Saturday, 2 May 2015

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #32 John

‘I remember my winter, trudging up to Oldham on two buses, sat in the back room with endless tea and a whole rotisserie chicken…’

What’s your name?

What do you do?
I am a writer, predominantly about clubs and dance music, for several publications including The Guardian, Time Out, Skiddle and The Skinny, for whom I was Clubs Editor, and from where all of this stemmed. When I see distant or elderly relatives, I joke that ‘I write in advance about what most people can’t remember!’ No, they don’t tend to laugh either. It’s a real struggle. I also work for a research company occasionally, and still get my head down with the odd bout of office temping. I am trying to distance myself from the brain prison of data entry.

Where do you live?
For the past year or so, I’ve lived in Chorlton, home to the highest proportional home burglary rate in the UK. So you can assume that if this questionnaire drifts off into the ether before your mind does, I have simply been robbed of my ability to complete it. I had always liked Chorlton even when living in the city centre, but the Metrolink made it much more appealing. Plus there’s cheap swimming and moderately priced ale to offset the constant climate of fear that you could return home any time to nothing but a dope stained set of late 70s upholstery.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
As a teenager in a North Wales village, in no uncertain terms I wanted to get the fuck out, and fast. I considered going to university in Kingston Upon Thames, Derby and a few other spots, but really wanted Manchester (not so) deep down. I just about squeezed in to MMU to study Film and Media, which I screwed up and dropped out of after two years. Somehow, with almost no financial means and only temporary jobs flyering alongside a brief stint as caretaker managing a declining chain of sex shops in Northern satellite towns, I managed to stick around. Soon to be 27, when life still feels uncertain, I remember my winter trudging up to Oldham on two buses, sat in the back room with endless tea and a whole rotisserie chicken, avoiding eye contact with the endless money shots repeated on a first generation plasma screen inches from the counter. The only security I had was a hammer stashed in a small cupboard.

I moved to Manchester for ‘the scene’, although I wasn’t sure what that was at the time. I did stand up for a few years and ended up working on a few writing projects for television and so on. I was much better at the latter side of things. Eventually, my interest drifted more toward music, and dance music especially. I started to DJ (sometimes badly, dropping random Panorama Bar house in between Foals remixes at Now Wave), and somehow kept my head above water. Some best of times, most worst of times.

I have lived in town in pokey student flats with TVs tuned only to Sky Action – on which I watched the finale of Alien Resurrection on a daily basis – then in Rusholme, where a burglar shat in my yard and a DNA officer inspecting the scene asked me if I’d ever met Steve Coogan, ‘and was he a dickhead in reality too?’ I lived above Abduls, on whose food I briefly subsisted, stealing wi-fi from a Chinese exchange student and never having to heat the flat, which was so warm in the summer months, I was physically unable to occupy it most of the time. Eventually I moved to a flat near Piccadilly, and lived with a rotating cast of characters, starring me as landlord and handyman.

What’s great about this city?
It’s a massive cliché, but almost everyone in Manchester loves music, and many more become readily engrossed in the culture surrounding it. Perhaps this is true of any large condensed populace, but the people are largely very funny too. But it’s mainly great for all the brilliant, life changing experiences and opportunities it has afforded me over the years. Or, perhaps I have afforded them to myself? Perhaps the real city, is inside myself…? (It’s not, it’s in Manchester.)

What’s not so great?
I think the city centre as a whole has declined rapidly, and the atmosphere is markedly sour compared to less than a decade ago. The cuts to resources for the homeless or those with mental health or drug problems has disenfranchised people on a huge scale; From a humanitarian angle, it’s unjustifiable, and from a more cynical tourist board perspective, it doesn’t present the city in the best light. Obviously the blame here doesn’t necessarily lie locally, though. I also worry that the city’s small enough to be almost entirely franchised and operated by half a dozen powerhouses across retail, clubbing, dining… It’s great that there’s money and ambition available still, but a streak of independence and even the sort of radicalism that the city’s cultural heritage often trumpets wouldn’t go amiss, albeit from those with far more imagination and conviction than most of us, myself included, are able to offer.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
I don’t have much of a taste or sense for good architecture, although I’d like to. I enjoy the corridor of university and residential buildings on Whitworth Street, and the general feel and sights of the Palace/Cornerhouse junction. I seriously hope that the latter building stays put.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
My favourite living Mancunian is probably Kosmonaut’s bookings manager and former Piccadilly Records staff member, Pasta Paul. Not only is he one of my favourite DJs - which is saying something as he can’t mix for shit - but he loves the city more than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s still dashing around from gig to gig, opening to opening and record shop to record shop without a shred of disillusion, or the usual ego and expectations that consume some ‘local characters’. He has achieved what is surely one of the UK’s largest network of friends without ever succumbing to Facebook, and has not but a bad word to say of anyone. He is an immaculately dressed force for good in what can occasionally feel like a sea of ridiculously attired cynics.

Pasta Paul aside, I would have really loved to have met Tony Wilson, especially as I have a fondness for old Granada TV idents as much as acid house. Like many, I feel like Manchester’s musical heritage has occasionally been frequently pillaged for personal gain by many of those instrumental in it, but in and of itself, Factory is perhaps one of the most important labels of all time, and yes, Vinni Riley is good music to chill out to.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
I love clubs, and I love them best when they’re dark, loud, full of smoke and not entirely welcoming at first glance. I really think Soup Kitchen’s basement is, on a good night, up there with the best in terms of a space to dance, and definitely one of the few dancefloors I feel most comfortable playing records to. Dan, who books Soup Kitchen’s club, has afforded it an amazing reputation in the face of massive competition, never allowing the listings to go stale, and maintains a wry sense of humour or perspective when I’d potentially be losing my mind.

I really like Albert Hall, which is a great example of what happens when several ambitious organisations take a risk on a venue that probably seemed obvious to a knowing few for so long. I love This and That, which even despite a few dodgy visits of hundreds, will always remain my personal victor in the endless Northern Quarter Rice and Three war. I still love Common, whatever’s on the wall there, and whatever they do to make their fries taste really good.

I enjoy strolling through Granby Row, beneath the railway arches, which feels pleasantly secluded and is as good of a bench sitting spot as any in the city. As well as the Archimedes statue, I particularly enjoy the ‘Vimto Bottle’ monument, which I genuinely thought was a really durable inflatable promoting the drink for far longer than I should have.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?
Following on from the above, I’d love to see more green space, which has always felt exclusive to the greater suburbs. I hope one of the occasional plans to transform Stevenson Square or the like into a greener environment comes through. But that it is genuine green space, not a continuation the council have of adding relatively miniscule patches of grass amid largely stone or concrete areas. I would rather see relatively miniscule patches of stone and concrete amid large areas of grass. I know you’re not supposed to say that sort of thing nowadays, but deal with it, incredibly well paid town planners!

If I was Mayor for a day I would …
Make sure I went somewhere dead nice to get a sandwich at lunch, and then keep the receipt, say I was having a meeting, and claim it back on expenses at a later date.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?
Mick Hucknall.

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