Echoes of Manchester

Album sleeve notes written by Rock Journalist 'Mick Middles'.

Echoes of Manchester. Echoes of a moment. Echoing down the ages. I had a strange moment back in 2001. Adrift from any reasonable form of employment, I had languished horribly in the grim clinging swamp of P. R. and it was at some vast mill, post satanic to the point of meekness, that I wandered to photograph a man celebrating 25 years of employment as a highly skilled engineer but, nevertheless a man in a mill. A quarter of a century in a mill. And then he stared at me.


A look of familiarity. He was, and is Craig Hilton. A guitarist, he told me … a guitarist with Fast Cars. And my mind skimmed back to some exiting time, down by the stage at The Deeply Vale Festival … a gargantuan event indeed. Not by sheer numbers, nor by weight of collective aesthetic egotism. Indeed, quite the antithesis this. Fast Cars, a band who took their name from a Steve Diggle song, and significantly so. Diggle had, and continues to represent the wholesome unpretentious street edge to Buzzcocks … a contrast to the fey art school love lorn edge of Pete Shelley … it was Diggle who smiled a mod smile and stood aside the Lambretta GP 200.


And so, indeed, did Fast Cars. More than any other Manchester band – although they may prefer a Salfordian tag … I don’t know – they captured the essence of the left fork of the post – punk dream. The fork that refused pretension of badly hair cutted brittle funk … and slammed back to the tap room. Fun time football kick, girls and gags, crack and ale … back when all that stuff just did not dip to chav and all things grey-faced and gold laden.


Fast Cars were latter-day Eddie and the Hot Rods blessed by less ferocity but greater musical ambition. It was hard for them. Almost impossible to capture the attention of the London media. And they struggled gamely among the small Manchester labels, almost cementing a place on Tony Davidson’s legendary TJM Records where they would have sat neatly alongside the talents of Mick Hucknell’s Frantic Elevators and closer to home in many respects The Distractions.


Their history was already complex. Two brothers, Stuart and Steven Murray, had fumbled together as a High School band – Moorside, in Swinton – and to an immediate fractured dynamic. Part rock part punk. Steven the punk half, departed to form The Sirens, an embryonic unit featuring a young Marc ‘pre – lard’ Riley, Craig Scanlon, and Steve Hanley … within time to become the foundation of the most resilient version of The Fall. Already, a touch of history woven into their fabric.


But Fast Cars fell neatly together, with aforementioned guitarist Craig Hilton joining, leaving and rejoining the gang … vocalist Steve Murray, Stuart Murray on bass and Tony Dyson on drums. Somewhere in the mix, Haydn Jones had flirted with lead guitar.


I didn’t know about any of this. Didn’t care. Loved the flash speed of their name, that Buzzcock link. Loved them too, at the Band on the Wall, when their sprightly slammed pop shone like a gem from the general murk of the Manchester Musician’s Collective … a worthy collective yes … to the point of legendary perhaps. Fleetingly intriguingly but, for the solid chunk of collective evenings. A dour slab of cake. Recall lank haired bass players leaning forward over their instruments, eyes closed in concentration … some of  them, not all. Not Fast Cars. Their single “The Kids Just Wanna Dance”, was just that. An edgy Salfordian street anthem. Daft as a brush. Fun time and cute. You couldn’t dislike them. You couldn’t sense a future … but you couldn’t turn away.


Not least at Deeply Vale. A flash stab of young steel in an eclectic gathering. Fast Cars were still funtime, ragtime. Still there for the crack. But then the songs, the unfolding songs were gaining an emotive presence. A resonance even. Perhaps, we thought, perhaps they might just make it. Somehow … somewhere. And they so nearly did. Missing a Polydor contract by a smidgen. Missing the breaks … just!


But  then, 25 years later, a swell of interest in Japan. The unlikely notion of ecstatic sell out gigs over there … and back home. Booming sales at last. Bemused band members. Bemused followers.


And this record. This echo of Deeply Vale. A beautiful, perfect snap shot. In November 2004, I met another Fast Car. Stuart Murray. Intelligent, cheery, glad to be around … sitting around at that transmission party for Granada’s Deeply Vale film. In the kitchen I had found another ageing Manchester hack … a brother hack called Bob Dickinson who had penned such rival stuff for the NME and latterly, for the Beeb.


“Fast Cars” I told him … “A Fast Car” sits in the lounge. Bob was genuinely excited, rushed to the scene. For a moment, the years just dripped to a pool. Fast Cars were back … well kind of.


And it’s warming to know, as I type these memories … good to know I will be seeing them … live … soon. Enjoy this distant echo. This glimpse of Deeply Vale. That too, seems poised to return. Another warming thought … and another thing. Sitting there, soaking this set of songs back into the old bones. It’s more fun now. Even more than before.


On and on.


Mick Middles

April 2005