Saturday, 24 May 2014

Manic on the Streets of Manchester

Last month I went to Brixton Academy to see the Manic Street Preachers. Now the Manics are a fine live band, and seeing them again got me thinking about previous trips to see them, and I realised that I been going to see them live for over 20 years, longer than my daughter Keir, who is 21 this year, has been alive.  My memory is unsurprisingly hazy on some of these, but luckily, as I have previously recounted, my Ticketing OCD means lots of these are documented by tickets, backstage passes or similar ephemera. So a review of some of these brought back some happy, and poignant, memories - the band playing Clapham Grand and covering 'The Drowners' with Bernard Butler, shortly after his mother had died. A trip to Wolverhampton Civic Hall for an intense Holy Bible set, and two of the last three gigs at the sadly missed London Astoria, including my last sighting of the irreplaceable,  magnificent Richey Edwards, on the final night of the tour. I was also lucky enough to go their first gig as a three piece, supporting The Stone Roses (and that's another, ten storey, love story, for me to tell another month),  and was the last time I saw the Roses - this was the last John Squire gig before the resurrection, and I had no appetite for the reunion. Gigs at Shepherds Bush Empire, The Forum, lots of Brixtons, Knebworth supporting Oasis, and festivals such as Portmeirion's beautiful Festival No. 6 (go, its wonderful) followed, and this gig made me think about all of them. Whilst the final night at the Astoria is undoubtedly the most important in my personal history of MSP, another gig, which took place 17 years ago today made me think about another distinctive gig. Unfortunately I don't still have the ticket for this - a terrible admission I know, but this is one trip where I have some other evidence, and, hopefully a backstory of interest too.

Sometime early in 1997 the Manics announced what was to be their biggest gig to date at Manchester Arena. There was a lot of interest in taking a trip up there from friends, but in the end it was just the four of us (Enda, Helen, Allison and myself) who took the train from London and booked into the Midland Hotel.  After a lunchtime drink or two, Enda and I decided to go for a swim and were taken aback to meet the legendary Mr N Wire in the lift. This led to the somewhat surreal afternoon of a jacuzzi with the great man  - the only time I have ever had a jacuzzi with someone who has both an Ivor Novello award and a Number 1 hit single, in addition to a love of hoovering. He was understandably a little apprehensive about the gig and later Nicky admitted that this concert was when he knew the Manics had 'made it'.  Apart from very under-rated Mansun, support that day included a then largely unknown Embrace, with only one single to their name, opening the evening. For reference, Nicky liked their first single which had just been released, the re-recorded version of their debut is here. A Manics setlist, unverified, appears here and the set was immortalised in the video/DVD Everything Live. As we left the gig we saw a fantastic, and very clever billboard -  'Manic on the Streets of Manchester' - I have searched in vain for photographic proof that this exists to no avail. The next day, before the trip back to London, we did the tourist trip to Coronation Street, then wandered back towards Piccadilly via Canal Street. On the way we passed the Hacienda and took full advantage of the open door to have a look inside during daylight hours, some photos taken outside the now demolished iconic site which has made way for some flats are below ....

Now a different story. Recently whilst in New York I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Garry, a poet and a diamond of a man, who has been called the poet laureate of the North. Check out his fantastic work with the Stroke Association that I blogged about recently too.  I had missed Mike's gig supporting John Cooper Clarke at the Shepherds Bush Empire the week before - in fact I saw him hailing a taxi as we arrived, and later tweeted him to say I was sorry I missed him. I found out he left early because he was in fact flying to New York the next day to appear at the Carnegie Hall with New Order, Iggy Pop, members of The National and others as part of a Tibet House Fundraiser. As you do.

Amazingly, he was happy to meet up and we met at Bonbonierre, a great diner on Eighth Avenue in Greenwich Village. This is just around the corner from the White Horse where we went to channel the ghost of of Dylan Thomas some time later, but in fact found Guinness of overpriced tourist proportions instead. I had seen Mike perform at Festival Number 6 and had loved it, and we talked about lots of things, but was blown away to be given a pre-release copy of a collaboration with Joe Duddell, based around the New Order classic Your Silent Face, entitled 'St Anthony. An Ode to Anthony H Wilson' This is based around a poem Mike wrote about the late Tony Wilson who died in 2007, but is really a love song to Manchester. I was sworn to secrecy and asked not to spread this around and I have been as good as my word - but its been difficult as its one of the most inspiring, and beautiful things I have ever heard. As if it couldn't get any better, its in aid of the Christie Charitable fund, Tony was of course treated for his illness at the Christie and hopefully it will be released soon and everyone with a heart, a soul, and an ear for something beautiful, meaningful, poetic and heartfelt will buy it.

'St Anthony, St Anthony, please come round...'

Strangely that trip to Manchester 15 years ago today was the closest I ever got to Anthony H Wilson. He was eating, alone, in Mash and Air where we popped in during our post-Hacienda Sunday afternoon stroll to the station.  As a callow youth I had written to Factory Records asking all sorts of inane questions - I loved the Factory image, the ethos, and of course the bands, and I remember receiving a package, including a lovely hand written letter from the late, lamented Rob Gretton replying to my queries. Acts of kindness like this, from people like Rob, Chris Sievey (who I had a long series of correspondence with as a 14 year old, documenting his metamorphosis) and even Alan Horne of Postcard Records meant so much to me at the time. So I never spoke to Tony Wilson, I never met him, but after that seminal Manic Street Preachers gig saw him for the one and only time.  I think Mike never spoke with him either, although he would undoubtedly have been at events and places at the same time as him over the years. Two days after I met Mike, on our final day in New York we went out early in Brooklyn to catch the Manchester United Liverpool game at the Black Horse. I won't mention the score, but there, out of nowhere, on the wall, was the face, if not the voice, of Anthony H Wilson.

'St Anthony, St Anthony, please come round
because something is lost, that cannot be found'