Monday, 15 September 2014

Manchester coming of age

Summer 2014.  I’m walking down Burton Road in West Didsbury, the street where I’ve lived for almost a year, and I see Vini Reilly standing in the doorway of one of the bars, wearing sandals and smoking a rollie. It’s Vini that you can hear playing guitar on ‘I Know Very Well How I Got My Name’, probably the most-purchased and least-listened-to Morrissey B-side (it’s on the other side of ‘Suedehead’). I must have played it a thousand times, on vinyl and then on my first guitar. (When I was thirteen years old, I really did dye my hair gold). At the bar on Burton Road, Vini looks like he doesn’t quite know if he’s arriving or leaving. We lock eyes for just a second. It’s eighteen years since the IRA bomb went off in town, and I got my A-level results and a place at Manchester University.

Yesterday. I am sitting in my Auntie Dee and Uncle John’s bedroom in Stretford and I can see the gasworks out the window and I’m struggling through the guitar chords for ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ as I have done for twenty years. Outside, dozens of Man United fans file past the house, fresh from a four–nil victory over QPR. Downstairs I can hear Dee, a Dubliner, chatting away with my other half Oisín, whose story started in Australia and came to Manchester via Ireland. This is at once exactly where I think I’m meant to be, exactly where I most want to be, and exactly where I never thought I would end up. It’s eighteen years since I moved to Manchester, half my life ago. I have lived here longer now than I’ve lived anywhere. I did it.

John drives us past the end of King’s Road on the way home and when we get dropped off in West Didsbury we walk along Burton Road again and the sky is criss-crossed with jet trails. I want to write something to mark my coming of age in Manchester because I feel suddenly emotional about it, so at home I start listening to some songs to try and level out my thoughts a bit. Morrissey’s ‘Lost’ is first – ‘jet trails in the sky leave one thought behind…’ – followed by his epic Raymonde cover, ‘No One Can Hold A Candle To You’, which I always used to pester Dave Cottrill to play at the Star & Garter, and he always did. Billy Bragg doing ‘A New England’ at the Kirsty McColl memorial concert, Eddie Reader doing ‘Dear John’ the same night, and eventually back around to ‘I Know Very Well How I Got My Name’, with Vini on the guitar.

So far, nothing in my life, and by my life I mean Manchester, has gone the way I imagined it, and certainly not the way I planned it, since the plan from childhood was to live in Manhattan, hence the portmanteau of my blog. I thought by now I would have at least two novels published and would live off the proceeds and be an activist. Instead, this month I will pay the rent with my fee from being the theatre writer at the Manchester Evening News and with the money I made from the gay RnB night I run. If I was a character in a novel it would be something by Tama Janowitz and everyone would agree that it was interesting but the characters’ lives seemed a bit contrived. We haven’t starved yet.

How to celebrate my ‘birthday’? The same way you always should: have a party, look back a bit, and count your blessings. The party has been had, at Festival No. 6, aka ‘Manchester by the sea’. I DJ’d there, partied until my screws came loose with some of the best people who live in this town, heard Weatherall play my favourite Frankie Knuckles edit, and saw Pet Shop Boys perform ‘It’s A Sin’ under the night sky. As for looking back, this is my twelfth address in Manchester and I remember something good and bad about them all. I am very happy where I am. I work in this place all day long looking down Burton Road, and I never get tired of it. Oisín comes home and we make food and we make plans for a future that might or might not turn out a certain way.

Some things never seem to change. Manchester is a city in terrible poverty.  Morrissey has no record contract but he’s still out on tour. The Council’s assault on our architecture makes Manchester feel less like itself to me than ever before – and I arrived on a bomb site, remember. It will always be home here, but I’d move to Berlin or Brooklyn in the morning. I’m saving the blessings bit for when I count backwards from fifteen at Trafford General next week. I won’t run out before I get to zero.

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