One thing I left out of my article on “soft power” the other day was music. I had originally mentioned that Beatles tourism was responsible for almost 10% of Liverpool GDP and is still growing, but cut for simplicity’s sake, focusing on literature instead.
Obviously, music plays a big part in soft power and the capital also still benefits from the charismatic legacy of Swinging London and punk, although Chelsea, Soho and Notting Hill have rather lost the bohemian raffishness that attracted artists in the first place. You’re not going to find The Clash of the future squatting next door to you in W11.
Although the Beatles are way ahead of any other British band in terms of historical importance, and the London-based Rolling Stones a comfortable second place, arguably Manchester has the most musical soft power of any city in Britain.
Almost a quarter of a century ago there was the Cool Britannia phenomenon, which was partly a coke-fuelled orgy of self-indulgence created by the London media but did also to some extent reflect a real moment in music and popular culture. It probably reached a peak during and after Euro 96, when the US-based Newsweek declared that “London Rules: inside the world’s coolest city”. A big part of Cool Britannia was the rivalry between Oasis and Blur, but more widely it was about the musical scene in two cities — London and Manchester.
London has a vastly bigger economy and cultural weight, but Manchester had an unusual number of very good and decent bands in the years following The Stone Roses’s first album in 1989, and by the mid-90s the city had huge cultural capital as a result. Anecdotally I know several people who made their university choice at least partly because of the Madchester scene, and while most moved to London afterwards, the sheer number of bright people living in the city must have made some contribution to the knowledge economy.
On top of this, Fergie’s United team were at their peak — they won their second double just before Euro 96 and three years later were champions of Europe. How many Man United fans are there in China now? Twenty million? Fifty million? I’ve lost track.
During the 21st century Manchester’s economy has boomed — more than any city in Britain — and in terms of population increase and jobs it has grown quicker than every other urban area, benefitting from the growth of the knowledge economy.
Of course there are many reasons for Manchester’s revival and its ability to attract people from around the world, but maybe a lot of it is basically thanks to Noel and Liam Gallagher.