Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 in music

I'm FAR too busy for my usual pathologically-detailed run-down this year, you'll have to make do with some of the other 837 end-of-year lists (some of which are alarming, annoying and brilliant). I know all too well there are umpteen albums I haven't touched yet (too busy in the 1970s as usual...) so instead here is a thirty-song snapshot of songs that I properly loved this year. The last track on this list is easily my most-played thing of the year btw.

The Phoenix Foundation – Corale
Still Corners – Berlin Lovers
Bonobo – Cirrus
John Grant – Glacier
Daft Punk – Doin' it Right
Mikal Cronin – Shout It Out
Youth Lagoon – Mute
Laura Mvula – Father, Father
David Bowie – Where Are We Now?
Ciara – Overdose
Daniel Avery – Free Floating
M.I.A. – Bring The Noize - Extended Version
Nancy Elizabeth – Indelible Day
Disclosure – Latch
When Saints Go Machine – Iodine
Janelle Monae – Q.U.E.E.N. [feat. Erykah Badu]
Haim – The Wire
V V Brown – The Apple
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Lizzo – Batches & Cookies
Queens Of The Stone Age – If I Had A Tail
Warpaint – Love Is to Die
Suede – Barriers
Kanye West – Black Skinhead
Rhye – Open
Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline
Blood Orange – You're Not Good Enough
Classixx – Rhythm Santa Clara
Todd Terje – Strandbar (disko)
CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share - We Were Promised Jetpacks Remix

Spotify playlist is here. And below is a non-Spotify gem you really need to hear... Happy new year!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Pixies Week

To celebrate the Pixies landing in Manchester, with brand new material in the bag(boy), Manchester is having a Pixies three-dayer.

First up, on Wednesday November 20th, Dave Haslam goes ‘Close Up’ in conversation with Frank Black/Black Francis himself in a super rare event at the beautiful Albert Hall on Peter Street.

Next, on Thursday 21st, Pixies play their eagerly-awaited sold-out gig at Manchester's majestic Apollo.

Finally, round off the Pixies triple-bill with our full-on Pixies party at the legendary Star & Garter pub on Friday 22nd. la love you! will be airing all your favourite Pixies tracks plus the best of the rest from Frank’s solo records, the mighty Breeders, and an eclectic mix of gems from the 4AD label and Pixies-world, including Cocteau Twins, Husker Du, Kelley Deal 6000, Ramones, Nirvana, Peter, Paul & Mary to name but a few...

So, come and dance the Manta Ray to some good clean Rock Music, wake up with a Headache, we’d la la love you to join us ...

... la la love you!
The Star & Garter, Fairfield St, Manchester
Friday 22nd November

£5 entry, £4 with a Dave Haslam / Apollo ticket stub / Pixies T-shirt / valid NUS

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Morrissey: Autobiography, the view from Manchester

The Smiths were a major part of the reason I moved to Manchester half my life ago, although I wasn’t expecting to find them still hanging round the Arndale Centre (or maybe I was…) In any case they were done and dusted by the time I arrived in September ‘96. The city centre was in shreds after the Corporation Street bomb in June, the Hacienda was a few months from shutting up shop for good, and even Morrissey’s solo career highlights were largely behind him.

I’ve always enjoyed the unique line Morrissey manages to tread between potential tabloid fodder and pop’s last enigma. The confessionals are there on the records if you want them, but in terms of the life lived behind the songs there was always a certain gravitas that came with not knowing too much. Someday soon we will no doubt be faced with Morrissey: The Movie made by a twenty-four year old Californian newly-besotted with The Smiths, and it will be monstrous, and Morrissey is wise to get his version of events in first. But, as Germaine Greer said of Michael Jackson’s never-to-be comeback tour, I for one was dreading it

A great lyricist doesn’t necessarily make for a great prose writer of course, and when it emerged that Autobiography would be packaged in advance as a ‘Classic’ – a bit like those two-year old Disney films you’ve never heard of – I feared Morrissey’s literary aspirations might bury his story under pretension and hyperbole. The opening pages threaten to do just that. Where you might expect the standard biographical establishment of family line, or in this case perhaps a grisly flash-forward to the notorious Smiths’ royalties trial, the introduction is at least original and is given over to the city of Manchester itself, as Morrissey finds it and as it finds him, ‘where everything lies wherever it was left over one hundred years ago.’ There is added sentiment for me in his naming lesser-known Mancunian locations that I know well and could cycle to in minutes: Mayfield Road, Longford Park, The Three Legs O’ Man. But the city is hard, and is only the most brutal character in a brutal line up. At home the Dwyer/Morrissey family cossets, but school and the streets are a Darwinian assault course where the girls start the fights and the boys, including our hero, take it on the chin.

Morrissey’s prose style is verbose, riddled with adverbs, often rambling, and, like his later studio albums, you have to take the rough with the smooth. So for instance, while we might have coped with slightly fewer film plot synopses, these are offset by glorious descriptive passages on 1960s television, destined to be quoted in academia. But for the most part, what Morrissey has written is an accomplished, moving and occasionally hilarious present-tense narrative, which, when he can take control of his writing, rings with the bold veracity of a semi-ordinary boyhood and a truly extraordinary adult life. In one scene he is a child, mesmerised, watching David Bowie establish his extra-terrestrial magic on the television – in the very next moment he is back in school witnessing the needless abuse of a classmate for biting his nails. The sensation of yearning for something bigger, more exciting and more civilised is painfully tangible in the contrast.

