who'se smiling now
Manchester Sound: The Massacre :review of great play that links the 1819 Peterloo massacre to acid house
who’se smiling now

Ten minutes into this long and fascinating play and I’m feeling the dread nostalgia for acid house- that eruption of anarchy and good times in the late eighties that revolutionised music but somehow has been written out of music history.

Acid house was a genuine mass movement with the power and cultural shift of all great pop cultures. It was a million stories that has been boiled down to a handful of clichés and completely enveloped the then moribund indie scene and then the mainstream and changed so much in pop culture that it’s strange that there never seems to be any big spreads in music media on its legacy.

This play is one of the rare moments when the cultural impact of acid house is examined in a complex and ambitious work that interlaces acid house and the Peterloo massacre into one narrative and ask many questions.

Polly Wiseman, who wrote the play explains. “The play is about a pair of revolutions, one political and one cultural, that changed the world,” she says. “Both were peaceful events on which the authorities came down disproportionately hard; and both led to changes in the law.
The Peterloo Massacre took place in Manchester city centre in August 1819 when the cavalry into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 brought together by reformer and orator Henry Hunt, killing 17 people and injuring hundreds that had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation, with Lancashire having 2 MPS that could only be voted for by the rich. It was the beginning of a century of radical Manchester and is woven deep into the city’s conciousness.

The play weaves acid house into part of this revolutionary history of Manchester and starts outside in the street in the city centre with ravers taking the audience to a secret warehouse location where a club scene unfolds before suddenly switching to Peterloo massacre- with the build up to the march and then the sabre weilding militia putting down the people’s call for the vote and representation.

The play compares and contrasts the drug fueled ecstasy freaks and the idealistic Peterloo massacre victims who reemerge in the middle of the rave as ghosts in funny and fascinating scenes and examines the hedonistic period when the youth rose up in a different way and created their own good times which in many ways was also a revolutionary act with a great sound track.

The play is enthralling, thought provoking and gives you pangs of nostalgia for those endless nights running around the warehouse and squat party scene in the late eighties Manchester fuelled by drugs and an insane optimism. At the same time it also puts it into the context of the revolutionary Manchester of the 19th century- a city that was the revolutionary hotbed of a new Europe and the Peterloo massacre- a history that every one should know just to remind you of the real history of the UK and not the usual list of kings and queens that passes for history.


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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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