‘It’s nine years since the last really big gig at Heaton Park…and that was the Pope’, so starts Stuart Maconie’s review in the NME from the 10th August 1991 of the ‘Cities In The Park’ festival held a few days earlier on the 3rd and 4th August. For many of the thousands who attended, it was a pop culture pilgrimage rather than the religious one that Maconie refers to from 1982 – when John Paul II did indeed celebrate Mass with an estimated 250,000 people. It is now over 30 years since Maconie’s review of that weekend of music and celebration in Heaton Park and much of what was seen and heard is still relevant today.
The two-day concert was in many ways a celebration of the times, a continuation of the spirit, aesthetic and sound that had been branded by the media as ‘Madchester’ in the preceding years, a sense that Manchester was the global cultural centre and still had much to offer. Indeed, within the programme a Factory Records advert stated ‘Manchester is still alive… and London, New York and all the rest are dead’. However, death was in the air that weekend in Manchester and as such it was also a festival of remembrance – as the event was billed – ‘In Memoriam Martin Hannett’ who had died the previous April.
Martin Hannett was a musician and record producer and Factory Records partner until 1982. His natural ability in the studio, creating sounds and generating performances from musicians, would soundtrack the city and the alternative music scene from the late 1970s through to the late 1980s. His work was most notable with Joy Division, Durutti Column and Happy Mondays but he also worked with John Cooper Clarke, U2, Section 25, Buzzcocks, Magazine, Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls and A Certain Ratio.
The two days showcased an eclectic and Manchester-heavy set. Day one included some of the big names in indie and pop music of the period including The Beautiful South, The Wonderstuff and The Soup Dragons as well as notable Manchester luminaries Buzzcocks and The Fall, bands with connections to Factory Records – OMD and Cabaret Voltaire – and contemporary performers The Ruthless Rap Assassins and Paris Angels.
The second day featured bands and artists, the majority of which were part of the Factory Records roster; indeed the day was labelled as ‘Factory Day’, headlined by Happy Mondays and preceded by the recently formed group Electronic bringing together Johnny Marr from The Smiths and Bernard Sumner from New Order with a guest appearance by Pet Shop Boys. The other Factory artists playing included Durutti Column, The Wendy’s, Revenge, Cath Carroll, A Certain Ratio and Adventure Babies. The Sunday also included special guest acts De La Soul and New Fast Automatic Daffodils.
The Rylands Special Collections holds some great materials connected to the festival in the British Pop Archive and Visual Collections. The archive of Anthony Wilson contains paperwork and ephemera from the event. The archive of writer, journalist and PR specialist Andy Spinoza, contains the original programme for the event for which Spinoza wrote the text. Photographer Mark Warner documented the weekend and his archive contains some wonderful images of the two days.
In Anthony Wilson’s archive we have a handwritten list of the performers and stage times from the dressing rooms for all bands on the Sunday, including noting acoustic sets and set lengths.
The event was filmed for posterity and also within Anthony Wilson’s archive is a fax dated 30th July from Terry Zoakipny at Sepia Productions which discusses the plans for Wilson’s involvement in the shoot, both on and off screen.
Manchester’s culture, arts and listings magazine City Life ran with a cover story about Happy Mondays who would be headlining the event. The magazine for 31st July – 15th August (Issue 182) ran across the festival period and so contains listings for the event, a ticket giveaway and a 3-page article by Andy Spinoza.
The 48-page programme is a fascinating document of the time, featuring bios of the bands who are appearing and some great images, many by local photographers.
Soon the cultural momentum would shift away from Manchester. Nirvana would release their second album Nevermind just six weeks after the festival took place, and America – and specifically Seattle – would become the new focus for pop culture.
This August it is 32 years since Cities In The Park and the event’s legacy can be felt, not just in the music played – much of which still resonates with modern audiences – but in the event itself, at Heaton Park. What would have been a rarity is now a yearly normal with the ever popular ‘Parklife’ festival staged there over a weekend in June. Since the late 2000s some of the city’s and UK’s biggest bands have played Heaton Park including Oasis, The Stone Roses, New Order and The Courteeners. The park has also been used for the BBC’s ‘Proms in The Park’ series. In fact one of the first open-air performances took place in Heaton Park in 1909 when local gramophone salesman William Grimshaw, from Prestwich played an audio recording, recently captured by Grimshaw, of the Italian tenor Caruso’s recent performance at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. Grimshaw was the first person in Britain to give open-air gramophone concerts.
Those two days in August 1991 should be remembered as an important celebration of the times, the music, the city and importantly of Martin Hannett. The first piece in the programme is a fitting tribute to Hannett written by Manchester musician, writer and educator CP Lee (whose archive is held as part of the British Pop Archive). The piece ends – “In a way, Martin is gone now, but in a way Martin will never be gone because, for those of us who knew him, and for those of you who can only hear his music, he will live on forever… as long as we can hold him in our hearts and in our minds, Martin will never die.”