First there were derelict warehouses and deserted mills, the wreckage of a great industrial past. Then came music and madness of a generation liberated from that tradition. And at the centre of this Manchester was Factory Records and the Hacienda, both the creation of Tony Wilson, pop impresario, news journalist, regeneration guru and now - along with partner Yvette Livesey - our guest editor.
It's coming up to 10 years since the Provisional IRA MADE its distinctive contribution to urban regeneration by blowing up Manchester's Arndale shopping centre. As well as injuring 70 people and destroying several buildings, that bomb kick-started an extraordinary process of urban renewal that continues unabated to this day.
It's worth remembering, though, that this physical regeneration had a raucous precursor, and one that established the city as something other than a derelict landscape of Victorian warehouses and back-to-backs inhabited by women called either Doris or Elsie.
The popular name for this phenomenon was "Madchester", a cultural regeneration of rock music and nightlife fuelled by lager and amphetamines and presided over by, of all people, a regional television news presenter. That man was the effervescent impresario Tony Wilson, who found time between shifts on Granada News to found two Manchester icons: Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub.
To non-Mancunians, Wilson was immortalised by Steve Coogan's tongue-in-cheek portrayal of him in Michael Winterbottom's 24-Hour Party People, a movie that surfed the 16-year-long wave that swelled from the Sex Pistols' gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, rose through Joy Division and the Buzzcocks and crested at the end of the 1980s with techno music, rave nights, the Happy Mondays and Britain's inaugural death from ecstasy, which took place on the Hacienda's dancefloor.
These days the Hacienda is long gone, and Factory Records, now known as F4, ambles along managed by Wilson and an assistant. The broadcasting continues in fits and starts, but Wilson has other services to offer the good folk of Granadaland. He has reinvented himself as a regeneration adviser, in tandem with his partner Yvette Livesey, who has a parallel background to his own in TV presentation and music management. Their company, Livesey Wilson Ideas Management, has come up with an ambitious programme to transform the culture and image of mill towns such as Blackburn, Burnley and Accrington on the Pennine foothills north of the Manchester conurbation.
His current role, and his eventful past, make Wilson the ideal man to give a guided introduction to the people and ideas that have underpinned the new Manchester. A rapid flow of words begins. This is Wilson the Cambridge intellectual, with a mind well stocked with urban concepts borrowed from Rem Koolhaas and Richard Florida. And Wilson being Wilson, his discourse is salted with personal recollections and peppered with four-letter expletives, many aimed at former colleagues-turned-rivals, while Livesey interpolates the occasional qualifying remark.
Wilson's urban vision for Manchester and the North-west derives from his history of civilisation in four sentences. "There have only been two real revolutions for homo sapiens. The first happened 12,000 years ago when people gave up hunting and gathering and settled down as farmers. The second was in the 18th and 19th centuries when they became industrial beings. Manchester was the heart of this industrial revolution, Liverpool was its mouth and east Lancashire its muscle. So our big idea is to celebrate what made the North-west great."
What you should understand from this is that Wilson and Livesey are less concerned about preserving industrial traditions than in renewing them. So, where once there were cotton mills, now there is the fashion industry: a simple step up the value chain. He says: "What we need are fashion incubators linked to art installations in the North-west." With this in mind, the pair have just submitted a Heritage Lottery Fund application for a "fashion tower" in east Lancashire, ideally in the Weavers' Triangle district of Burnley.
Warming to the subject of public art, Wilson continues: "There's a perception that the public doesn't like public art. But all along the beach at Crosby north of Liverpool, there's a whole array of sculptures by Antony Gormley. The public have been given great art, and they love it, they adore it, and they don't want it to go away."
Wilson and Livesey live together with a large, placid cat and a larger boisterous dog beneath the wide timber roof trusses of a two-storey loft conversion. It lies in Knott Mill between the commercial city centre and the regenerated canalsides of Castlefield. "It was Yvette's idea," says Wilson. She adds: "When we moved in nine years ago, the Boardwalk nightclub was just over the road. So it was boom-boom-boom all night long." Since then Knott Mill has settled down as a sedate quarter where several prominent architects have set up offices.
There have only been two real revolutions. The first happened 12,000 years ago, when people gave up hunting and gathering and settled down as farmers. The second was in the 18th century when they became industrial beings. Manchester was the heart of this
Despite living in a loft himself, Wilson is not impressed with Manchester developers' addiction to them. He says: "You only get real lofts in New York. These are industrial spaces with nothing more than whitewashed walls and heavy boards for floors. And in Manchester all these lofts are being built for people to live in, but where's the work?" He could have added that the city centre's regeneration after the IRA bomb mainly comprised shops, followed by sports facilities for the Commonwealth Games in 2002.
With that reasoning, Wilson is a great supporter of the Spinningfields development, where Allied London is developing 230,000 m2 of prime deep-plan office buildings along the banks of the River Irwell. "I like the buildings. There's a beautiful functionalism in all these big banking halls."
At the other extreme, Wilson has a soft spot for a pocket housing scheme in whacky mock-Dutch style by youngbloods FAT Architects. Called Islington Square and brought to us by hipster property developer Urban Splash, it is the first scheme of Manchester's model Millennium Community. "I think the residents [housing association tenants currently living next door] will like it," he says. "FAT involved them in the design. They showed FAT their existing living rooms, which were full of bric-à-brac, colour and style, and the architect echoed that in the exteriors."
So fond are Wilson and Livesey of FAT's work that they have just signed up the practice for the Elevate East Lancashire housing market renewal pathfinder, which they both represent. Its brief is to come up with a design for mass-produced "chic sheds" for locals to use on their allotments.
Surprisingly for a professional rebel, Wilson is also a great fan of the top brass at Manchester council, whom he refers to without irony as city fathers. "Manchester is very fortunate in its leaders," he says, picking out former council leader Graham Stringer, now Labour MP for Manchester, Blackley, his deputy Pat Karney, his successor Richard Leese and chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein. "They understood the role of culture in the regeneration of the city. And Bernstein has great expertise as a property man."
The admiration seems to be mutual. "When we had the court case over closing down the Hacienda after the ecstasy death, we had remarkable support from the council. Stringer said the Hacienda was to Manchester what Michelangelo's David was to Florence."
Manchester is well known for its urban regeneration luvviedom, and Wilson is the pop celeb member of the inner sanctum. He is less complimentary about the city's coterie of architects, who have managed to keep a grip on most commissions over the 10-year development boom. He praises the work of Stephenson Bell, but criticises Ian Simpson for taking on the designs of Manchester's two prime projects - city-centre museum Urbis and the Beetham skyscraper that now towers over the city. "What Manchester needs is internationally renowned architects. Daniel Libeskind did Salford a great favour with the Imperial War Museum - it's fantastic."
He also describes the newly created Triangle public square close to Urbis, designed by the American landscape architect Martha Schwartz as "a great achievement. It's a multifunctional space that serves the community as a civic centre" - although in reality the jagged water feature now lies drained and forlorn.
Wilson even finds a kind word to say about Simpson's latest building, which is nearing completion behind the notorious Arndale shopping centre. As this is a multistorey car park, surely Wilson's comment is a back-handed compliment? Well, no. The building is clad in frameless clear glazing, just like Simpson's Urbis and the block of flats at No 1 Deansgate. It at last brings a benign urban solution to a habitually oppressive building type.
Anyway, that's enough introduction. Here's a tour of the making of the new Manchester …