Morrissey is at his inflamed best when discussing music. The New York Dolls are ‘the slum of all failures, had nothing to lose and could scarcely differentiate between night and day.’ Siouxsie Sioux is ‘a black-eyed shopgirl hidden somewhere in the whistling cathedral towers of Notre Dame’, the music she makes is ‘a strict ice-bath of nightmare and caution.’ Oddly then, when it comes to his own music, Morrissey’s powers run dry. Of that batch of immaculate early Smiths songs that seemed ready to burst, perfectly intact from a Stretford bedroom and drafty rehearsal space, the author is quiet to the point of frustration, and before you know it The Smiths are off on their first US tour. While we learn that the Algonquin Hotel is riddled with cockroaches, or that 80 per cent of global warming is attributable to the meat industry, That joke isn’t funny anymore has been written, and Shakespeare’s sister – described by Morrissey at the time as ‘the song of my life’ – with no mention of how, or why. Now is the time to say! Instead we receive a statistician’s dull smorgasbord of Billboard positions and venue capacities in American cities, and suddenly The Smiths are through.

There is plenty of humour along the way though. At a Roxy Music gig, singer Bryan Ferry ‘shuffles crab-style from stage left to stage right like someone who’s had his food dish removed.’ Of a flamboyant teenaged acquaintance Morrissey writes, ‘I am astounded at his survival in child-eating Collyhurst.’ Russell Mael of Sparks, ‘sings in French italics with the mad urgency of someone tied to a tree.’ These cultural snapshots suit Morrissey well – in his oblique way he suggests it might even have been the words of poets John Betjeman or W. H. Auden that persuade him to be a performer – anything more monumental (Thatcher, Nature, the justice system) and he resorts to histrionics. An uncharacteristically restrained summary of singer Sandie Shaw’s music is later explicated as a grudge held over Shaw visiting Germany with The Smiths and leaving Morrissey at home. Morrissey is the man, let’s recall, who knelt at Shaw’s feet clutching a rosary, and the antennae are thereafter poised for other personally-motivated revisions. Rough Trade Records emerge as a collection of the stupidest people ever to end up in the wrong profession. In particular Morrissey is able to recall verbatim the countless idiot statements that leave the unfortunate mouth of label owner Geoff Travis. Producer Stephen Street he admires, and Mick Ronson, and Angie Marr, and, for a long time, Johnny himself – until the trial.

When the trial arrives, in which Smiths drummer Mike Joyce sues Morrissey and Marr for a quarter of all Smiths royalties (despite there being no contract to that effect), down comes Johnny from his pedestal for the crime of collusion, and in Morrissey’s eyes The Smiths are irrevocably toppled too. It is a convoluted and bizarre miscarriage which you might be forgiven for thinking is happening in real time. Fifty pages are consumed by it (whereas a ground-breaking song like Asleep, for instance, about which whole essays have been written, warrants not a mention). Throughout the trial, the book, and his life, Morrissey is unaccountably unable to find a good manager, a viable lasting record deal, or any decent legal representation (while his penniless ex-drummer romps to victory on the strength of free Legal Aid). What this sad litany of underperforming individuals undeniably have in common is Morrissey himself. The greatest insights in Autobiography might exist between those lines – Morrissey simply cannot deal with other human beings – but then he did tell us that before, once or twice...

As in life, there are no chapters, barely any paragraphs and no index, therefore no skipping ahead to Jake Walters or Alan Bennett or the Finsbury Park debacle. It’s written in US spelling throughout, for whatever reason, and ‘The Smiths’ are apparently ‘the Smiths’.  These things count. As a special mention, the blurb is atrocious, obsessively listing chart positions and sales, name-checking Tel-Aviv and My Chemical Romance (!) but not Johnny Marr. For some reason Morrissey is horribly mean about fat people and occasionally denigrating about women's bodies. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it… And as for Mike Joyce – who was apparently able to galvanise all of the dislike towards Morrissey that had ever existed into crippling monetary fines and a public humiliation – there’s a tiny bar just a few doors down from my flat in South Manchester where Mike DJs every Thursday night. Whether he plays for love or money, I couldn’t say.

Listen: Morrissey: Autobiography, the music.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Morrissey, Autobiography: The Music

Here are all of the name-dropped songs and singles that furnish Morrissey’s Autobiography (excluding his own, of course) compiled as a playlist with all that Spotify will allow. Warning: it’s (predictably) quite brilliant…Here is the Spotify link: Morrissey: Autobiography playlist and the track listing is below. Treat yourself to my review of the Autobiography here

Track listing:

