The People’s History of Manchester Music

Article published: Tuesday, September 21st 2010

Joe Beech charts the ambitious aims and impressive holdings of the Manchester District Music Archive.

The Manchester District Music Archive was founded by Matthew Norman and Alison Surtees in 2003 in a bid to celebrate Greater Manchester music, protect its heritage and promote awareness of the city’s cultural importance. Since its inception, the group has grown to over 1,700 members. Their contributions have created an invaluable online resource collecting the stories behind a globally renowned music scene.

The archive emerged out of a campaign for a museum dedicated to Manchester’s rich and diverse music history. “We believed there should be a proper space dedicated to storing Manchester music [so] we, as an organisation, campaigned for a couple of years to get a physical music museum in Manchester” MDMArchive Secretary Abigail Ward told MULE.

Frustrated with a lack of progress towards obtaining a physical space, Norman and Surtees set up the website to create a user-led, virtual resource. It has developed hugely over the past seven years, despite sparse funding. Submissions come from all over the city, from artists and industry personnel to fans and cultural historians, discussing their experiences and sharing their tapes, tickets, flyers and photos.

Today, the archive contains memorabilia from over 5,500 bands, venues and DJs hailing from Manchester, dating as far back as 1912. An impressive range of artefacts includes an original ‘84 New Order master tape and concert t-shirts from the Hacienda. Yet the project also aims to recognise unsung heroes from areas such as Moss Side and Hulme, whose reggae and blues traditions are often overshadowed by the more renowned Factory Records bands, celebrated in recent popular films such as 24 Hour Party People and Control.

There is also space for folk and other musical traditions that pre-date sound recording, complimented by a detailed chronology of Manchester’s musical history from 1422 to present day. Embedded videos show a wide range of material. A recital of eighteenth century ballads emphasises the historical link between music and events like Peterloo.

Despite the lack of a permanent physical museum, MDMArchive also hold various events, including exhibitions, seminars, film screenings and club nights. Their Manchester Punk Exhibition at Urbis boasted rare memorabilia and footage from Joy Division and the Buzzcocks, while film and music night “The Blues and Gospel Train” attracted fans from around the country. Earlier this year, they hosted an ambitious event celebrating the history of Manchester’s gay music culture at The Deaf Institute.

The night was so successful that the group will launch an online exhibition on the subject, called “Queer Noise”. This virtual museum, showcasing the history of LGBT music in Manchester, is due to launch in time for Pride 2010. Ward says, “this will be a proper, interactive museum experience… hundreds of artefacts relating to LGBT clubbing and gay live music, all grouped together in a really exciting, cutting-edge, interactive display”.

There are further physical and digital exhibitions in the pipeline: “We’re going to do another exhibition in the coming months, hopefully on the 60’s beat scene or whatever subject we choose. We are dedicated to unsung eras, so we wouldn’t want to touch on ‘Manchester and Factory’ any more because there’s no need for us to do that”.

The archive is broadening its scope to paint a detailed picture of the Manchester music scene, from unsigned artists and buskers to thought to be lost rarities from underground movements. With an enthusiastic swath of contributors, it is likely to keep expanding.

For more information and to contribute towards the archive, see

Joe Beech

This article features in the print edition of The Mule – Issue 10, out now for FREE around Greater Manchester

More: Culture, Exhibition, Manchester


  1. […] Original article online at the Manchester Mule here […]

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