Saturday, 22 December 2012

My 50 Favourite Songs of 2012

Well, the world didn’t end, but it’s still in a right old state, and isn’t music the very best of comforts and the most comforting of distractions? I’ve had a special little moment with every one of these songs in 2012. I’ll wax lyrical on the top ten when we get there, and what a ten it is. Here’s the Spotify playlist, and here's the rundown from 50…

25. Caotico – Gold
24. Everything Everything – Cough Cough
23. Josephine Foster – Blood Rushing
22. Twin Shadow – Five Seconds
21. Krystal Klear – From The Start
20. Alex Winston – Medicine
19. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan
18. Perfume Genius – Floating Spit
17. Phantogram – Don't Move
16. John Talabot – Missing You
15. Bright Moments – Drifters
14. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop - feat. Wanz
13. Friends – A Thing Like This
12. The Child of Lov – Heal
11. Orbital – One Big Moment

And the top 10…

10. Kitty Pryde – Okay Cupid

Get out my rooooom….!’ A super late entry from Ms Pryde and her girlish, lolloping gem of a single. It didn’t occur to me until about my tenth listen that this was rap. I’ve been so brainwashed into thinking rap belongs entirely to hip-hop but here’s Kitty to prove otherwise. Lyrically, this might be favourite thing on the list. Just listen:

Lordy, shorty, you're a 10 and I wait for your drunk dials at 3:30 am, I love them.
So call me sober when you're ready, not goin’ steady, but babe I planned our wedding already’

9. Todd Terje – Inspector Norse

Everybody loves this track, how could they not? It’s Bentley Rhythm Ace and The Clangers for a generation reared on Aeroplane mixes. Terje’s amazing instrumental shows there are other ways to be uplifting without having crashing great crescendos everywhere. And just when you think you’re in the groove with it, at three minutes thirty that weird hummmmmm bottoms out and makes you want to do all the messy things in the world. Out and out magic.

8. Grimes – Genesis

She’s the Enya you can dance to. That’s a good thing, by the way. I nearly chose ‘Oblivion’ or ‘Be A Body’, the album is choc-full of these little masterpieces, but ‘Genesis’ neatly represents everything she’s best at. The Enya’s really kick in just shy of a minute but then it gives way to that amazing beat... An electronic masterclass.

7. Mykki Blanco & Brenmar – Wavvy

The queering of hip-hop continues apace. Mykki Blanco is not just an artist who happens to be gay either, there is full-on sexual potency and radical drag at the heart of his material. This addictive track is actually trad hip-hop in lots of ways, the me-me-me vibes are intact and the production could be a 50 Cent record, but just listen to those words:

I pimp slap you bitch niggas with my limp wrist, bro
What the fuck I gotta prove to a room full of dudes
Who ain't listening to my words cuz they staring at my shoes…

Come out Missy Elliott, it’s lovely out here.

6. Girls Aloud – On The Metro

Comeback single ‘Something New’ was just clearing the decks for this knowing, rollicking bullet of a track. Great pop can usually eclipse whoever is actually singing it, and this would have been just as good in the hands of anyone from Mini Viva to Kylie, but the fact Cheryl at the very least might have actually cried on the Metro adds some charming veracity to the whole affair.

5. Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid

I didn’t really know or mind what Sleigh Bells were going to do next, but this piece of massive Ratatat-meets-Stars buzz-saw gutter pop turned into my favourite ever track of theirs. Drunk air-guitaring to this became a brilliant thing for me this year, it’s in my repertoire forever.

4. iamamiwhoami – Goods

Kate Bush’s influence seems to be all over the place this year (Alex Winston, Grimes) and nowhere is it more obvious than on the weird helium-and-trill vocals of this track, so it might take you a while to realise you are in the middle of the best dance song of 2012. Jonna Lee’s iamamiwhoami project has delivered something astonishingly good in the Kin album. Not a shabby moment on it.

3. Haim – Forever

Perfect guitar pop record. I’ve been falling in love to and with this song since the summer. It might turn out to be one of those golden one-hit moments a la Wilson Philips but right now it sounds like the greatest reason in the world to grow your hair and cycle round town with your sisters. The Lindstrom and Prins Thomas re-work was one of my favourite mixes of the year too.

2. Solange – Losing You

Her most sensational output since ‘Sandcastle Disco’, nobody has quite put their finger on why this track is so great, so perfect in fact. Every botched description I’ve read in the press has put it further out of reach. It’s a sad song first off, all my favourite songs are, but it sounds like she’s at a block party, and the weird dissonance between the two is a pop trick worthy of Prince. It’s quite simply brilliant. You can stop mentioning the B-word now.

