NORTHERN SPIRIT

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The World in the City

January 10, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

TIME-OUT-MANC

Way back in 2007, during the Labour Party conference, Time Out published its first magazine guide for Manchester. For a Time Out devotee like me it was nothing short of thrilling to see our city’s listings rendered in that time-honoured typeface. The magazine was a one-off print run ahead of the full launch for Time Out Manchester scheduled for the following year. Here’s Time Out founder, Tony Elliott, talking about his grand plan for Manchester:

As you’ve probably realised by now, the funding never happened and the grand plan fell through, leaving the single issue as a sad (and possibly collectible) reminder that Manchester was perhaps not the global city you thought it was.

But I’m still in love with the idea of the global city. It’s a concept that takes Manchester out of potentially restricting contexts like the ‘North’, or alternatively puts something of the North of England on a global platform. Yes of course there are things that handicap the city when compared to places like Tokyo, Istanbul, New York and other Time Out cities (size, chain outlets allowed to run rampant, badly run and overpriced transport etc.) but culturally I believe we can hold our heads up with the best on the world stage.

So, for my last post (and thank you for having me!) here’s a whistle-stop cultural run-down of things to see and do just to prove that if you look for it, the world is right here in the city…

The Whitworth Gallery shows the work of Aisha Kalid from Lahore, Pakistan…

The Ritz puts on a gig by Kendrick Lamar from California…

Head to The Lowry to experience the Moscow State Circus …

Sankeys hosts DJ Laidback Luke from the Netherlands…

The Apollo, Ardwick hosts Sigur Ros from Reykjavík, Iceland…

The Palace Theatre stages Don Quixote by the Sofia National Ballet from Bulgaria…

Dreams Without Frontiers at Manchester City Art Gallery includes works by Kelley Walker from the USA and Cyprien Gaillard from France…

“The story and the mythologies of Manchester’s music are now part of a much bigger world of ideas and artistic activity.” Dave Haslam, 2012

 

Thanks for reading! The next guest blogger will be Sid Fletcher from Sheffield, author of the Tower Block Metal blog.

Hi Sid, tell us about some of the most thrilling or awe inspiring or mysterious locations in your home town or city…?

Bye!

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

Manchester: In Residents

January 9, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

The hated Piccadilly Wall

When I was nine I wanted be a writer, or an ‘author’ as we used to say before that particular Americanism took over. As with other childhood dreams (play guitar on Top Of The Pops, attend Rydell High, become an X-Man) nothing came of it, then grown-up things like University, relationships, work and partying took over.

Then I came back to the idea, wrote a short novel that was never published, then a longer novel that was never published. It became frustrating writing things that nobody would ever read, so I decided to start a blog where I could put all the stuff that wasn’t fiction, and hopefully people might even see it…

In April 2008 I started Manhattanchester, the name a fantasy hybrid of Manhattan, the place I dreamed of being, and Manchester, the place I lived and loved. I wrote about my life in Manchester and my obsession with New York and anything else that seemed interesting, kind of like an online diary.

 

 

My desire to write fiction surfaced again so I signed up to the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course proved demanding, especially while working full time, but I didn’t want to let Manhattanchester fall by the wayside. The solution was something I’d had on the backburner for a while; an idea to interview residents of Manchester with a list of twelve questions:

  1. What’s your name?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
  5. What’s great about this city?
  6. What’s not so great?
  7. Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
  8. Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
  9. What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
  10. What do you think is missing from Manchester?
  11. If I was Mayor for a day I would …
  12. Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

This effectively turned me from blogger into editor, a huge labour-saving device. Luckily for me, the responses to my questionnaire proved to be fascinating, beautifully expressed, funny, curmudgeonly and endlessly entertaining. Over the last year it’s become one of the most interesting and widely read things on my blog. (And if anyone is reading who would like to be interviewed, please do get in touch! greg_mcr@yahoo.co.uk).

The best thing about the ‘Manchester: In Residents’ series is that it showcases the breadth of people and activity going on in the city, and because it’s independent and unsponsored it lets people bitch and kvetch as much as they praise and admire. To date I have interviewed journalists, legal secretaries, publishers, photographers, academics, actors, DJs, curators, PhD students, designers, musicians and booksellers. Each time I read a new submission my excitement about Manchester, and sometimes my impatience with it too, is fully revived.

Here are some random highlights:

There are three major theatres right on our doorstep, which means whenever a show I want to see is on tour, I don’t have to travel miles out of the city to see it. I can go enjoy the West End’s finest without having to walk more than half an hour

For a city of over two million people, there are not enough visible hot single straight men and those that disagree should make themselves known. 

There aren’t many places I can’t get to on my bike. Social circles are easily maintained, simply because no one has to travel longer than thirty minutes to find you.

Canal Street. I’m not one for banging on about ‘the good old days’ but it seems eternally stuck in 2001, which is so sad as it was once a pioneer in Manchester culture. It’s dated, dangerous (and not in a good way) and refuses to move forward in its ideology.

I remember the punks that used to hang around the entrance to the underground Arndale Market, and I remember the Northern Quarter when it was just fabric shops and disused buildings.

love the way it’s quite easy to start a new club night, or open a new store, or make a little niche for yourself up here.