Millie – My Boy Lollipop
Roy Orbison – It's Over
Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo
New Vaudeville Band – Peek A Boo
Four Tops – Bernadette
Paul Jones – I've Been A Bad Bad Boy
Francoise Hardy – All Over The World - English Version of "Dans Le Monde Entier"
The Righteous Brothers – You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' - Single Version
Jimmy Jones – Good Timin'
Tony Orlando – Bless You
Marianne Faithfull – Come And Stay With Me
Love Affair – Rainbow Valley
The Foundations – Back On My Feet Again
Small Faces – Lazy Sunday
Sandie Shaw – You've Not Changed
Lulu – I'm a Tiger
Rita Pavone – Heart
Diana Ross & The Supremes – Reflections - Single Version
Diana Ross & The Supremes – I'm Livin' In Shame - Juke Box Single Version (Stereo)
Matt Monro – We're Gonna Change The World - 2010 Digital Remaster
Shirley Bassey – Let Me Sing and I'm Happy
Paper Dolls – Something Here In My Heart
David Bowie – Starman - 2002 Digital Remaster
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Soldier Blue
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Moratorium
The Pioneers – Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
Dave And Ansel Collins – Double Barrel
Bob & Marcia – Young, Gifted And Black
Springwater – I Will Return
Hurricane Smith – Don't Let It Die
Jo Jo Gunne – Run Run Run
The Elgins – Heaven Must Have Sent You
T. Rex – Jeepster
T. Rex – Metal Guru
T. Rex – Telegram Sam
Mr Bloe – Groovin' With Mr Bloe
Blue Mink – Melting Pot
Roxy Music – Virginia Plain
New York Dolls – Jet Boy
New York Dolls – Trash
Mott The Hoople – All The Young Dudes
Faron Young – It's Four In The Morning
Melanie Safka – I Don't Eat Animals
Iggy & The Stooges – Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell - Iggy Pop Mix
Sex Pistols – Anarchy In The UK
Sparks – This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us
New York Dolls – Frankenstein
New York Dolls – Personality Crisis
Nancy Sinatra – Happy
Dionne Warwick – Loneliness Remembers What Happiness Forget
Jobriath – Morning Star Ship
Pony Club – Single
Ewan MacColl – Morrissey and the Russian Sailor
Kirsty MacColl – You Know It's You
Nancy Sinatra – Let Me Kiss You
Patti Smith Group – Because the Night
Brigitte Bardot – Bubble Gum
Herman's Hermits – East West 
David Bowie – Drive In Saturday - 1999 Digital Remaster

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

People: a play by Alan Bennett, National Theatre on tour, The Lowry, Salford, 15.10.13

Lady Dorothy Stacpoole (Siân Phillips), former model and socialite, is approaching her dotage and sitting on a fortune in the shape of a crumbling family home stuffed to the gills with antiques. It’s just the kind of stately pile the National Trust would love to get their hands on, and that’s just what Dorothy’s sister June, an Archdeacon, has in mind. Horrified at the prospect of people swarming about the place, Dorothy is persuaded to consider a rival offer from a mysterious wealthy sect who promise to pay over the odds and keep the house mercifully free of people. After all, ‘People spoil things...’

History is once again Alan Bennett’s theme, specifically our attempts at preserving heritage. Oddly enough, it only becomes apparent that the play is actually a farce in the second half of the production, round about the time you notice the stage is peopled with two porn actors, a camp bearded Welshman and a bishop. Nobody actually mounts the stage with a toilet brush at any point, but subtlety takes a back seat during Bennett’s medium-to-heavy roasting of The National Trust and the Church of England, whose membership ‘is virtually the same’.

Dorothy nobly resists becoming ‘a metaphor for England itself’, though the play doesn’t do much to help, variously accessorising her with British hits of the ‘60s, Henry VIII’s rosary, and a collection of chamber pots containing original deposits from the likes of Kipling and Elgar. Iris (long-time companion but actually half-sister to Dorothy, played beautifully, if quietly, by Brigit Forsyth) punctuates proceedings with some glib relief, delivering a mix of blunt truth and endearing misunderstanding.

Overall though, the too-varied plot threads and dramatic motifs, and some oddly mismatched characters, drag on the play’s momentum, but the set is a character in itself, majestic and ramshackle, there are witty one-liners aplenty, and Dorothy is a gem – sad, but not sentimental, rugged and forward-facing, even against the odds – in fact, terribly English, you might say, and certainly worth preserving.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #26 Hayley

‘I'd open all of the closed doors of the city…’

What’s your name?

Hayley Flynn

What do you do?

I used to work in finance, then advertising, then I realised I couldn't do any of those things for the rest of my twenties, much less the rest of my life so I quit and started to write about the unusual architecture and history of Manchester. And so my blog Skyliner was created, and now I do everything else that goes hand in hand with that; researcher, curator, location scout, and I've just signed a book deal too.

Where do you live?

Whalley Range, on that kind of periphery some people like to call the ‘Chorlton Border’. The house I'm living in right now is owned by a dentist so we have a dentist chair in the dining room, and from the bathroom window I can see the beautiful old college (now the British Muslim Heritage Centre) poking out amongst the tree tops.  I still can't believe such a behemoth of a building exists in the suburbs – I like to pretend I'm living in the shadows of a castle.

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

As a child I was very studious and loved to learn, I never lost that love of learning but I rebelled against the enforced structure of school and I guess I went a little off the rails and did pretty poorly in my exams. All my choices from then on were a reaction to that; I chose a college course that seemed the most likely to end in a sensible job but which ultimately I hated – I failed to turn up nine times out of ten and I was kicked off the course a few months before the end. I lied about that then landed an office job but I could never shake the nagging thought of ‘you have to do this for the rest of your life’. When my dad died when I was nineteen I used the little inheritance I had to go to Australia for a year. Manchester was just the first place I secured a temping job on my return. Nothing clicked when I got here; my work still made me unhappy and I was in a bad relationship but those things prompted me to go back to college in the evenings and do a course that stimulated me, not one that had the promise of a job at the end of it – and what do you know, I got full marks on almost every exam. That was when I realised I had to do what made me happy or I'd fail, and that's when I became a kind of student of the city. You have to live like a tourist in your own home or it's wasted on you.

