Monday, 30 December 2013

Moving on - The Nico Ditch

Time for a new blog for 2014. I may post here occasionally, but the Manchester District Music Archive gives me a place to share musical memories. So take a look at The Nico Ditch. The title will be explained if you do!

Thursday, 12 December 2013


It's been a good week for music and women singers, starting with my interview with Stella Grundy on Saturday morning, a fascinating performer and writer. Then I went to our Archives+ Christmas event in the fabulous Rates Hall in the Town Hall. The lovely Manchester Community Choir performed some seasonal songs and also led the audience in a tribute to Nelson Mandela.A special shared experience. It was great to sing his praises. On Tuesday night I went to see Neko Case and her fantastic band at the Royal Northern College of Music. It was a spur of the moment, last minute, buy the ticket on the way home from work arrangement. Not only was she a treat, but she was supported by Lucy Wainwright Roche, who shared some great insights into a Wainwright family Christmas - everyone gives copies of their latest CDs , and then tries to guess who the songs are referring to! And last night I went to see the Picturehouse choir do their Christmas performance. They meet weekly at Band on the Wall and I have been curious about them for a while, not least because I miss my singing class in Bakewell now I am working in Manchester. They had invited a guest choir, WAST. That stands for Women Asylum Seekers Together. What a joyous group they were, sharing their stories through song. Nelson Mandela's praises were sung by both choirs last night too. It's been a week to experience the power of music. It's also been a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

Sunday, 1 December 2013


This morning I have been preparing for an interview I am going to do next weekend for Mudkiss. It's with Stella Grundy. I saw her most recent show, Rise and Fall of a Northern Star, at the Louder Than Words conference a couple of weeks ago. She was also part of a panel, discussing the role of women in the music business. I am intrigued by how hard she works - from her early days with Intastella, through a drama degree, her acclaimed play about Nico a couple of years ago - there's so much I want to ask her about. And of course, there are questions I will be asking her because she is a woman in what still seems to be a man's world. Young talented women seem to get eaten up and spat out, so dependent on their looks, challenging the boundaries of sexual behaviour in public, defined by their relationships with men and occasionally women. Some are convinced it's empowering, even feminist, to pursue their careers along those lines. I'm not convinced, but I am aware that I come from a different generation. We had our mavericks, our wild women, and some of them fell along the way, falling prey to drink, drugs and lifestyle. Some were expected to present a gentle and feminine image when in reality they were far from passive. Many were defined by relationships, but who was really the inspiration, who provided the push forward, in those music biz couples. It's made me think back to the women artists who intrigued and inspired me. Siouxsie and Debby Harry seemed to play the game, but in a self aware way. Kate Bush was given time and financial support to grow her talents, had huge success and then stepped back from it. Bjork is still a wild card. Patti Smith stepped away when it suited her and used other aspects of her creativity. Chrissie Hynde and Alison Moyet seem to have worked in an authentic way. Annie Lennox certainly has. Amy Winehouse had such promise and fell by the wayside. Nowadays some seem to be groomed as parodies of what's expected of a woman artist. One of the panellists at LTW talked about talented women getting derailed in their careers, so they never reach their potential. It's a cruel and fickle business, and I am sure you could identify men who have had similar experiences. I listened to the Beatles song Girl on the radio as I was writing up some notes for the interview. What an amazing insight into relationships. Is she muse or destroyer of confidence? Apparently John Lennon said he was looking for that kind of relationship and found it with Yoko Ono. It's another kind of role for women in the world of music, with more than a hint of cruelty and cutting down to size. I'm looking forward to sharing some of these thoughts with Stella.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Louder Than Words

