started making then; ‘Sally Cinnamon’ was a great record and a big jump from the first single. And then the first Silvertone sessions, they were great, and they’d developed this sound before ecstasy, before acid house.”

Manchester music clearly goes in cycles – every few years there seems to be a new scene with 2 or 3 great bands. When and why did the Roses/Mondays/Hacienda peak start to fade?

“By early 1991 the scene wasn’t much fun anymore. The gig at Spike Island which I think most people there would feel didn’t quite live up to expectations; as no gig in a field with a cheap P.A would ever, anyway. The Hacienda was getting too serious and too much like hard work, getting swamped by roughnecks, with guns started coming into the club and the club’s management and the police were at war; the police were trying to remove the licence and they failed but then in January 1991 the management closed the club temporarily, voluntarily. And the Hacienda was never quite as good again; obviously we were never going to get that freedom and spontaneity again. And the Mondays were struggling in early 1991 too, there were some very bad drugs around the band.

“For me, that’s when the excitement and the creativity began to fade, but that’s just my opinion. A version of Madchester lived on in Oasis I suppose, but it was a cartoonish version.”

What legacy did the late 80s / early 90s Manchester scene leave behind – musically, politically, fashion wise? Can it still be seen/heard today?

“The young kids in town today, some of them hate the Madchester thing with a passion, some are intrigued or even obsessed by it. There are indie clubs full of twenty year-olds playing the same records we were playing 18 years ago; ‘I am the Resurrection’ is so overplayed, the life’s been sucked out of it. Generally I don’t think enough people get that there’s a difference between celebrating the past and living in it.

“On the other hand, I like that there are indie clubs that advertise themselves as ‘no nostalgia, no throwbacks’, which is the way it should be. In 1985 if I’d started DJing just playing old records made in Manchester I’d have been playing Freddie & the Dreamers and George Formby. I’d have fucked-up, basically.”

Does Manchester still have that special chemistry that produced so many great bands and scenes? If so, when is the next boom due…?

“Sometimes, the weight of history can be too great. It’s taken a while for the Stone Roses copyists to die off, all those local bands being formulaic and conforming to some stereotype. But thankfully most of the emerging bands in the city now – Airship, Everything Everything, Delphic – have a much more varied sound than some of the stuff in the recent past.

“Anyway, in the last twelve months we’ve had the rise of the Courteeners and the Ting Tings, and the crowning of the mighty Elbow! So it’s still happening isn’t it? Obviously we’re missing a couple of things; the Hacienda was a great focus for everything that went on, whereas now it’s all a bit fragmented. But that DIY ethic is still strong, people getting pissed off with stuff and finding a home in music making and getting involved.”