Bohemian Grove, Urbis Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, MMU, the Star and Garter, Soup Kitchen, Cord, Chorlton Green, Mint Lounge, Kraak, Common, 2022NQ…

I’m interested in the fact this series is called ‘Residents’ – the kind of peripatetic feel of the city (despite strong ties) is one of its strengths. There are people from around the world here doing fun, crazy, challenging and innovative things. It is also a problem, maybe. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of ‘proper’ Mancs I know well and I’m not sure that I have any real sense of the city – its sprawl, its horror, its violence. 

The area around Chapel Street doesn’t reveal its gems easily; it really makes you work for them. 

Dear Manchester, your theatre’s rubbish…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Dee, from ‘Manchester: In Residents’: ‘I remember having just visited and saying to my husband, ‘Why aren’t we living here?’ So we moved here…’

 

I have yet to do the questionnaire myself, but I will, sometime in 2013. In the meantime, I will respond to the previous guest curator Kenn Taylor’s question, ‘What hidden gem in Manchester would you recommend?’ It’s a toughie, not because there is a dearth of things to talk about, but because we are lucky in this city to have a plethora of bloggers and online listings to root out everything old and new that’s worth experiencing. They’re all nicely filling the gap where I still think a hearty, comprehensive and beautifully-designed listings magazine could and should be! (More of that in my next and final post). But as for Manchester tips I would say: try the eggs cocotte at Thyme Out in West Didsbury; try the guest ales at The Molly House on Richmond Street; try any small gig at Islington Mill; try anything with paneer in from The Spice Kitchen in Rusholme; try coming to either one of my parties at Kraak, Off The Hook for RnB and hip-hop, or Drunk At Vogue for disco; try cycling around the unfinished urban vision that is Ancoats; try finding a hidden gem, and be sure to tell me when you do…

Featured image: the hated Piccadilly Wall, learn more from ‘Manchester: In Residents’ here.

 

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Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

The Northern Diaspora

January 8, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Moz-Gregg

Northerners outside the North are often coerced into being somehow more Northern than their stay-at-home counterparts. We can all think of famous people who are, to quote Flic Everett, ‘professionally Northern’. Comedians, usually. But, as Victoria Wood pointed out, the majority of successful British comedians have come from the North. Why is that? What does it mean? Is there a Northern ‘sensibility’? And if we want to dispel clichés about the North but still hold onto the notion of a ‘sensibility’, aren’t we having our parkin and eating it too?

Part of the problem is what we attribute to ‘Northernness’. For instance, let’s say you have a mate from the same town as you who spins a wonderful yarn down the pub. He’s just a funny guy. That’s his personality. Transplant him as the only Northerner to an office in London and at some point you can bet his humour will be attributed to his being from the North. Context is everything. A Geordie friend of mine is repeatedly told that, contrary to his own lived experience, the North East is an exceptionally friendly place. When he moved to Stretford in Manchester he was weekly accosted by Mancunians in the Stretford Arndale who engaged him in amiable chatter until his shopping trips became social outings in themselves. He was told by other residents of Manchester that Stretford could no way be as friendly as he described… A Scouse friend talks of the special dispensation she has in London: she’s not Northern, she’s just ‘Scouse’. I guess because Northerners say ‘ee by gum’ and not ‘ah ey la’… Another friend from Billingham would scoff whenever I mentioned that I was from the North. As far as she’s concerned, Blackpool is practically the Midlands. If a Northern diaspora exists it would have to be premised on some kind of shared experience. I would suggest that such a thing does not exist, but what does exist is a shared position of being interpreted as Northern, and that’s something that happens to you whether you like it or not.

One of my very favourite ‘ex-pat’ anecdotes is told by Morrissey regarding his friendship with Alan Bennett. For a while the two Northerners (Manchester and Leeds respectively) were resident in Camden, North London at the same time, just a few streets away from one another. They struck up a friendship based on Morrissey’s adoration of Bennett’s work, and Bennett’s utter ignorance of who Morrissey was. Interviewed by Time Out Morrissey was asked if he thought that Bennett ‘voiced a particular type of Northern-ness’, to which Morrissey replied:

Yes, it’s largely the sodden gloom of the North – the walled-in lack-of-choice North that, really, he loves. The family is a battle-ground and every character trembles on the edge of confession. Sex is on everybody’s mind, but nobody says anything. This, I think, is Alan himself.’

Alan Bennett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a lovely description, and certainly accurate for some of Bennett’s writing, but it’s also written by a very successful non-resident of the North about another, suggesting that distance is what’s needed to turn a keen eye to the North, or anywhere. It also contains the kitchen-sink blueprint that’s been awfully hard to shake off for subsequent generations. In order to sell the North back to Northerners it probably helps not to live there anymore. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than someone who moves away from their hometown and spends their lives explaining how life was better ‘back home’. Having grown up in a family that could be classified as part of a deeply unsentimental Irish diaspora, I quote: ‘If you like it so much, go back there.’

