Thursday, 23 October 2008

Manchester Blog Awards

There’s probably a difference between a supportive community of writers and a clique, but at last night’s Manchester Blog Awards, as we watched people from the same table get up to collect all the awards, laugh in just the right places, and reward what were on the whole mediocre offerings, I wasn’t sure which was which.

There are some really good blogs written in and about Manchester but any verve and talent in the actual writing was killed in mumbled, self-conscious or self-congratulatory delivery. For a medium which is ungoverned, unedited and free, is there any point criticising? Probably not, but when you start giving awards for the thing, you invite a critique. They chose the wrong winners for a start, evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!

With the exception of this person

who is a fucking genius, the readings, in my humble opinion, were flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting. Other adjectives loaned to me were ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’. They didn’t hold the attention of the audience who got increasingly rowdy, impatient and talkative while the readers mumbled about coffee and home appliances. Nobody had the good sense to ask the noisy bastards, not even via the conveniently-placed microphone, to please shut the fuck up while people were reading. I love DIY culture, but shambolic and homemade doesn’t have to mean a shambles, does it?

Praise for the event has started to appear, I’m sure it will continue, no doubt including from people I spoke to last night who were much more honest after a few pints but freely admitted they probably couldn’t say what they really thought. Therein lies the trap of a supportive community of writers; you can’t say what you really think. What the hell are blogs for, if not that?

After the astonishingly good writing I witnessed at the Manchester Writer's evening at the Deaf Institute on Sunday it was a shame that even the published work, I mean really proper published-in-books published stuff, was weaker than the online material that was read out. Was it all just poorly chosen? What a disappointment. Still, we had a fucking fantastic time. Coco, I love you, you were robbed.

Before the criticisms roll in (as if anyone reads this!) yeah I did nominate myself in every single category, partly to prove how elastic they were, and no I didn’t win anything. Turns out someone else nominated me too though, so thankyou. This isn’t sour grapes though, I promise.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

On Dave Haslam and Abba

There seem to be two trains of thought regarding Dave Haslam in Manchester. One is that he was a key player in the city’s astonishing musical renaissance, the other is that he was something of a warm-up man for the real acts, that his forte was the student disco and perhaps time has been kinder to him than it should. I’ve met him briefly and heard him read and he’s a sound and very lovely bloke. I’ve yet to read his Manchester, England book. In fact I was about to buy it when I noticed that he’s written another, called Not Abba. Here’s what he says about it:

"I grew up in Birmingham in the 1970s, and I honestly never met anyone who liked Abba. My big sister and her friends were into the Faces, and Neil Young, and Fairport Convention, and my little brother had a thing for Led Zeppelin (he had all their bootlegs). The thing about Abba then was that I [had] trouble relating to all that 'Mamma Mia' and "I could dance with you honey, If you think it's funny" stuff to what was happening in the streets of our towns and cities; high rise tower blocks collapsing, trade union strikes, widespread racism, rising unemployment, gay liberation, and football hooliganism. And the thing about Abba dominating histories of the 1970s now is that not only is it a distortion of the past, but it's also symbolic, I suppose; symbolic of the way our society can only be comfortable with a sentimental view of our history, that conflict and struggle are best forgotten. Not Abba is about everything TV programmes like 'I Love the Seventies' don't understand or don't want to acknowledge."

There’s a phrase in here which troubles me:

"I [had] trouble relating to all that 'Mamma Mia' and "I could dance with you honey, If you think it's funny" stuff to what was happening in the streets of our towns and cities; high rise tower blocks collapsing, trade union strikes, widespread racism, rising unemployment, gay liberation, and football hooliganism …"

Well is that how people listen to music? Relating what’s happening in the world to the records on your turntable? Is Dave still doing that today? I wonder if the sets he plays address recession, Iraq, the two-party system? I’m being facetious I know, but it’s to make a point. I think his sentiment misses something quite fundamental about the way people actually use art, and perhaps significantly for Haslam, it back-writes some cool into his own story.

When I was young and miserable I played my Smiths albums endlessly, in part for the delicious wallowing but also for the comfort that someone older and wiser felt as I did and had made something beautiful, a life in fact, out of it. When I was older and actually depressed and having counselling I couldn’t play that music. I can’t play it now as it happens because The Smiths were something my boyfriend and I shared and it will be a long time before I can play ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ without crying. Instead I get ready to go out playing ‘Got To Be Real’ by Cheryl Lynn, ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross ('don’t let it show on your face', girlfriend). Back in the dark days I would play ‘Hush The Warmth’ by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci over and over again and it covered me like a duvet,. When I went out I danced around to indie pop and I got away from it all.