What’s great about this city?

It's tiny so you take the time to appreciate every part of it, the suburbs as well as the city. I love how the Salford border lies just behind Deansgate, there's something quite alluring about the River Irwell and that side of the city. Parsonage Gardens is an oasis and it's really what St Peter's Square (a conservation area) should be like – timeless, peaceful, and surrounded by stunning architecture. I love the stillness and almost dystopian feel of Pomona. I'm generally enamoured by wasteland spaces and the alternative countrysides of a city.

What’s not so great?

It's being bulldozed into oblivion – the council do not value our heritage. Century House is being demolished because the windows are too small… ummm, I beg your pardon? Surely making them bigger is the better option but instead they're going to demolish the entire building to replace it with an Ian Simpson greenhouse. Compare our skyline to that of Liverpool. Which one would you proudly show off to a visitor to the UK? This is going to be a very sad-looking city a generation from now.

The divisions of the city baffle me, the way people stay in the same part of town. I'm trying to open people’s eyes to the beauty outside of the Northern Quarter. I think the spread of a few new bars to the Peter Street area of town will help. I love the roof and the intricacies of Barton Arcade, and yet it's little more than a ghost arcade, it should be our version of Leeds' Victoria Quarter. Something is amiss when we can't put a location as pretty and as central as that to good use.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

I'm far too capricious to have just one, so to choose at random I'd say the former Refuge Assurance Building (now the Palace Hotel). The building is decorated with lots of symbols of refuge such as castles and boats, but it's the maze-like interior that enraptures me. You can walk around in there all day and never see the same room twice – that’s something you don't really get in modern buildings, and even the hotel owners didn't know there was an orchestra pit in the basement when they bought it. There's a tiny roof terrace that I like to go and sit on at dusk and watch the bats circle the clock tower. There's a room you can cut through to get to the bedrooms that's full of old wooden safes, and once upon a time the building had a series of pneumatic tubes used for delivering messages. It's wonderful. It's my favourite place to waste an hour or two.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

I'd like to cheat a little here and name my favourite type of Mancunian and that is a building concierge who loves their building. There's nothing better. They're excited to share what they know and love with a new audience, they lie dormant waiting for someone to say, ‘Show me around, tell me what you know!’, and then they spark into life as tour guides. They're a rare breed, you're more likely to find the other kind, the ones that eye you with suspicion for even showing an interest and scornfully shoo you away, but they are out there and they won't work forever so go and find them, question them, and record what they tell you!

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

I've been waiting a long time for the Lower Turks Head to reopen and they've done a lovely job so that's a current favourite, and The Cornerhouse is very special to me (I hope the stories I hear of it being demolished when they relocate aren't true).

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

I've always thought it was odd how Chorlton doesn't have a little independent cinema, that's my lottery winning plan, to set one up. There needs to be a film academy for teenagers, more internet cafes, hostels and places for a younger tourist market. We focus on football tourism too heavily. I'd like a little more life bringing to Ancoats too. Of course, we need a council that doesn't want to flatten the city first, but I suspect I'll be wishing for that for a long time to come.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

… fire a lot of people in charge of Manchester heritage and then I'd visit artist studios around the city and nominate their residents to take care of the city's planning department. Then I'd open all of the closed doors of the city.

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

Paul Costello, the lifelong concierge of the Mercure Hotel.

Hayley runs semi-regular tours looking at street art, hidden art, unusual features of the city and secret locations, including tours of the Godlee Observatory for Manchester Science Festival. New and exciting locations and tours are coming soon. Hayley is forever on the lookout for new collaborations with photographers, artists, writers, and anyone with interesting stories and information about Manchester. Check out her award-winning Skyliner blog.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Tuscany... even the word is a kind of dreamy homophone for ‘dusk and honey’ – and honey is near enough a decent simile for the light too. There’s something about the way the sun meets the earth there that lets you see ‘the shape of the day', as our wonderful host Claudia put it. But the light… it's the light that my Aunt had told me she couldn’t describe, and here I am, not describing it for her…

But first, Rome…

On my previous trip to Rome, the tour guide delighted in telling us that we’d arrived on the rainiest weekend for fifty years.  Everything was sticky and grey, and even the Trevi Fountain couldn’t make itself heard above the torrent. There was a certain romance watching rain douse the sides of the Colosseum but mostly it was a false start for me and Rome.

This time though, the sun is out, and twenty four hours of hot Roman holiday await. Katie and Eddie meet me off the train, already looking like accomplished locals, all shiny and brunette. We are borrowing a beautiful apartment for the night which is stuffed with Proust in Italian translation and shelves of orchestral vinyl. Our street is just by the Michelangelo-designed Porta Pia, a sixteenth-century gate in the city walls that was commissioned by Pius IV. It is a very important gate in Rome because it leads you to the street where you encounter the best ice cream of your life. For me this was mascarpone and latte in one scoop, pistachio in the other, a topping of freshly whipped and sweetened cream that tasted of nougat, and all presented in a crisp, waffle-textured cone that was filled to halfway with warm, melted dark chocolate.

