Mum: My favourite bit was when they came and stood against the barrier for the final song.
Ellan: Yeah, it was brilliant!
Mum: I think Jo moved away from us because he thought you were going to grab his balls.
Ellan: Yeah. With my mouth.
News has been filtering through this afternoon about the massive redundancies at Channel M, the local TV station for Manchester. While no-one can deny that our home-makeover fix will undoubtedly be catered for sufficiently elsewhere, to musicians, grassroots enthusiasts and downright music fans, the axing of the Channel M Music department (Dan, Rachael and jovial Glaswegian chancer Gerry) is genuinely upsetting.
Back in September 2006 I had no idea that I was about to be unceremoniously dumped after relocating to a new city to be with a boy, and neither did I realise that while flicking through the channels on a weekend afternoon, the Jake Mattison performance I would stumble across on Channel M would excite me so much that I subsequently mended my broken heart by spending five nights a week in the backrooms and basements of Manchester live music venues. The Channel M music team gave a platform to the bands and singer-songwriters that became my saviours, taking part in festivals and events and always being willing to discuss the pros and cons of Frightened Rabbit’s second album at the bar in Night & Day. The impression was that this was music television being run by music fans, and musicians too (Rachael’s band, Run Toto Run, are gearing up to appear at the Manchester International Festival this year), always willing to listen to your mate’s demo and even stick him on terrestrial telly if they heard something special.
To give a big sloppy we-love-you goodbye kiss to the City Centre Social and Channel M’s music programming, I’ve posted an early recording of Only Waiting by The Travelling Band who, in the process of my heart healing in 2007, have become as much my friends as they have sublime songwriters.
I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last few days, what with preparing for a haircut, actually having a haircut, and then lots of time spent in front of the mirror flicking the fringe of said new haircut backwards and forwards, but I have squeezed in a bit of reading too. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (so good they named it twice, etc etc) is connected to the last book I read, Rabbit, Run, because both titles include a comma which makes them look awkward when referred to in almost any sentence. Also, they are both absolutely magnificent.
I know I say this a lot, and every book I ever read has something about it that is ‘amazing’ or ‘brilliant’ or ‘incredible’ (yawn) but Iris Murdoch has a way of making words just slot into perfect sentences effortlessly. If I knew the first thing about linguistics, I’m sure I would be able to put my finger on exactly what makes her writing appear to flow like poetry, but it all just rolls along so smoothly and with such ease of expression. It really is amazing, brilliant and incredible.
She has also created the thing I love most of all in a novel; a protagonist who is a bit of a self-important twat. Hence my adoration for Gone With The Wind, and why I was so into Rabbit, Run (damn that stupid comma) and, in a slightly warmer way, Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. Speaking of whom, Joe Dunthorne is appearing at the Laugharne Weekend this year, and I am practically glowing like an emerald with envy at those who are going. In March and April last year I was having a bit of a crisis of impotence. I just generally felt useless and knew I needed to make changes in my life, but for one weekend, I took the meandering train from Manchester to Carnarfon, did loads of planning for my GREAT NOVEL while we chugged through Shropshire and the Welsh valleys, and then missed Patrick Wolf in order to drink Jamesons and Coke with Howard Marks, Keith Allen, and Elvis Costello’s manager. It was like stumbling into a literary version of Stella Street, just what I needed at the time, and this year the line-up is even better: all the regulars (Irvine Welsh, Allen and Marks, the Twin Town script reading, Simon Armitage) and then some, including Luke Haines from Black Box Recorder, a special show for nominees of the Dylan Thomas Prize, and a new musical project from members of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Teenage Fanclub. And Joe Dunthorne of course. Oh, I wish I wish I WISH I could afford to go!
