Manchester’s reputation as a musical ‘oasis’ was cemented long before the city bred the superstars of the same name. This was the city that spearheaded a music scene so stirring, it transcended the charts and became a cultural movement.
Of course, that was a long time ago, now. Even the most ardent ravers still clinging to their bucket hats for dear life will surely confess that the heady days of Madchester and 90s rock ‘n’ roll are behind us and are never coming back.
But that doesn’t mean the planet’s greatest musicians have stopped turning to the city for inspiration. Sure, they might not look over to The Hacienda or Dry Bar for ideas anymore. But they do keep consulting a little office space in St John’s.
You might not know it, but down an unassuming side street in Manchester’s city centre, a small team of digital creatives are quietly spending their days assembling digital platforms for the biggest stars in music today.
It’s a place called Modern English.
Since setting up over a decade ago, Andy Hirst’s business has blossomed into the go-to brand for digital work in the music sphere – amassing an envious collection of star-studded case studies.
Modern English began in creative technology and digital production through music and ended up working for media agencies. The team fine-tuned their processes in line with the music industry boom and ultimately hit a groove.
Previous work includes Facebook apps for Elbow, Kylie Minogue and a host of others, e-commerce stores for The Smiths and New Order, and an app for The Charlatans (who played a gig in the Modern English office to launch it), as well as playing a pivotal role for local businesses during the pandemic.
The agency hosted United We Stream alongside Mayor Andy Burnham and Warehouse Project founder Sacha Lord (raising funds for Nordoff Robbins charity in the process), whilst helping fresh brands get off the ground mid-pandemic; supporting The Blues Kitchen with a brand spanking new website.
Proudly Mancunian the brand may be, but Modern English’s work goes far beyond the borders of the M60. Much business has spanned the Atlantic, incorporating a wide variety of digital production work for an ever-growing list of glitzy clients.
Projects have ranged from working on facial recognition technology for pop star Dua Lipa, to live streaming gigs for Black Eyed Peas and Lil Simz, various Spotify and Apple Music connected apps for the likes of Britney Spears and The Beatles, to building a playlist discovery tool for Warner Music in NYC called Topsify.
The team steered an award winning virtual campaign to announce Foo Fighters’ world-stopping headline slot at Glasto in 2017, and last year collaborated with Capitol Music in LA and NASA to launch an award winning AI experience set to the music of Beck’s latest album ‘Hyperspace’.
More recently, Modern English launched the website for legendary group The Rolling Stones and their new flagship store on Carnaby Street. This was before collaborating with Sony Music on behalf of legendary singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, creating a bespoke URL to mark the 20th anniversary of the Grammy Award winner’s iconic debut album, Songs in A Minor.
The agency has also worked alongside Warner to launch the site for Use Hearing Protection – an exhibition which pays tribute to the early days of Factory Records and the era during which Manchester took on a new, iconic form.
It isn’t just the work that’s continued flooding in, though. The accolades have kept coming, too. Modern English is pretty much a permanent fixture at the Prolific North awards every year nowadays, with Andy himself being listed in the 42 under 42 by Insider Media in 2019.
Yet, despite all the big names and coveted trophies, Modern English has done “next to no PR” during its first decade in business. The brand’s reputation of delivering high-end projects at speed has spread mostly via word of mouth, snowballing with every passing week.
In the space of just a few years, the team have gone from getting “dribs and drabs of website and film work” to sharing office space with Pixies manager, doing work for Mick Jagger, and becoming mates with Mark Lanegan.
Quite the transition.
Naturally, the pandemic has presented a tough period for Modern English, as it has for almost every local business. But the future remains bright – with a number of secretive but “very exciting” projects apparently in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond.
These include a physical box set for a major artist, a 30th anniversary campaign for a world-renowned group, and a big AR project that could potentially be worth a staggering £1 million.
“Moving ahead, we’ll be leaning more on the creative side of the business,” owner Andy explains.
“Modern English has always been about creating new firsts and never resting on your laurels. It’s that attitude that got us through the pandemic.
“We’re looking to do more groundbreaking creative work like we’ve done in the past, being as innovative and future-thinking as we can.”
It seems the agency is only destined to get bigger: both in structure and reputation.
Madchester might always be recognised as the apex of music in the city. As a region, we may never be looked at in quite that way again.
But to suggest Manchester is no longer the influence it once was is naive. Indeed, the city is still setting up soapboxes for the top talent just like it was 30 years ago. Sometimes in a digital way.
A little Mancunian agency called Modern English is rolling out an online red carpet for the planet’s creatives every single year. And millions are watching.
Manchester and music. There must be something in the water…
Rio Ferdinand is helping change young lives with community programmes in Oldham and Salford
Ex-Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand and his foundation’s wonderful work is helping better the lives of young people in Oldham, Salford and across Manchester as a whole.