The Trevi at dusk works its magic this time, though the mass of people make it feel like the entrance to a particularly lovely stop on the Metropolitana. Al fresco pizza, red wine and an early night. We’re up bright and early to beat the crowds to the Colosseum. You have to imagine the roar of the throng as you walk through the stone entrance. Inside is both partially constructed and pleasingly derelict. The audio guide is a good way to go about things, especially if you’re adept at reading between the lines…

The history of the Colosseum is also the story of the Empire itself. Current affairs were acted out in the amphitheatre like dramatised newscasts. When a whale beached up on the coast, a wooden whale was hastily built to be paraded around the stage. Before the astonished crowds it opened its mouth and out tumbled dozens of live bears. The subsequent fortunes of the Colosseum mirrored the changing Rome and all manner of bloodshed and worship, theatrics and morality plays,  squatters and gay cruisers (not on the audio guide), found a home inside its walls over the centuries. Preservation and audio guides seem a tame future in comparison.

On the train to Arezzo I start reading A Room With A View. It’s my first (and so far only) Forster, downloaded in a hurry to the Kindle, but it could not have been better chosen. Almost immediately the sensation of being in this part of Italy is there on the page (or rather, on the screen). From the station we drive through lush country and into the hills that border Tuscany and the oddly English-sounding Umbria. The first view of the house is a thrill and I’m already drafting some or other novel about an impossibly spoiled girl and her Italian summer of self-discovery.

In the morning I open the shutters to a fug of lavender and a little hornet bouncing off the window. His buzz gives way to a guitar being tuned somewhere which mingles with the hum of farm machinery from across the valley. Everything is like this – musical and hypnotic. It’s hard to remember ever being tetchy and cross back home. I am very lucky to be here.

Forster fever peaks on a day trip to Florence. We pass the ‘View’ of the title and the probable location of the pensione. I have already learned that our hosts and friends once stayed in the room in Paris where Forster worked on the novel.  Not only that but they are also a family from Tunbridge Wells, as in the novel, though infinitely less prickly of course. The tourists move in packs of forty and fifty through Florence, it is a difficult town to negotiate, but there is more ice cream and coffee to be had, and all the greatest Italians are in the ground somewhere and in the atmosphere.

On my morning run next day I meet a deer that rattles its antlers on the tree when it sees me. When I dive into the pool back at the house to cool off, there is a tiny frog doing lengths. I write the first draft of this piece on the terrace at the back of the house, looking down past the swimming pool and over the fields to the town of Montherci. There is a very precise little lizard poised inside my discarded sandal and the cicada that lives in the tree above has started its mechanical chirrup for the evening. When it goes dark we can see a firefly in the foliage, lonesome and hovering. It is the same colour as Venus, the brightest thing in the sky.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Pride: afterthoughts

I thought this year I’d wait until the dust settled. It seems it’s very important in Manchester to have an opinion about the annual Gay Pride festival, or at least to tell everyone about it on Facebook. If you run a gay night or two, like I do, some people want to perceive you as some kind of spokesperson. I’m not, but I was needled several times to say something scandalous in the direction of Manchester Pride. I don’t have it in me. I think it boils down to this: Pride as a party, or Pride as a protest/political consciousness raiser? Doing both isn’t really working. At least not for me.

Don’t get me wrong, we need big gay cultural happenings, and we have them: Homotopia, Queer Up North, Duckie at Southbank, Queer Contact... These sorts of events are by and for LGBT people and have been brilliant over the years. Go and find out. Buy tickets. Support them. But spending bundles of pink pounds to hire The Feeling and a reformed Sugababes under a banner of ‘Gay Pride’? How exactly does it ‘celebrate LGBT life’?  I’m not sure I get it. Or want it. If you must attend a Kate Nash concert, just go to one, like everyone else does. I go to gigs all year round, I don’t need Pride for that. I need Pride for something else.

We might be about to get marriage equality in the UK, but worldwide the net is closing in on gay people. It’s real and I am frightened by it. If you don’t have a global perspective about yourself as a gay person, the concept of perceiving yourself as a group at all – which is, after all, the essence of Pride –falters. Except that Pride itself isn’t the place to talk about this, and I wonder if it should be. I am pleased that Manchester Pride expanded its Fringe program to include smaller arts and cultural events, including, crucially, some that take place outside the ghetto. I am glad the Pride Board has a trans* individual on it. I am glad they erected a ‘To Russia With Love’ wall in the Village to show Mancunian’s support towards persecuted people in our twinned city of St Petersburg. I hope they leave it up beyond Pride, I’d like to see it myself. But why Russia now, and not Uganda any other year, or any one of the dozens of ex British colonies where we exported homophobia to in the first place, at any other Pride? It’s complicated, and I’m trying to dance here.

During Manchester Pride, only a paid wristband gets you access onto Canal Street, unless you live there, and even bar staff who work in the Village can’t see the big bands without paying. I put parties on for gay (and non-gay) people outside the Gay Village. I do it all year round and I do it over Pride too. You might think this is somehow divisive, luring punters away from the gay enclave. But sexuality has no postcode, and the Village itself has barely any club space anyway, while the bars during Pride weekend – it has to be said – are overcrowded, overpriced, riddled with bad beer and bad music. I moved away from Blackpool a long time ago to get away from that. It’s not for me.

