Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ralf Little Must Have The Most Horrific CV In Television

I know a lot of people in Manchester. When I was about 16, I was… convinced, almost, that I should have been born ten years earlier and 200 miles north, just so I could have “been involved”. And all because I loved the coda of a Stone Roses b-side so much.

My girlfriend’s from Manchester. We’ve stayed there not all that long ago, in the city centre. There’s some amazing architecture; the way the city has evolved and regenerated has left it looking unlike any other city I’ve ever visited.

I don’t really have much interest in “Manchester bands” anymore; haven’t for years. When we stayed in Manchester we visited a popular ‘indie’ club called Fifth Avenue. At about midnight they played an old Oasis song, and the place erupted. To an outsider, it seemed… cheesy. Predictable. But people loved it, seemingly.

On Sunday night I found myself watching Ralf Little’s new vanity project on BBC3. Massive is a teenage wannabe-Manc’s wet dream; a sudden inheritance ends the demeaning office job and pays rent on a run-down canalside warehouse that becomes, in the space of thirty Johnny Vegas-adorned minutes, the beating heart of a brand new record label. That’s right; it’s a sitcom about starting up a record label.

I’d sat down to write something suitably acerbic about it last night, starting with the premise that writing a comedy about starting a record label in 2008 is like… I can’t actually think of anything so thoroughly, unabashedly anachronistic. But it seemed pointless and a little churlish. There was, at least, one quite funny joke about Animal Collective.

What struck me early on about Massive was that perhaps, like Life On Mars (which I never saw), it was a period piece. Bar the presence of mobile phones, the reference to Animal Collective, and the fact that Ralf Little’s character sported exactly the same G Star jacket as I’ve been rolling around Exeter in this summer, it could have been set at any time in the last 25 years. Large chunks of it looked like the bastard child of Phoenix Nights and 24 Hour Party People. It didn’t feel like my experience of music in 2008 in the slightest.

So I decided not to bother writing anything about Massive, which delicately drew the dichotomy between art and commerce that threatens every record label (or does it?) by juxtaposing unlistenable arthouse toss played by Jeremy-Paxman-mask-wearing faux-Frenchmen with two fat chav girls doing a cover version. Subtle, incisive, funny? Johnny Vegas was accused of onstage sexual assault not that long ago. In the name of ‘comedy’. Ralf Little was in 2 Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Crisps. Lest we forget.

Then someone on I Love Music drew my attention to this borderline horrific but reasonably well-intentioned, perhaps, post at The Quietus, which doesn’t mention Massive at all but probably ought to. (It also doesn’t appear to know quite what point it’s making, either, but that’s by-the-by.)

One of the most confusing things about Massive was the spectacle of the 40-something former one-hit-wonder musician guy swaggering around in his giant flappy green parka and talking through his Adam’s Apple and his adenoids at the same time; I couldn’t tell if this was meant to be funny, tragic, sad, or cool. Or something else entirely. Was he an aspirational figure for the two young bloods keen to make their way in the music industry? Was he an awful cliché writ large as a warning?

Maybe I was hasty in suggesting that the Quietus piece didn’t know what its point was. I have nothing against Manchester, but it does seem to me that there’s a certain kind of person who’s desperately in thrall to some sense of recent history that the place has wrapped itself up in, some kind of scally romance. Friends who live there do talk about a certain kid of undergraduate who heads for Manchester as a seat of learning as much because of The Stone Roses as the facilities and courses at the universities in the city. Next year the Stone Roses’ debut album will be 20 years old. That’s akin to me choosing where to go to university based on where The Clash are from. The Clash are, have always been, ancient history for me. Are The Stone Roses, Joy Division, Happy Mondays, despite being as 'old' now as The Clash were then, somehow still a part of the present? If only in Manchester?

When we stayed in Manchester I passed Guy Garvey on a street corner, not far from the nightclub we visited. He wasn’t wearing a giant flappy green parka. His band also don’t appear to be obsessed with the recent cultural history of where they’re from, either.


if said...

I went to the same club in Manchester a couple of years ago!
I enjoyed it more than I ever have London equivalents. I think that's because I'm resigned to none of them playing that much music that I really love and people at least seeming happy to be there is a big plus point.

Wayne said...

Now I've seen all sides of Manchester new-music scene and a lot of it's culture, there doesn't seem to be anywhere nearly as many strained references to the likes of the Stone Roses, or the Happy Mondays - as say - The Beatles are in Liverpool.

Manchester does have a very vibrant and exciting live scene, hell even the Zavvi in the Arndale Centre has a free venue playing host to bands all day long. And that's a *GREAT* idea. I really liked that and hope that it can be replicated all over the UK.

I've watched Massive quite a few times, and had a giggle at it, but I can't say I've ever met anyone like that in Manchester myself. There are a few people with questionable morals and hidden agendas there, though. But I guess it's just because of the nature of the industry or "scene" the world over. It's awash with charlatans and back-slappers with very little real passion.

One things for sure, though. It's almost a given that you willl hear/see some live music, no matter when you go. And that can't be bad.

Just make sure you walk like you have got rickets for added affect. They love that there! ;o)