1. Winhill/Losehill – Tell Her She's The Light Of The World

It’s fate and only fate that a band that just rolled up in my ‘recommended listening’ one day has had such a lasting impact on me. This video was the first thing I heard from Sweden’s Winhill/Losehill and it was love at first listen. ‘Tell Her She's The Light Of The World’ isn’t just my song of the year, their album Swing Of Sorrow is the most perfectly realised and moving set of songs I have heard in ages. From the opening ten seconds of silence, to ‘Karin’s Hymn’ where a mournful cello drops out of the sky like a Lancaster Bomber, to the perfect happy/sad Neil Young-esque ‘The House Is Black’ and ‘Long Way To Next Stop’, to the brilliantly funny Beirut-style stomper ‘I Leave You ‘Cause I Don’t Care’, this sounds like a band at the absolute peak of their vision, and it’s only a debut. Song, band, and album of 2012.

 Postscript and Interview

I was so possessed by wanting to know where this kind of songwriting can come from, and getting tired of reading badly Google-translated interviews in Swedish, that I tracked down the band myself and asked them some questions. Here’s what they told me:

The music for this album was written under a terrible cloud of sadness around Jonas’ mother’s illness and subsequent passing. Is it important for listeners to know about these unusually fraught circumstances, or are you happy for the album to stand alone?

JONAS - I hope it can stand alone without the listeners necessarily knowing about all that. I mean, those things are the reasons we came together to make the record so of course it’s really important for us, but my impression is that anyone who has been through something similar, like the loss of a loved one or any form of painful breakup, can catch up on that just from relating to the songs in themselves.

The band name comes from a place near to me, just over in Derbyshire, where Jonas visited as a youth. What are your memories of England, and have you or any of the band ever been to Manchester?

JONAS – One of my memories is walking in the mountains just outside of Hope village; the landscapes were very inspiring and beautiful. The strongest memory though is the music I experienced and learned during my stay at a folk music camp. English folk music has definitely been an inspiration for Swing of Sorrow. Unfortunately though, I've never been to Manchester.

CARL – Many members of the band have been to the UK and we’d obviously love to come play there soon, especially in a music city like Manchester!

Where does the album title Swing Of Sorrow come from?

CARL - The short answer is that ‘back in your wild swing of sorrow love’ is the first line in ‘Don’t let the inside shine out’. But Swing of Sorrow was also the working title for another song way back, which we eventually changed. When we were to decide on an album title it suddenly came back to us. Partly because we felt that all the mood swings we’d been through during the grieving process was exactly that, a swing of sorrow. And partly because of the musical reference, a way of tying grief and music together.

What makes this record so special for me is that there are moments of terrible melancholy offset by a wonderful sense of elation and hope. Is that a fair assessment of your intentions?

JONAS - I find it hard to define intentions like that, composing is just so much more intuitive to me, but it’s definitely a really beautiful and flattering assessment of how one can receive our music.

Some artists revel in abstraction, such as Bon Iver, and that can work really well. Your writing seems to be the opposite, there’s a concern that the listener understands exactly what you intend. For instance the line, ‘In these songs I have tried to make it clear: whenever she is close there is no fear’, is one of my favourite moments. I find that frankness and lack of irony really moving. Is that an accurate description for what your music is trying to achieve?

CARL - I believe that sometimes a straight line like that can be the best way to say something complicated, and sometimes a queer abstraction is necessary to say the simplest thing. We’re really into writing songs and telling stories that matter to ourselves in ways that move the listener and I wouldn’t want to avoid any methods of writing to achieve that. We write for ourselves and for strangers, so to speak.

In the rest of Europe and America, Swedish music seems to fall in and out of fashion from time to time (see also Canadian music). Would you consider yourself part of a ‘scene’, and do you think it’s a help or a hindrance?

JONAS - I wouldn’t really say we’re part of a scene in that way. Of course there are some bands that we feel related to musically, but that’s sort of independent of time and space, and some bands that are our friends, but that’s mostly being from Umeå and having known each other from way back.

‘Karin’s Hymn’ is one of the loveliest instrumental pieces I’ve heard in years. Are you classically trained musicians, and do you differentiate between using one type of instrument and another when you’re making music for the band?

