IT TAKES me a couple of seconds to realise that the Third Davyhulme Scout & Guide Marching Band are playing Hit The North as they turn onto Deansgate in front of us.
Somehow their spirited instrumental rendition of Mark E Smith’s tale of useless MPs and big wide streets manages to be utterly ludicrous and totally brilliant at exactly the same time, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the Procession put together by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with the people (and football club mascots) of Greater Manchester.
Criticised, a little unfairly I think, for not attracting more Manchester residents to Manchester International Festival in 2007, MIF director Alex Poots wanted to find a big, high-profile, mass-participation, free event for the festival’s opening weekend and with thousands of people lining the parade route, Procession seems to have done the trick.
While Deller has a history of tackling big ideas, people are always at the very heart of his work and it is the people of Manchester who make the parade – and the city – what it is. Poignant, daft, inspiring, hilarious and baffling in equal measure, it perhaps sums up the complexities and contradictions of Manchester as well as any official census or commercial survey.
“I love parades, so I’d like to do my own parade about a town that I have a lot of love for,” Deller told me at the festival launch. “Even though I don’t live here, it means a lot to me as a part of Britain. It’s a town I’ve been interested in for years. You come up here and the buildings are really telling you about the past. You feel it, you feel the history. I find that very exciting, walking around.”
“There’ll be surprises, but there won’t be problems, that’s the way I look at it,” he continued. “People might improvise on a theme, they might do stuff I’m not expecting, but I kinda like that, when people bring stuff to things.
“I don’t want to dictate terms or be a control freak about it, so I’m quite happy for things to develop as they happen. I’m providing a rough framework and I want some kind of order within it – but I don’t want too much, because you want people to improvise. And it’s their thing, really. Well, it’s their thing and my thing, so we’ll just see how that goes.”
Drawing on its inhabitants’ history as much as their present, Deller’s celebration of Manchester includes ramblers and ‘hoodies’, librarians and unapologetic smokers, Stretford Rose Queens and Big Issue In The North vendors.
Danny Henry, Jali Nyonkoling Kuyatah, Modou Soee and Jambi Kantah, who you’ll find dancing, singing and playing kora and djembe in Piccadilly Gardens “most afternoons” go by on one float, followed by a sombre convoy of hearses led by a Victorian Hammer Horror horse-drawn carriage, all carrying wreaths dedicated to the lost treasures of the North – the Hacienda, Love Saves The Day, Rotters, The Talk of The Town, Wigan Casino.
Former millworkers are followed by the descendants of Peterloo martyrs, a group of people bearing a banner that says: “We miss the World Of Twist” and the Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Piping Band, complete with bearskins and kilts, from Bolton.
Finally, after a delightful Barbarella-like vision of a watery future created by an 11-year-old schoolgirl from Chorlton and Valerie’s cafe from the World Famous Bury Market (“the best bacon roll in the world” apparently. No word on the fake-bacon situation), the massed drums of Steel Harmony close the parade with oddly-uplifting versions of Ever Fallen In Love With Someone, Transmission and, perhaps inevitably, Love Will Tear Us Apart.
It’s the most fun I’ve had on a Sunday afternoon in the city centre in years. I feel very proud to be a pretend-Mancunian.
While I was swanning around the festival launch on the hunt for vegetarian canapes, I ran into Vini Reilly, sitting at the back of the hall, alone and seemingly unrecognised. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
Vini, who isn’t exactly the kind of bloke that seeks out the limelight, volunteered to get involved in the festival as a way of paying tribute to his friend Anthony Wilson. His Paean To Wilson is at the Pavillion theatre outside the Town Hall from July 15-17.
“Tony was my manager for most of the time that Factory was a label,” says Vini very quietly. “He chose me for the label right at the very start, when the idea was just to open up a club. So he was my manager until the end of Factory and we remained close friends after that. I loved him. The thing that we argued about for all those years was that he hated the way I sang because my voice is so poor.
“Which is true, my voice is really bad,” he adds with a grin.
It’s an individual voice Vini.
He shakes his head. “It’s horrible, horrible. And he said, just please stop singing. I refused, completely. I always sang because I just enjoy singing, so I wanted to just do something for him – for me as well – to do the album that he wanted me to do in the first place, that he wanted me to do all along really.
“My voice isn’t to be heard anywhere, I’m just playing music. It came from that really, just from that.
“It’s not to make money, or to enhance my career, or to do anything spectacular, it’s a very, very personal thing. I just wanted to do something which, if Tony could hear it, which maybe he can, he’d like. He’d actually like it.”
Did you find it harder to express yourself without words? And did you ever find yourself thinking, bloody Wilson, making me do this?
“We argued with each other all the time we were friends about everything and anything. We were always completely honest, that was the basis of it. I loved him and he loved me. We were always very truthful. We’d have screaming arguments and then just dissolve into fits of laughter, because it was so funny. Our friendship could endure the arguments. He was one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had.”
“It’s really personal,” adds Vini before I leave. “I don ‘t really mind if other people don’t like it and I don’t mind if nobody comes and listens even. I just want to do it for me and for Tony.”
Jeremy Deller first came to my attention with the Acid Brass project, which found the Williams Fairey Brass band from Stockport reinterpretting acid house anthems like Voodoo Ray, Let’s Get Brutal and The Groove That Won’t Stop. It was important because Deller was one of the first commentators to recognise that the rave explosion of the late Eighties was a profound cultural watershed, especially in the north of England, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. The links with what had come before were clear – but only if you knew what you were looking for.
We shouldn’t be too concerned about the recent gradual uncovering of this hidden history, especially when the people who are doing the uncovering were right at the very heart of the scene in the first place. For example, I ran into Gavin Watson at the MIF pavillion, where he was taking photographs of the two nights put together by the Same Teens. Watson, who has previously taken pictures of Skins and Punks, has revisited his archive for the splendid Raving 89, which will be published next month.
A genuinely unprecedented insight into the scene up north comes with High On Hope, a documentary which features many of the key players in the Blackburn warehouse party scene and some of the legendary super8 film shot at the Hardcore Uproar raves, while They Call It Acid looks at more or less the same period down south.
And, with all this talk of raves past, if you’re starting to feel your age, you should probably head to the Museum of Techno for this New Age, macrobiotic take on Hardfloor’s Acperience.