Seldom Seen, Never Forgotten – A Tribute to Bryan Glancy

Nine years ago, bored and miserable because her mates were away, CATH AUBERGINE went to her local to watch some live music – little did she know that this would lead directly to her inadvertently becoming a publicist for a single by a man sadly no longer with us.

“Was there ever a time”, I wrote, “when Bryan Glancy wasn’t plying his trade around town?”

The fact is I couldn’t remember.

A music obsessed teenager, I used to cut Mick Middles’ local music page out of the Evening News every Friday when my parents had done with the paper. I liked punk and indie mostly but I also liked some of the local guitar-slingers: the young and gobby Johnny Dangerously, the already legendary George Borowski. You’d see the name Bryan Glancy associated with theirs; I don’t even remember when or where I first heard of him. I’d definitely heard of him by the time he accompanied Mark Burgess, formerly of my by-then-departed favourite band The Chameleons, at a gig at the Boardwalk in 1991. Another decade’s passed, or nearly, since I wrote that first line; if I couldn’t remember then I’ve got no chance now. I was never that big on one-man-and-his-guitar singer-songwriters in general but there was always something special about Bryan. His words spilled out like stories writing themselves as they went along; he dealt in the nuances of emotion where others used one-size-fits-all brush strokes; wore the thick skin of a busker over the fragile heart of a poet.

In 1995 Burgess released an album called “Zima Junction” under the name of Sons Of God, they being a loose collective of musical collaborators including Karen Leatham (Wonky Alice, The Fall, Gabrielle’s Wish) and Quantum John Burr (no idea, but I always thought it was a brilliant nickname to have been bestowed)… and Bryan Glancy. Bryan sang lead vocal on one track, which he’d written, called “Beat the Boat”. Writing on the official Chameleons website back in 2001, Burgess explained “When I first came across Bryan he was the writer of some of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard and I was a fan immediately. I began with just wishing to cover Beat The Boat. Even then I could hear the brass ending and it was one of my many favourites that he’d written.” From the off, I thought (somewhat disloyally to my supposed hero) it was the best song on the album. In 2002 I told them as much. Both of them.

The internet had really changed things and my teenage hero Mark Burgess was now a friend, or a friend of a friend at least. The friend had arranged a drink with him after a Chameleons gig at Rockworld – their last ever in Manchester, as it turned out, though we didn’t know that then – but he was meeting someone else down at Big Hands, so we tagged along. The someone else turned out to be Bryan, although he was nowhere to be seen. We got a table and some drinks… and then crash! The lad was laughing his head off as he sprawled across our table sending ashtrays and drinks everywhere, having managed to trip over an outstretched foot, eventually coming to rest the other side of the table. “Hi Mark”. Hi Bryan. Truly a force of nature.

A funny bloke, too. There was the Night & Day Christmas party, 2001 – or was it 2000? – where a load of local bands and singers did a song each, covers of all the festive classics. They used to do this sort of thing quite a bit there, they’d have a Clash covers day or a Black Sabbath covers day or something, seem to remember it was a load of effort to get one song per band and as a punter you could do a lot of sitting and waiting but the results were usually worth it. Bryan was usually on the bill somewhere, though it may have been something of a surprise to some to see him on this one. He soon cleared that up. His exact words: “So what’s a Big Nosed Red Sea Pedestrian like me doing playing a Christmas show? I’ll tell you…. I fucking love Christmas, me.” No further explanation necessary.

I’d seen him play there with The Mouth, too, an embryonic I Am Kloot with Johnny Bramwell and Bryan sharing lead vocal duties. I remember them sharing a bill with a little-known singer called David Gray, who was selling copies of his self-released album out of a bag in his car boot after the show; if there was actually any crossover between David Gray fans and music collector geeks (which I’m guessing there isn’t, much) my other half could probably have later made a decent wedge on his original IHT Records “White Ladder”. The two singers remained friends, anyway, as one went multi-platinum and the other went to the pub; Bryan was best man at David’s wedding. Apparently he was best man at a number of his friends’ weddings. That’s how much people thought of him. As for The Mouth, the legend is that Bryan was eventually chucked out of his own band for his habit of going on holiday on a whim regardless of their gig commitments; I don’t know if this is true but as Tony Wilson said, print the legend. You could fill a book with the legends here – the mixture of verifiable and apocryphal tales filtered through memories fuzzied and distorted by the passage of time and more. They used to say everyone in Manchester had a Bryan Glancy story.

