Archive for November, 2015

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.

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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. 

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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

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