JONAS - Thank you so much. Writing that piece was a truly proud moment for me as a composer and one of the songs I remember playing on the piano for my mother while she was sick. Writing music to record and playing music live are two very different things to me and I try to think as little as possible of the practical circumstances and different levels of training of the musicians when I'm writing, so that the creative process can be as free as possible.

CARL – As far as the band is concerned, everybody comes from really different backgrounds with various degrees of having studied or worked with music, but we’ve all been playing together in different constellations since about high school.

What’s great about living in Sweden, and wuld you ever consider living anywhere else?

CARL - What’s great is the few remains of the welfare state, but that’s unfortunately being dismantled more and more for every day. If things don’t change for the better soon, maybe we’ll have to consider going into exile: preferably somewhere a bit warmer, less racist and more fair. Where is that again?

JONAS - The musical climate in Sweden is often very warm and supportive and it has helped me and the band a lot in the creation of Swing of Sorrow to have the kind of support we've had from other musicians, teachers, institutions and people around us.

I can hear so many diverse influences in the music (some that may not even be there), such as Neil Young, Beirut, P:ano… Who really does influence you as musicians and songwriters?

JONAS – Me and my co-producer Henrik Nybom (also the band's drummer) were listening a lot to classical composers while arranging and recording Swing of Sorrow, for example Igor Stravinsky and György Ligeti. Rufus Wainwright and Frank Zappa are two other important influences.

CARL – From those you mentioned, I’ve taken more interest in Neil Young again just recently, when it comes to writing lyrics. But during the work with Swing of Sorrow, and in general, I really find the most inspiration in writers and poets rather than songwriters. Lyn Hejinian, Forough Farrokhzad and Marguerite Duras for example.

JONAS - And in the end, just hanging around together is probably the most inspiring for all of us!

What new music have you enjoyed this year?

JONAS - Just the other day I discovered Sufjan Stevens latest Christmas-album which gave me a joyful feeling that'll hopefully stick during the holidays. My greatest musical experience this year was definitely Bon Iver's perfomance at Way Out West in Gothenburg last summer, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life, all categories.

CARL - It’s been a such a good year for new music I think, it’s really hard to choose. But Cat Power was really great, as well as Patti Smith and Rufus Wainwright. And I’d say some of the songs on Psychedelic Pill are among the best Neil Young’s ever written.

What’s next for the band, and when can we see you play?

JONAS - Well, we’re back to writing new material of course, and we’re really looking forward to play at By:Larm in Oslo in February, our first gig outside of Sweden!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My 50 Favourite Songs of 2012: Part 1

Let’s have a bit of nostalgia first. Here are my top ten songs from years gone by …

10. Duffy – Warwick Avenue
9. British Sea Power – No Lucifer
8. Elbow – The Bones Of You
7. Adam Green – Morning After Midnight
6. Portishead – The Rip
5. Everything Everything ­ – Suffragette Suffragette
4. MGMT – Time To Pretend
3. Santogold – Lights Out
2. Magnetic Fields – California Girls
1. Fake Blood – Mars

10. Madonna feat. Lil Wayne – Revolver
9. Bat For Lashes – Daniel
8. Everything Everything – My Keys, Your Boyfriend
7. La Roux – In For The Kill
6. Julian Casablancas – 11th Dimension
5. Dizzee Rascal – Bonkers
4. Lady Gaga – Paparazzi
3. V V Brown – Shark In The Water
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
1. Girls – Lust For Life

10. The Besnard Lakes – Chicago Train
9. Yeasayer – I Remember
8. Broken Bells – The High Road
7. John Grant – Outer Space
6. Gorillaz – On Melancholy Hill
5. Xiu Xiu – Chocolate Makes You Happy
4. Band Of Horses – Blue Beard
3. Robyn – Dancing On My Own
2. Beach House – Zebra
1. Everything Everything – Weights

10. Azealia Banks – 212
9. Junior Boys – Banana Ripple
8. PJ Harvey – On Battleship Hill
7. Joe Goddard – Gabriel
6. Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
5. Metronomy – Corinne
4. Nicola Roberts – Beat Of My Drum
3. James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream
2. Elbow – lippy kids
1. Bon Iver – Beth/Rest

And so to 2012. Chances are if you made super sad folk music or out-there hip-hop or if you’re a woman who listens to a lot of Kate Bush and I heard about it, then you’re probably on the list. It was as fragmented and hub-bub a year as I can ever remember. Another year where the brilliant singles were never the best tracks on the album, another year where the women seemed to outstrip the men (if you’re bothered about that kind of thing), another year where unstoppable pop juggernauts could un-cool your scrobbling list in a matter of days, and if nothing ever tops that top ten from last year (look at it!) then the list this year manages to blow every other one out of the water in one department at least: lyrics. Beautiful, strange, forward-looking, painful, funny and effervescent writing everywhere you listened. 2012 was like having your bookshelves set to music…

‘It starts like this: a kiss is a kiss….’

