Friday, Saturday and today have been taken up by attending the annual Louder Than Words festival at the Palace Hotel. Louder Than Words is a “genre specific literary festival” organised by Jill Adam and John Robb, themed around music and writing about music, with a good dollop of poetry. I haven’t been before, largely due to a lack of planning on my part, but this year I decided to go, my thinking being along the lines of “Well, I am trying to get this punk women book done, I should be making an effort to get out and about and get myself seen.” Though, in reality, I am crap at networking, and I probably always will be. The events on the programme looked good though.
As such, on Friday, I commuted in early and had tea at 8th Day while reading NME and Stylist, both of which are deposited in the cafe for customers to read. It’s been a long time since I had a look at NME, I last bought it when I was writing a piece for The F-Word about sexism and the music press, and I tended to buy it whenever Florence Welch was on the cover, but before that, I had long given up buying it every week. Thoughts on reading the newly free NME? In terms of look, layout and general vibe, it was largely indistinguishable from Stylist, which is a bit weird, and – in terms of content – I found myself being more swayed by Stylist. How very odd. Will stick to Private Eye and The Economist.
The Palace Hotel is, I’m pretty sure, the grandest hotel I have ever set foot in, anywhere. I arrived as a very large group in full black tie arrived, which only added to the palatial ambience of marble, stained glass and sweeping grandeur. It is a lovely building, albeit slightly daunting.
Manchester poet Mike Garry opened the festival, and I enjoyed him, but decided to give Paolo Hewitt on Oasis a miss on the basis that, while I’ve certainly got nothing against Paolo Hewitt, I never could stand Oasis, and often wonder what would have happened had Puressence been the dominant Manchester band of the 1990s rather than Oasis.
Feeling too shy to really speak to anyone, and feeling a bit of an imposter, I sat in the restaurant and nursed a pot of tea while making notes for blog posts in my notepad. It passed the time until Chris Salewicz was on, talking about his new book about the 27 Club with Chris Madden. I enjoyed this talk, despite it’s dark subject matter, albeit for somewhat different reasons than with the Mike Garry/CP Lee conversation.
The evening done, I walked down Whitworth Street and got the 192 home, feeling vaguely disappointed with myself for my inability to connect. A lot of people travelled from London for the event, and were staying in the hotel, and I had visions of missing out on late night conversations in the bar or in people’s rooms. This may or may not have happened, but it was hard not to feel at this stage that commuting in each day put me at a slight disadvantage so far as meeting people was concerned. On the other hand, I didn’t have to worry about travel and accommodation costs, and knew all the good places to buy food, so, pros and cons.
I felt decidedly knackered when I got up on Saturday morning, but did manage to drag myself out of bed and make and eat some porridge before heading out.
First up in the Keith Levene Suite was Karren Ablaze! and Julia Downes talking about Riot Grrrl. I haven’t seen Karren for 15 years, and I haven’t seen Julia for about 9 or 10 years, so it was lovely to catch up with them upstairs afterwards. Julia was toying with heading over to Ladyfest at Islington Mill, and I’d thought about it as well cos Lesley Wood was playing and I had a gap in the afternoon schedule in terms of finding stuff I wanted to see. In the end though, I chatted to the artist in residence, Bob Fallen, for ages while looking at his artwork. Then I went back to 8th Day and had Spiced Sausage And Pasta Bake while listening to some very lively MMU students on the next table.
Next up was Steve Ignorant and Slice of Life doing songs and spoken word. I liked some bits more than others, but the overall message and attitude was sound, and he seemed like a top bloke.
But the real highlight of Saturday, for me, was the Independent Publishing panel, with Karren Ablaze! (Mittens On), Ian Daley (Route) and Steve Pottinger (Ignite Books), which was utterly fascinating. What I really liked was the supportive nature of Independent Publishers, as well as the inventiveness and ingenuity, and all three of them just came across as very approachable, engaging, highly creative and positive people, which I loved. Given it was a small audience and quite informal discussion, I think a real sense of camaraderie developed. We all had a good chat afterwards, and I bought books from Ian and Steve when we all headed back downstairs for Richard Boon’s Jukebox Jury.