A few weeks after the Rockworld gig, The Chameleons played their final UK show at Camden Dingwalls with Bryan supporting. They were enjoying a bit of a revival thanks to their successful reunion (though they’d implode just five months later, and only now a decade on are they really getting the wider recognition they deserve); meanwhile I Am Kloot were going from strength to strength, fellow Northern Quarter drinking buddies Elbow were getting a lot of attention as they prepared to release “Cast Of Thousands”, and David Gray’s follow-up to “White Ladder” entered the charts at number one. Bryan still hadn’t managed to get a record out. Always the best man, never the bridegroom.

Which is how I came to be watching him a year or so later, sandwiched between a couple of decent if now largely forgotten local unsigned bands in the Retro Bar basement. I was fed up; my favourite band were on tour and a load of my mates had gone over for a couple of Irish dates but I could afford neither the cash nor the time off work to join them (I would have been there otherwise, and wouldn’t be writing this) and for something to do I stepped up my coverage of local gigs for manchestermusic.co.uk, the website for which I had been doing the odd bit of writing. I did three local gigs that week and anyone who was around the local grassroots scene in 2003 will be instantly transported back there by the list of names: as well as Bryan Glancy there was Indigo Jones, Moco, Jackie O, The Obsession, Misty Dixon, TVH3. Quite a few of these people are still musically active now, but at the time most of them were relative newcomers. Not all of them., as I explained.

“Now, Bryan Glancy. Was there ever a time when Bryan Glancy wasn’t plying his trade around town? Those who only know of him through his past collaborations with John Bramwell (The Mouth) and Mark Burgess (Sons Of God) may be missing the fact that he’s a talent to match either of them, he just never got round to doing a lot with it. Tonight he looks like he’s just woken up. It’s a short set, accompanied capably by a violinist.

Glancy’s is a world of afternoon drinking in the smoky pubs in the less done-up bits of the Northern Quarter; of cheap drugs and of not-quite-there relationships. Sex (“Five O’Clock”) and drugs (“Morphine”) are depicted as just something to do, and his sublime voice draws you inside. Finally he takes on the city itself. “This is a new one, it’s called Manchester, and it’s about… um, Manchester”. A tale of people and places, drifting between Night & Day and the Roadhouse, seeing Elbow in Big Hands, it’s a bittersweet anthem to a world that’s his and mine and probably yours too, and captures the spirit of our city more than a million glossy Commonwealth Games pamphlets or Student Guides ever could. I’d have liked a few more songs, but I think the bar was calling him…”

Those words, some fleeting thoughts scrawled onto a pre-smartphone-era reviewer’s pad, some added later during transcription. I’m guessing I wrote the whole thing in minutes: a singer I knew and liked, with a bit of background, doing some great new songs. It was the last time I saw Bryan play (although he said hello to me a couple of times subsequently around town – in Bryan’s world a friend of a friend of a friend was simply a friend you hadn’t got to know very well just yet) and I can’t say I gave him much thought over the next couple of years, aside from sometimes listening to “Beat The Boat”.

My life was getting busy and stuffed with music; that period of prolific writing in 2003 scored me a regular turn at ManchesterMusic and I practically had local unsigned bands coming out of my ears. The best way to see as many as possible was to go to specific club nights, one of which was Blowout which took place most Fridays at Piccadilly’s long-gone Bierkeller venue. It was the official start of the weekend, basically like a drinking session with bands on – you could see anything from the big local breakthrough acts of the day to, for example, one of Josh T. Pearson‘s first UK solo shows. The promoter, a lovely bloke called Graham (more recently found managing Frazer King), would send me the forthcoming line-ups as soon as he’d booked them; I’d stick them on the MM news page which, pre-Facebook (and even pre- the widespread adoption of Myspace) was still a pretty important way of getting the word out; Graham would let me in for nothing, I’d write a review. I was pretty excited when at the start of 2006 the name Bryan Glancy appeared on one of his bills. Really glad he was still at it. I’d always stick web links into the news stories if I could find them, but what happened when I stuck Bryan’s name into Google that night blew me away – there was his website, and there on the front page was my review from Retro Bar in 2003, in its entirety. It’s not like he’d never had another review, so I guessed he must have just liked it. Flattered wasn’t the word! Though he could damn well stand me a drink or two for it, the cheeky bugger. February 3rd, the gig, anyway: I’d made half a commitment to go and watch a mate’s brother’s band at some random unsigned night but sod that, the return of the recently somewhat elusive Bryan Glancy wiped the diary clean.