Last weekend I attended the inaugural Louder Than Words conference in Manchester. I have written a review for the Mudkiss website, and I will be writing a review for Archives+, as I went wearing my Opening up Archives trainee's hat. I'll share links to those once they are published. But I'd like to share some of my thoughts and impressions here too, because so much of it was, and will continue to be, a very personal response. Going to a conference alone was an unfamiliar experience for me. In the past I'd been to conferences with work colleagues and friends. I had no idea what to expect,and it was wonderful to get such a warm welcome from the organisers and others there on Friday night. The venue, the Palace Hotel, once the Refuge Assurance building, was, well for the want of a better word, palatial. It could have been intimidating, but it turned out to be intriguing ( the enigmatic Safe Room) and intimate. So the first night's highlights included meeting up with C P and Pam Lee again. I also met Mel, fantastic photographer and founder of Mudkiss. I met Jonty Skruff. We discussed our very different experiences of returning to Manchester. I was impressed that he had come back after 20 years away for the first time for the festival.I have loved my return, but he had longed to escape, and was unsure how he felt about being back. I hope he had a good weekend and a good journey back to Berlin. You can look at the programme on the Louder Than Words website. It was a full weekend of talk, debate, discussion and entertainment. Exploring music through words with journalists and writers, academics and students, punks and Northern Soul Fans, filmmakers and actors, musicians and managers. Academia v. journalists. Many had swapped the stage for the lecture theatre, journalism for theses. The history of music journalism was represented by writers who influenced my tastes back in the day, including Chris Salewicz and Barney Hoskyns. The future of music writing was there in force too, including Charlotte Davies from Hooting and Howling,and Ryan Carse who won the inaugural Wilko Johnson award. The role of women in the music business and the music press came up for discussion.The role of academia was up for discussion too - not just the courses. There are now five of them at universities around the country, but the way student unions promote live music was pointed out too. So in no particular order some highlights, thoughts and impressions. Writers are good with words, so there were some great turns of phrase. The hoopla of language. Longfella's poem, and the Dreamers, written for the Manchester District Music Archive exhibition. New vocabulary had to be invented for rave drug states. Music journalists think on their feet. The dance floor is a magic carpet. The future of music journalism is female. Words are a loss leader. Paradiddle on the snare drum. The golden age of the NME. Gonzo journalism - Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson. It has been said that Manchester is Factory records' sarcophagus. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. A book or a film can take you to the music or the club when you can't be there physically. Listening to the threads running through discussions I became aware of the folkloric aspects of this world. Shared experiences, rites of passage, mythologising Elvis, and other artists and eras. Wilko Johnson turned out to have a shared love of Icelandic poetry. John Robb's conversations with Wilko were wonderful. What an inspiring man, both as a musician and as someone facing mortality. He's already a legend. There were aspects to myth making I hadn't considered. Dance and rave culture had no stars, no record labels. Shaun Ryder and Ian Brown had to be mythologised as working class heroes to create a commercial aspect to it. Alan McGee revealed something about the Creation myth too - he has been playing Alan McGee since he was 15. Jonty Skruff was inspiring too, when he talked about finding his role, when he could look himself in the mirror. Authenticity came up a lot in discussion. As a blogger, a writer, an academic - it's important to know what you are writing about. Building trust and a following - it's good if you want to publish or make a film. Social media has a role to play here. The commodification of rebellion. The shift when the marketing men and accountants got involved. Women featured too, discussing roles and responsibilities, feminism versus Equalism. The dark side of the business from a female perspective.Women journalists were assumed to be groupies. The manipulation of stars and the derailing of women artists' potential in the pursuit of shock value and publicity.Stella Grundy's Rise and Fall of a Northern Star raised a lot of questions and I hope to be asking them soon as I have the chance to interview her. The dole and squats were good for musicians. They provided time for a band to develop. The world of music recording and writing about music have a lot in common. Nowadays you only get one chance to be successful. I also had an interesting chat about archives with Barney Hoskyns of the Rock's Back Pages archive. There was a Mancunian flavour that was perfect for a Manchester based conference, and people had come a long way because of Manchester's significance. The role of the Internet, the changing worlds of music and publishing, the old order changing, but the potential and possibilities of the new technologies, all this was up for discussion and debate. The future is female - that is, it's about community and sharing. Glossy magazines and podcasts could be the next thing. I had to choose between events running at the same times, and looking back, I chose business over personalities. So I missed Hugh Cornwell singing Golden Brown, but it is on YouTube. So is Wilko talking about his approach to being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And the young winner of the inaugural Wilko Johnson award. There are fantastic photos taken by Mel from Mudkiss. I'm still processing what I saw and heard. I'm looking forward to next year.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Write on

