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The best kept secret in music


"Manchester, United"

Manchester, United

by Luke Baumgarten

That was fast. I mean, you let these guys out of your sight for a second and they a) move to Seattle, b) book a dozen shows in a town most people have a hard time booking one in, c) paper the city in flyers, d) catch the attention of a rock critic and recent émigré from the real Manchester and e) get a 750-word feature story on them in the Stranger, Seattle's pre-eminent culture rag — 750 meandering, generally positive words in a paper more known for brief, withering denunciations. Impressive.

Granted, much of that article wasn't about Manchester (the band) at all, tending more toward wistful reflection of Manchester (the city), liturgical recitation of its famous bands, wanton name dropping and, of course, furious intellectual masturbation.

But damn, two weeks. And though the article wasn't particularly flattering in parts (containing the quote, "Manchester are a very bad pub-rock duo."), writer Dave Maass' conceit — letting real Mancunian musicians riff on these two Whitworth poseurs — was captivating.

And it's not as though Manchester aren't inviting a little criticism, scorn even. Apart from taking the name of northern England's most famous town for pop music outside of Liverpool (though really, what's Liverpool done for us lately?) and singing in outrageously bad British accents, they've never even been to Manchester and admittedly know very little about it. Also: they play a poppyragtime, for God's sake. Take a moment to acquaint yourselves with that particular art form ( or just

Go ahead, I'll wait. This is important...

Yeah, ragtime.

And though guitarist Cory Siebe credits the Decemberists with making it "'OK' to do our British thing," it's Manchester's American South thing, that turn-of-two-centuries-ago sound, that's so distinctive. Maass wrote: "Their music is a campy American approximation of the British approximation of American ragtime," but that's not quite right.

Their music is more like revisionist histrionics. Jonathan Pasma's (keyboards, primarily) collusion with jazz and ragtime, Siebe's straightforward pop sensibilities and both lads' affection for the burnt air of northern England creates an exaggerated American overlay of British tropes, a (conscious or unconscious) juxtaposition of the Deep South of our country and industrial north of Maass'. It's no surprise, then, when Siebe's light though workmanlike tenor turns dour, heading from a sloppy approximation of Mancunese to a grotesque Anglo-southern chimera — Ebenezer Scrooge meets Forrest Gump (seriously, you want him to stop mid-song and say, "I'm sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.")

It all sounds so light and blithe — accordion, melodica, whistling; lyrics about pilgrims, taxi drivers, cobbled street corners — that the working poor aren't the first thing to come to mind, but that's exactly what the powerful, uncommodified musical forms that have sprung from both places have in common. Poverty, suffering, perseverance.

So, when the duo harmonizes the line, "Nine months, three days I been in this place / and the walls that keep me here are my constant guilt," over lively piano and harmonica, there's a queer pang in your sternum, the kind people get when they laugh to keep from crying. It's not a new thing to throw depressing lyrics over upbeat lines (see: 90 percent of all pop), but here it has the collective historical burden of the industrial revolution and reconstruction — black lung and slavery — to make heavy the lightheartedness. It's a form pregnant for deep storytelling, and indeed, that's what Siebe suggests the two are moving towards.

"[Our] lyrics are our way of creating a little world that can be ours. We can explore it and create its characters," Siebe says, adding, "The record shows a little bit of this idea of having Manchester characters that appear over and over again in songs... Miss Jenkins, Sally, the Baker." Their new project, then, is to take these character sketches and fill them out. One song focuses on this Miss Jenkins, who, we find out, is a 26-year-old librarian. "She is perfect in almost every way," says Siebe. "She sits quietly — with a tea she bought at the bakery — she supports the local scene — she goes early to work at the library." He then allows himself a bit of artistic indulgence. "It might become similar to Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon — but [it's] underdeveloped at this point."

Underdeveloped, in case you're keeping score, is the key word in that passage. And indeed, the question left wide open by their frequently thrilling debut album is how long the trick will remain fresh — if, indeed, they'll be able to broaden their unique conceit into a persistent aesthetic. It's going to take the kind of storytelling Siebe hints at when speaking of their new work, and he expresses a bit of skepticism. Pasma, who has been hooked - The Inlander

"These Kids Are Not UK"

The Kids Are Not UK
Manchester: So Much to Answer For

Seattle and Manchester, England, are akin to sister cities. Set in the Northwests of their respective nations, both cities suffer artfully in the shadow of year-round rain clouds, producing new music genres that inevitably end in legendary suicides.

