What is it about Manchester that the area has spawned so much great music? A city nicknamed The Warehouse City and once famous for its cotton industry, is now much more famous for spawning a phantasmagoria of musical legends; The Buzzcocks, Happy Mondays, Joy Division, The Verve, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, The Smiths, The Chemical Brothers, The Bee-Gees, The Hollies, Mr.Scruff, New Order and that other band, oh, what’s their name again? Deserts, something to do with deserts, ah yes, Oasis, that’s the one! Who apparently were bigger than the Beatles, who apparently were bigger than Jesus…
Perhaps it is because the city is, or once was, destitute? But then plenty of other cities are similar, Newcastle has only markedly spawned the Dire Straits! Perhaps it is a lack of things to do for youth in the area? But then the only notable musical exports to come out of Wales is the Stereophonics, The Manics and Super Furry Animals! Maybe it is the by-product of Manchester being a veritable melting pot of cultures, a microcosm of cosmopolitanism? But then so is Brixton, and Bradford, all they have notably injected into the music world is David Bowie and The Cult respectively. So just what is it that makes Manchester so special? Well, perhaps I’ll find out as last month it was my esteemed privilege and utmost honour to have been invited to Aziz Ibrahim’s fiftieth birthday party, an exclusive, VIP event in Manchester’s Roadhouse, a venue that has seen performances from such bonafide legends as Ian Brown, Kasabian, Gomez, Roots Manuva, Paolo Nutini and a literally endless list of others. I reviewed Aziz’s live performance at West Kilbride Town Hall for Wake Up The Sun Music back in October of last year, and Aziz’s near-life-changing performance struck me like a bolt of lightning from the Gods! His psychedelic, Asian-infused blues were like nothing I’ve ever heard before! His rendition of the Stone Roses’ ‘Fool’s Gold’ was, in my opinion, even better than the original! And that’s saying something! If you’d like to check out my review of that night go to – http://www.newhellfireclub.co.uk/2013/11/wake-up-west-26th-october-2013-chris.html – If you need an introduction to Aziz Ibrahim, he is an ex-member of The Stone Roses, successfully filling John Squire’s huge prestigious shoes after his departure in ‘96 and even being selected to join the band over Guns N’ Roses’ guitar-shredding, chain-smoking, top-hat-wearing, renowned-guitarist, Slash! Apart from this, Aziz has been in Simply Red and even worked closely with none other than the Grandfather of Indie and Modfather of Music, Mr. Paul Weller, a personal song-writing idol of mine. When I bought the album ‘22 Dreams’ when it came out in 2008, I would never have believed that a direct collaborator of the record would one day be inviting me to his fiftieth birthday celebration, but here we are…
…as I come in off the network of motorways that meander round Manchester and Leeds a familiar sight greets my eyes, the famous skyline of Manchester, with those skyscrapers standing like sentries overlooking the hobble-cobble of warehouses, flat-blocks and factories that make up the bulk of the city’s buildings. I’ve been to, lived-in and slept rough slumming it to gigs in most of Britain’s major cities, but for some reason Manchester has always eluded me, the skyline is familiar because I was a huge fan of Shameless, and because I’ve watched Twenty Four Hour Party People about a thousand times!
After checking into my hotel I meet up with promoter Wiley Smith, who is also invited to the gig, and we meet up in a Manchester Wetherspoon’s with another musical legend, Dave Sharp (The Alarm/Dave Sharp Band) and with our girlfriends the five of us make our way up the short walk to The Roadhouse…
…Hundreds queue outside the venue (only a small handful get in with some exclusive tickets made available to the public, but Aziz being the truly altruistic humanitarian he is, later offers free tickets to his next gig for anyone that missed out). The VIP feel to the event is palpable, more so when Ian Brown himself walks by the rows of guests and slips in a backdoor, so close he brushed past us – the hairs on the back of my neck are now officially standing up! Being on the guest list to this event is easily the highlight of my sixteen month music-journalism career and also one of the highlights of my entire life! I’m truly blessed as, when I get inside, I find myself surrounded by familiar faces from the music/celebrity world, some I can place, some I can’t, but most the people here look famously familiar. Indeed, the guest list consists of everyone Aziz has worked with in his entire career, Oasis member Bonehead, Smiths’ drummer Mike Joyce, Primal Scream’s Denise Johnson and Inspiral Carpets’ Tom Hingley and Clint Boon, not forgetting of course the Roses’ Ian Brown and much, much more! This is Aziz’s thankyou to all that supported and worked with him over the years, and he has certainly had a long and illustrious career, apart from Weller and the Roses he has also worked with members of The Smiths, as well as Steve Hogarth of Marillion and is currently in a band with him named The H Band – they are all here! The atmosphere is buzzing and crackling with the sharp electricity of excitement. Dozens and dozens of people pour in and Aziz greets and thanks each and every one of them personally at the door.
