'Fox in the Snow' by Belle & Sebastian
'Hometown Glory' by Adele
'Babooshka' by Kate Bush
'Motion Picture Soundtrack' by Radiohead
I’m living back at my parents’ house and, after everyone goes to bed each night, I step outside, barefoot and barechested, and I fly. I fly over the houses and fields, I fly down to the seafront, along the promenade, gliding quietly through the night sky. It’s an amazing sensation and I land back home exhilarated. It’s also unsettling though, I’m a little more afraid each time I fly. The air is bitingly cold and I can’t wear anything more than trousers or else I won’t take off. I’m a little bit scared of the dark. I worry I will see something else flying too. Sometimes I see macabre, murderous things through people’s windows as I sail past.
One night I am flying only feet above a suburban street when I see a boy watching me from his window, terrified, and in a fit of cruelty I fly right up to the glass and pull an horrific face before disappearing into the air. The next night I see my Mum standing out in the garden looking up. I join her and I see that news of me must have spread, the black sky is full of laser beams, fireworks and flares are sent up to light the clouds and find me out. People are sailing in hot air balloons, desperately waving torches to try and track me down. The sky looks beautiful.
I decide flying is too dangerous tonight so I feign illness and am tucked up in bed. My elder sister comes to see me, she holds my hand and tells me I’ll be okay and for some reason it moves me to tears. I see behind her eyes that she knows something more than she is letting on. When I wake I’m not sure where I am. There are strangers around me arguing with each other, their faces are unkind and I sense their anger will soon be directed at me. I try to snuggle under the blankets but one of the men looks squarely at me and I feel something violent is about to occur. Suddenly my powers get the better of me and I lift involuntarily right out of the bed and in broad daylight begin to hover in front of everyone. People begin to scream and hurl things at me and I have to make my escape. I am hounded into the sky where planes begin to pursue me. I know they mean to capture me and pull me apart and see what I am. I realise I’m alone and so I have to flee. I don’t have a chance to say goodbye.
As I’m flying away to who knows what I hear Judy Collins singing the beautiful, maudlin, epic wrist-slasher, ‘Can’t cry hard enough’, and it so upsets me to hear it that I scream to try and drown it out.
‘I’m gonna live my life like every day's the last
Without a simple goodbye it all goes by so fast
And now that you're gone I can't cry hard enough
I can't cry hard enough for you to hear me now …’
That’s when I wake up for real, and I am screaming the house down, waiting for my boyfriend to shake me like he always does and tell me it’s a dream and that everything is okay. But he doesn’t, and he won’t, because I’m also waking up to the fact that real life is suddenly worse than these strange nightmares I’m having. He’s left me, in fact, hence the bed-hopping, and what I thought was my great love, isn’t. Charlie comes and nuzzles me to see what all the fuss is about and it’s such an innocent and loving act I can’t help crying. I fall asleep eventually with the same bloody song on repeat in my head. I wish I’d never heard it. I wake the next day and I am miserable, lonely, frazzled, pondering that I am one day closer to … what?
Then he and I head to the Union to witness the triumphant return of the mighty Wire. Eeek! I love this band with a special kind of reverence I reserve for those who are truly innovative but are too frequently overlooked in people’s record collections (Pixies and Kraftwerk figure on this list too). They still sound amazing and though I don’t get to hear ‘Dot Dash’ or the gazillion others I prayed for, we do get ‘The 15th’ (the cover by Fischerspooner is in my ten greatest covers ever list) and a face-slapping version of ‘12XU’ which reminds me why I fell in love with the fuckers in the first place.
Robert Gotobed is my favourite living drummer, there I said it. The new album tracks already sound like vintage Wire, angular speed-drone, and the new girl guitarist is shit hot. A girl guitarist is probably the only thing that could have made Wire any cooler in fact. If it comes to it I would like to be buried with my Pink Flag please, though it’s ‘Outdoor Miner’ from Chairs Missing which features my favourite opening lines of any song ever. Regard:
Next night is a huge group dinner at Cocotoo’s with 15 of us in greedy attendance, including my Ma and Pa. I’ve had mediocre food in Cocotoo’s before but this time I am pleasantly surprised with a delicious Ravioli con Funghi which came in a rich yumscious cheese sauce and which I forced myself to finish. Then it’s back up to the Union for a gig at the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Nearly Dan, the Steely Dan tribute band to end all others. They are in fact blessed with the approval of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker themselves. I was raised on Steely Dan, to me they are the sound of long summer drives in the back of my auntie and uncle’s car where the trip is more important than the destination and you can pretend you’re out on the open road in the 1970s, idling your way from East Coast to West whenever you get too jaded by one or the other and your only worry is where the next shot of Cuervo Gold is coming from …
To Odder with Matthew for a gottle o’ geer and a GORGEOUS pizza (better than Cornerhouse even), all for a crisp fiver, how good is that? Quick pint at Cord, very empty, then on to Nexus for a night of music and album launching. Nexus is a nifty little basement café cum gallery and performance space at the corner of Oldham and Dale Street. It started life as a safe-space-late-night-café affiliated with the local church so that mashed clubbers could wait for cabs out of the way of danger. How sweet. It explains the incongruity between wall graffiti (‘I hope your kids explode!’) and overheard conversations (’I haven’t seen you since your baptism!’).
