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In case you were wondering what Santa did for the other 364 days of the year, he was driving the 192 tonight.

Which means that Santa drove me home.

The guy upstairs vaping a cannabis flavoured e-cig I could have done without though.

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Going past the Apollo to get the bus home from work tonight, we were greeted with the following message from their announcements screen:

SATURN 5 XMAS #1

A very Mancunian Christmas indeed

 

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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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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.

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On Saturday I ventured out into the tropical Manchester heat.

There was a slight hitch at the bus stop when the notable lack of 192’s heading up or down the A6 became noticeable. Eventually a bus homed into view, bearing the legend designed to crush every commuter’s heart ‘Sorry, Not In Service’

The bus, surprisingly, pulled up at the bus stop, despite some baffled ‘WTF?!’ shoulder and face expressions from me. The driver got out of the cab. ‘Stockport Carnival’ He explained, ‘The parade’s just set off’

Of course. Stockport Carnival is always (at least, I think always) one week after Hazel Grove Carnival, which tends to occur just after Marple Carnival. Entire families have been known to plan their Saturday shop and library run around Hazel Grove carnival, we even moved a birthday party because of it once. But I feel sad this year because Hazel Grove carnival has become a victim of budget cuts at Stockport Council, so this is the last one.

Another bus turned up a few minutes later, and I climbed aboard.

I headed over to Central Library as I haven’t been since it re-opened in March, and I’ve really wanted to see it. It’s very nice but they do still seem to be finishing it off. There are glass lifts and a strong focus on whiteness and large minimalistic spaces. In some ways, it reminds me of the British Library in St Pancras, London, which if it’s intentional, was a good choice of role model. The hand of modern architecture has left imprints akin to those seen at the Library of Birmingham and both Sheffield and Manchester Learning Commons’. It’s not as easy to find your way around Central Library as it was in its previous incarnation.

There’s a lot of new innovations to make room for, such as a media centre, and I’m not mad keen on the lending section being in the basement while things like BFI film booths, performance areas and the café are on the ground floor but it does reflect the way peoples priorities are going on a day to day basis. I’m sure there is stuff going on above the ground floor, but I couldn’t find a way up there.

So, having had a good look, I headed off back down Moseley Street and then over to Market Street to go to Whittard. For once all the various smaller groups of buskers, charity people and religious evangelists had been drowned out by a single voice: There was a Gaza protest going on. I think it was probably the SWP as they regularly pitch up outside Marks and Spencers on Market Street. Anyway, they were very vocally compelling, and were getting a good enough reception for me to be a bit uneasy about it getting out of hand. Not in a 2011 riots sense, but in a mild ruckus in an already far too crowded street sense.

So I decided to take a diversion on the way back to Piccadilly and go back via the Town Hall and Albert Square. In doing so I passed the march that was assembling, this group were a young, mainly Asian group, as angry as the contingent on Market Street, with the same slogans. We reached Piccadilly at roughly the same time, albeit via slightly different routes. The group marching was quite small but seemed to be being policed appropriately and not aggressively or disproportionately. They made up for their number by sheer volume and passion but, even so, the musicians and street market in Piccadilly, including a rather saccharine rendition of ‘Jesus loves the children of the world’ by the gospel choir, soon drowned them out.

 

 

 

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Gay punks

Gay punks

On Tuesday I went to the Geoffrey Manton building at MMU to see Dr David Wilkinson do a re-scheduled guest lecture on the theme of punk and LGBT identities. The talk should have been held in February to coincide with LGBT history month, but it was scheduled for the night of the big storm and, faced with 80 mile per hour winds, MMU took fright and closed the building mid afternoon. I had booked the day off work on that occasion, and arrived at 6pm after a lengthy wait for a bus and slightly less lengthy bus ride, only to find the building locked. I then spent another hour and a half (most of it at the bus stop on Oxford Road, being very thankful of my new warm wind proof hat) getting home, eventually walking to the Apollo for a 192 that was rammed to the gills, largely (it seemed) with people trying to get home to Buxton.

Tuesday was a much smoother affair. Geoffrey Manton is my old department building, and I haven’t set foot inside it for 10 years, so it felt both nostalgic and exciting. They have installed a series of very beautiful olive trees in large pots in the atrium, and the building felt unusually smaller than I remember. I like how it’s been developed though, what with the trees and the new student hubs.

I enjoyed David’s talk, in which he very skilfully dissected and picked apart the received stereotypes around punk, as well as detailing the connections between punk and the seventies gay scene. He did a gay reading of the Pistols on the Grundy show, and the image of the Pistols and Buzzcocks, amongst other things, as well as featuring some very excellent footage of Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll critiquing Factory and Tony Wilson, which was contrasted with Wilson being interviewed in his bath by Gillian Gilbert, also in the bath… Eewww…

It’s interesting to compare this talk to the one David did at Manchester Zinefest on City Fun two years ago, as his style has become more fluid, confident and sophisticated since then, and I think he will do very well.

In the audience for David’s talk was Dave Haslam, who contributes very movingly to this taster video put together by Manchester Histories Festival regarding Peterloo.

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I was on the bus on the way into work on Thursday morning, gently drifting along in my own thoughts to the soothing melodies and beats of a distant ipod or phone playing some bhangra flavoured hip hop soul. Suddenly I became aware of the woman behind me singing along, putting her melodic and soulful vocal stylings ever so slightly behind the chorus of the songs on the distant ipod/phone. Bass in the background then, vocals firmly up front.

Made me smile.

 

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