Stockport is notable for a few things – being the birthplace of your Reprobate editor and once home to both of Britain’s leading ‘transgressive culture’ magazines (these two things are not a coincidence), as well as the birthplace of Christopher Isherwood, Joanne Whalley, indie pop forgettables Blossoms and busty glamour girl Sabrina, star of the astounding Satan in High Heels – not to mention, last and very definitely least, the smug and whiny Guardian columnist Owen Jones. There’s an impressive viaduct that is a suicide hotspot, a hat museum and is where Iron Maiden brew their Trooper ale. In the last couple of years there seems to have been a concerted effort into making the town centre into something of a hipster haven, with new indie magazine and record shops, craft beer hangouts and arty events. We’re not convinced by this renaissance to be honest – the actually vibrant Manchester is only a ten minute train ride away, and if Stockport really wants to be cool, it might think about not closing down every Monday evening. But we appreciate the effort, even if we are long gone and not planning to return for more than flying visits.
Back in 1983, Stockport was probably as uncool and downmarket a place as you could ever imagine, but that was the year that Frankie Vaughan paid musical tribute to the town, with the release of the single Stockport, which is unquestionably one of the most bizarre tribute records ever released. It goes beyond the level of being merely kitsch, and instead occupies a unique place in the world – a faux big band, bombastic tribute to a town that even its residents probably didn’t think deserved such eulogies, delivered with a smirk by Vaughan – clearly in on the joke as he sings “the people seem to be so friendly, the houses seem to say ‘come in'” and gushes about… well, the attractions of Stockport remain something of a mystery in the lyrics, perhaps understandably.
By 1983, Vaughan too was probably seen by most people as being as terminally uncool as Stockport. He’d been major recording star throughout the 1950s – not to mention Marilyn Monroe’s co-star in Let’s Make Love – but although still a well known cabaret name and a prolific recording artist throughout the 1960s and 1970s, his musical style was very much out of style and he would only record two more singles after this. Nevertheless, he was still a household name, and this made the single all the more incongruous.
The song came about after the Mail on Sunday had run a disparaging article about the town, and then decided, by way of ‘apology’, to run a competition for someone to write a song for Stockport – or possibly this song won a Mail contest for songs about uncelebrated British towns. The facts of the matter seem lost in time. In any case, Geoff Morrow penned the winning ditty, and Vaughan ended up singing it because the two were friends. It was recorded at the Plaza in Stockport – now a much-admired art deco theatre once again, then still languishing as a bingo hall – using a mobile unit from the local recording studio, Strawberry (the studio opened by 10cc and where pretty much every Manchester band from Joy Division to the Happy Mondays recorded their stuff). It was released on the That’s Entertainment label, which specialised in soundtracks and nostalgia releases, with proceeds apparently going to charity. How much that was is anyone’s guess – notably, no one in Stockport seemed aware of the record when it was released, and it didn’t get any airplay.
Over the years, though, the story about Frankie Vaughan’s tribute record to Stockport would float around, like an urban myth. In those pre-internet days, finding any evidence that this actually did exist was almost impossible, and certainly no one had heard it. The lack of gratitude shown by the town to this glowing – if perhaps not entirely serious – tribute seems typical of the small-minded attitude of Stockport at that time.
Thankfully, the song has been rediscovered in recent years and now seems to be a badge of honour for locals – Blossoms opened their triumphant homecoming gig at the Plaza with the track, and there’s a certain pride in the fact that the town inspired such a ludicrously camp tribute – far better, you might think, than those grubbily self-congratulatory songs about other towns and cities.