I am about to upload some of my old ticket stubs and flyers to the Manchester and District Music Archive website. I'm aware that this particular collection represents a very short period of my gig going life. That's partly because they were kept in a particular 'treasure box', which has miraculously survived many moves, including one to Morocco, two marriages, two divorces, three children and the rest. It set me thinking about what was missing and I realised that there were lots of years when I didn't need a ticket to get in - as one of Allan Prior's hippy dancers I got in free to concerts at Manchester and Salford Universities as well as many smaller venues. I went to the Lincoln and Bickershaw Festivals with Joe's Caff, an offshoot of On The Eighth Day. I had a boyfriend who was chef at the Roundhouse. I was in Drive In Rock. Another boyfriend was the Albertos' roadie. I worked for Alan Wise and Factory both at the PSV club in Hulme and the Hacienda. This access to musical entertainment also meant that I didn't collect autographs. I didn't need to.I also didn't take photographs, though I knew many who did, and I had a decent camera.There seemed no need to try and capture it all for posterity. It was all there in the present. Nowadays I find tickets and flyers used as bookmarks or stuffed into drawers around the house. I don't consciously keep them, but neither do I like to throw them away.I've been in this house for 20 years, so that's a lot of time to fill a few drawers. If I look round among the carefully saved bits and pieces, mostly on the kitchen noticeboard or the dresser, I can find a few pieces of evidence of mine and my children's lifelong interest in music.
Antony Hegarty was a friend of a musician friend of ours, and he sent this postcard with the lovely message to my son as a surprise. From that friendship we were on the guest list more than once when he toured England. I knew he was a big fan of Nico, and whilst I was sad to think of giving away my copy of James Young's book about her, I was prepared to pass it on to him as a thank you for his generosity. Amazingly, just before the concert I visited a local cut price bookshop, located in an old station in Derbyshire.Displayed on a bookshelf by the front door was a single book - unbelievably James Young's 'Songs They Never Play on the Radio'. So I was able to keep mine and pass one on.
As a family we all enjoyed the music of Vashti Bunyan, Vetiver, Devendra Banhart and Juana Molina. We had been to our first Green Man festival together, where Charlie, then aged about 11, had listened to Vashti talk about her trip through England to Scotland in a horse drawn caravan. She mentioned that their horse had been shod in Bakewell,where we live, and at the time he was keen to be a blacksmith. So she wrote these words of encouragement for him.
And then there was the special occasion when Charlie and I got to meet Jackson Browne after one of his Sheffield concerts. He mentioned having visited the wonderful Martin Simpson for lunch whilst he was in Sheffield during the concert, and that gave us a shared topic of conversation as we had just been to see him do a lovely performance in a small club in Sheffield.
It seemed an imposition to ask for a photo. He was busy signing someone's whole album collection for them. I hoped they would be treasured, rather than advertised on ebay. So, not many tickets, photos or autographs, but lots of good memories.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Do you remember the days of slavery?