This year, I’m part of a newly-formed and loose collective of promoters under the name Queer Alt. Manchester who hosted a roster of alternative and non-Village gay and queer events during Pride. If you think we’re cashing in; yes, we absolutely are. Every last one of us donated cash to charities, and paid our performers. As for Pride itself, I’m not sitting in judgement, it would be the height of hypocrisy. It was only a few years ago I went out on the Thursday of Pride, and with very few breaks, kept going one way or another until the Monday. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about St Petersburg then.

Besides, I’m not sure what form a more politicised Pride would take anyway. For the most part I’m an armchair activist. The odd demonstration aside, I’m all about petitions, letters, angry Tweets, political discussions, charity donations, that kind of thing. Are you much different? But I would like another way to get to meet the community sometimes, one that didn’t involve booze. Especially now, when I feel so powerless to contribute to any kind of positive change in the world. I feel hopeless when I think about Uganda or Moscow, never mind Damascus or Cairo or Palestine. But this has happened to me before, and the way I got out of it? Reading Angela Davis and listening to Larry Kramer. Watching REDS. Reading about mass resistance and small victories. Watching TED lectures about community action and feminism. Watching ACT-UP videos on YouTube. Watching We Were Here. This is where something like Gay Pride should come in, to bolster that feeling of insurmountable human aggression and oppression, to tackle the apathy that inevitably follows. Watching Barclays Bank drive a truck down Deansgate decked out in this year’s designated Pride theme (‘The 1980s’) was never going to do that for me. And I really need it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #25 Rachel

‘I’ve lived all over – Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Sydney – but always come back to Manchester. Well, we do, don’t we?’

What’s your name?

Rachel Broady

What do you do?

I’m a qualified journalist and university tutor but, sadly, I’m currently ‘between jobs’. Any offers gratefully received. Just nothing where I have to add up; like many journalists I’m useless at maths.

Where do you live?

A lovely, little housing association flat in Levenshulme, south Manchester. As tatty as the A6 is, I’m not sure there’s another part of Manchester I’d ever choose to live in. I’m listening to the police helicopter overhead as I type. How romantic!

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

I was born in Droylsden, moved to London as a child then returned with a very strong Cockney accent. Growing up in Newton Heath, being bullied at school and listening to The Smiths, made sure I was soon back talking properly. I’ve since lived all over – Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield, Sydney – but always come back to Manchester. Well, we do, don’t we?

What’s great about this city?

It’s home; it really is. I think whether you were born here, or you’re a ‘woolly back’ from Droylsden, or you’ve arrived from wherever, Manchester will end up feeling like home and has done to people for decades, centuries. It also has a political history to be proud of, writers to admire and buildings that still take my breath away (I mean the Town Hall, not Beetham Tower!).

What’s not so great?

The poverty; Manchester has some of the most deprived areas in the country. Its children are some of the poorest. Manchester Central has the highest percentage of children living below the poverty line in the UK; some 47% living in poverty. Wood Street Mission in the city centre has seen a big increase in the number of families needing basics like school uniforms. It’s a national problem but Manchester’s ‘glitterati’, the so-called regeneration, with expensive, exclusive apartment blocks, and the sometimes homogeneous feel of the city makes the division of rich and poor all the more real. As a city we should be appalled by this!

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

I still love the Town Hall. I know it was built rather than clear away slums; I know that decision was expensive, arrogant and boastful but, blimey, it’s beautiful inside. I also like Urbis and I’m fond of some of the 60s architecture that others hate; Piccadilly Plaza has a place in my heart. I find a lot of the ‘regeneration’ buildings ugly: the Chips building, for example. I just think such blocks are soulless, community-sapping monstrosities. I really don’t like Beetham Tower, either; I don’t care if it whistles, it looks like Lego.

Piccadilly Plaza

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Obviously any Manchester socialist would have to say Mary Burns who gave Engels the chance to see first hand what it was like for the Irish living in Manchester in the mid-1800s. Ok, I know she was Irish. In fact, she lived in Salford not Manchester. Oh, I’m claiming her as ours for the purposes of name-dropping! And, in no way connected at all, Les Dawson. I have a real soft spot for Collyhurst-born Les Dawson. Many will reel, thinking of his mother-in-law jokes, but you have to remember the way young couples were forced to live with their mothers-in-law back then, and humour would be a way to cope! I’m also growing increasingly fond of Terry Christian who seems a wise, tolerant and interesting auld fella.

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

I like the Cornerhouse. I remember being taken there on a school trip when it first opened and I think it’s still a comfy place to sit and get quietly drunk, while discussing books and that. I also like Rusholme and would take any visitor there for a decent, cheap curry. Oh, and I love Lounge Ten. I was born for its style and decadence but can rarely afford to go; if anyone wants to take me …

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

I think Manchester has to remember and celebrate its radical political history. The Peterloo Massacre memorial will go some way to achieving that but the co-operative movement, the trade union movement, the suffragette movement – all these Manchester firsts should be an obvious, celebrated, recognised, constant part of our city’s heritage.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

I wouldn’t. I think it’s a silly role.

