Louder Than Words

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.

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

Inspired by October’s TUC march in Manchester, I’ve been thinking about modern day marching songs.

While the music playing through the PA system on the day was a mixture of things, some feel good rebellion songs (The Who’s ‘My Generation’, some Bob Marley, Clash, Jam…) it did come to rely, increasingly on the 1990s Britpop songbook, climaxing with Pulp’s ‘Common People’ and Oasis ‘Don’t look back in anger’ as we neared the Tory Party Conference at GMEX.

Now, personally, I felt ‘Common People’ worked, and did have a kind of political charge to it, but ‘Don’t look back in anger?’ If it’s a slice of Mancunian sentimentality you’re after, give me Elbow any day…

While I never really bought into Britpop at the time, there are other reasons for being uneasy about the prominence of Britpop on the march soundtrack. For one, Britpop was notoriously co opted by New Labour in 1997, and by extension, the use of Britpop on the march might be seen to be suggesting a nostalgia for the days of Blair: Things have moved on, both politically and musically since 1997. There’s a whole generation of politically interested teenagers who didn’t even live through Britpop going on marches for one, what are they listening to? Does modern protest even have a soundtrack, or, as Dorian Lynskey argued very persuasively in 33 Revolutions per minute, is the modern protest song a dying breed?

As such, I propose 19 songs for possible co-option or inclusion on the soundtrack of any future protest marches you might be planning to attend or organise. Some of the choices may well seem a bit odd, but my choices are steered by personal taste as well as overall vibe and feel of the song, and as such are bound to be idiosyncratic. Your list will no doubt be different.

With one notable exception (which I’ll explain in a minute) all songs were released post 2000, and in order of playlist, they are:

Daft Punk ‘Revolution 909’: Because every march needs a warm up song for a bit of ambience.

Le Tigre ‘Get off the internet’: Because you can sort of dance along to it while marching or waiting to set off, and it promotes direct action over digital activism, which is kind of what marching is I suppose.

Sleaford Mods ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’: I think there may have been some Sleaford Mods on the TUC march soundtrack, but a bit more never does any harm.

Poppy and the Jezebels ‘Sign in, dream on, drop out!’: Their 2012 paen to youth unemployment. Bang on, and relatively up to date.

Pretty Girls Make Graves ‘Parade’: Perfect: A song with a marching band tempo, about going on strike and union activism. Suitably bolshy.

Aaran Fyfe ‘All These Days Of Changing’: Bang up to date, came out a month or so back I think. A songwriter for whom the words ‘Voice of a generation’ will probably be applied at some point? Only time will tell…

Jake Bugg ‘Lightning Bolt’: This qualifies as a fast paced feel good one with a positive kind of attitude while being vaguely stroppy. Keeps the feet tapping and spirits up.

Sleaford Mods ‘The Wage Don’t Fit’: There’s always more than one voice of a generation… The definition of ‘Austerity Pop’ surely?

Santigold ‘Disparate Youth’: For it’s general sense of discontent and unease in the modern world

MIA ‘Galang’: Mainly because I think it’ll be great fun to march through Manchester, en masse, chanting ‘YAH YAH YEY…’ etc, and it will encapture a vague sense of warrior spirit or something…

La Roux ‘Uptight Downtown’: It just sounds like it was written about the 2011 riots to me, and has a similar sense of unease and discontent as the Santigold track, albeit with a vague sense of elation as well. But it would work as a marching song because it has that kind of Nile Rogers esque swagger to it, while encapsulating Britain today quite well.

Ting Tings ‘We Walk’: Perhaps I’m being a bit literal here, but it is called ‘We Walk’ isn’t it. As the lyric goes, ‘When it all goes wrong, we walk’

Georgia ‘Move Systems’: Just for general attitude and sound, bang up to date.

Stereolab ‘Ping Pong’: This is cheating because it came out in 1996 (I think…), but, lyrically, it was clearly light years ahead of its time…

Elbow ‘Lost Worker Bee’: Fast enough to march to, vaguely fits the mood.

Doyle and the Forefathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’: Our first defining example of ‘Austerity Pop’, or ‘Austerity Agitprop’. And it still sounds good, five years down the line.

Grace Mitchell ‘NoLo’: ‘How do you know, what the top looks like when you’re living on the bottom?’ She may not have meant it that way, but, if the tune fits…

Florence + The Machine ‘Spectrum’: If for no other reason than doing a conga to ‘Spectrum’ would beat the pants off singing along halfheartedly to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, for me anyway. I class ‘Spectrum’ as my euphoric, feel good moment towards the end of the march song.