‘She may contain the urge to run away, but hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks…’

 ‘We held our breath to see our names are written on the wreck of '86. That was the year I knew the panic was over…’

‘You gave me my very first gun…’

'Then she starts to cry, mascara running down her little Bambi eyes: "Lana, how I hate those guys"...'

‘My sister asked, ‘Are we prayin’ for him to pass?’ And no one dared speak out loud, but we all knew, and pushed the paperwork through…’

'The Last Post sounds, just like a love song for the way I feel about you; 
paradise not lost, it's in you ...'

‘Before the full weight was on our shoulders, before the twilight’s cover, before I knew time was such a swindler. Oh my dear friend, everything falls to death…’

Wonderful stuff. I’m posting the first half of the top 50 for now; the top 25 is still subject to painful reshuffling (rest assured the Top 3 are carved in marble). But it’s coming very soon. I hope you find something here to love for a very long time. And right here is a Spotify list for your convenience. Merry Christmas, 2012.

 Susanne Sundfør

50. Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen
49. Amadou & Mariam – Chérie
48. Susanne Sundfør – White Foxes
47. Andrew Bird – Desperation Breeds…
46. Hannah Cohen – Boy + Angel

Jesca Hoop

45. Tame Impala – Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
44. Miike Snow – Paddling Out
43. alt-J – Breezeblocks
42. Jesca Hoop – DNR
41. The Walkmen – The Witch

Sigur Ros

40. Simian Mobile Disco – Seraphim
39. Laura Gibson – Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed
38. Bowerbirds – Tuck the Darkness In
37. Sigur Ros – Varúð
36. Django Django – Hail Bop

Sky Ferreira 

35. Cat Power – Ruin
34. Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
33. Sky Ferreira – Everything Is Embarrassing
32. Azealia Banks – Luxury
31. Lana Del Rey – This Is What Makes Us Girls


30. Blur – Under the Westway
29. The Irrepressibles – Arrow
28. Nite Jewel – One Second of Love
27. The Heartbreaks – Winter Gardens
26. THEESatisfaction – QueenS

See you soon for the Top 25....

Friday, 23 November 2012

Soho, Streatham, Southwark

I took a little writing sojourn to London recently, a long weekend in the wilds of Streatham Hill to live with a cat named Trevor. I spent a day in central London first though, visiting various places I’d been meaning to go to for ages. Saint Paul’s Church, Covent Garden – otherwise known as ‘the Actor’s Church’ – is where many a famous thespian is remembered. I got teary-eyed before I even made it inside, as each of the benches in the churchyard carries a commemoration, from Beryl Reid (‘So much love…’) to a long-serving head librarian at the RADA. The church itself was officially closed but I snuck inside by holding open the door for a man carrying a set of bongo drums. Inside is a lovely modest sort of church with plaques everywhere for the great and good of British stage and screen. That’s one reason I wanted to go, another is that legend has it that the first of London’s plague victims is buried here, one Margaret Ponteous, 1665. And yet another is that Henrietta Street, which runs alongside Saint Paul’s, was home to the Hell Club, an early New Romantic hangout, before they were called New Romantics and before they took over the Blitz. Steve Strange tells an amazing story of how everyone was on acid one night in Hell and the club was so hot they all spilled out into the graveyard and danced around there, tripping their noodles off in their outrageous costumes. Isn’t that an amazing image? I liked it so much I've drafted an entire novel plot around the idea. 

Having soaked up these lovely pagan vibes, I emerged into the decidedly more Christmassy environs of Covent Garden looking for coffee, which I found in a state of near perfection at New Row Coffee. The coffee is incredible, go there. They’re lovely folk too. Revived, I then walked to Soho to have a nosey at the Soho Hotel where one of the scenes begins in the novel I’m working on. There’s not much to see, Dean Street turns into a little mews with a red brick and quite Mancunian-looking structure piled up the end, which is the hotel. There’s a large shiny black Buddha cat in the foyer. From there it’s a short walk to Soho Square. I make a little pilgrimage here from time to time, especially when it’s cold, to sit on a bench and play ‘Soho Square’ by Kirsty MacColl, whom I adore and miss terribly... kiss me quick, in case I die before my birthday…’