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

James Draper

Rachel recommends Red Flag Walks and Radical Manchester for learning about Manchester’s radical heritage.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Bike Month in Manchester

I have completed my month-long pledge to cycle to work every day in June, with a couple of necessary exceptions for torrential downpours, extreme drunkenness, and the necessary transport of large objects by tram. Here’s what I learned...

 1. I love my bike. It was given to me for free and it rattles a bit and occasionally things fall off it and I have to replace them so it’s becoming like the philosopher’s typewriter but it’s sturdy and sound and nobody wants to steal it because it looks like trash, and I love it.

2. Cycling every day does wonders for your legs and your bum and in a lot less time than you think. I suddenly look okay in Speedos.

3. You will get your ‘To Do’ list done a whole lot faster if you do it on a bike.

4. Taxi drivers are far and away your biggest enemy. They have appalling road manners, especially, but not exclusively, towards cyclists. I have seen them pull extremely dangerous stunts on the road that are blatantly designed to teach some poor cyclist a lesson. This obviously doesn’t apply to all cabbies, but I recommend approaching all of them with caution. If you hear someone revving unnecessarily at your heels, chances are it’s a cabbie.

5. Grease up. Lots of bike oil makes your life a lot easier.

6. Sharing road space with end-to-end double-decker buses is frightening and unhealthy and no fun at all. Skipping the odd red light when there are no pedestrians in either direction to get yourself free from bus lane congestion is a reasonable survival tactic and collecting £30 fines for such misdemeanours to ‘improve’ cycling provision is counter-productive.

7. With much respect, the high-vis-in-broad-daylight brigade aren’t the final word in cycling in Manchester. The shirtless scallies in the parks and on the pavements, the older women with crazy long flowing skirts and baskets full of junk ... they are cyclists too.

8. Panniers are brilliant. Mine are racing green and you can get nearly all of your groceries (beer) in them.

9. Bicycle Boutique is a god-send.

10. Everyone looks at least ten per cent hotter on a bike.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #24 Chrissy

'All the unsung heroes who clean, underpin and keep the city going are my favourites...'

What’s your name?

Chrissy Brand

What do you do?

I have worked in many places in Manchester in my time, including half a dozen offices on Oxford Road alone. Other cities I’ve been fortunate to work in include London for six years, and places as diverse as Oxford and Helsinki, Brussels and Barnsley. Having worked in both the public and private sectors I am now very happily ensconced as Research and Knowledge Exchange Manager at the RNCM. I’m also a published writer with a book and a decade’s worth of magazine columns. All views below are my own.

Where do you live?

When I first lived in Manchester it was by lovely Chorlton Green in a shared cottage with four others right by The Beech (but sadly not the beach). Now I divide my time between a crash pad in the city centre and a family home at the southern end of the tramline. Best of both worlds, lucky me.

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

Manchester became my home but it was nowt to do with the city's charms. Simply that I was living in London and fell in love. The love of my life was headed to Manchester to study so a year later I dropped everything and followed. It wasn't long before Manchester and the North cast its spell on me too and I have been here ever since.

But before that, the first time I came to the city was to visit a friend at Uni. I remember a long coach journey from London, staying in amazing old student halls in Whalley Range, an all night film showing which included The Blues Brothers and Magic Roundabout and then queuing at breakfast time for banquette seats at the Royal Exchange. Manchester was exciting and had a very different feel from the South. It made me realise how important it was to move away from the places you grow up in and to explore elsewhere and lay down new roots of your own.

What’s great about this city?

The diversity of people who have moved here from all over the world and now call Manchester home. And the fact you can talk to anyone, whatever age they are or image they project, if you feel in a sociable enough mood. There's an air of friendliness if you look for it.

The fact that the city is big and varied enough for so much art, culture and fun, yet small enough to feel you can be a big part of it. I love the Northern Quarter’s independence, the buzz of Chinatown at night, Castlefield on a sunny afternoon, watching a film or sporting event on the lawn at Spinningfields, the jazz festival and other music in the tents at Albert Square, and the magical Christmas markets that light up the whole city in December.

There’s also the variety of good food and drink, the ease of getting around by public transport, the history and beauty of the understated architectural gems, the sense of history, and the revamped waterways.

The amazing countryside all around makes for a perfect escape when you need it too – the Peaks, the Lakes, north Wales, the Cheshire ring canals…

What’s not so great?

The city centre is a wee bit on the small side with not quite enough ‘obvious’ sights to see for the visitor. Although you only have to look up to see street after street of honey-coloured stone and red brick dripping with the wealth from nineteenth-century merchants, so maybe I am being harsh.

More greenery in the city centre would be good, and the Castlefield beach should be permanent or at least May to September. More could be made of the River Irwell and the canals – they should be more of the beating heart of the city than the tucked away offshoots that they currently are, though I must admit great strides have been made since I first visited Manchester in the 1980s, making the canals and rivers more into a café society than a place to park your supermarket trolley.

While the quote ‘The streets of London are paved with gold’ is a lie (unless you work in the City), sadly in Manchester it is all too true to say the streets are paved with chewing gum. Why?

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

Too many to choose from really. I love the little carved statues and ornamental windows and ledges zand architrave whenever you look up above the first floor all over the city centre. Art Deco is a favourite era of mine but there's not much of that I can think of in Manchester.