Elbow ‘One Day Like This’: Compulsory moment of Mancunian sentimentality as march closes.

The playlist is in Spotify if you want to see if it works. 

Snapshot moment one: On the Monday after the TUC march, I received an email from my mum who had been shopping in Marple with my dad earlier that day. They’d just sat down on one of the benches in the shopping centre for a breather when suddenly there were all these people in suits around them. They looked up and “It was bloody Boris!”, prompting the obvious question from mum to the waiting Marple air: “What’s he doing here?”

Snapshot moment two: Having attended the protest against mental health cuts in Stockport outside the town hall on 29th October, and the council meeting that followed, I can only conclude that while council meetings can be incredibly frustrating to sit through when you really, really disagree with the councillor speaking, they do also provide the odd moment of hilarity, intended or otherwise.

Snapshot moment three: The Morning Star has a better cookery column than Socialist Worker

Snapshot moment four: It is occasionally possible to walk down Heaton Moor Road and not get soaked playing that timeless seasonal game of Puddle Roulette.

Snapshot moment five: In a city notorious for its rain, it is very hard to find a shop selling umbrellas

Oxford Road

Oxford Road

I had thought at first I was going to be late to meet Anne and her daughter Sarah, but the traffic and buses were in my favour for once. I’d agreed to meet them both at the Oxford Road end of Brunswick Street at 11:30, and arrived at quarter past 11 to find them both waiting for me. Prior to that, I’d walked past two empty police horse boxes on Brunswick Street (closed, much to the bemusement of residents) and seen the swathes of coaches transporting march attendees play merry hell with the traffic trying to run the rat run behind Oxford Road, which was also closed.

There were a lot of people already on Oxford Road as we walked down, and we found the Unison section assembling, as planned, by the Aquatics Centre. The atmosphere was rather reminiscent of an assembling carnival, and we even had a PA system and DJ (we think it was Clint Boon), not to mention John Robb as emcee and Billy Bragg playing live. This at once felt much more high powered and glitzy than the previous two TUC marches I’ve been on, but also much more carnival. Not that previous marches haven’t been entertaining and fun, but they haven’t had entertainment laid on. It was the difference between the Arena and the Academy: Sophisticated and innovative use of big screens and PA systems all along the line. There were also speeches from the head of the TUC, head of Unite, and head of the Students Union. Later, we also had the head of Unison, but his speech was timed to coincide with a point when the march on the move and the Unison contingent were going past him and the stage by All Saints Park. As we were trying to simultaneously navigate the narrowing road and the media block, this meant I was paying less attention to him than to previous speakers.

In the early stages, before we moved off, we all got a chance to admire each others banners. Given recent allegations about David Cameron’s antics as a young man, there were lots of pig related banners, inflatable pigs and so on. I overheard one man trying to explain the banners all around them to the young child accompanying him:

“Well, when David Cameron was a young man, he… was very… unkind to a pig.”

David Cameron pig banner

David Cameron pig banner

We had to wait an awfully long time on Oxford Road before setting off. The start time was 12, but it was nearly 2 by the time we set off. Anne’s knees are bad so we watched part of Billy Bragg’s set and the speeches from the vantage point of the window sills outside Geoffrey Manton building. While we were seated we had the unwelcome chance to observe innumerable people, including many small children, stumbling about as they tried to navigate the hostile architecture between the pavement and the windowsills, which takes the form of hedgehog spikes of upturned bricks.

When we did set off, the Mancunian Way flyover slowed down the huge balloons that at least two unions were making use off, which gave us time to take in the homeless protest under the flyover. A smaller spin off of the one in St Peter’s Square perhaps?

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

We turned off down Portland Street, then went left, down a series of side roads and side streets towards Albert Square and the town hall. It was at this point that I heard one woman say to a friend that their friends were in a bit of the march that was still on Oxford Road. There was some intermittent chanting, and I was pleased to hear ‘WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!’ again. ‘Build a bonfire’ has been adapted, with the bankers now taking the place of the Lib Dems in the middle. Along the route we passed various people declaiming political polemics on various corners with an inspiring amount of conviction and passion, and as we headed towards Deansgate and Castlefield we passed a fantastic drum orchestra. We didn’t get anywhere near as close to GMEX, or even the Midland Hotel, as last time, or the time before, but we did get to make a lot of noise and sing along rousingly to Pulp’s ‘Common People’ as we drew towards the nearest possible point to the conference hall.