Next stop is Southwark and I decide to take a Boris bike. Opposite the bike park at Soho Square, Will Young is waiting for a cab, holding a bunch of flowers. My mother wants me to marry Will Young so I wait at least until eye contact is established, but it’s brief. I guess the flowers are not meant for me. Will gets in his cab with barely a glance and I hop up on my bike. I love Boris bikes. It only costs a pound – and almost my life at Piccadilly Circus – but before I know it I’m sailing past the Thames, over Blackfriars’s Bridge, and into deepest Southwark. (When is somebody going to put something interesting where that old sandwich shop is at the bottom of the Blackfriars’s Bridge by the way…?)

Southwark is my very favourite bit of London, even more so now that I’ve been to the Cross Bones Graveyard, which you can read about here, and also because I discovered yesterday that Stock, Aitken & Waterman’s Hit Factory was round here too, on Vine Yard. I love Borough Market of course, and Tooley Street, and I’m even coming round to the idea of The Shard. Maybe. Yes, Southwark is the place for me.

From London Bridge I catch the train to Streatham Hill, deep in the South London suburbs. Angela Carter country. I arrive in the dark, meet Trevor the enormous handsome cat, do some writing, and go to sleep early. In the morning I leap out of bed and go for a jog in the dazzling autumn sunshine. I plough into the school run for the primary school a few doors down and from there I run to Brockwell Park, run right around it, and home. It’s downhill all the way and uphill all the way back. My legs are still in considerable pain four days later. It is the last jog I am even able to do for the rest of the trip. None of this bodes well for the sponsored 10K I am meant to run in May.

After a day of writing I catch the train back to Southwark. London is steeped in a marvellous silver fog by now. I walk over Tower Bridge, which is every bit as exciting as Brooklyn Bridge tonight. I walk down Park Street which is magical and Dickensian. We are looking for The Rose Theatre, London’s oldest surviving theatre, and the very first to open on Bankside. Tonight they are performing The Winter’s Tale on a small fenced stage above the excavation site of the ancient theatre. The Rose preceded even The Globe just along the river, opening in 1587. Shakespeare performed here as an actor and staged two of his own plays here too. The layout of the theatre, the outside wall and jutting stage, is described in red lights so you can see where the building once sat. It’s thrilling. I can feel old voices and ghosts coming up through the ground. Musicians play over in the far corner of the excavation site, lit by candles. The performance is lovely too; enticing and fun and heart-breaking. Francesca De Sica’s Hermione is wonderful. I am given a flower (at last!) by guitar-playing troublemaker Autolycus, but even he reclaims it at the end of the play. I take it as a good omen though. I fall for The Rose, and they have just this week heard they will be getting a Heritage Lottery Grant to complete the excavation. If/when The Shakespeare Girl is published I want to have my launch party there. Some fine ale follows in The George, off Borough High Street. There has been a pub on this site since at least 1543 and the current building dates to the mid-seventeenth century. Yes, Southwark is the place for me.

I am then firmly holed up for the next couple of days, churning out thousands of new words and feeling the spirit of what I first planned to write all those months ago. Twenty-three thousand words in, The Shakespeare Girl is coming to life. Missing social events and getting used to solitude gets easier the longer you write. Having a terrifyingly close deadline also works wonders. Angela Carter’s last novel, Wise Children, was a large part of the original inspiration behind the story. Streatham Hill is next to Balham, where Carter grew up, and I find out her old school is not far away so I take a walk there. It proves impossible to find mention of the house she grew up in though. I expect the present tenants would like to avoid legions of bespectacled girls in maxi skirts, and me, leaving flowers at the gate. Anyway, she’s in the leafy air down there somewhere and I go home and write a scene about a famous actor who goes out into the Soho night in drag, and I think she would approve.

Angela Carter's old school.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #21: Katie

'It makes me angry that we have so many boarded up buildings and shops that have stayed in that state for years, and yet rather than investing money in a homeless shelter or doing something about the situation, we get yet another up-market, trendy bar that we don’t need...'

What’s your name?

Katie Slade

What do you do?

I am the Rights, Marketing and Events Manager at independent short fiction publisher, Comma Press. I got hired in September 2011, so I’ve been there just over a year now. Before landing this awesome role I worked at the Odeon for around four years, first as a team member, then as a supervisor, and I temped a little in the admin office, to support myself through university. Now, thanks to Ra Page and Jim Hinks, I never have to say, ‘Would you like an Odeon Premiere Club Card?’ ever again.