But If I chose two, very different buildings, one would be the John Rylands Library. It looks like it’s made from Cheshire sandstone (is it?) and is so beautiful, especially when it takes on a magical glow with the late afternoon sun reflecting on its Deansgate frontage. I also like it because it’s all that is left in the area from that era. It reminds me of a castle, it stands out and holds its own amongst the twenty-first century shopping vibe that surrounds it.

Campfield Arcade is lovely too (funnily enough that used to house a library too). When you look at it as a whole from across the road it’s a beautiful example of Manchester’s famous red bricks, and it’s got that lovely old clock that reminds me of a more famous one outside Macy’s in Chicago. Inside is the lovely arcade itself where you can imagine you are eating alfresco in Spain, Greece or Italy. Good restaurants and bars and the culture from the Spanish Institute too. And rarely crowded.

India House and Lancaster House are fabulous neighbours on Princess Street and I had to mention them here as being buildings that give me a shiver of excitement whenever I look at them…

My least favourite is the ‘Berlin Wall’ in Piccadilly, although iy barely qualifies as architecture. It is ugly and stark. It should be a place for commissioned street art and ivy – a hanging gardens is what they should be aiming for. At least there’s a campaign underway to green it, though that seems to have gone a bit quiet.

The Arndale and what it represents, likewise the Trafford Centre, would be least favourite. Manchester has all this beautiful countryside, art and cool places to go and yet people spend their weekends and evenings shopping in American malls. I just don’t get it!

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

I’m not one for putting people on pedestals really. I’d say the exploited workforce that suffered under industrialisation in the nineteenth century should be favourites as they did so much for the city. And today, all the other unsung heroes who clean, underpin and keep the city going are my favourites.

But if we are talking famous Mancunians, obviously Morrissey for his views on the monarchy and for being veggie, and for most things he says really. I place his music second to his views these days.

The Pankhursts, although the suffragettes who would get my vote are the trio of Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester. They demonstrated at the City Art gallery 100 years ago, in 1913. We broke the glass of some pictures as a protest but we did not intend to damage the pictures’. In court, supporters in the gallery unfurled a Votes for Women banner. The full history, or herstory, is at the ever excellent Radical Manchester blog.

Alison Uttley who was to Lancashire and Cheshire what Beatrix Potter was to Cumbria but with less reward and fame. She went to Manchester University and died in 1976. Little Grey Rabbit lives on…

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

I like Dimitri’s on Deansgate and if I’m in the right mood Font and Gorilla too. Apotheca looks fabulous but it's been ages since I was there.

If I just want somewhere nearby, The Molly House can be good – enough of an atmosphere but quiet enough to chat. I'd like to try some of those pubs in Northern Quarter that look like old men's pubs but seem to now be hangouts for young creative types. I'd probably need someone to take me there though.... I like the look of Cuba Cafe Bar too but need to pluck up courage to go in!

My preferred venues would be Band on the Wall and the Deaf Institute, but if the right band is playing I'd go anywhere. I’m waiting for Flunk to come over from Norway to play Manchester, or All India Radio from Australia, or Dave Dark and the Sharks. And I wish The Egg would head north too.

My coffee shop would be North Tea Power. Oklahoma is fabulous too. My favourite cafes are Earth and Eighth Day. Bistro 1847 would be my choice for an evening meal.

Last year I had a fellow blogger and her family visit from the USA and I had to think about how best to show them Manchester in an evening. We had a busy walking tour! From Piccadilly Station we went down Granby Row past the Vimto statue along to Albert Square, Lincoln Square, through the ginnels to St Ann's Square and the Royal Exchange Theatre. Then onto the medieval quarter of the cathedral and Shambles Square, and into Victoria Station. Then back through the Northern Quarter to see all the independent bars, record stores and restaurants, and the innovative and rotating street art. I would have added Spinningfields and Castlefield if there was time.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

A museum of popular Manchester music, some city centre tree-lined boulevards, and a tower like the Space Needle in Seattle or the Eiffel Tower in France or Blackpool Tower.  

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

It would need to be a long day to implement all the changes I have planned for my fellow Mancunians! As the clock chimed midnight I would unroll my sepia scroll and get the town crier to proclaim the following:

A congestion charge on cars coming into the city. Pedestrianising great swathes of the city, planting trees and opening roof gardens to grow crops. Taking over the Old Fire Station and converting it to public space of studio spaces for artists and musicians, galleries and a children's playgrounds, cheap housing and shops.

Banning fast food shops, implementing a living wage for all who work in the area. A heavily subsidised free public transport system paid for by a tax on multinational chains that have shops in the city.

Bringing back the statue of Oliver Cromwell that was at Victoria station and was decamped to Wythenshawe Park -and putting it in a prominent space. Commissioning new statues, including one of the Pankhursts and Suffragettes, one of Marx and Engels and another of animals in commemoration to all those murdered daily.

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

These three Mancunians would have all something interesting to say: Political cartoonist Polyp, Zoe at the Vegetarian Society, and Ursula at Eighth Day.

Chrissy loves Manchester and the surrounding countryside so much that she blogs about it daily at Mancunian Wave. She can also be found on Twitter @chrissycurlz and Instagram.