It was as Pulp segued into Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that I realised how reliant the playlist had been on ’90s Britpop. Earlier on Oxford Road, there’d been some punk (Clash ‘Rock The Casbah’, Jam ‘Eton Rifles’), the Smiths, some standard rebel rousing anthems (‘Get Up, Stand Up’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’) and Billy Bragg was playing union friendly anthems like ‘Power of the union’ and ‘World turned upside down’, plus Woody Guthrie’s ‘You Fascists Are Bound To Lose’. It’s a shame there weren’t any more modern records though (surely the students could have provided some suggestions?) and it makes me wonder if modern pop is considered lacking in stridency, or made by posh people. Some of it is, certainly, but surely not all of it? Poppy and the Jezebel’s 2012 hymn to youth unemployment ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out’ would have been a good start. And if they’d wanted a good, but less used, ’80s one they could have had Sade ‘When Am I Gonna Make A Living?’ I suspect Doyle and the Fourfathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’ would have been construed too downbeat though.

On the move

On the move

Overall, the atmosphere on the march was very carnival and jubilant. There was even a report being filmed in the midst of it all, near Deansgate. Possibly Granada Tonight. Some of the students ambushed it, natch. All along the route people have been handing out leaflets and newspapers, so I’ve returned home with a whole bag full of stuff, mainly socialist, some anti-racist, one for Animal Aid, one to do with NHS reforms in Manchester and Greater Manchester, plus Left Unity, The Morning Star, and the People’s Assembly newsletter.

The People’s Assembly were doing the rally at the end of the march, but we were a bit knackered by then, so headed home from Castlefield to Piccadilly via the bewilderingly genteel and gentrified King Street and St Ann’s Square, and the usual chaos of Market Street. We had thought that our bus stops had been moved for the day but the two day rave in Piccadilly had been shut down we saw, according to a screen with a rolling news feed on it on Market Street. What with the rave and the Britpop soundtrack, the day had a vaguely ’90s feel to it. This echoed the feeling of deja vu I had last week when I heard about government plans to restrict the length of cordoned off road allowed for ongoing roadworks to 1 mile at a time. I haven’t heard any more about this since, but my first thought on hearing the story was that it was John Major and the cones hotline all over again.

As we headed down Market Street we could see the progress of the rest of the march whenever we looked left down a side street, and we finally began to feel that we’d lost the police helicopter that seemed to have been following us since Oxford Road. The union bosses estimated that 80,000 people marched today but the 6pm bulletin on Radio 4 reported the police figure as being 60,000, which is still 10,000 more than the  police figure for the 2013 TUC march.

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

The People’s Assembly are running events all week during the Tory Party conference, and are putting attendees up in Sugden Sports Hall. You can find out about their events in Manchester this week by visiting their website. Their next event is The People’s Assembly Morning Briefing at 10:30am in Central Hall on Oldham Street, which features a speech from Natalie Bennett, and there are number of additional protests and marches planned tomorrow, and throughout the week.

Digital Camera

Went to see Florence + The Machine and The Staves at Manchester Arena on Friday night.

I’ve never been to an Arena show before, and was somewhat apprehensive because, traditionally, I’ve always been a Roadhouse (RIP) and Night & Day girl. When bands I like get too big for those venues (or the Deaf Institute), I’ll go and see them at the Academies, but that’s the biggest set of venues I’d been to until Friday night.

Because the traffic has been so awful this past week, largely due to the ongoing situation with the sinkholes in the Mancunian Way and it being autumn when the traffic is always awful, I used up my time in lieu so I could come home, change and get my tea before going out again.

I was braced for the worst, traffic wise, when I left at 6pm but it was a surprisingly smooth ride into the city centre, and I got in at about ten to 7pm. I then walked very leisurely over to the Arena, which was easy to find. Lots of steps and once you’re inside it’s like being in a cross between St Pancras International and the Arndale: Weird. Like a city within a city. There’s food, bars, merchandise, and the signage is like train station signage as you navigate your way to your block of seating, row, and then seat.

All the standing places had gone by the time I booked my ticket, so I had to go for a seat instead: Another first as I’ve never been to a seated gig before.