The main event is the launch of third album, The Kansas Sessions, from Kirsty McGee and her Hobopop collective. First up however is The Bee’s Niece, pseudonym of singer-songwriter Ragnhild Zeigler, and very lovely she is too, delicate, plucky songs with a wry and funny underside. Alas she couldn’t compete for long with the noise from the percolator and smoothie maker so we retire somewhere with a license to wait for something a bit louder. Matt and Phred’s was a melancholy scene, two bored and beautiful barmaids, us three supping Guinness by the open window looking onto the rainy back street, and a lone pianist practising his sad jazz down the back. I am so going back there for a proper night soon, haven’t been for far too long.
Back to Nexus then to hear Kirsty MCgee’s up-beat, foot-stomping, rockabilly ‘n’ country tunes. All good fun and some fantastic lyrics but not my cup of Earl Grey especially. Excellent musicians though and any live music is better than a night in front of the telly. And all for free!
Later in the week and Are Friends Eclectic? comes around again at Retro. This usually studenty pub had THE most amazing clientele upstairs out of term time, I was transfixed. A gaggle of old-school seventies clone queens manhandling the jukebox in one corner, a slab of gorgeous Manc rough trade in the other, metal hair freaks round the bar, rough diamond Gorton sports dyke serving, and right in the window a straight couple gettin’ it on in the most spectacularly public fashion. Get a room people! Love it.
Guinness and black for me please. Drank it all night and woke up feeling like a cough sweet. This month’s AFE was Manchester themed, with a particular bent towards Moz/Smiths. Sparsely populated though, which was a shame. Where else can you hear Slaughter and the Dogs and The Wedding Present of a Thursday? The lovely Phil Gatenby did a turn on the decks and we persuaded him to whip out his new Smiths tattoo (and his very hairy arms also).
Next day it’s off down Whalley Range to celebrate the lovely Maria’s tenth year in Manchester. I had a similar idea to celebrate my own anniversary a while back (I think I went on holiday instead) where everybody would have to dress as themselves ten years ago. I still might do it. Depressingly though, I might only look slightly different. I bet I even have my old glasses. Utterly wrecked and up till 5 am, relocating to Chorlton along the way. My attempt to force everyone to listen to this at 4 in the morning went down like the proverbial, but I still believe!
Party again the next night, this time to celebrate Emma and James shacking up. Hooray! Feeling very fragile by this point but lovely to see friendly faces from Charlotte, Kate, Pete, Dee, John, my brudder and his lovely g-friend Charlie. All next day is spent on the couch at Dee’s watching The Green Wing which I have come to regard as semi-genius.
I take a spontaneous half-day off later in the week and eat my favourite thing in the world which is the falafel burger with spicy fries at the Deaf Institute then me and Char go off to the Great Northern Warehouse to watch The Dark Knight, about which nothing more needs to be said, other than 1) Christian Bale isn’t trying, and 2) it’s a fitting swan song for poor Heath. A framed picture of Heath adorns my CD tower and makes me think daily about the irresistible tragedy of somebody so beautiful that dies young. I still miss River Phoenix. God love ‘em both.
It is with trepidation then that I attend there’s no point in not being friends with someone if you want to be friends with them in the basement of the Deaf Institute. (I don’t know what the name of the night is a reference to, anyone?). The lovely Emma Unsworth is reading from her novel tonight and our mutual friend Katie has invited us along to show support and so here we are. And goddamit if it isn’t all a lovely surprise. There is nothing mortifying at all, in fact nothing even approaching mediocre, my molars remain unground for the entire evening. What a talented bunch of writers.
The night is put on by Sally Cook and Chris Killen. Chris is a Waterstones employee, author of Day of Moustaches, and forthcoming novel, The Bird Room. I had heard of him prior to this night after reading a short piece in my favourite publication in the world ever, The South Manchester Reporter, which described how Chris met Steven Hall, author of The Raw Shark Texts, in the Deansgate Waterstones where he works (and which features, circuitously enough, in Hall’s novel) and persuaded him to read the manuscript of The Bird Room. Apparently a lovely guy, Hall did just that and this act of kindness has resulted in Mr Killen getting a book deal with Canongate, a story which is both inspiring and depressing, but a success I’m certain is well-deserved. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.
Anyway, the readings. Emma’s opening chapter was intriguing, atmospheric, funny and put me in mind of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the only fruit in the way it keeps your eyes at a child’s level with just a few deft touches of detail. Some wonderful short stories, plenty of breaks for wine and cigs, and two particular highlights for me. The first being the excellent (and published, thankyou very much) poet Annie Clarkson, a Lancastrian turned Mancunian, just like me. She read a selection of absolutely wonderful poems in a voice you could happily live in. My favourite one is luckily featured in the link above and is one of the sexiest and most disarming pieces of poetry I’ve read in ages. Gave me shivers of a most unnecessary kind. I had to go and congratulate her afterwards. The other highlight was the stand-up slot filled by Ben Davis and his brother. Really funny, dry and unexpected humour delivered in a subtle and confident way that I truly believe means this guy is headed for stardom. See him in tiny venues while you still can.
Next month’s promises to relocate from the awfully hot and overfilled basement to a bigger better venue somewhere, as it deserves. Will I, should I, can I make myself read something there? Gosh darnit, courage, where are you?