The night ends poignantly, with me reluctantly skipping Keith Levene in favour of an early night and the seemingly impossible task of getting two very full paper bags full of books, fanzines and a CD back down Whitworth Street, onto the bus, and home in driving wind and rain, without an umbrella. Things weren’t going too badly until I stood up to get off the bus in Heaton Chapel, and the bottom and one of the sides of one of the bags completely disintegrated, depositing my Coping Saw CD on the floor, and breaking the case. Cue quick undignified grab of said CD from the floor of the bus, desperate clutching of CD and remnants of case to chest along with increasingly soggy bags, and scurrying down the bus, stairs of bus, to the front, just as the bus reached the stop.
I had heard vague references to events in Paris throughout the day, but one of the disadvantages of not owning a smartphone, or being inclined to carry your laptop about with you, is that you isolate yourself from ongoing events and rolling news. Generally, this is a positive thing for me, but occasionally it’s not.
When I got home I had a shower and got my tea, then sat down to eat it while listening to an interminable debate on Radio 4 while waiting for the 11 o’clock news. I’d forgotten it was Saturday, not Sunday, and as such The World Tonight wasn’t on. The 11pm bulletin didn’t tell me enough about Paris, so I turned over to the World Service, and discovered the full horror all in one go. Went to bed feeling deeply sorry for the French and, as with 9/11, with the thought that nothing any of us create is worth anything when it can be destroyed in seconds by incendiary devices wielded by zealots. Only the names of the groups change, nothing else.
I managed to put these thoughts aside this morning, probably because I was even more knackered then than I was on Saturday. I had to go into Piccadilly to find a cash machine, and on my way to the Palace Hotel I observed Manchester’s homeless sleeping in their sleeping bags and tents in doorways and on the pavements of Oxford Road. No doubt about it, the visible evidence of Manchester’s homeless problem is increasingly in your face. I remember noticing the rate of visible homelessness around Oxford Road starting to creep up in 2010, although there has always been visible evidence of homelessness in Manchester, and the supposed fat years of Labour government between 1997 and 2010 certainly didn’t change it. Still, over the past year, homelessness has become much more politicised, and there have been the homeless protest camps, first outside Central Library, now under the Mancunian Way flyover and by Altrincham Street on the fringes of Piccadilly. The flyover camp is in MMU territory, and MMU have erected barriers all around campus buildings on Oxford Road, seemingly to stop the homeless sleeping or camping out too close to the buildings. Manchester University, as far as I know, haven’t done anything about the one by Altrincham Street, but its not actually on campus, so it may get left alone. As more and more camps spring up, I keep thinking about Hooverville and 1930s depression hit America.
Having grabbed a latte and a sarnie for later at Patisserie Valerie from a girl who seemed to be about as sleepy as I was, I decided to go to the Fact To Fiction workshop with Olivia Pietkarski, rather than do the Stiff Records Story.
As with the Independent Publishing event, this proved to be a very absorbing and interesting event, with participants from all sorts of backgrounds, and with all sorts of interesting stories to tell. As with the Independent Publishing panel, discussions continued outside of the workshop, emails were exchanged, friendships begun, and a great deal of enthusiasm was generated.
I skipped Pauline Black talking to John Robb in favour of Unconvention: Is The Enemy Really Free? But, on balance, I think I would have got more out of seeing Pauline Black as Steve Pottinger said she was brilliant. Unconvention wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t for me. It was a debate around ‘free’ music, journalism, etc, and digital disruption, but it was mostly about music, not really about journalism. Barney Hoskyns was the only journalist on the panel, and the musicians in the room were very intent on discussing that, so I kept quiet and kept my thoughts to myself.
After that, I went to watch Jon Savage being interviewed by John Robb about his new book 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded. Savage was in a playful mood, and the two of them interacted well, making for a very entertaining conversation. Afterwards he was signing books, so I got him to sign my incredibly battered copy of England’s Dreaming and my much less battered but equally loved copy of Teenage. Didn’t get the chance to talk to him, so didn’t tell him how he’d helped me fail most of my GCSE’s. I bet he’s heard that line before…
After that, I went to watch the by now rather hoarse John Robb interviewing Mike Harding, who was an absolute delight.
I lugged my incredibly heavy bag of books I’d bought/brought with me to get signed back down Whitworth Street while being followed by a posse of London journalists with suitcases, presumably heading to Piccadilly train station, and then waited for a 192. I was more prepared in terms of bags today, plus it wasn’t raining, so there were no spillages. A very polite but clearly struggling young man asked me for money while I was poised to flag down the slowly approaching bus, and I gave him some.