Over the past year, the Rio Ferdinand Foundation and The Guinness Partnership have been putting together a vital social initiative aimed at providing opportunities and resources to young people across Greater Manchester, helping them develop their skills and aspirations for future working life.
Now, after a hugely successful 12-month campaign, their skills and progression community programme, participants are well and truly starting to feel the impact, with 90% of those taking part now stating that they are enjoying a clear idea and focus on what they want to do for a career.
It may have be thriving in Salford and Oldham at the moment, but given the benefit the scheme has already had — not to mention the ambition the Rio Ferdinand Foundation has shown around various areas of the UK since being set up in 2012 — we can only see this spreading further across the region.
The skills-based initiative engages young people aged under 25 years old and living in Guinness homes in a six-month skills-based programme which has been up and running in the two Manc boroughs, as well as the London boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth, since March 2022.
Young people from both Oldham and Salford take part in a weekly schedule of activities designed to tackle youth unemployment, including digital media training (photography, product design, filmmaking, podcasting), building and construction, CV workshops, mock interviews and more.
Not only do these shadowing opportunities garner confidence and raise aspirations among other young people in the local community, but they also help directly develop their employability skills via mentoring.
For instance, Matthew, 19 from Royton in Oldham, completed the programme and then was supported to apply to the Guinness Aspire Awards to request funding to purchase camera and lighting equipment to help him start a small local photography business. Quality stuff.
Matt says that the scheme “has been an amazing opportunity and has given [him] a chance to get back on the right path… I know what I want to do now and can’t wait to start… I would recommend that other people in my position get involved with it in the future.”
As well as markedly increasing participants health and well-being, all 100% of those involved across Salford and Oldham reported feeling more confident, with many now enjoying opportunities with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation’s partners such as Warner Music, Kiss FM, The Jockey Club and the Gym Group.
Speaking on the programme’s success, Rio himself said in a statement: “The Foundation is committed to working with young people at the heart of their communities to offer support, training, and opportunities to those that need it… engaging with the Guinness Partnership has provided a great boost to our reach and our work”.
Well in, Rio. Thankfully, he isn’t the only ex-Manchester-based footballer still trying to make a difference in the local community either:
Featured Image — Supplied/Rio Ferdinand (via Instagram)
Heritage railway arches in Manchester city centre to undergo £3.7m transformation by HOME arts centre
A section of the iconic railway arches along Whitworth Street is set to be refurbished into a brand-new development space for up-and-coming local artistsunder HOME.
Having existed as a recognisable part of the city’s rich transport and architectural heritage for as long as we can remember, three of the familiar archways situated on Whitworth Street West are now about to be given a new lease of life which will also help support Manchester’s beloved arts community.
Coming under the HOME theatre and arts umbrella with the work being carried out by the North West arm of Robertson Construction, the transformation is set to start fairly soon and is scheduled to be completed by May 2024.
Sitting between Whitworth Street West and HOME’s main arts building at Tony Wilson Place, which has been a popular cinema, gallery and restaurant since 2015, the new development centre will provide a space and vital resources for artists of all ages, disciplines and stages in their careers. Wonderful stuff.
Costing £3.7m, the goal of the ‘HOME Arches’ project is not only to give the Whitworth Street West Arches some much-needed TLC, but to help nurture, attract and retain creative talent in Manchester by providing them with a high-quality, low-cost rehearsal and training space.
Moreover, being connected to the ever-thriving First Street district will further strengthen it as a well-known and go-to city centre destination for artists and visitors alike.
Funding for the renovation was secured back in 2021 following a £2.3m government grant, with a further £0.9m contribution from Manchester City Council and around £0.5m from HOME themselves, who are helping cover some post-construction costs.
The Arches project is part of a wider £20m redevelopment plan under the national Levelling Up fund, with the bulk of the £17.5m scheme seeing the Upper Campfield and Lower Campfield Market buildings (both Grade II-listed structures) lovingly transformed into a new tech, media and creative industries hub.
Issuing a statement following the announcement, Director and CEO of HOME, Dave Moutrey said they are delighted to provide “meaningful, additional creative space for artists” and allow them to “grow the work that we do with artists in the North West, across theatre, film, visual art and digital works”.
As for the Council itself, leader Bev Craig said: “These arches are part of our heritage which have sat unloved and underused for many years. This scheme is bringing them back to life with a very modern purpose – complementing the thriving cultural economy in our city.
“Culture has a huge role to play in the success of our city and its people – creatively, for health and well-being and economically. This project will enhance this part of the city centre, create new jobs and further strengthen Manchester’s cultural ecosystem.”
We can’t wait to see how the new historic railway arches look under the loving stewardship of HOME and see the impact it makes on local creativity and culture.