Category Archives: features

Radio Mentals

WHILE Richard Curtis probably isn’t someone you would turn to for stark social realism, the story of pirate radio deserves a slightly more serious appraisal than that found in his latest happy-go-lucky comedy, The Boat That Rocked.

Curtis’s Sixties-set tale of high-jinks on the high seas has received mixed reviews – “fine if it were funny, but auto-pilot Curtis prevails”, said one reviewer; “I am going to email Richard Curtis and tell him I hate him and ask for my money back,” said another – but unlicensed radio remains a staple of British culture to this day.

In The Boat That Rocked, much is made of the fact that a hopelessly out-of-touch BBC played just 45 minutes of the new-fangled pop music per day, meaning that pop-hungry teenagers had no option but to tune into stations that took the music they loved more seriously.

In reality, despite attracting daily audiences of up to 25million people, the pirates’ brash and breezy US-style of commercial radio was anathema to Harold Wilson’s Labour government – although the official line was that pirate radio broadcasts had the potential to blot out the signals of legally-sanctioned stations, as well as emergency services and air traffic control communications.

The then-Postmaster General Tony Benn declared war on the pirates in 1965 with the promise, “the future does not exist for them”.

Although the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 sank the pirates anchored just outside British waters, and a couple of years later Radio One (fronted by many former pirate DJs) soaked up their audience, unlicensed radio never really went away.

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Red Riding – It’s grim up north

WHEN the final volume of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet was published in 2002, the one thing that shell-shocked readers knew for sure was that his compelling saga of lost children, corrupt coppers and accidental heroes would never make it to the screen.

Peace’s thrilling, visceral, often unhinged prose seemed resolutely unfilmable, his grimly compulsive tales too complicated, too perverse, too downright ugly for the increasingly risk-averse and anodyne worlds of TV and film.

Telling a story of dirty deals and bloody murder in deepest, darkest Yorkshire which spans the best part of a decade, the blood-soaked quartet almost seems to imply that evil often triumphs whether good men do anything or not. Midsommer Murders, it isn’t.

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Gothic and proud

IT’S easy to take the piss out of Goths – well, it was until the fashionistas went all Gothic-luxe on us. I’m sure it must have absolutely horrified original Goths, bless ’em. They must be an awful lot happier (it’s all relative) now that whole look is so last season.

I’ve never really had a problem with Goths. None of it really interested me. I never saw the Sisters of Mercy live, or bought any of their records – but I always used to dance to Alice and Temple Of Love when they came on at ‘alternative discos’. They’re great records. So sue me. Okay, so there may have been the odd Bauhaus record in my collection too. And maybe the Danse Society as well.

goth3Though I thought the whole look and philosophy was indicative of an innate narcissism and rather prissy conservatism when it appeared in the early Eighties, there was a lot of it about. It was the early Eighties. When you actually got talking to them, Goths were often gentle, kindly and timid souls who read books, wrote letters and wore eye-liner. So what if they danced like girls? They often were girls.

There was still a lot of it about when I moved over to Leeds a few years later and Leeds 6 seemed to be full of wan little kohl-eyed romantics in black lace with big, big hair. Being in such close proximity all the time – well, they started to get on my nerves a bit. I was quite angry, quite a lot of the time.  I blame Thatcher. And the drugs.

I was writing for a local arts, culture and politics mag called Grunt at the time, so when a Sisters ‘convention’ was advertised at the Astoria towards the end of 1988, me and Dallas got up ridiculously early one Sunday morning and went over, fully intending to take the piss.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

* * *

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The vinyl countdown

FOURTEEN years after he was name-checked in Shakermaker, Peter Howard – alias Mr Sifter – still gets fans turning up at the shop he runs on Fog Lane in the Manchester suburb of Didsbury.

“We get them coming from all over, and they say, where else is there to go in Burnage? You have a hard time thinking of anywhere,” he says as he quickly bags up a couple of country singles for an old bloke who’s parked on a double yellow outside.

Howard scraped together the initial stock for the shop by placing want ads in local newspapers and shop windows and trawling through house clearances and charity shops. Unfortunately, as the time came to move in, there wasn’t quite enough to fill out the place and so he made the heart-breaking decision to include his own personal collection of some 600 albums in the stock.

