The Manchester Passion was a public, outdoor event performed on Good Friday, 2006, put on by BBC3 in the English city of Manchester, home to some of the most iconic post-punk and alternative bands of late twentieth century English rock. The goal was simple: tell the story of Good Friday through the seminal and influential songs of the bands that created an expression of disgust and hope in a post-industrial city that offered little to no future. And it galvanized Generation X on both sides of the Atlantic and offered a real alternative to the Reaganism/Thatcherism of the 80’s.
Those bands and their songs helped a lot of us lick the wounds of adolescence and young adulthood during a difficult political, economic, and social period. And someone had the novel idea to collect those psalms, dirges, and hymns of Manchester and offer one of the greatest stories of faith, hope, love, failure, and death.
The songs performed are unsurprising. And it being a live concert passion play in a small area, the whole thing has an uneasiness, amateurish feel – though the names Keith Allen, Tony Wilson, Tim Booth, and Bez lends a kind of professionalism and authority to the whole thing… if you know who they are.
The songs are as such:
- Morrissey – “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side“
- Oasis – “Cast No Shadow“
- Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart“
- M People – “Search for the Hero“
- The Smiths – “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (performed by Judas Iscariot as he betrays Jesus)
- James – “Sit Down“
- New Order – “Blue Monday“
- The Stone Roses – “I Am the Resurrection” (the majority of the song was sung by Peter after the arrest of Jesus, with the line “I Am the Resurrection” being sung by Jesus as a climax to the play)
- Robbie Williams – “Angels“
- Oasis – “Wonderwall“
- Elkie Brooks – “Sunshine After The Rain“
- Happy Mondays – “Hallelujah” (instrumental)
- Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” (instrumental)
- 808 State – “Pacific 202” (instrumental)
- Black Grape – “In the Name of the Father” (instrumental)
All in all, it demonstrates the power of the Passion to a post-Christian, secularizing audience that vaguely remembers the inculcation of catechism and the detritus of a culture that haphazardly seeks to rid itself of its Christian heritage, this land of St. George, patron saint of England, because for many, the institutions of Christendom have utterly failed so much.
And yet, something like the Manchester Passion could not happen in the States, a land that still believes, in some weird, hubristic way, that it is the Shining City on a Hill and a kind of New Jerusalem, whether it be religious or secular.
But for those of us who treat very seriously the possibility of the death of God and the matter of aesthetics, ethics, and religion after that Event, such a thing as the Manchester Passion catches our attention. Because here we have a band of unbelievers who take part in and have faith in the ritual of a faith whose symbols still hold their powerful sway, even if their faith in God has fallen by the wayside. For some reason, we just can’t escape the story and we keep retelling it in our own contextual way. And in the retelling, the Lord is risen, indeed.