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Pop music and architecture

Not an obvious connection, you may think: but as I sit staring across the road at the neo-Grecian grandeur of Bristol’s Masonic hall, and the Trashcan Sinatras sing (very beautifully) about ‘watching the buildings go by’ (in the exquisite ‘Weightlifting’), I realise how often the human response to buildings is built into song.

This is the distracted, distended, lovely mindset to be had wandering unencumbered through great cities; but the same buildings can invoke a kind of connected-up, all conquering glory, beautifully cracked by Guy Garvey as he sings his way home out of Manchester Piccadilly and down Station Approach: ‘coming home I like that I/designed these buildings I walk by’.

Indeed Manchester bands, as in so many ways always the best, are unusually architecturally acute. As Peter Saville said of Joy Division, ‘Manchester is concrete underpasses and a Gothic Revival cathedral – for me Unknown Pleasures was the concrete underpass, Closer was the Gothic cathedral’.

But perhaps closer to home where the grand abandoned silk mills (among the oldest factories on earth), at once underpass and cathedral, of east Cheshire – Macclesfield in particular.

Then there’s Mark E Smith’s speeded-out Northern Soul gezeer’s 5am ‘turrets of Victorian Wealth’ (from ‘Lie dream…’) , which nails the architecture of said city in a single sentence.

But, as ever, it’s Bristol that quietly outflanks everyone. For in the 1990s Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack between them reinvented the enduringly odd-yet-funky, oblique-yet-beguiling, compex-yet-simple aesthetic of Bristol C14 architecture for late C20 popular music, unwittingly bookending Bristol’s contribution to world history (from the dawn to the post-dusk of its emergence as a world port and a driver of economic/industrial revolution). Angels in the architecture, indeed.

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