(I’ve just remembered the second half of last year’s Laugharne trip was spent in Pilton Working Men’s Club, watching The Travelling Band win Glastonbury Unsigned and then sampling every flavour of cider available in the whole of Somerset. I woke up on the floor of a Travelodge listening to Jeremy Kyle talking about paternity testing. Gooooooood times…)
Aside from reading The Sea, The Sea, I’ve also been keeping on top of the BBC’s arts blog by Razia Iqbal, who brought this whole poetry-in-schools debate to my attention. Turns out that London’s Mayor, dear old Bullingdon Bastard Boris Johnson, has been spouting off about how the youth of today won’t get anywhere without being able to recite poetry off by heart. Now, I’m never going to say that learning great works of verse off by heart is a bad thing. Nay, it’s positively admirable. But, surely enforcing rote-learning in schools is going to kill any passion for literature held by ‘kids today’? It’s like turning Edgar Allen Poe into times tables. Don’t we want to be teaching kids how to examine a text and to come to their own conclusions about the writer’s intentions, and the merits of the piece? If your sole purpose in teaching literature is to enable teenagers to bark out some Wordsworth at an Oxbridge interview, then things have gone askew indeed. That is time better spent learning tables. At times like this I’m almost glad that Boris Johnson is entirely ignored by over 90% of Britain’s population…
But, rant over for now. If I’m quick, I should still be able to squeeze in forty five minutes of hair swishing in front of the mirror before bedtime. I’m hoping to have something genuinely exciting to tell you about this weekend too, as tomorrow night I’m off to see a collaborative gig between one of my favourite bands (Tunng) and a band who remind me of exhausted suffering at one of the muddiest Glastonbury’s on record (Tinariwen). English folk meets electronica meets West African tribal rhythms meets chilled-out dub. Sounds like it’s going to be incredible…
There appears to be a trend in the alternative pubs and bars of Manchester; that the more gaudy retro crap you have on the walls, the more attractive your patrons are. This may just be a false perception, because plastic junk shop shit, wooden enormo-lizards or neon Dolly Parton wallpapers may simply detract from the mingers in the crowd, but, generally speaking, The Deaf Institute and Odder will attract more of the sculpted goddess population than, say, the student union bar at the Academies.
Got some old typewriters behind the bar?
Here, have some fashion students.
(Not that you have to be hot to study fashion of course, but it generally helps if you don’t feel like a wet sandbag when you go clothes shopping.)
In one of life’s spiteful twists, it’s generally the bars with the stuffed reindeer and furry wallpaper that provide us with the best live entertainment, albeit enjoyed from the darkest shadows of the establishment, where no-one can see that your jumper’s gone through at the elbows and your face is shinier than the sun. We must face our inadequacies if we want to enjoy Rook and The Ravens on a Sunday night.
Thankfully, for last night’s comeback Sideways Saloon session (the first at Odder, after relocating from the infinitely more ugly-friendly Bay Horse basement), I found us a dark corner to loiter in (Jacko came with me, although I am casting no aspersions on his genes) and I had stopped staring at all the thin people within half an hour. Things were looking up!
Sideways Saloon is run primarily by Adam from The Travelling Band, with Spenny looking after sound stuff and a rotating selection of DJs from the Revolver and Growl clubnights, so Adam did a few solo bits and pieces to start things off yesterday. He’s my favourite singer from The Travelling Band, although he didn’t do Lanes Of Names, and there was no banjo last night either, so we really must deduct points. This is a picture of Adam, taken on my mobile phone from dim shadows yesterday. Note the massive vase and sunflowers.
Then Sam and Tim from Ten Bears did a few songs, including Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, but mainly their own stuff. Ten Bears used to be called The Deadbeats, and they used to be all like “yeah, we’re really retro and country and we sit down on bales of hay to play our gigs”, which was amazing, but then they totally electrified and stood up at gigs and it was all a bit Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall. Now they have one song that starts with a dog barking, which they attempted to do a near-acoustic version of last night, and I was surprised that it worked. Listen to the full-powered version here, and try to imagine a less hairy keyboard player, because there have been line-up changes since this performance.
Then we were expecting Rook and The Ravens, except some other guys showed up who definitely weren’t Rook and The Ravens. I was all indignant and demanding answers for a couple of minutes, and then the imposter band turned out to be amazing and everything was cool again. They were called The Sapphires, and there was a beatboxer and a John Martyn-a-like (not in looks though, don’t forget that Odder’s only for hotties) and Jacko was all like “do you think he knows how much he sounds like John Martyn?” and I was like “are you kidding? I bet this is the first time that guy’s left the house since he died.” Jacko’s looking for a new band right now. He should totally join The Sapphires.
And then there was Rook and The Ravens, who used to make below-par Dad-rock until about six months ago when they all ate super-charged Levon Helm Weetabix and came back to life as the band that Ten Bears used to be when they were The Deadbeats, except with more electric guitar. Their song Make Ends Meet appeals to the throwback in me in the same way that Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses makes me want to act out the supermarket scene.
“You mean you forgot cranberries too?”
OMG. Just been to Rook and The Raven’s MySpace and it turns out they’re from Langley. Langley! That’s just near Macclesfield! No-one good comes from Macclesfield!
I’ve been working full time for a couple of months now, and coupled with the last few weekends being taken up with all sorts of family commitments, I’ve been feeling a bit wiped out. Nothing to complain about obviously - most people spend their lives in full time work and then come home to kids and dog-walking and piano practice and all sorts. I just go to gigs every now and then.
