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A dedicated home for music memorabilia, exploring the past, present and future of music archives. Find your own piece of the story.

The Face, Boy George photographed by Jill Furmanovsky, 1982. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

Manchester’s British Pop Archive : A Serious Look at Pop Culture

Launched in April 2022, Manchester’s British Pop Archive aims is to build the first national archive fully dedicated to British pop culture, enabling people to understand its rich cultural value. MAG_BTM interviewed BPA’s curator Mat Bancroft, discussing the collection, the ongoing exhibition and picking some of the fascinating items from the archive.

Showcasing part of the archive’s holdings, the BPA’s first exhibition Collection brings together the records and artifacts of UK popular culture, youth culture and counter-culture from the post-war period to the present day, including unique items relating to Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Granada Television, Factory Records and The Haçienda. 

Visitors can discover Manchester’s vibrant pop culture scene at the John Rylands Library with handwritten lyrics, scripts, letters and designs, magazines and fanzines on display. Personal fan and industry artifacts are on view too, such as Johnny Marr’s Gretsch Super Axe guitar that he used to record some of the early Smiths classic songs.

  1. FAC 201 DRY – 3D model

    This is one of those stories where we learned more about the item after exhibiting it. In 1989 Factory opened FAC 201 Dry or Dry Bar as it is generally known, a second city center venture after the Haçienda, of which we’ve got a 3D scale model from the archives of Rob Gretton [Joy Division and New Order’s manager, and one of Factory Records partners]. When I contacted Ben Kelly, the architect of Dry, to ask him what he knew about it, he was very surprised because he hadn’t seen that model for ages; he couldn’t really quite remember who made it or why. But a gentleman who came to see the exhibition, Paul Mason, happened to be the manager at Dry when it first opened and he got in touch with me and explained why he commissioned the model. While they were trying to get the alcohol license for the venue, whoever granted it couldn’t understand what the idea was, so they wouldn’t grant the license to it. There wasn’t anything like it at that particular time; it was a cafe bar, and maybe in London there were some, or in Europe and in New York, but not in Manchester. So, they had a scale model made so Paul Mason could take it to the licensing to say: Do you get it now? And this way, they finally got the license!

    Dry, scale model, c1989. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  2. Ian Curtis’ archive – She’s Lost Control lyrics

    Ian Curtis’ archive is part of the John Rylands Library collectionand in our exhibition we display the lyrics of She’s Lost Control, which is a really interesting piece of writing. Having the chance to go through the lyrics is fascinating, because, for example, you can see which tracks took multiple goes to write. In some cases, there’s three, four or five versions of a particular song and you can also see lines that didn’t make the final cut, as well as seeing Ian Curtis’ writing process. Then, on the flip side of that, you find examples where he clearly wrote the song in one go, as in Isolation and Love Will Tear Us Apart. Alongside the lyrics, there are books from his small library, which helps get a sense of who he was influenced by and the books that he kept, such as The Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, some books on materialism, and a copy of White Subway by William Burroughs. All of these readings reflect in Ian’s language, which floats, both in lyrics and correspondence, between esoteric and colloquial, which I guess is the dynamic of Ian Curtis, a working-class northern guy and also a dreamer and a poet.

    Handwritten lyrics to She’s Lost Control, Ian Curtis, c1979. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  3. Terence Pepper Archive – fanzines & magazines

    Terence Pepper was the Photography curator at the National Portrait Gallery and he was also a really big collector of pop magazines and periodicals. What is interesting about Terence is that a lot of his collection bled into his work as a curator, and alongside that, the archive is a brilliant “base library”, with lots of materials from the fifties onwards, and particularly from the sixties. He’s got a really good run of International Times, Oz magazine, and all of those kind of counter-culture periodicals, fanzines and magazines, that give an amazing sense of the time, both from the perspective of design and information. These are great examples of how pop culture is intersecting with society and political culture, and how it’s commenting on it, being affected by it and responding to it. Pop culture is a great tool for that: people respond to whatever society’s going through at the time.

