Industry, Football and Music: A Tribute To Manchester

Industry, Football and Music: A Tribute To Manchester

As for the debate about which is England’s second city, just let London and Birmingham slug it out between them.

Anthony Wilson

“What’s the purpose of your visit here?” the immigration officer sternly asks.

We were already tired and weary after a 15 hour flight plus a four hour layover at Abu Dhabi. After another hour of waiting in line to get our passports stamped, we had to go through this quick “chat” with the man in blue as the final prerequisite to legally enter the United Kingdom.

So I began spouting our whole week-long itinerary before ending my long-winded speech with “…and I am going to catch the Manchester City v Swansea game on Sunday.”

The straight face of the 50-something year old officer quickly turned into a smirk and he asked a follow-up question just for reassurance: “Are you a City fan?”

“Yes, I am.”

He quickly turned to his female colleague at an adjacent counter and shouted, “We have a City fan here. He’s going to watch the game this Sunday.” I could only see his colleague mumbled something back at him but her face was all smiles and full of approval.

“You’re lucky to have gotten a City fan like me. If you had gotten him,” he points to another colleague on the other side, “you’ll be stuck here for half an hour because he’s a Manchester United fan.” Both of them chuckled as he gave three thumping stamps on our passport.

“Welcome to Manchester.”


Cottonopolis

I sell here, Sir, what the world desires to have – power.

Matthew Boulton


To be honest, I had no expectations on how Manchester would look like.

The only glimpses I get of a typical northern English city were through films like Across The Universe and The 51st State (Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Carlyle, anyone?) and even those movies were filmed in neighboring Liverpool.

So it is no surprise to learn that Manchester is gritty, grimy and industrial but boy it has a storied past.

The short walk from DoubleTree Manchester Piccadilly to Piccadilly Gardens was lined with drab looking Victorian-era buildings that only look alive because a pub or a Greggs occupy them. The same can be said about Piccadilly Gardens which is a nice little square to people watch and mess around with the pigeons but after a while the feeling of grubbiness sets in.


But as soon as we crossed to the other side of Arndale I realized the true wealth and power of Manchester. The somewhat left-to-decay buildings earlier were replaced with majestic landmarks like Corn Exchange and Manchester Cathedral, both imposing on their own right. A further stroll along Deansgate with a detour to Albert Square led us to the equally impressive neo-gothic John Rylands Library and Manchester Town Hall, respectively.


Manchester’s boom happened during the Industrial Revolution when textile manufacturing transformed the whole city. Massive cotton mills and warehouses popped up overnight while the 58 km-long Manchester Ship Canal was built for ships to directly send their goods to the factories. The rapid urbanization of Cottonopolis also led to the diversification of other industries like chemicals, machinery and mass transport.

Manchester’s status as an industrial powerhouse was laid bare at the Science and Industry Museum where we saw transfixing weaving machines and beautifully sculpted locomotives. Manchester also contributed a lot to science in the form of Baby, the forerunner of the modern computer, and the EM2/1 Electron Microscope, which can magnify an object up to 10,000 times.


It is hard for me to explain the feeling of being overwhelmed by Manchester’s history.

It is as if I was a ship on its maiden voyage along the canal – after miles and miles of verdant farmland, I would then dock at this land of warehouses of infinite space and factories that never seem to stop. Within a blink of an eye, all my cargo has been wiped clean and off I go back into the vast ocean, bedazzled at sheer size of everything I witnessed beforehand.


Shakermaker

Mr Sifter sold us songs, when I was just sixteen; now he stops at traffic lights, but only when they’re green

Oasis


The Northern train diligently chugs along the elevated tracks heading south towards Manchester Airport. Within a few minutes of departing Manchester Piccadilly station, the claustrophobic city gave way to the sprawling suburbs and I had only one place to go on my mind – Sifters Records.


I have been an Oasis fan since my teenage years.

A local radio station introduced me to this Mancunian band through their two monster hits “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and “Wonderwall” and I was instantly hooked. I just knew Oasis was more than these two singles and so began the quest to listen to their whole discography.

And listen to them I did.

Albums upon albums, from the 1994 breakout “Definitely Maybe” to the then recent “Heathen Chemistry” were played out on my mini compo but my personal favorite somehow was the B-side compilation “The Masterplan.” My Oasis fandom finally reached a nadir when got to see them live in Singapore back in 2006.