The Staves were the support act, and they were brilliant: Impeccable harmonies and lots of echo. They had a shrewd setlist as well, in that they opened with an acapella number (always a good way to grab a crowd’s attention, plus it showed off their gorgeous harmonies) and followed it with the strikingly guitar led ‘Black and White’. They ended the set with the irresistable Nashville esque sing a long that is ‘Teeth White’. In-between, they played a lovely set and did their damnedist to build up a rapport with politely interested but not ecstatic audience. One of the three sisters remarked at one point that she’d been a student in Manchester, and that she’d spent “Some of the best, and most hungover, moments of my life here” which was sweet. The band are returning to Manchester for their own headline gig at the Albert Hall on 24th October.

Florence + The Machine came on at about 9pm. From my seat I had a good view of the stage, but sideways on. This meant I got a good view of the comings and goings on and off stage during The Staves set (they gave the sound engineer friendly pats on the back as they exited) but less so during Florence + The Machine as they used a smoke machine (not excessively) and as such the band were only visible in silhouette. The band entered from my side of the stage, as The Staves had, but Florence walked across the area in front of the stage to say hello and make friends with the audience before going up the steps on the other side to join the rest of the band onstage.

The set was amazing, and Florence is a very lively, warm, and generous performer. She runs about the stage a lot, putting in dramatic flourishes, pogoing, and twirling like a ballet dancer with an interest in northern soul, and she loves invading the audience, she did this about three or four times, and security seemed up for this and managed to keep up with her. When she first got on stage, she brought with her a blue banner she’d been handed by one of the audience in front of the stage, and held it up. Later, she acquired more banners ( a very spangly ‘We Are Shining’ was particularly impressive), had bras thrown at her, and – at her own instigation – other items of clothing.

After three songs (‘What the water gave me’ was first, then ‘Ship to wreck’, then ‘Shake It Out’) she made everyone stand up for ‘Rabbit Heart’, which was particularly excellent as I’d wanted to stand up but no one in my block was doing so and I didn’t want to stand up if I was blocking someone else’s view. As it was, the crowd obliged, and I was then able to stay standing for most of the rest of the set (I did sit down for ‘Long & Lost’, which is one of the quieter songs, but only because my feet hurt) and generally treat it as a standing gig, which was cool. I had a bloody good dance to ‘Delilah’ and ‘Queen of peace’, but couldn’t do the arm movements I’d do if I was dancing to them at home because I would have twatted the people in front and to the sides if I had, which was a shame. Anyway, I had a seat free next to me so I could go a bit mad, dancing wise, albeit not with my arms.

‘Shake it out’ was a highlight as we were pressed into service as Florence’s choir, and she conducted us for it. ‘Spectrum’ was another highlight, with everyone encouraged to dance to that one, and Florence ended the song with what can only be described as a northern soul pirouette, that is; spinning slowly but with one leg lifted slightly and pointed out at ankle level. She kept this up for about two minutes as the harp finished, and the result was very impressive.

It’s occurred to me that the band used the big screens either side of the stage in a fairly innovative way, both by having Florence lift up people’s banners on stage so everyone else could see them, but also so we could play ‘Where’s Florence?’ when she left the stage during ‘Rabbit Heart’ and legged it down the gap between the standing section and my side of the arena, over to, and up, the stairs in-between segments near the back. She sang part of the song from there before coming back down and invading the crowd in front of the stage. Very energetic. They played the balearic keyboard extension of ‘Rabbit Heart’ as well, which helped it build and allowed Florence license to roam, run and generally explore, all barefoot of course.

I also thought the approach to ‘Mother’ with Florence kneeling on stage in front of a backdrop of a big red sun was very evocative, and in the spirit of the song, which is very Monteray Pop Festival 1967 (Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane..) The band then went into the blissful ‘Queen of Peace’, and followed it with ‘Spectrum’, which we all went obligingly berserk to, before concluding with ‘Dog Days Are Over’, in which the harpist got his own spotlight for what must be one of the most distinctive intros of recent memory, and we were urged to hug the people next to us and remove any items of clothing we didn’t need. I did think about doing this, but decided (after a brief speculative glance) that neither I nor the bloke next to me were up for hugging a complete stranger, and that I would get cold going home in only my bra, and wouldn’t part with my tiara because I want to wear it to work next week. Other folk were more obliging, but Florence didn’t take her shirt off as she did at Glastonbury, so I felt less guilty about not joining in.