I've been in Seattle two months and I still pine for the industrial English city I called home for three years and its underdog mentality. Southern England views the North like New England views the Deep South: full of dumb hillbillies. Northern artists react with dry wit, pride, and self-deprecating style, and they exact their revenge by producing 90 percent of the music exported abroad. Manchester isn't what it was during the Hacienda days, when New Order were the New Order, but the city's music scene has remained strong. Oasis succeeded New Order, and even now distinct folk and electro-pop scenes are replacing current masters Elbow, Badly Drawn Boy, and Mr. Scruff.

Manchester produces internationally recognized bands, yet keeps the small-town vibe. I miss receiving advice from Elbow's Guy Garvey at a urinal. I miss watching Oasis's roadie puke purple cordial onto my roommate's couch. I miss the incredible open-mic nights, the costumed art-rock, and knowing where which rocker is getting drunk at any given hour.

So, when I saw the poster advertising a local Britrock-inspired duo dressed like twin Donovans and calling themselves Manchester, I thought, "This, mate, is destiny."

Manchester are Cory Siebe and Jonathan Pasma, 22-year-olds who, like me, only recently settled in Seattle. They just finished chemistry degrees at Whitworth College and now that they're free of the laboratory, they're scientifically taking on the regional music scene. Their indie promotion formula is based on full-color posters, a self-produced CD (Chipper Acts of Chivalry), and an aggressive touring regimen, including nine gigs in the first 10 days of September.

Their music is a campy American approximation of the British approximation of American ragtime: piano and guitar with a pounding tempo, complemented by accordion, harmonica, and banjo. They sing in sync, in intentionally flat and horrible faux-British accents. When they play live, they face each other with their legs apart and feet slightly pigeon-toed. They shake and twitch, and call this "The Manchester Stance."

"We want to be big," Siebe says. "Not Neil Diamond Big, but Death Cab for Cutie Big."

Their self-assurance alone reminds me of Manchester, where they've never been and about which they admit they know little. I fill them in on the scene and vocabulary (if you're from Manchester you're Mancunian) and pass them some mixes.

They eat it up. Unfortunately, their admiration isn't reciprocated. Once I've sent my mates across the pond links to the band's MySpace page [], it's clear that Manchester the city hates Manchester the band.

Mostly it's their accents.

"Manchester are a very bad pub-rock duo, with no control of their vowel sounds," Ben Space, bassist for Robin Nature-Bold & Band(ism), tells me. He's one to know: His pretentious Manchester-based, mask-wearing art-rock band is known for exaggerating a working-class accent. "They sound like Chas & Dave do Ben Folds."

Chas & Dave are a London duo who conquered the charts in the '70s and '80s with comedic pub rock. They're a British institution, revered for their cheesiness and earnestness.

"An American band that sounds like Chas & Dave... is just so wrong," messages Dunk Le Chunk, Manchester's bearded folk DJ king. "It seems like a novelty band who have listened to their mum's old records and thought, 'Yeah, that's cool, lets get out the old 'Joanna' and pretend to be English.'" (Joanna is Cockney slang for piano).

"I've nothing against emulating American/English music," Le Chunk adds. "They just suck."

Space and Le Chunk are right, to an extent. Manchester ought to invest in regional dialect lessons or drop the British vocalizations. Their songs show lyrical and compositional promise, their enthusiasm is infectious, and they play their hearts out. They don't need the gimmick.

Frankly, I don't think Manchester suck. I appreciate them for the same reasons I whooped when I was the only one in the club listening to Band(ism) and I'm one of the three regular listeners tuned into Le Chunk's weekly internet radio show []—I love the proud underdogs in Manchester.

Eventually, Space concedes: "They bring banjo back to the masses, which is commendable if not recommended. And they are named after a great town."