So, I find it serendipitous to have discovered Sifters Records, famously mentioned in the song “Shakermaker,” is still up and running at Fog Lane while “Mr Sifter” himself alive and well. This all culminated to us alighting at Burnage, hometown of the Gallagher brothers.


I instantly recognize the storefront which remained unchanged from the time it was featured in the music video until now. So, I pulled the green door and stepped into this living treasure where once young Liam and Noel would drop by to purchase records that might (or might not, given their churlish behavior) inspired them to form Oasis.

The whole place was stacked with rows and rows of CDs from wall to wall and at the very end of the shop, behind a counter, is Mister Sifter himself – Peter Howard.


Sporting a grey t-shirt tucked in to black jeans, he has this grandfatherly smile that belies his age. So, I came up to the counter and began striking a conversation with him, beginning with explaining my thousand-mile mission of visiting this sacrosanct place in the history of British rock and roll.

Mr Howard was such a down-to-earth guy who actually listens and engages with you.

He told me that I was not the only Oasis fan from a distant land to have reached Sifters Records – he had also received pilgrims from as far as Japan and South Africa. On the subject of the Gallagher brothers, he had not seem them for years except when Noel recently once dropped by with the crew of CBS News to shoot a documentary.


When the topic turned to football (as it always does in Manchester), I unashamedly furnished my loyalty to the blue half which made Mr Howard frowned. He pointed to his Manchester United mug as a show of devotion and began lamenting at how much his team had regressed over the years.

A friend of Mr Howard dropped by in the midst of our “season in-review” and he gave me a nod of approval once he knew about my allegiance. Once the friend left, I grabbed Oasis’ oft-forgotten 1994 Christmas single “Whatever,” had my obligatory picture taken with Mr Sifter and bid my good-bye.


On the train back to the city, I sat by the window looking at the landscape now changing in reverse from the suburbs back to the city. And deep down inside, I am happy.


City


The main reason I love Manchester over London is that it is a football city.

While our Uber driver in London gave an uninterested “oh” when I mentioned about football thus automatically killing off the conversation, our Mancunian counterpart would become animated and start having intense discussions with me till the end of the ride.

I will always remember Ajias, the Uber driver with a colorful disco ball in his car. He proudly told us he lives just a stone’s throw away from Manchester City’s home ground just so he could hear the roar of the crowd on match days, much to the dismay of his wife.


Speaking about match days, it is the only time when the city center empties as trams and trains are filled up with fans who are whisked away to the stadium. I was primarily there to watch Manchester City take on Swansea where my team was already crowned champions so the mood around town was festive and jovial.

I squeezed into the tram, which looked like a can of sky blue jelly beans, heading towards Etihad Stadium and chants of “Campiones, campiones, ole, ole ole!” broke out from the moment I stepped into the tram all the way until I settled down on my seat way up in the stands.


The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric.

Everyone could hear the most vocal of supporters at the Kippax stand belting out chants and sing songs before and during the match while the 50,000-odd strong crowd rose to their feet to bellow out “Blue Moon,” the club supporter’s anthem right before the referee blew his whistle for kick-off.

The game was a comfortable 5-0 win for the home side with all kinds of goals being scored from a Bernardo Silva penalty rebound to a rocket by Macaulay Culkin look-alike Kevin De Bruyne. I was so pleased I even partook in the quintessential English football tradition of munching on a Lancashire Butter Pie at half-time.


As I followed the wave of crowd exiting the arena (while the rest continue partying on the pitch), I began thinking about going on a “football tour” of the British Isles with my son when we get a bit older. I could imagine for three months, we would travel up and down the country to catch football matches from non-league teams in obscure provincial towns to the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

On that bright and blustery Sunday evening, a seed has been sown.

Bee

“What does it mean to be a Mancunian?”

I threw the sharp question across the store towards the shopkeeper. We were randomly browsing for stuff at The Manchester Shop, a home-grown brand known for their “Manc and Proud” tagline and symbolic worker bee l
ogo. He was clearly caught off-guard as he took a few long seconds to begin his answer.

To answer that short but loaded question requires understanding and internalizing Manchester’s culture and history – from the boom town days of the Industrial Revolution to the testing times of the Manchester Arena bombing.

“To be a Mancunian is to be hardworking, proud, and resolute. Most of all, a Mancunian has to have a big heart.”


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