So there are two things to say about Dave's premise. First, what about escapism? What about ‘only when I’m dancing do I feel this free’? It’s interesting that he mentions gay lib, it was in the seventies that gay people won unprecedented freedom and it began, and expressed itself best, on the dance floor. Those kids weren’t dancing to Led Zep or Ziggy or The Clash though, it was D.I.S.C.O. all the way. Escape from the grime and the name-calling and the lying and the shrinks and the furtive loveless sex and dancing into a new life. Escape! Imagine you’re a gay, black, fifteen-year-old lad living penniless in a tower block in a crumbling British city in the 70s. How could the power of ‘Dancing Queen’ not lift you towards something, somewhere else you’d rather be? Taylor Parkes wrote:

“You can dance, you can jive / Having the time of your life ..” Outrageously poignant chords clash, collapse .. THIS is the time of your life, it will get no better than THIS, this transient transcendence, this petit mort … “Dancing queen, feel the beat of the tambourine …” - rarely (never?) in the history of popular song, has one word, any word, been loaded with more gut-wrenching emotional violence than that massive brimming “tambourine” in the second chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’. It spills over with poignancy, chased by a blaze of helpess, skyscraping cries …"

Now there’s someone who understands pop music. I realise that Abba, as Haslam indicates, are being used symbolically to represent the sheen which the nostalgia industry has put on the 70s. It’s worth pointing out the obvious though, that during this decade of poverty, social unrest, strikes, depression, violence, Abba were the biggest pop group on the planet and by a long way. The nostalgia industry didn’t manufacture that fact. Makes you wonder why? When there’s a war on you don’t get every book you can from the library about war and play sad songs all day long. At least that’s not all you do. You dance and drink and screw, get ratted, gather round the joanna and have a bloody good sing-song and a knees-up, don’t you?

Of course you need art you can relate to, always, but I don’t buy the premise that art which addresses the conditions of its own production is superior to art which 'makes another thing possible', to quote Toni Morrison. In other words I don’t see an essential difference between ‘You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life …’ and ‘This town, is coming like a ghost town, all the clubs have been closed down, this place, is coming like a ghost town, bands won't play no more, too much fighting on the dance floor …’ Each serves its purpose in its own unique and beautiful way. Are The Specials a more important band than Abba? I’d like to hear you argue that one. Go and play ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ now, before you decide. It could be argued the 80s were as bleak a decade in their own way as the 70s had been. I recommend Dave digs out The Visitors (1981) for a beautifully executed exercise in tenderness, anxiety, sadness and alienation. It’s that good a record. They don’t mention this album on 'I Love The Seventies' either. In fact they do Abba as much a disservice as Dave has.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Music, Vermouth, Sex and Poetry

Speaking of music, a fine gig was thrown by Coraline in the sumptuous upstairs room at Deaf Institute to celebrate the release of their fantastic first EP. I am determined to throw a party in that room, it is officially my favourite space in Manchester. Gutted I couldn’t stretch to the Holy Fuck show there following their stint supporting Foals at the Academy. Seeing them twice in one night on a Wednesday though, even I have limits. Foals themselves were quite quite brilliant. Very exciting prolonged intro with massive shadows of the band cast the full length of the venue walls. Spine tingling. The songs are just something else entirely played live, fuelled I suspect by the power emitted from Yannis’ now enormous hairdo. The kids loved ‘em, I’ve never seen so many stylish and mashed children on a week night. They knew all the moves. Better than a cup a soup in front of Desperate Housewives. Don’t like the new Academy bar though, yuck. The bouncers were monsters too, sniffing people’s drinks and ID-ing all and sundry. Mind your own business and watch the band.

Forgot to mention my transplendently splendiferous Sex and The City party. I had a grand screening of the movie at my gaff and a right old knees-up it was. No attention to detail was spared. I had a playlist assembled featuring songs from the series (Cheryl Lynn, The Source feat. Candi Staton, ‘Moonriver’, ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way?’) culminating in the series and movie theme tunes for added excitement. God what an anorak I am. I screened two carefully selected episodes as pre-movie trailers (the one where she breaks up with Aidan by the fountain, the one where Big leaves for California and Miranda has the baby) to an even more carefully-selected audience of appreciative girls and gay boys. Dear Paul even dragged himself out of his sick bed to attend and proved himself a sterling mixologist making Martinis, clean and dirty, and Cosmopolitans till his perfectly-toned arms ached. Fun fun fun.

In other news I recently got myself a nice eight quid, austere, to-the-bone haircut as a kind of baptism into my new life and to celebrate our current wartime penury. My god I was freezing. Check out my skull.

After the partying described passim, the madness came to a crashing halt, as these things do. I went to the Warehouse Party’s Eat Your Own Ears shindig and could only withstand three songs from Late Of The Pier before I had to retreat home trembling. The night before had been unbelievably sticky, finishing at 8 am with bruises, Noilly Prat all over the carpet and a trashed flat. Honestly, at my age. Lesson learnt.