I had been looking forward to last Saturday's event organised by the Manchester Literature Festival. Held in the Great Hall at Manchester's wonderful Town Hall, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, we were surrounded by Ford Madox Brown's Manchester Murals, illustrating the rich past of the city. Behind the stage was the mural showing the arrival of the Flemish weavers in the 14th century. My aunt thinks that's how our family came to the area, generations of involvement in textile production in a particular area of Lancashire, with an unusual surname tied to that location. Whether that's true or not, I am keenly aware of my Manchester connections now I am working there again.
Lemn Sissay, a local poet with an international reputation, was booked to perform his poetry written in response to Martin Luther King's ' I have a dream' speech. Manchester Camerata were providing the musical part of the evening, playing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Op.130. It was passionate music, exploring the relationship between instruments and musicians through an emotional conversation. Sometimes it was unbearably melancholy, but then the sadness was transformed to hopefulness. I wondered why the piece had been chosen to accompany Lemn Sissay's poetry. With his powerful and raw performance, with his references to Manchester, the Reno, the Hacienda, and even John Cooper Clarke, I could imagine the music of Gil Scott-Heron, Culture, Burning Spear or the early Wailers forming a soundtrack to the themes of fear and slavery days, recovery and belonging. It soon became clear that the music echoed his themes as many worlds wove and spun in that Great Hall, Ethiopia and Germany,the Deep South and Manchester. North and South, truth and lies, healing and reconciliation. Rivers of blood in the DNA echoing Enoch Powell's infamous speech.The fierce love of the mother, holding her child under water to protect it from the slave owner's vicious dogs. I wondered how easy it was to live each day as a poet. Can you be so passionate, philosophical and above all raw and not be damaged by it? Or is the poetry the very thing that heals the damage? It's an intense way to be. Poetry can short circuit a soul connection. Where do I belong? I was reminded of my family connection to Lancashire though I wasn't born there. I'd spent the day rediscovering an area of Manchester, its trees and autumn scents, red brick and heritage architecture, which is going to be my mid week base for a few winter months.
I'd been reading Mike Scott's Adventures of a Waterboy, dreaming of the West of Ireland where many of my family came from. I'd travelled on a bus with a young man who looked and acted like an Arabian prince in a turban and djellaba , but with a Mancunian wife and shopping trolley to test his exotic image. Manchester continues to transport me back to Casablanca when I least expect it. I felt I belonged there too but I can't trace that connection through my own rivers of blood. Music and poetry make the same connections. Sissay is a truth sayer, a soothsayer, a preacher and a soul singer. Beethoven faced down his own demons. Transformation was in the air. The Great Hall has absorbed something into its fabric, its stone and marble. Earth, fire, air and water. It was elemental. There had been a thunderstorm and a double rainbow over Manchester. A full moon was on the rise. Once upon a time these would have been considered signs and portents. Saturday night lived up to that promise.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Don't Look Back

Today I went to an event organised by the Manchester and District Music Archive.Play/Record was part of the Manchester Weekender. To celebrate 10 years of the archive, the MDMA were invited to put on an exhibition at the Lowry, Defining me : Musical Adventure in Manchester . It's a great way of sharing some of the stories through people's private collections and reminiscences. It's the tip of an iceberg in that everyone who connects to the Manchester music scene, whatever their age, their era, or their tribe, has their own tale to tell. Visitors could take their own items - tickets, posters, flyers and the like to be scanned for uploading and sharing on the MDMA website. I took some of the random bits and pieces I have, mostly dating from the late 1960s through the early 70s and kept in a particular 'treasure box'. It's amazing that they have survived when so much has been lost or thrown away. One of the items is this half of a ticket from a showing of the Bob Dylan film, Don't Look Back. Deciphering the ticket, I can see it was promoted by the Magic Village and therefore by Roger Eagle. It was shown at Houldsworth Hall on Deansgate, a useful venue back then. I didn't know the date. Last Wednesday I met up with one of my oldest friends, oldest in that we met on our first day at school. I mentioned the half ticket. She recalled that we had gone to see the film on her 16th birthday. She remembered that she was wearing pink cords and chelsea boots. It must have been June 21st 1969. I enjoy looking back to where I have come from, at the influences that have shaped my life. A massive part of that process for me is to do with music. It's how I found my friends and my life has a soundtrack. I know which songs I want played at my funeral. My taste in music and my musical memories still define me. As I look back I wonder what's influencing me now. I seem to be rediscovering old favourites, making sure I go and see the artists I have loved for many years. Even 'new to me' artists like the Mountain Goats last Wednesday night or Public Service Broadcasting in a couple of weeks are old favourites for other people. I don't believe it's an age thing. I have always been open to discovering the new. Maybe there's just too much choice nowadays. I have been reading around the Manchester music scene and it feels as if it's not just me who is looking back. I wonder what is the present and the future. Answers on a torn off ticket stub please.