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24th October 2023

Songs for grey places: A playlist for autumn in the University of Manchester 

The Mancunion sets out its autumnal playlist for the coming semester at the University of Manchester
Songs for grey places: A playlist for autumn in the University of Manchester 
Credit: Timothy Eberly @ Unsplash

It is very hard to reduce an entire season down to six songs, let alone doing that while trying to rationalise thoughts and feelings about a new home and new people in rooms across hallways. Moving into your second year provides a kind of strange familiarity, even when everything has completely changed. Coursemates have become housemates, Whitworth Park becomes Rusholme, and you finally decide to drink cider because vodka makes you feel like a teenager. That’s the feeling this playlist is attempting to document – that mix of old and new, existence and romance. 

This playlist soundtracks my student spaces in Manchester. My bedroom, the puddled streets of Rusholme, and the cars that I have to dodge on Wilmslow Road. Equally, it documents the changing of the seasons to autumn and the changing of mindset – melancholy, encroaching cold, and definite rain. 

‘Misty’ – Ella Fitzgerald in Rusholme

There’s a fog of tiredness that sits over the world in early autumn. Forgive the obvious connection here, but it is nice to start with something so timeless, that it feels so right whenever the days start to get shorter. This song plays on morning walks to campus, when the day is so new that the rows of orange-bricked houses still disappear into mist before the next street begins. In the earliest of mornings, Ella Fitzgerald gets me through. 

I don’t think there could be a better voice to romanticise my walk to and from university. It’s such a mundane task, and yet with Ella Fitzgerald the terraces of Rusholme seem to go on endlessly. On the darkened evening walk back, the earnestness in melody is like the blinking lights of televisions in living room windows; flowers on a dining table, little glimpses into other lives. 

There is this romance of feeling like a small university student in the midst of people living real life. It’s a perspective that you can find in Ella’s voice, such wisdom, and comfort in somewhere new. This song is warming in the cold, dark mornings of autumn. 

‘That’s On You’ – Ruby Joyce in Platt Fields

Now this song is for the warmer days of autumn – these short bursts of heat that you thought might have been left behind. Ruby Joyce is an extremely new find of mine, and this song is only a few months old – something new for the playlist. The delicate melody and faded guitar seem to document the death of summer. I first listened to this while walking through Platt Fields Park, which was freshly soaked in autumnal rain, with grass still yellow in places. The scene was dotted with picnickers still singing along to Fleetwood Mac

There’s an attitude in this song that you can tell is local. If her inclusion in this playlist isn’t enough of an advert, please go and check out her other music too. It really is special. 

‘Hunt and Gather’ – Honeyfeet in the hustle and bustle

Self-described as ‘Manchester’s best folk-hop band’ (@honeyfeetmusic on X), this track from Honeyfeet is a Halloween-ish touch to this collection of songs. The psychedelic folk of ‘Hunt and Gather’ crafts visions of past lives: a Victorian lamplighter going street to street at the onset of dark, Pagan festivities around bonfires. The smell of smoke that welcomes the autumnal wind and air. 

Ríoghnach Connolly’s voice is so very spiritual, her spellbinding soul a reminder of late nights spent at Blues Kitchen last year. There is an artful busyness to the music, with unevenly metered instrumental sections, that remind me of evening runs through the bustle of the Curry Mile. Cheeks warm with pints of cider, clutching friends’ hands through oncoming traffic and dodging clusters of others on the pavement. I am simply spellbound by this track. 

‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ – The Dream Academy on Oxford Road

This cover of Manchester legends The Smiths’ 1983 track is refreshed with an autumnal dreamscape. It is as if the original took in a breath of crisp November air. You may also recognise it from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The song has a folkish temperament with flutes murmuring on top of glittering synths – an attitude I can only associate with the grain of 80s movie cameras, or cold clouds of conversations headed to warmth inside. There is a separation from reality in this cover, like walking down an emptied-out Oxford Road at the point in the semester when people choose beds over lecture halls.

Perhaps the London-based band’s cover managed to close in on the magnetism of November greyness; blank concrete under blanker clouds. This cover has a touch of mist in the instrumental, and all the rainy Mancunian misery of the original. 

‘It’s A Shame About Ray – Demo Version’ – The Lemonheads in a new room

This is a seemingly small track for such an exclusive shortlist, but it was such an obvious choice to me when I was sorting through all the possibilities. It is a song about some non-specific sense of loss. This song reminds me of last year and the unmoored feeling of sleeping in halls for the first time. Now it documents the passing of time, when the feeling hasn’t changed for second year. It is just expected.

This album was the music my dad was listening to while he was at university, 30 years ago. There’s this acceptance of time, and cycles of seasons in the track that always brings back that same feeling of big change in autumn. The impending 20th birthday feels a little bit less like total doom. 

‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ – Taylor Swift in the Old Quad

Coming to our final song, I don’t think there’s an argument that it could be anything other than this. Taylor Swift’s ‘All Too Well’ has been synonymous with autumn long before the 10-minute version was released. Trying to put into words the flickering first few embers of synths as this song begins is almost impossible. It’s like the maple glaze suddenly descending across the trees; the first sip of red wine drying out your mouth like you haven’t spoken in years.

It’s the soundtrack to the red ivy slowly engulfing the Beyer Building in the Old Quad, until it could sit amongst flickering street lamps in an autumnal snow globe. The layers of mastery in country songwriting, finished with an indie pop fuzz make this a monument to the red of autumn. Red leaves, red lips, red scarves. This song bends the small world around me into a romance with colour and weather, with crunchy leaves and the first snow of this playlist’s wintry end. 

This is just a small, misted window into daily life in Manchester’s autumn. Songs for thinking and walking, for time passed in grey places. There’s so much that didn’t get covered here, but this web of genres and references is a time capsule of the seasons. This is how to hear the green becoming orange, becoming dead leaves, becoming bare branches. 

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