More cerebral and low-key adventures are now in order. To that end I did this. And I am also reviewing the Manchester Poetry Prize Gala on Thursday night. Exciting stuff. Looking forward to seeing Carol Ann Duffy again, whom I adore, especially since the drunken night when she held my head in her hands and said, ‘You look like a poet. Are you? You look like David’s Michelangelo.’ A memory I will take with me to the grave.

Lastly, and most importantly of all, I sat down and worked on The Novel for the first time in weeks, rattling off an entire chapter in one evening. This means I have three chapters to go and the writing is DONE. Then comes the edit. I am geared up for it now more than ever. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

'Lived in bars …'

I hear ya sister. Most of my time of late has been spent in drinking dens the length of Oxford Road and its surrounds, my second homes being Kro, Kro 2, Odder, Deaf Institute, Cornerhouse, Temple, Rain Bar, Peveril, Via Fossa, Taurus … It’s sinfully indulgent considering my appalling financial state and the wider economic crises but I have needed to be numb of late and, you know, I do love the night life.

Fun things have included the free comedy night at the Ape & Apple where, unintentionally, the most amusing thing was an inebriated loudmouth from Gorton attempting to tell me his life story by shouting over each and every act. There was some excellent material from the real acts though, lots of pony-tailed men for some reason, and some that just made you want to curl up and die.

In related news, my hobs are the cleanest they’ve been since I moved in because I have been eating out at every given opportunity: Pi, Lead Station, Panama Hatty’s, Try Thai, Great Wall, Croma … Honestly, I feel like Marie Antoinette. It’s going to be a lean Christmas I tell ya. Somehow I’ve also managed to lose weight at the same time. Je ne comprends pas but I love it.

Dear Oscar said, ‘Anyone who lives within their mean suffers from a lack of imagination.’ We would have got along so very well. I have flown in the face of the so-called recession these last few weeks by simply flinging fistfuls of my hard-earned in the face of ennui, misery and my general disbelief at the state of things. I have to say it’s been marvellous. I even indulged in retail therapy, which I never do. I am quite incapable of buying clothes which is why I always look like a pile of someone else’s dry-cleaning. I am able to purchase one or two nice items every couple of months by going to Oxfam or Ryan Vintage, anything more than this and I fail. I know exactly what I want to look like but nobody sells the clothes required, at least not in my humble price range. I did however manage to successfully procure a shirt three sizes too small for me in Top Man in order to make my arms look just-so buff. Basically I look like trade in it … perfect.

Musically I fared slightly better, eventually getting myself a decent Roxy compilation AND Marianne Faithful’s Broken English at long last (£3 from Fopp!). My pride and joy at the moment though is a rediscovered Among My Swan by Mazzy Star (also £3 from Fopp!) which sounds as ethereal and crystal-like as it did when I first heard it ten years ago. Must get ‘Fade Into You’ too, Hope Sandoval, I salute you. That, plus my gorgeous vinyl of Elbow’s The Seldom-Seen Kid, Magnetic Fields’ Distortion and Set Yourself On Fire by Stars, are all helping me to steel myself against an unkind world. Music was my first and it shall be my last love.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

That set list in full ...

What a pro I turned out to be. Okay not really, my fading in and out was a bit ropey, I should have put the free lager down for a start (note rosey cheeks and printed setlist), but the people danced and what the hell else is a DJ for? I honoured John Peel and hoped that he would have had a bit of a jig too. Here's me in action ...

And here's my Peelified setlist in full ...

St Etienne – Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Cocteau Twins - Iceblink Luck


Granddaddy - AM 180

The Fall
How I Wrote Elastic Man

Huggy Bear - Her Jazz


Divine Comedy - Vapour Trail

Super Furry Animals
Lazy Life

Depeche Mode – Everything Counts

Come Out 2 Nite

Foals - Balloons

King Of The Kerb

The Horrors - She Is The New thing

Teenage Fanclub - Sparky
s Dream

Wire - Outdoor Miner

Longpigs - She Said

Subcircus - 86

Lemonheads - Dawn Can
t Decide

Strangelove - The Greatest Show On Earth

They Might Be Giants - Birdhouse In Your Soul

Stereolab - French Disko

Ash - Kung Fu

Shonen Knife - Daydream Believer

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

John Peel Night

Roll up, roll up … This month’s Are Friends Eclectic? pays tribute to the wonderful and sadly-missed Mr John Peel and the brilliant music he gave to us all. Tracks will be dusted off and aired from Peel’s very favourite bands, the groups he got you all listening to via his show, classic highlights from Peel sessions through the years, and general Peel-inspired Peel-approved indie punk alternative lo-fi messiness that you can dance to. PLUS my very own DJ booth debut with a very special setlist of cracking indie tunes, forgotten gems and modern killers. Cheap in, cheap at the bar, lovely people, and the spirit of Peel in the air. DON’T STAY HOME!!