It used to be a phone ringing in the hallway, or running into a mutual acquaintance, maybe even a notice in the paper; these days more often than not it’s a flood of posts in your Facebook news feed; but this was 2006 and thus the rather inappropriate sound of a cuckoo – my chosen text alert on whatever phone I had then – that broke the news. A text from Graham: Bryan Glancy had died over the weekend. He was 39.

Manchester’s music community went into mourning. As did the Prestwich Jewish community, the local football leagues community and any number of other areas in which he had been loved. Graham cancelled the Blowout gig completely on February 3rd with the support of the other bands who’d been on the bill and instead a few of Bryan’s friends, fans and family gathered in the smoky back room of a Northern Quarter pub – Bryan territory – and sang a few songs. I lost count of the number of websites I found quoting my Retro Bar review.

Two years later half the country suddenly wanted to know who Bryan Glancy was. Elbow had made a couple of references to him – including the title itself – on their album “The Seldom Seen Kid” and when it won them the Mercury Prize they dedicated the award to him, Guy Garvey calling his friend “one of the greatest men that ever lived.” The next day the red-tops were falling over themselves to find out about this elusive amazing singer they’d never heard of. They could, of course, have done a lot worse than check out the memorial blog set up in the wake of Bryan’s death – after all, everyone in Manchester had a Bryan Glancy story. You can still read them there now.

As disorganised as he was prolific, Bryan left a fair pile of recordings, except they weren’t really in a pile, there were bits and bobs all over the place. Hs friends and family always intended that these should see the light of day, but it’s taken this long. Guy Lovelady has revived his much-loved Manchester DIY/indie label Ugly Man and pressed up 500 copies of a seven inch – Bryan’s first. The songs are called “My Love” (see above) and “Don’t Sell Me” and it’s available via the aforementioned Blogspot page. And it’s beautiful.

It’s not just beautiful because he is no longer with us. It’s always tempting to mythologise the dead, but Bryan was pretty mythological when he was alive; it would be a whole lot more beautiful if he was standing there supporting Elbow in an arena, or touring the world with Mark Burgess (whose current band includes at least one fellow Sons Of God alumnus). Or even in his own right – after all, his old mate David Gray was around for a long time before his “overnight” success. Guy Lovelady quips that Bryan could be the first ever posthumous double Mercury winner (I guess his spirit was all over “The Seldom Seen Kid”) which kind of means there’s more of this to come, an album’s worth. If the songs they’ve got are anything like those songs I remember from that random weeknight in Retro Bar they’ll be magnificent. I asked Lovelady if he could send me all the PR blurb for the single and he replied thus: “There is no PR blurb Cath. You wrote it when you did your piece on Bryan many years ago. Bryan loved your summation of his art and his craft. Thanks for all your words and support.”

I guess this is it then. If you want to buy the record, there’s a Paypal link on the memorial blog page.

Memorial Blog / single ordering link: http://bryanglancy.blogspot.co.uk/

All words Cath Aubergine. More Louder Than War articles by Cath can be read here. Cath mainly writes for the website Manchestermusic.co.uk, another Manchester based culture & music website.

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5 comments on “Seldom Seen, Never Forgotten – A Tribute to Bryan Glancy”

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  1. “…one went multi-platinum, the other went to the pub” delivered with love and affection.
    brilliant.

  2. Tony frazer king

    Another splended Cath bit of writing, wonderful words,my favourite bit ‘always the bestman never the bride groom’
    Absolute gold.

  3. alison overton

    Hi Cath – thank you for writing this lovely post. My husband Lins and I became friends with Mark and his ex Sally back in early 1990. In May of 1991 we went back to England again and while at Mark and Sally’s place, Bryan and Jackie came by and we had a fun evening of listening to records and drinking beer. We got to see Mark and Bryan play at the Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room in Harlesden that same trip. Bryan started the show off with a song i really liked – i could only discern the lyrics “skint again”. i believe Beat the Boat is one of the most perfect songs ever. What a lovely person he was – inside and out.

  4. Michelle Brownstein

    Hi i knew Bryan he was a really lovely guy and also very funny ,I knew him from school als he has a lovely family and is truly missed . I would like to get hold of his C.D

  5. Stopped by the North West film archive in the Central Library to find, by chance, Bryan Glancy appearing along with a film on the Whit Walks. Subject to keywords search (if you what I mean?) Sometimes when you get pushed off the track and the blanket is there but also missing, someone, however implausible will show you a way back. Thanks Bryan.

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