The journey home to Manchester

Forty-three years old now, I live around the same streets that I played on as a kid, cross the same playing fields to get to the same local that I knew (minus a lick of paint) when I was 17. My childhood home is only a mile from my current one, in the Manchester suburbs, stable and consistent. Only the cars have changed, along with my increasingly grey beard. I suppose it’s pretty obvious that I’m a homebody.

For a flash of time though, which feels brief now but was actually just shy of 15 years, I lived thousands of miles away, in Boston, Massachusetts.

It is easy to say why I left England: I married a (basically fucking amazing) American; I went to be a student again, after being stuck in a stiffling desk job for a while; and I went on a pilgrimage to the place where some of my musical heroes had got their start.

The bigger question is, having escaped these blinkered houserows, what drew me back here? This is inevitably wrapped up in so many songs (like everything else in my life), so I’m going to hold myself to just a few of them. This is not about America. It’s a story of my relationship with my home, before and once again.

It was always as the bright springtimes moved into sweltering summers in New England that I would start to feel really homesick. Hearing “Grace under Pressure”, from Elbow’s Cast of Thousands, was the most extreme example of that in my first few years abroad.

Listening to a band from my hometown sing “We still believe in love, so fuck you” with a choir of the tens of thousands at Glastonbury was a moment which left me feeling a desperate need to be in England, with all that joy. Like some kind of spirit risen from the grave, I would watch these old “friends” getting on with their lives playfully, without me. It became a ritual to obsessively listen to Elbow whenever the sun was out, and think of their love of Manchester too.

I know the kids in Doves’ video for “Black and White Town” are trapped, but seeing them, running over the relentless blast of beaten piano chords, always moved me in a way I guess the band didn’t intend. Glimpses of places that I thought I could recollect left me hankering for a stark city that the people around me couldn’t know.

It was another mark of singularity to be a fan of a huge band that had never broken in the country where I then lived. Writing about The Stone Roses and Manchester seems pretty redundant (but I did it anyway). I was a fan when I left, but when I heard about Heaton Park on the horizon, I was beside myself.

Travelling so far back to see them that weekend was a homage to both the band and their home in it. It felt like something I could be proud of. “She Bangs the Drums” might have been the most euphoric moment of that night for me, swallowed in the solidarity of us in the park, beaten up by the gig. It felt like a pinnacle (and, I claimed when I wrote about it then, therefore an end) of my homesickness.

But the hankering remained. Even though I had told myself it was all over, there was always that difference from the city around me, to highlight that I was out of place.

So I found myself digging into the Manchester scene again, from a great distance. The more I learned to love – from recent bands like Everything Everything and WU LYF, to older innovators like the Buzzcocks and Joy Division – the greater the pull. Once I settled into Everything Everything’s pretty bizarre musical style for example, I couldn’t deny that songs like “No Reptiles” showed Manchester was still a centre for new music, and I needed it.

I came back, to circle the periphery of Manchester, and I am daily boxed in by the small streets. When it feels too constricted or familiar – missing joy or adventure or scale – I just listen to Wu Lyf’s “L Y F”, and smile for the past and the future.

 

Word by Nick Parker.

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