The encores were the searing ‘What Kind of Man’, during which Florence dropped to her knees like she’d been shot when that ferociously distinct and jagged guitar kicked in, and ‘Drumming Song’. which is another great one to dance to. I emerged sweaty, with sore feet and achey legs, but blissfully happy and slightly disoriented when the lights came up.

Getting home was a bit surreal because I took the wrong exit from the Arena and ended up on Trinity Way, having to wade through hordes of opportunistic bootleggers flogging bootleg merch while also trying to navigate the hordes of similarly confused, disorientated, and – in many cases – bladdered, Florence fans. Then I realised I was going the wrong way and had to turn around and do it all again in reverse until I found the Hunts Bank exit, where I’d come in. I almost got it right from there, but somehow ended up going via Corporation Street and a whole area near Exchange Square that’s cordoned off for Metrolink works, where the walkway was very narrow and it was weirdly eerie and surreal, like some post industrial ghost town. Still, eventually the trail of Arena gig goers emerged at the junction of Cross Street and Market Street, and many of us continued down Market Street to Piccadilly.

It was while I was at the bus stop waiting for a 192 that I realised the downside of the Arena’s ‘no leaving the venue to have a fag’ policy because I ended up surrounded by fellow gig goers, all chain smoking furiously, plus a guy with a massive e-cigarette, the size and shape of the fattest cigar ever, who kept enveloping me in a cloud of vaguely blueberry smelling vapour every time he exhaled. As I was standing at least a metre away from him, this was quite a feat.

There was a lot of post gig chatter on the bus, and I think it reinforced for me the very female nature of Florence fandom in some ways, because the ones most passionately talking about the band were the girls. I am reminded of all those bras thrown at the stage last night, and the quiet, shy, red headed girls waiting to take their seats in the arena. Not to mention the ceremonial gifting of the flowery headband to the girl in the audience during ‘Rabbit Heart’.

As excellent as the gig was though, I did find being in the seated area an odd experience. I discussed it with a friend at work on Saturday, who pointed out that it’s not just at Arena shows that people treat a gig as a nightclub and spend equal time in the bar or in the loos as they do actually watching the band they’ve paid to see; you’re just aware of the scale of the phenomenon much more with an Arena show because you have to keep letting people to and fro past you.

The discovery of this phenomenon (or, at least, the scale of it) dovetails very nicely with a documentary I was listening to earlier today about Jacques Attali, who wrote a book called Noise in 1976, which predicted that the value of recorded music would crash, and that the music industry was on the brink of a crisis. The documentary discusses this ‘crisis of proliferation’ of recorded music, and how hard it is for musicians to make a living these days.

It’s been known for several years now that musicians are making more money from touring than they are from from record sales, and the proliferation of live entertainment, and the effort bands now put into tours and gigs does, unfortunately, perhaps account for the casual nature of gig attendees: Gigs are less of an event now, it seems, which is odd to me. If I care enough about a band to pay £40 for a ticket, I want to watch the whole show, not spend my night getting bladdered and going back and forth from my seat to the loos. Fortunately, Florence + The Machine are a band who believe in not only giving the audience a really good night, but also in engaging with and forging a connection with their audience, and that kind of optimism can, fortunately, penetrate even the most hardened dilettante.

Thank you Florence for making them stand up, and for putting on such a great show.

Tomorrow morning there will be a series of public protests at a number of railway stations around the country to protest the 2016 rail fair rises (which are officially announced tomorrow) and to provide support for the public ownership of the railways.

Protests are taking place within the Manchester and Greater Manchester area at the following locations:

Barrow in Furness, 6am – 10am

Manchester Piccadilly, 7:30am onwards

Preston, 7:30am onwards

You can see the full list and find out more at the Action For Rail website

Perhaps it’s been the impact of films such as Pride and Still The Enemy Within, but this year, Gay Pride will feature a fringe event following the main parade. The fringe event is Political Pride, and it features involvement from MMU and the People’s History Museum, amongst others.

Why do we need Political Pride? Because, as the website puts it, “Pride means more than a party in the village”

So, if you’re looking to capture that campaigning, agit prop spirit, or experience some (hopefully) meaningful and intelligent discussions, as oppose to just getting wankered and sun burnt (Ok, maybe not sunburnt, it is Manchester after all…) in hot pants, this could be the event for you.


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