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…
With that in mind, it didn’t take long for the bookmakers to set the odds for who might come in next were the Glazers actually to agree to a sale and while there are some familiar names, others might come as a bit of a surprise.
As you can see, top of the list is no surprise: Failsworth-born billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe leads the odds with an estimated 25% chance of buying out Man United.
Said to be one of the richest men in the UK, Ratcliffe has been seen as arguably the most serious bidder for some time now, despite being told the club was “not for sale” back in October.
Meanwhile, Michael Knighton — who previously hoped to head up a consortium bid involving Ratcliffe’s immense wealth and already tried to buy United more than three decades ago — sits in third, though he’s made it clear that any potential takeover would require help with financing.
Sat in second are the Dubai Sovereign Group, i.e. a state-run fund akin to Manchester City‘s Abu Dhabi Group, PSG’s Qatari owners or Newcastle’s new Saudi Arabia administration.
Dubai are yet to join the premier footballing fray when it comes to putting the wealth of an entire nation’s investment fund into a sporting franchise but it seems like only a matter of time before they do.
Then there’s Jim O’Neill, a.k.a, the Lord and Baron of Gatley, who previously tried to launch a hostile takeover back in 2012. He hasn’t been in the conversation for some time but given his Goldman Sachs background, could be a serious option.
As for David Beckham, we imagine he’s too busy running Inter Miami and his part in Salford City via the Project 92 ownership group — though that Qatar money certainly won’t have hurt his chances. And, again, who knows, he could form part of a consortium.
On to US investors with the Harris/Blitzer Group, owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils, as well as the Pagliuca/Tanenbaum Group, who run the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Both groups have expressed interest in buying Premier League clubs in the past and as we have seen with Chelsea’s recent takeover, there seems to be a growing interest from American businesses even if not everyone is convinced that their designs on English football are a great fit.
Then we come to ‘The Field’. For anyone unaware, this group is made up of inherited Red Bull owner, Mark Mateschitz, who not only owns the Formula One team but also RB Leipzig, Salzburg and several other sports teams. He is estimated to be worth more than $15 billion.
Beyond Mateschitz, the trio is completed by two of the richest men in the world, i.e. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Yep, those guys.
This list is by no means exhaustive and, as always in football, who knows what’s going to happen next? Any one of these suitors could emerge as the leading candidate but there’s always a dark horse waiting in the wings.
Moreover, it isn’t just a case of ‘anyone would be better than the Glazers’ — nothing but trouble follows that way — so whoever the club decide to hand over the reins to, you can only hope they go through the proper vetting process.
Is there anyone else you think has an outside chance?
The Glazer family are FINALLY considering putting Manchester United up for sale
In an absolutely staggering day for Manchester United, it looks like the Glazer family could finally be considering selling the club. Parades outside Old Trafford incoming?
The announcement was made in an official statement by the club on Tuesday, 22 November, while most fans had not long finished watching the last World Cup game and were still digesting the news from earlier in the evening.
Should a sale actually go through (we’ll believe it when we see it), it will bring the Glazer‘s ownership of the club to an end after more than 17 years of protests and regression as a once top European team.
You can read the full statement down below, including words from the typically silent Glazers themselves.
The statement detailed how the board of directors are now “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives for the club… with the ultimate goal of positioning the club to capitalize on opportunities both on the pitch and commercially.”
“As part of this process, the Board will consider all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the Company.” Yes, you read that right: they might seriously consider selling.
The mere notion of a sale will come as a surprise to virtually every football fan, let alone United supporters, as the US businessmen have long made it clear they had no intention of letting the multi-billion pound sports franchise go.
It was only just over a month ago that long-time suitor Sir Jim Ratcliffe said he was told by the Glazers directly that the club “is not for sale“.
The announcement goes on to explain that they will be examining plans on everything from “stadium and infrastructure redevelopment… expansion of the club’s commercial operations on a global scale”, to the “long-term success of the club’s men’s, women’s and academy teams” before taking next steps.
They also reiterated that the fan base’s interests will also be considered as much as stakeholders. Yeah, we’ve heard that one before…
News of the club being put up for auction was first broken by The Athletic, who reported that the much-maligned American owners had instructed their banks to handle the sale of the sporting giants.
Shortly after that, Sky News revealed that the share price of the club rocketed by 17% following the rumours alone.
Speaking in a rare statement from the two, co-chairmen and directors Joel and Avram Glazer said: “As we seek to continue building on the Club’s history of success, the Board has authorized a thorough evaluation of strategic alternatives.
“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the Club today and in the future.
They also insisted that they will “remain fully focused on serving the best interests of our fans, shareholders, and various stakeholders.”
Whether what happens next is a full-blown agreement to sell or simply an invitation to welcome other investors on board, it is thought that the incoming parties will also be American. It also thought that were they to sell, they will be looking for offers between $5-9 billion.
It has also been confirmed that banking giants Rothschild and Co. will be acting as the exclusive financial advisor to the Glazer family shareholders and all those financially invested in the club.
Before fans get too carried away, the club did reiterate that “there can be no assurance that the review being undertaken will result in any transaction involving the Company” and no further comments will be made until an official decision or breakthrough has been made.
This earth-shattering news comes just hours after the Red Devils confirmed the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo by way of mutual agreement — an outcome that seemed significantly more likely than the club being put up for sale.
Manchester United are approaching nearly a decade without a league title and have won few trophies in the years since Sir Alex Ferguson.
Moreover, despite numerous additions to the squad itself down the year, the consensus has long been that the club has seen little investment from its owners — certainly not with their own money, anyway. With that in mind, a done deal or not, this is a momentous day for United fans around the world.
While we don’t expect a decision before the end of the year, Reds may finally be able to put their Glazers Out banners down in the near future.