    From Kevin Cummins archive: The Face, Boy George photographed by Jill Furmanovsky, 1982. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  4. Photographer Kevin Cummins archive: fan and industry artefacts – pt.1

    Kevin Cummins probably took the most iconic photos of Joy Division, and started his career as a photographer in Manchester, taking lots of photos of what was the emerging punk/new wave scene: the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, A Certain Ratio and other Factory bands, Morrisey and the early Smiths, The Fall and then nationally bands like the Manic Street Preachers amongst many others. His work was a focus for National Music Press, and he would be the one in Manchester going to the Apollo to photograph big artists like David Bowie, Iggy Pop or Patti Smith. During his whole life and career, he kept badges, pins, ticket stubs and photo passes that are now a crucial part of the archive.

    Kevin Cummin’s photo passes. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  5. Photographer Kevin Cummins archive: fan and industry artefacts – pt.2

    They tell Kevin Cummins’s whole story, showing us the career of a guy who comes out of Manchester and becomes a global name, traveling all over the world at the request of or for bands and magazines. His badges, gig tickets and photo passes document both his work and his experience as a music fan; for example, we have his card from the David Bowie fan club on show. All these keepsakes are not only important archival materials, but also items to which the public often and can easily relate; pins and badges are something that we’ve all worn at some point, because they tell somebody else something about you.

    From Kevin Cummins archive: Kevin Cummin’s pins. Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  6. Tony Wilson archive

    Tony Wilson’s archive is fascinating because he was working on multiple things at the same time: he was a news reporter, he was making programs for Granada TV, he was involved in Factory as a director and a planner, and he was managing bands like Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio.
    hat’s really interesting about this archive is that you get to see the real dynamic of how things are running and how Factory is existing in that time. For example, you can see the development of the esthetic of what X-O-Dus’ English Black Boys sleeve will look like; you see Tony’s handwritten notes of what’s going to go on it, and you can follow the process through the correspondence between him and Dennis Bovell, who was a well-known producer within that area. So, I think one of the things that’s always quite important for our archives, whether the items were all from the same archive or different archives, is to be able to give someone a sense of a story that is as complete as possible.

    From Stephen Kelly & Judith Jones’ Archive: Coronation Street 21st Birthday invite, Granada Television, Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  7. Rob Gretton archive: the notebooks – pt.1

    Rob Gretton kept an incredible number of notebooks and they give an amazing insight into his role as a band manager from the late seventies and all the way through to the 1990s. His organizational sense is really impressive: from the notebooks you can see what he actually needed to do on a daily basis for the bands, the artists and Factory as a label, and you can also understand his vision for Factory’s position outside the music industry and specifically what he envisaged the aesthetic of Joy Division to be.

    Rob Gretton’s notebooks, Courtesy of The University of Manchester

  8. Rob Gretton archive: the notebooks – pt.2

    Rob was clearly very influenced by punk and he knew that Manchester was the place where Joy Division should be; he thought that they didn’t need to go to London or to be necessarily signed to a major. He thought they should be mysterious, avoid doing lots and lots of interviews and they should control their image. And it’s interesting, obviously, because Joy Division are not on any of their record sleeves and their image comes out just via the music press through Kevin Cummins’ photos. I would argue that, even though there are so many reasons why Joy Division are the band they are seen as now in the modern world – the songs, the esthetic, the fact that Curtis died so young – actually a lot of what Rob was envisaging for them is why they were able to be the band they were and have the longevity they have. Joy Division wrote great songs and had a brilliant front man, but Rob’s vision is equally important and his notebooks really give you a sense of how intelligent he was and also how “street smart” he was, clearly understanding the mechanics popular culture from a very young age.

    Rob Gretton’s acetate of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, 1979, Courtesy of The University of Manchester