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Manicured Noise - Northern Stories 1978/80

  by Mark Rowland

published: 10 / 12 / 2006

Manicured Noise - Northern Stories 1978/80
Label: Caroline True
Format: CD


Compelling and creative free jazz-influenced post punk from 'lost' Manchester-based 70's group, Manicured Noise.

The UK in the late 70's was saturated with creativity. Punk had become post-punk, the music evolving in all kinds of unexpected ways. There were so many localised scenes and bands forming across the country, many never getting further than the boundaries of their hometowns, or even their bedrooms. It is not surprising but somewhat sad that most of these bands are now long forgotten, represented in the annals of rock history by the biggest bands of the era. Even Simon Reynolds’ ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’, despite painting a vivid picture of the time and profiling a large number of its bands, skims over a lot of what was going on at the time. This is basically because if he covered every band in the same detail, the book would be so big that South America would have to give up all its trees for the book's first print run. Manchester is a classic example of a large scene filled with a large number of forgotten bands. Joy Division’s shadow looms large over the city's punk history, as does the band’s label Factory. So compelling is Joy Division’s music and dark history that very few of their contemporaries could hope to compete for future column inches. Take Manicured Noise, for example. The band got a very fleeting mention in Reynolds’ book, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that remembers who they are. At the time, they were at the heart of the Manchester scene, sharing a rehearsal room with Joy Division. Notorious Manchester scenester and artist Linder Sterling even named the band. Caroline True Records do remember the band, however, and have released a compilation of almost all of their recordings, including their two singles originally released on Pre/Charisma and a BBC session for David Jensen. At its basics, the sound of Manicured Noise is like Talking Heads with avant-jazz influences. A lot of their songs certainly bring the ‘Heads to mind, with their taught funk rhythms and shaky vocals, but there was more to the band than that. Tense, brittle instrumentals like ‘The Human Fly’ bring to mind prime Tortoise, and, as the compilation goes on, the Talking Heads influences wane as the music becomes more abstract – the sound of the band with their original vocalist Owen Gavin. From the off, the band’s music had Peter Bannister’s scrawling sax and clarinet playing, which stood them out from most of their contemporaries, giving them a slight Contortions feel to their music. Their earlier stuff is mainly instrumental, like the soundtrack to an art film; in fact one of the songs is called ‘Soundtrack’. Guitarist and later singer Steve Walsh said that spy, cop and kung fu movie soundtracks were a big influence on the band, but it would be a seriously warped cop show that was scored by Manicured Noise. Their early work is compelling, producing free jazz textures and moods that Ornette Coleman would be proud of, but it is certainly their time fronted by Walsh that is more accessible, with a heavier funk influence, vocal-led tracks and more melodic sax lines. They hadn’t abandoned instrumentals completely, but, like ‘Moscow 1980’, they were faster, featured ska-like sax solos and were easy to dance to. ‘Faith’ is considered by those in the know to be their best track. One of the more Talking Heads-like tracks (mainly due to Walsh’s vocal delivery), it features a great vocal hook as well as a tempered and structured mix of their influences; the danceable rhythms and hooks of disco and northern soul and the textures and moods of jazz and movie soundtracks.

Track Listing:-
1 Metronome
2 Moscow 1980
3 Faith
4 Freetime
5 Long March
6 Mystery Sound
7 Survival Time
8 Dreams Money Can Buy
9 Payday
10 Competition
11 Music A
12 The Human Fly
13 Counterplan
14 Music B
15 Infraudibles
16 Soundtrack
17 Great White Whale (Dub)
18 Faith (Cassette Version)

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Interview (2007)
Manicured Noise - Interview
One of the lost great post punk acts of the late 70's, Manchester-based band Manicured Noise have recently had all their recordings put together on a compilation 'Northern Stories 78/80'. Guitarist and latter singer Steve Walsh talks to Mark Rowland about the revival of his group

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