Where do you live?

City Gate apartment blocks in Castlefield. My street is just after the little bridge, over the canal with the barges and the geese who attack anyone who tries to cross the grass.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I was born in an area called Sidcup in Kent, but moved to Derbyshire with my mum when I was eleven. Living in the peaks may sound nice but I lived in a small town called Chesterfield where everyone was related and lived next door to the same people for about fifty years. Entertainment and nightlife were pretty much non-existent, so when I reached the end of my A-levels in 2007, I thought, ‘Fuck this’ and decided to go to a university that was far enough away that I could be independent, but not so far so that my mum would feel abandoned. I honestly can’t remember why I picked Manchester – I guess it just made sense at the time. I just wanted to be somewhere where there were actually things to do, and I could go shopping without bumping into half the neighbourhood.
                I’d already made up my mind to stay permanently by the time I graduated, and I’d already applied to do a two-year MA course, so my boyfriend and I finally moved in together and made our own home in Manchester. I think my mum is still holding out hope that I’ll move back to Chesterfield but I’ve been slowly easing her into the reality that there is no way that will ever happen. My old room is still the way it was when I left home five years ago!
                I can’t honestly say I love Manchester but it’ll do for now. Plus my work is here, so I’ll just have to see where the future takes me.

What’s great about this city?

The literary scene is vast and varied, and everyone knows each other within these circles, so it feels like a very friendly, supportive and inclusive community. There are always literary events going on, whether it’s a poetry slam, a short story reading or a book launch, and with so many cultural venues within walking distance, you’re never too far away from something. We also have some of the top literary names living in our midst – Jeanette Winterson, MJ Hyland, Carol Ann Duffy, to name a few. There are also lots of photographers, artists and film-makers either bred or developed in Manchester, so you can usually find someone to do a top quality job on whatever it is you want making.
                Also, from my own personal perspective, there are three major theatres right on our doorstep, which means whenever a show I want to see is on tour, I don’t have to travel miles out of the city to see it. I can go enjoy the West End’s finest without having to walk more than half an hour. And the tickets are probably far cheaper than you would pay in London.
                It’s the same with touring bands. A few years ago, I got to see one of my all time favourite bands who had come all the way from California, for just £12. It was at the Academy so I easily walked there and back and got right up close to the stage. It was incredible.
                Finally – the city has a diverse, multicultural population. When I worked at the Odeon, I met people from all over the world, people who are still my friends now. Meeting people with different native tongues, experiences, cultures and backgrounds, people who can show you interesting things, introduce you to new food (and do the odd translation for me here and there!) is a wonderful thing. Especially when you grew up in such a repetitive, monotonous community where people are suspicious of anything beyond their own county.
                Oh yeah – and the Gay Village. In a lot of places you can just wear your jeans and trainers which is perfect for me.

What’s not so great?

I’m going to sound like a right asshole now, but you asked me to be honest, so three things…

The nearest bowling alley is Didsbury – what’s that all about? Even Chesterfield had a bowling alley...

It seems very corporate. Everywhere you go it’s loyalty cards and brand names and overpriced food. It’s either restaurants or trendy bars, and very few normal, down-to-earth cafes where you can just order something like toast, or pubs where you can just chill without having ciabatta with goats cheese and organic hummus, skinny jeans and TopMan cardigans shoved in your face. Even the Northern Quarter, which I thought was cool when I first moved here as a naïve eighteen-year-old, is starting to get on my nerves. I’m writing this on a train coming back from Brighton, and there you couldn’t move for independent, family-run cafes and shops. Sure, they had all the other stuff like Boots and Costa and H&M, but brands were outnumbered by an emphasis on local produce and local business. For me, Manchester is either about corporations or trendy places which try to pass themselves off as down-to-earth and independent, but are actually stupidly expensive or pretentious.

I can’t get to work or back without being bothered by someone who wants what little change I have in my pocket. I don’t mind Big Issue sellers, I regularly buy the magazine, but the amount of beggars in the city centre alone seems to have tripled in the last few years, the situation seems out of control. I know this sounds horrible, but it’s not as if I’m wealthy, and every week I lose pretty much all the change I have in my purse to get myself bread and milk and essentials, just because I feel too guilty to say no – even though these people tell you the same story every week, somehow afford new trainers and mobile phones for the next time you see them, and hurl a torrent of abuse at you if you tell them you don’t have anything to give. It makes me angry that we have so many boarded up buildings and shops that have stayed in that state for years, and yet rather than investing money in a homeless shelter or doing something about the situation, we get yet another up-market, trendy bar that we don’t need. I don’t know anything about government but I’m sick of dreading the walk to and from work, and I wish I could see evidence of someone doing something about it.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

