Manchester: Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain
By Kevin Cummins
Ask any Mancunian who grew up in the late 1970s what the city was like and most will give the same answer: it was grim. It is hard to imagine the grey wasteland that used to be Manchester city centre when you walk its shiny, prosperous streets today. A sense of boredom and foreboding enveloped the city that George Orwell once labelled "the belly and guts of the Nation". But, amid the urban decay, something began to stir.
As in Memphis and Detroit in the 1960s, the youth of Manchester found their voice by taking inspiration from the wretchedness around them ("Manchester . . . so much to answer for", as Morrissey's memorable refrain put it). And one man was there to capture this renaissance. From Slaughter and the Dogs' explosive set at Parr Hall in 1977 to Ian Brown at Spike Island and a proud Liam Gallagher outside his beloved Manchester City Football Club, Kevin Cummins almost singlehandedly created the iconography of modern Manchester.
Manchester: Looking for the Light Through the Pouring Rain is a collection of Cummins's photographs of his native city and the bands that galvanised its reputation. With the help of the writers Paul Morley, Stuart Maconie and John Harris, who complement the images with insightful essays, Cummins has created a visual document full of musical, historical and sociopolitical interest that will delight diehards and casual readers alike.
Thematically arranged, with sections on punk and indie, Madchester and Britpop, the book makes it clear that the landscape of Manchester is just as important to Cummins as the bands he photographs. This is particularly evident in his early portraits of Joy Division, such as one image shot on a snow-covered bridge in Hulme in January 1979. "It was . . . a landscape," he explains, "in which four figures become part of that composition.
The same is true of many of the other photographs here: John Cooper Clarke in front of a row of terrace houses; the Fall on the steps in Prestwich Clough; the Drones walking down King Street; the DJ Steve Solamar sitting by the window in his small living room in Hulme, a grey wall of high-rise flats below; Peter Saville, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus outside the Russell Club in Moss Side, home of Factory. As well as the obvious names - the Smiths, Happy Mondays and New Order - Cummins captures less celebrated bands such as the Jazz Defektors, A Certain Ratio and the Durutti Column.
Devotees will be familiar with the images of the old Factory Records office, adorned with Central Station Design's portrait of Happy Mondays's Shaun Ryder. But they may not have seen the giant, situationist-style legend "SLAUGHTER!", fashioned from crude flyers, plastered across a wall on Whitworth Street to announce a Slaughter and the Dogs gig in 1977. It is astonishing just how much of Manchester Cummins has captured with his camera.
Lee Rourke's short story collection "Everyday" is published by Social Disease (£9.99) newstatesman.com/books