To mark the anniversary of The Battle of Britpop, which pitted Oasis against Blur, Alain Tolhurst from Telegraph Travel considers how the band’s main stomping grounds stack up against one another…
Taking the No 42 bus through the Curry Mile as it becomes Oxford Road, the dome of the recently-renovated (at a cost of £170m) Central Library looming ahead, I’m reminded why Manchester will always be home – even though I left the North three years ago for London.
“It’s the people… it’s
that glorious inimitable
swagger that sets
It’s the people. On the streets below, it’s that glorious inimitable swagger that sets Mancunians apart. We know Manchester is great, but we didn’t try to make it so – it just happened. There’s a nonchalant confidence in the city’s population, in stark contrast to London’s try-hard preening to constantly be superlative.
We don’t condescend as the capital does – we don’t pity and patronise those from the shires who wash up on our shores the way Londoners do, we embrace them.
And it’s that blend of friendliness and ultimate comfort in ourselves which makes us so down to earth and able to talk to anyone we meet, crack a joke and rip it the p*** in our own vernacular – and it’s exactly why the place is so much fun.
Add to that how the rent on my one-bedroom flat in north London would get you a three-bedroom house up here – with the immeasurable beauty of the Lake District just an hour away. But there’s so much more to Manchester’s appeal than its residents and residences – and it starts with its foundation as the world’s first modern city, which Benjamin Disraeli called “as great a human exploit as Athens”.
Because Manchester wasn’t just the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Ever since we built the Ship Canal in the 1890s, bypassing the need for our old mates the scousers and their hefty tax on trade, the city has really been about commerce, and an entrepreneurial spirit still apparent today.
Home of the first passenger railway station, first public library, first Trade Union Congress meeting, and the birthplace of modern vegetarianism and the co-operative movement.
It’s also where the women’s suffrage movement began, where Rutherford split the atom, where Turing built the first computer, where the football league was founded, where Rolls met Royce, Marx met Engels.
More recently: the Gallagher brothers, the Haçienda, Ryan Giggs’ left foot, I could go on all day. But in truth Manchester is not just about its history – it has big plans for the future, bigger than London’s.
When industry in the region collapsed, Manchester set about reinventing itself, becoming a thriving cultural and sporting city – not even when the IRA bomb ripped its heart out in 1996 could progress be halted. And it continues to this day, with or without George Osborne’s promise of helping to create a “northern powerhouse”.
‘We know Manchester
is great, but we didn’t
try to make it so – it
Take the Free Trade Hall – built at the site of the 1819’s Peterloo Massacre to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws, it was bombed out during the Manchester Blitz. Rebuilt as a music venue, it was where a Manc heckled Bob Dylan as a “Judas” in 1966, and a decade later played host to the Sex Pistols gig that changed the world, inspiring the men who went on to found The Smiths, Joy Division and The Fall. It’s now a Grade II listed hotel.
Now overall you couldn’t say Manchester was pretty, but it has a style and a verve retained throughout its transformation, with Ancoats’ Victorian mills, canal-side bars in the Gay Village and glass monoliths like the Beetham Tower existing comfortably next to one another.
Once the city’s Achilles heel – a dearth of fine dining – is no longer an issue, with a host of top chefs like Simon Rogan opening award-winning restaurants (Rogan’s The French closes this month – to revamp and expand).
And culturally, the biennial Manchester Arts Festival matches anything in the UK, then there’s innumerable gallery, large and small, musuems on war, science, football, class struggles, transport and LS Lowry, a host of theatres and music venues, such as the £42m Bridgwater Hall, and the Out House project, a constantly evolving street art project in the Northern Quarter.
There are no tourist traps here or crumbling edifices preserved in aspic – it’s a city which is alive, evolving organically.
I know because I’ve seen it for myself having walked the length of Manchester many times. A city which has everything (except a beach, as Ian Brown famously noted), yet can still be easily traversed on foot is a joyous thing.
And don’t worry about getting soaked if you come to try it for yourself, because it almost never rains.
Words: Alain Tolhurst for Telegraph Travel