I don’t know if I have a favourite but I’ve always liked the faded grandeur of the Palace Hotel on Oxford Road. There’s something about the clock tower and the green domes on the top that make me think of people going there to dance and court each other in the 1940s and stuff. I imagine years ago it was the height of class and glamour.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Emmeline Pankhurst. And Jeanette Winterson. A bit of both.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

The Footage. Poptastic. Baa Bar. The Lowry.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

A bowling alley.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Have the Urbis building knocked down. It’s ugly.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

I should probably say Jim Hinks as I don’t want him to feel left out – but equally I don’t want it to look like favouritism for Comma, so I will also nominate Mike Garry.

Comma Press are publishing Adam Marek’s The Stone Thrower, Pawel Huelle’s Cold Sea Stories, David Constantine’s Tea at the Midland, Jane Rogers’ Hitting Trees with Sticks, Guy Ware’s You Have 24 Hours to Love Us, Bio-Punk: Stories from the Far Side of Research, and the BBC International Short Story Award 2012 anthology this autumn. Check out our website for more details and launch events!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

HomoElectric: The final party at Legends

Back when I lived in Chorlton I rode the 86 bus every day, like you do, and there would always be this same handsome guy on the bus and a look would always pass between us. Nothing ever came of it. One day he started riding the bus with his girlfriend. He always sat with his arm wrapped around her and he still gave me a look but this one was sort of proprietorial, almost smug.

Meanwhile, back in the unreal world, I was a clockwork-regular at HomoElectric. It was actually unthinkable to miss one of their parties. We planned holidays and days off around them. It was the crown jewel of a tiny clutch of unmissable nights that also included Club Suicide and Chips With Everything. From there I was eventually taken to Electric Chair and Mr Scruff, and when Scruff played his fantastic set at HomoElectric it was a perfect full-circle of music and good times.

Anyway, I digress... Another regular at HomoElectric at the time was a young, spindly Black queen; he was camp as anything, exceptionally mouthy and brilliant. You could usually hear him coming a mile off, except for this one night when I was just getting into the zone and I backed into someone on the dancefloor. I turned round to say my apologies and there was the queen, full on face-pashing with the hot guy from the number 86 bus. Bus guy looked at me with a mixture of guilt and discomfort, but I just smiled and waved and kept on dancing. It was no big deal, it was a total HomoElectric moment, and there were loads of them.

It was all electroclash round here in them days. We saw My Robot Friend, WIT, Readers Wifes, plus a so-bad-it-was-actually-kinda-fun PA from Siobhan of Bananarama/Shakespears Sister. She did her version of ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane. Surreal. I might’ve worn a Blondie T shirt the first time I went there. One night I wore a bottle of poppers round my neck on a shoelace. I think I’ve kept most of the amazing atrocities I showed up in. There was a brief sweatband and rubber bracelet fetish. Then home-made graffiti tops. Things went a bit Nu-Rave for a while too. There was lots of asymmetric hair at one point and that amazing blonde lesbian who always danced in a sports bra. Some guy did full face make-up in the toilets for me one time. It lasted about twenty minutes out on the dancefloor.

I cringed at the name ‘HomoElectric’ at first. I was only just out and I hated the word ‘Homo’. Now I only ever call it ‘Homo’. No cringe. I’ve been out ten years and I’ve been dancing at HomoElectric for all of them. For a time, HomoElectric was the best kept wide-open secret in town. One morning – post-Homo at a late night gentlemen’s establishment – I met up with a DJ from Essential who asked where I’d been for the night. I couldn’t believe he’d never heard of HomoElectric. Sometimes you’d be shocked at who did know about the place, even though it was always rammed. (‘Oh my god, you’re here...?’) I met my first boyfriend and my new boyfriend in Legends. I still can’t believe they’re letting it close.