Aziz has done a lot of charity work throughout his career. I interviewed him at Wake Up The West and he is a very humble, affable, spiritual and compassionate human being. This particular event is raising money for CDRS (a disaster victims’ charity) and the whole night will consist of live performances from Aziz and the musicians he has collaborated with over the years. Aziz’s musical talent is prodigious, and his musician friends constantly attest to this, he is as skilled a guitar player as any I’ve ever seen, but with the Asian edge to his sound he is something else entirely, original, refreshing and new, especially to people who’s Asian musical knowledge extends only as far as Ravi Shankar (like mine!), Aziz has opened up a whole other musical door for me and his music is a huge inspiration to myself and many others, not to mention he is backed on the skins by virtuoso percussionist Dalbir Singh Rattan who is to the tablas what Nick Mason was to the drumkit, a Nick Masian, if you will.
That night I stood with legs like jelly next to Dave Sharp, who was sipping coke under his trademark black trilby, and we watched in wide-eyed awe as Aziz played a special gig to an elite crowd, one after another Aziz gets a role-call of massive names in music on the stage and they play to an adoring crowd. With such one-off performances as Aziz, Hingley and Bonehead doing a cover of ‘Norwegian Wood’ by the Beatles, and a finale that featured Aziz, Steve Hogarth and XTC’s Dave Gregory on stage together! Apart from that, Aziz also showcased local up-and-coming musical talents by sharing the stage with them and even a performance from actress Deepak Verma (Eastenders). This has got to be one of the best gigs I have ever attended, out of hundreds and hundreds! At the risk of sounding lugubrious – thinking back on it now, the memory alone tightens my chest and dries my throat, Wullie Smith and I were two very privileged individuals that night! I got to meet Ian Brown, members of the Verve, Oasis, Primal Scream and Inspiral Carpets and a whole gamut of amazing Manchurian musicians, the memory of it will stick with me forever!
For a more in-depth introduction to Aziz’s music flip over right now to my review of his album ‘Rusholme Rock’ (to be published alongside this review), then buy a copy and open your mind to sounds you never imagined. After that, you’ll be equipped to go see the man himself live, and I’m pleased to announce that Wake Up The Sun’s next event ‘Free As You Are’ on the 30th August sees Aziz headlining with support from Dave Sharp and a whole host of fabulous local talent, and if you are not blown off the spot by Aziz’s live performance from start to finish, then you have no soul!
In conclusion, that night at the Roundhouse saw another stunning live performance from Aziz and friends and raised over £250,000 for his chosen charity! With a charity auction that was held by Bonehead, which saw such mouth-watering items as rare and signed copies of things like ‘Definitely, Maybe’ and deleted versions of Smiths’ vinyls. A huge success and a brilliant night celebrating the life and work of yet another brilliant Manchester musician. Mr. Ibrahim, we thank you, for your contribution to music and for your never-ending generosity. Furthermore, I’d like to add that Manchester is now my NUMBER ONE favourite English city, I took the opportunity to spend a few days down there, the people were friendly, the nightlife was vibrant and the culture just oozes out the bricks in the walls and the cracks in the pavements. Why does so much great music come out of Manchester? Well, I think we’ve answered that, Manchester produces great music because Manchester is great!
“Oh somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light, somewhere men are singing and laughing and everything’s all right.” ~ Ernest Lawrence Thayer
“Seeya’ in the pit!” ~ CTH.