Still, I’ve been really looking forward to this weekend because, other than wrapping a few presents and updating High Voltage, this weekend is all my own. It’s Sunday lunchtime now, and I’ve only left the house once since Friday night, to get a bar of chocolate. I’ll come back to Friday in a while actually, because it was a tad bittersweet for me.
Firstly though, Truman Capote.
I thought Breakfast At Tiffany’s was alright, I suppose. I liked the tone of the writing, and I liked the glamour, even if it was actually Hollywood that injected that into my impressions of the book. I’ve had In Cold Blood in my ‘to read’ pile roughly since then, probably because the media quote on the front cover says “This book has not dated one iota and is a must for every self-respecting reader or would-be writer”. This sounds like the kind of thing I say about Gone With The Wind, while thumping a table and pointing, so it had to be read.
It must be said though, with books like In Cold Blood around, a would-be writer is going to stay a would-be writer. A would-be anything is going to stay that way, because not only is it incredibly researched and dramatically told, it’s perfectly written too. Like, perfectly. Several times I had to stop, take a breath and read a sentence or a passage over again because its structure seemed so effortless that the sheer magnitude of its perfection almost passed me by. Like driving past a beautiful waterfall or something and having to stop and reverse because you weren’t quite sure if you imagined it or not. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but In Cold Blood is, quite simply, some of the best writing I have ever read.
This is the final sentence:
“Then, starting home, he walked towards the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
It’s like poetry and newspaper journalism and crime fiction all in one. I’ve never really taken to crime or thrillers before. Went through a bit of an Agatha Christie phase when I was about thirteen, but only really because my second cousin Colette was into them and I thought she was super-cool. In Cold Blood, if you don’t know, is a true story, with names kept the same and actual police reports used in Capote’s research. He called in a “non-fiction novel”. There were points in the story that I had to remind myself that the murders actually happened (a family of four on a Kansas ranch) because stories like this are so familiar, in film noirs or police dramas, that it can appear unreal, like a movie set. It strange really, because reading an account of a murder in the newspaper, where language is sparse, feels utterly real (you start questioning society and ‘broken Britain’ and all that) whereas when a writer like Capote has crafted something as artistically perfect as In Cold Blood, it can feel so fleshy, so landscaped, that you subconscious put it in the fiction category. No newspaper report will finish with “the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.”
So, yesterday I didn’t wrap any presents, or do my High Voltage updates, because I sat in bed and read until I had finished the book, at about 2.30am. I went downstairs at midnight for a banana and a glass of milk, and because I’d just read the section where Perry Smith recounts the murders to Dewey, I got all spooked coming up the stairs and ended up with half my milk on my pajamas.
I was also going to tell you about Friday night, wasn’t I? It was more like evening really, because I home by nine to receive my Tesco delivery. My friend Clare works at The Whitworth Art Gallery, and is currently doing an MA in Museum Management or something, so she had arranged some live music to accompany the late opening of their current Cloth & Culture exhibition. If I was being critical, I could say she’d been a bit lazy in only asking people she’s mates with to perform, but then, her choices are all top-class musicians. She goes out with Martin from Onions (I introduced them at a party I held at my old house last year) so they played, as did Samson and Delilah (Sam works at the gallery too) but I only stayed for Kathryn Edwards and Butler Williams, because of the Tesco order.
As you know, I’ve been looking for THE NEXT STEP IN LIFE for about a year now. I’m not as happy as I could be because I feel like I’ve failed as a freelance writer and I’ve been consistently knocked back from jobs I know I’m capable of. So, off to university I go. This is the right thing to do, not only for my long-term career path, but for my immediate happiness as well, as I’m feeling a bit impotent right now. It’s very easy to forget the part that Manchester has played in my life though, and listening to Kathryn Edwards brings it all back home to me. When Olly broke up with me in 2006, I went on a grief-fuelled mission to make new friends and find something else to do with my life. Live music took his place, and Kathryn Edwards was one of the first singer-songwriters I really fell for while I was going through THE BIG HEAL. She’s got a beautiful voice. I’ve written in reviews before that I love the way she plays with octaves and then breaks things up with the plosives of “pizza box” and lovely flat northern vowels. Sitting in the Whitworth, next to Jacko and James and Kristine, the very best of the friends I met during the horrible months following my break-up, and listening to Kathryn singing pure gorgeousness (the same pure gorgeousness that helped pick me up out of a deep hole) made me very very sad to be going. A similar thing happened when The Travelling Band played Hedge last month too. I get a very real aching heart. Music has the power to beam to into any time and any place, so I guess if I miss Manchester when I’m at uni, I can always put The Travelling Band or Kathryn Edwards on the stereo and, as Penny Lane says in Almost Famous, “go visit my friends”.