There were so many good HomoElectric stories. One night my then boyfriend leaned on a spotlight in a mesh shirt and had grill-shaped burns on his back for weeks. It once took me five minutes to walk the four steps down to the dancefloor because I thought the shadows were holes in the ground. I think Davey Dobson got me to safety in the end. Thanks Dave. When I moved into a flat just up the road from Legends, I jogged home in the middle of the night more than once to get changed, or take a shower, or replace a shirt that I’d lost. Seemed like a good idea at the time I guess. More than once I got home without any shoes on, one time even in the snow. Somebody piggybacked me. I’ve no idea who. I remember the night everybody must have done their shopping at the same place. Everyone came up like billy-oh, they were queuing up to explosive-puke on a pile of plastic chairs down one of the corridors. We sat on the stairs laughing like goons and then we danced for five hours without a rest. A couple of times on a Sunday you’d spot a familiar shirt or dress out on the streets of the city centre. It would be somebody still pin-balling to or from another party that was actually the tail-end of Friday’s HomoElectric.

There was so much good music. It was an education. Erol Alkan stripping everything down to brass tacks, including us. Ivan Smagghe doing crunchy monochrome death-music in near-darkness. The majestic Mark Moore, who I’m pretty sure shoe-horned ‘Song 2’ into some unbelievable mix or other. Fischerspooner, Gwen Guthrie, Sebastien Tellier, Chaka Khan. The residents themselves were and are solid gold.

The rules of the rest of the city seemed to perceptibly lift when you walked down the steps into Legends for HomoElectric. The placed heaved with the ghosts of parties, from the Twisted Wheel up to the leather bears down-and-dirty get-togethers. You could often kiss your mates goodbye at the door, it was possible you might not see them again that night but there were always new friends to be made. ‘You can learn a lot more than you think about somebody on the dancefloor,’ a clever woman once said.

All good things must come to an end though, and they did. I remember dancing with Matt Rothery at the last closing party. ‘They’ll be talking about this for years to come,’ we said. ‘And we were there...!’ 

HomoElectric will live on, in Manchester some place, and London too, but nowhere in the world will match HomoElectric the way Legends did, the way Morecambe matches Wise, the way Fischer matches Spooner; not for spirit, not for love, not for all those party ghosts... It’s all over now, baby blue. Play a song for me, would you ...?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Funny emails 2

Portions of emails, sent and received by me, rescued in edited form before being consigned to 'Trash' forever. Writers: thank you all ...

 I see a future of weeping at train stations for myself, like Celia Johnson with firmer hair.

Two boys? It’s not right. Feels right though.

I put up pictures where I think I might look fit then I go back and look and I actually seem to be a dickhead.

Got changed for bed then couldn’t face lying down so put jeans and coat over sleeping clothes and went for a walk round town with headphones on. Very trippy, people in bizarre outfits dancing in the street to my iPod, a line of teenage girls stepping over a puddle of vomit to get into a bar, all holding their passports out, and everyone but everyone smoking cigarettes...

She calls them arrogant twats, completely justified, then leaves. After which they accuse her of being drunk, self-important, a bitch basically. I have to leave, somehow feeling like it’s my fault. I can’t sleep so I take two kinds of sleeping aid then sleep right through my alarm and get to work at twenty to ten.

Fight for this Love is pants. She looks fit in her costume and that’s it. Singing something about `no picnic` and `walk in the park`? Urgh. She aint no Beyonce.

I nearly ate a whole block of cheese to myself last night. AND…the girl who brought in sweets today just called me greedy. I might be greedy but I still have feelings!

Grindr is proving quite interesting, especially when one is reclining on the couch thinking, ‘Nah, 200 meters is too far away…’

I'll bring a selection of false beards, one of which you can wear to compensate for the fact you are about to pack the wrong top.

Passion. Is. A. Slanket.

Beat me to death with my own colour co-ordinated reversible 100 % woollen house-shoes.

Oh man I’ve just pulled FIVE bar receipts from Via on Sunday night for a round every forty minutes.

guess who is going to have a baby? you are allowed three guesses

We only have one checked in bag between us. We can always add another if you want to but you are a boy and we can probably squeeze you into mine if you're spilling out the sides of your hand luggage. Needless to say, I will require the majority of the space for my sizeable collection of vintage control pants, Louis XVI dressing table and stainless steel trouser press.

Do you have your E111 up to date? For when you get your leg trapped in a storm drain.

Other terms you might use: rasping, sandpaper, experienced girl groan, fingered, expressive, fighty, grunty... bourbonned...

Why are you afraid of whales?? Why why? Did you see the story about the American Seaworld trainer killed by a whale? Is it things like that?

I joined Gay Romeo last night. I cancelled my profile after one hour.

Hi m8 you’re close where you at?
Oxford Rd, you?
I’m working on campus, you same or you a student?
Lol m8 I’m a train driver

A cervical 'sweep' first and then, if he's anything like the rest of us, a gin and tonic should coax him out