For me, that's enough. - The Stranger

"Manchester: British indie/ragtime band has roots in Kennewick"

Published Friday, October 13th, 2006

By Franny White, Special to the Herald

They've plugged a public address system into a Portland corner post and started an impromptu street performance, only to have police accuse them of stealing public power.

They've given away lattes to entice Seattleites into buying their album.

And now they want to hire an airplane to fly banners promoting upcoming concerts.

All to get the British indie/ragtime band, Manchester, on the map.

The music of Kennewick native Jonathan Pasma and his bandmate, Cory Siebe, has heart. But it might be their creative marketing that has the power to put Manchester in the limelight.

"Being an amazing musician is not enough," Pasma says. "There are a lot of amazing musicians out there. ... You kind of have to cause a ruckus until a major label notices you."

Just six months after graduating from college and becoming full-time musicians, the pair, both 22, has been featured in the top hipster publications of Seattle and Spokane. They play at least two shows a week, and their fan base is growing across the Pacific Northwest.

"We're taking all the energy we spent getting good grades and putting it into being a band," Siebe says. "It's a good time in our lives to try and do this." Pasma and Siebe were pre-med students at Whitworth College, both graduating in May with chemistry degrees. Siebe, from Enterprise, Ore., about a 100 miles east of Pendleton, was a solo act when the duo first met their freshman year. For most of college, Siebe was a John Mayer-esque singer-songwriter. And Pasma, having learned to play piano and accordion in his youth, had a second major in music at Whitworth. His father, Ron Pasma, is the band director of Desert Hills Middle School in Kennewick.

Their senior year, the two began playing together on campus and around Spokane. One thing led to another and they decided to give it a go.

After four months of touring the Northwest, Pasma and Siebe have settled in Seattle and are giving it a resolute try.

"It's scary," Pasma says. "Seattle's just so big. There's so many bands."

During their summer tour in the region, Manchester was attracting 75 to 200 people a show.

Then they came to Seattle two months ago. Their first show drew a whopping 10 people. The increased competition means they need something distinctive to separate themselves from the countless others, they say.

"There are hundreds of bands that all sound exactly the same," Siebe says of Seattle's music scene. "There's no way to get ahead of each other. There's just a weird game. We at least stand out to a crowd."

Drawing on inspiration from Sufjan Stevens and Portland-grown The Decemberists, Manchester combines folk and blue-collar British accents (thus, the group's name) with ragtime beats to create thoughtful, head-bouncing tunes.

During live performances, the two stand with their faces just feet apart and focus on their music.

"I think it shows that Cory and I carry a lot of energy between the two of us," Pasma says.

"Jonathan and I really enjoy playing with each other," Siebe adds. "Every time we play we ... try to be totally engulfed in the music."

That energy, and their promotional gusto, may just pay off. Where they once had a tiny audience for their Seattle shows, they're now bringing in over 40. And both say they see their fans numbers growing.

"We just spend long hours in long car rides going to (shows) with the single topic of making it big and realistic things we can do to make a crowd come," Siebe says. "If we can draw crowds, that's something that the industry will look at.

"We're both pretty motivated individuals," Siebe continues. "We don't see any reason why we can't make it pretty big. ... It's just a matter of how long we stay at it."

- Tri-City Herald


"Chipper Acts of Chivalry" (Copyright 2006)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Manchester is a Seattle-based band that evolved on a dark night in the year 2005. They include two fine chaps who have done well at retaining their mothers Scandinavian heritage. Their music is a curious blend of Britishrock/folkindie, and their latest CD, "Chipper Acts of Chivalry" has been shared with the fine civilians of the Pacific Northwest and indigenous islands bordering Norway. The band is currently touring the Pacific Northwest, recieving standing ovations after nearly every show. The excitement Manchester brings to a show is built around these two chaps (who closely face each other and shake in cockney British sort of way), and two other auxilary percussionists who enhance the manchester excitement while playing various instruments. The predominant instruments are piano and guitar, mixed with harmonica, accordion, banjo, baby cymbals, and whistling. "Frankly, this band could go straight to the Letterman show, and perform admirably."

~Dale Strom- Co-founder, RAWK the Inland Northwest Spokane, WA