Monday, 17 November 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #31 Oliver

'Lorenzo offered to walk the elephant back to Manchester, which he did in ten days...'

What’s your name?

What do you do?

I’m an artist. I write and draw comic books about landscape and walking. They sell about as well as that sounds so I’ve also had a long career as a barman in south and central Manchester – Maine Road Family Stand, Free Trade Hall, Robinski’s, The Drop Inn, Velvet, Matt & Phred’s – before finishing up with seven years as a manager down The Temple. I get the odd illustration gig as well, like two Elbow album sleeves and animation, for instance. The comics are making money now though, so I’ve been bar-free for a while.

Where do you live?

Old Trafford.

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

I’m a party baby. Or more specifically a 'cult party baby'. My mum was living in an ashram in Withington, next to St Paul’s Primary (which I later attended) as part of a worldwide cult. Told she couldn’t have kids, she had one nonetheless. Grew up, just the two of us, in a Fallowfield flat. School in Withington then Didsbury. The Didsbury school was a strange mix of working class Burnage and middle class Didsbury. Hated it. Failed most everything and did retakes and such in Heaton Chapel.

I really wanted to study archaeology, but couldn’t get the grades. I took ‘Classical Civilisations’ for GSCE three times, getting, in order, D, D, E – so Indiana Jones was a no go. I wanted to study something though and so I fell onto an art foundation course. Two and a bit years into an art degree, I fell for art. Moved out of my Fallowfield home at 18 into a Fallowfield student house. Standard fare. Then sublet a one bedroom Northern Quarter apartment whilst courting my future wife and working in Velvet and then Matt & Phreds. It was an illegal let, which would have been okay, but a census was done at the time and there’s only so long you can ignore the door to those guys…

I moved into a Chorlton share with my girlfriend and some numpties who would only ‘let’ us in the front room at certain times of the day. Fucked them off and got our own place, – a flat in Whalley Range. Due to an accident my girlfriend had enough for a deposit for a house in Old Trafford. A year later we got married in Las Vegas in a chapel who said, ‘You just tell us, on the day, whether you want God there or not’. Our son, Hunter, was born five years ago. We were married nine years. She’s no longer my wife but we’re great mates in a ripe-for-mockery ‘North Chorlton’ co-parenting team.

What’s great about this city?

Viewing the city with ‘single’ eyes, it’s a different world out there: terrifying but ever so much fun at the same time. I walk everywhere if I can. It’s cheap therapy. I can be in town in less than an hour and Chorlton in ten minutes. You can walk across the whole town centre in less than twenty minutes, with your beer jacket on. Every parent around treasures the museums. I hope they’re not taken for granted and that everyone chips in on their way out.

One of Oli's beautiful Elbow sleeves.

What’s not so great?

I could fire off many a missive about our misfiring trams. Packed single ones at rush hour and empty doubles during the day. The public transport system as a whole is pretty embarrassing when you talk to other Europeans. ‘What, you mean you can’t use the same ticket on all the buses?’ 

The London Road Fire Station situation is shameful.

Fallowfield has been shat on, bit by shitty landlord bit, over the years. With the students now more likely to live in the centre of town, they’ll have to fill the houses somehow and a once appealing neighbourhood will just get worse.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

Central Library, before they gave it a veruca.  The stretch of Whitworth Street, from Palace Theatre to Piccadilly Station looks like a parade of gargantuan gateaux. If you lived in India House or worked at the Palace Hotel, you’d get nothing done, as you’d have your head out the window eating icing all day.

Oxford Road station is the best in town. Love the roof and their stubborn refusal to sort out a lift for years. The egg and toast rack in Fallowfield would have to be up there actually. The residential houses of Whalley Range deserve an illustrator’s attention. I’ll get round to it at some point. Still some grand houses in Fallowfield if you can see past the flyers.

I enjoy running. One favourite route is around Trafford Park, with the warehouses and industrial bakeries, glimpses of The Lowry and a bridge over the quay.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Lorenzo Lawrence. He worked at Belle Vue zoo in the late nineteenth century. The owner of the zoo travelled to Edinburgh, with Lorenzo, to buy a load of animals. The plan was to get them back by train to Piccadilly but the elephant they bought kicked off and smashed his carriage. Lorenzo offered to walk it back to Manchester, which he did in ten days. But the elephant was already trained and had been used to carriages for years. Once Lorenzo had got it on the train that would have been that particular gig over for him. So, a skilled trainer, he somehow gave the elephant a signal to panic. Thus blagging himself an extra ten days work. I’m working on a comic book about the whole thing now.

I worked in Velvet for a couple of years and there was a character, Tony Dean, who used to write poetry for his favourite bar staff. I’ve still got a load now. He wrote a short story about a beauty spot on my cheek. He made me a spoken word cassette (both sides) of him reading sonnets called ‘In Celebration of Oliver’. He was fun.

Bumping into Guy Garvey is the highlight of any day and honourable mentions for Steve Manford, Carol Batton, Emma Jane Unsworth, Hannah Thomas and me Mam.

One of Oli's public wall pieces.

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

My homing instincts always take me down to The Temple (of Convenience). It’s a hole, it stinks, the staff are surly, it’s a nightmare on Saturday nights, but I love it. Having worked there for seven years, off and on, I’ll always find someone down there with whom to over-share. That, and its older sister, Big Hands, are the only two real rock and roll bars in Manchester. Being newly single means I’ve had to broaden my horizons beyond these two, for it not to get too incestuous with the bar staff.

Fletcher Moss Park for nostalgia reasons (mainly sticky fumbles) and the Mersey that runs round to Chorlton and Stretford, via Northenden, which is good for running. Longford Park as I used to take the boy there every day, reading a book while I pushed him around.  He would make his first steps in the avarium there.

As for restaurants I have some pretty ingrained phobias about eating, so anywhere where I can order, it comes quickly, and I can pay and leave while still chewing, works for me. This ‘n’ That, where I go with the boy before Bolton Wanderers home games is great. The Mexican stand in the Arndale food market does a massive burrito, a bottle of decent beer and a shot of tequila, for a tenner. Top way to start off a hung-over Saturday.

Rage Against The Machine at The Ritz is always up there as one of my favourite gigs. Used to go to Dance Yer Docs off there as well. It’s a great venue with buckets of sweaty nostalgia.

Whenever tourists would come down The Temple I’d always tell them about The Briton’s Protection. As good as pubs get in Manchester. Ask me again when I’ve been single for a year and I’ll know more places.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?


If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Panic. I’m totally unqualified for such a position. But until I was found out I’d get shot of that Simpson character. The architect who keeps getting every gig going in Manchester? Yeah, I’d do away with him. I’d make The Temple and Big Hands rent-free forever more. I’d sort out the road above The Temple so it didn’t leak all the time.

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

Steve Manford. Filmmaker who works at Afflecks.

All of Oliver’s books can be bought from
Forbidden Planet International on Oldham Street but, if you can live with the shame afterwards, they’re also available on Amazon. He also has a website, a Tumblr where he posts process pictures and inspiration, and he also does a bad job of hiding his anger issues over on Twitter.