I’d like to finish with another Morrissey/Bennett exchange. When asked if Bennett was a good neighbour, Morrissey replied:

Well, he didn’t turn up with steaming broth or anything like that… I would ask him about the daily obituary columns. I remember one day I knocked on his door and he opened it and I said ‘Peggy Mount’s dead’, and he said, ‘Oh, good – come in.’

Is that Northern? Is it camp? Or is it just really bloody funny…?

 

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Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.

‘Where you’re from…’ or, ‘Where ya from..?’

January 7, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Tower-Gregg-T

The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown said, ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’, which has since been quoted ad nauseum in … well, in articles like this mainly. Ian, I love you, but I think you’re wrong. On a small, populous island like ours, where you’re from has a good deal of cultural currency. And while it’s certainly healthy not to get caught up in regional identity to the detriment of personal voice, sometimes, if you’re Northern, that’s not always an option.

You might have guessed from the opening quote that I’ll be mainly focusing on Manchester during my guest blog posts, but hopefully the things I’ll say will have some resonance for ideas about ‘the North’ generally. Just as so many ideas about ‘the South’ are reduced to a vague idea of social privilege, the Thames Estuary and its concomitant dull accent, ideas about the North are… well you know what they are, which is probably why you’re reading this post.

So by way of an introduction, and to challenge remaining notions that there is a definitive North; where am I from, and where am I at?

Good questions.

I was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Most people born there were born in the Jane Crookall Maternity Hospital. That’s true for me and also true for the Bee Gees, more of whom later. Not to blind you with geography, but the Isle of Man’s a funny one. Being an island, it’s not part of Great Britain, though I have a British passport, nor is it part of the UK, and hence not part of the EU either. It’s a ‘Crown Dependency’, a phrase that makes a Republican like me balk, but it’s not as ‘dependent’ as all that; the island looks a hardy little bugger sitting out there, equidistant between England and Ireland. That’s a little psychogeographical tick that I like about being Manx-by-birth: my Mum is from Dublin and my Dad is from Blackpool. The Isle Of Man sits in the centre of a neat little triangular trajectory between those places. I also like the spoken homonym, ‘I love man’, as said in my accent at least.

The Isle of Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I digress. Because the Isle Of Man is not mainland, I am not Northern by birth, but by adoption. I grew up in Blackpool. (Another psychogeographical link: the Viking name ‘Dubh Linn’ translates as ‘Black Pool’). I’m not a true ‘sand grown ‘un’, as I wasn’t born in Blackpool, but from the age of one-and-a-bit, to eighteen, I lived on the Fylde Coast, either Blackpool town centre, or Poulton-le-Fylde. Just as you don’t really know that you’re a Northerner until you travel out of the North, you don’t really know what kind of Northerner you are until you go elsewhere in the North.

Generalisations about The North make little sense to people who live here. The generic Northern accent employed to indicate somebody is from ‘up North’ is some weird conflation of Yorkshire and Lancashire. You are assumed to be working class too. In the heyday of Britpop, the media interpretation of Oasis was configured entirely around their Northernness, which was conflated precisely with being working class. You only had to pick up the NME and see one of Liam’s ‘fuck’s transcribed as ‘fook’ to realise who was writing the music press and who they were writing it for. Newsflash: ‘fuck’ is spelled ‘fuck’ and is pronounced ‘fuck’ too, thank you.

I digress again. Blackpool is about as representative as Lancashire and the rest of the North as London is of the Cotswolds. The population is transient, the work seasonal, it’s statistically deprived and psychogeographically resplendent, and to be honest, a massive ball-ache to grow up in. From twelve onwards I got into films and music and grown-up books, and the idea of a life away from Blackpool arrived in my head. In unconscious defiance of Billy Liar I configured this new life around two places, and neither one of them was London (though also in defiance of Northern stereotypes, I would rank that city as one of humanity’s greatest achievements). The two places were New York, and Manchester. My obsession with both was eventually manifested in the name of my blog, Manhattanchester. The idea that someone in the North might want to run away to someplace else in the North seems as radical now as it ever did.

I have now lived in Manchester sixteen years, and while I might’ve grown up in Blackpool, I did my real growing up in this city. My forthcoming posts will try to sing up my reasons for being here and for staying here, and hopefully in the process I will contribute to a greater project to dismantle hackneyed notions of the North, though if one of those clichés is that Northerners are too passionate about their bit of the North, I might just leave that one intact.

Oh, and I said I’d come back to the Bee Gees, didn’t I? Not only was I born in the same hospital as them, but one of the houses I lived in in Chorlton was on Oswald Road, right opposite their old school. There’s no point to be made, it’s just really cool, isn’t it…?

 

Avatar of Greg Thorpe

Greg Thorpe

Greg was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man and grew up in Blackpool, Lancashire. He has lived in Manchester since 1996. He works in publishing by day and the rest of the time is a fiction writer, DJ, club promoter and blogger (http://manhattanchester.blogspot.co.uk). He is currently writing a comic novel about Shakespearean culture as part of an MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University (http://theshakespearegirlnovel.tumblr.com). He currently lives in a flat with round windows in a converted warehouse, halfway between The Cornerhouse and Canal Street.