“I was as sick as a pig,” says a now resigned Howard, “but I thought to myself, I’ll dedicate the next few years to getting them back, one by one.”

And how did that work out for you?

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How not to interview the Butthole Surfers

I FIND out about the gig just two days beforehand, by chance. The Butthole Surfers are playing in Manchester on Saturday night.

The Buttholes! Manchester! Saturday night! What the fuck?

As far as I can make out, the band (the same line-up I interviewed in 1987) are only able to do this European tour because of financial assistance from the Paul Green School of Rock, whose young charges Haynes has been tutoring of late. Ahead of the tour, he was asked about gigging with kids by Mojo magazine.

“Well, at the earlier shows I played with them I said some very provocative things which I do not wish to relive,” said Haynes. “Mindbendingly inappropriate. The kids loved it. It’s all about the kids, man! My obligation is to them, not their parents.

“I was privy to an email from the parents after the last set of performances, which said: ‘How much more inappropriate behaviour are we to expect from Gibby?’ I promised to do nothing out of character.”

Trouble is, we’re skint, and despite my best efforts, I absolutely fail to get on the guesty via the tattered remains of my rock’n’roll contacts book. I resolve to work the old fanzine trick of going down on the night, hanging around before the soundcheck and asking for an interview direct – and by the way, could you also stick me on the guest list, plus one?

A couple of kids and an older bloke are throwing a ball against a wall by the side of what looks very much like the Buttholes tour bus. They’re speaking with American accents so I introduce myself and find that the guy is the tour manager. So what do you think? Will they be up for it?

“You need to speak to Tina,” he says and points me at the formidable vision in leopard skin and fuck-me boots teetering round the corner of the university towards us. The woman is fierce. She appraises me coolly as I explain what I want to do.

“It’s really up to Gibby,” she tells me. “But I’ll see what he says.”

Well, I dunno if it makes any difference, I add, knowing how lame it’s going sound even before I say it, but I interviewed them like 20 years ago. I know their stuff. I’m not coming into this cold …

“I’ll ask, okay?”

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The Tony Wilson Experience

AS WE approach the first anniversary of Tony Wilson’s death, I thought this might be an appropriate time to publish a longer version of a piece I wrote about the Tony Wilson Experience, a ’24-hour conversation’ organised in Wilson’s memory by his friends.

It took place in Manchester from Saturday to Sunday, from noon on June 21 (the longest day) to noon on June 22, in front of a specially invited audience of young Manchester creatives.

Stupidly, I volunteered to cover the whole thing on my own.

* * *

11.45am: We’re in a white tent that looks like a small big top. The circus is in town.

What will be variously described as ‘a yurt’, ‘Tony’s tepee’, and more properly, ‘Manchester International Festival’s Stephenson Bell pavilion’, has landed next door to Urbis for the Tony Wilson Experience, a non-stop 24-hour marathon of intelligent conversation in honour of the great Salfordian entrepreneur who died just over a year ago.

“The Tony Wilson Experience is for the next generation of creative talent,” say Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese and Peter Saville, the city’s creative director and Wilson’s colleague and friend for many years in the event programme. “We hope it will inspire, stimulate and encourage them and help them to unlock their own creativity an future potential.

“It is our way of paying tribute to Anthony H Wilson.

“A remarkable man”.

A voice bubble saying ‘Reification’ hovers above a couple of Habitat sofas on a small stage. Hacienda-style yellow and black vinyl stripes cover the floor and string quartet Litmus’s gentle reworking of Love Will Tear Us Apart plays over the PA system. I wonder how my backside is going to cope with sitting on these unforgiving wooden seats.

The longest day is about right.

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Ten years on from Love Decade

IT WASN’T so unusual that someone threw a party in Gildersome, just south of Leeds, 10 years ago. What was unusual was the fact that 836 people were arrested for attending it.

The party wasn’t for anyone’s birthday. According to flyers which had been circulating throughout the north over the previous month, it was called Love Decade. It took place in an empty warehouse on the Treefield Industrial Estate, just off Gelderd Road.

The party’s organisers didn’t actually own the warehouse – they’d had to snip through a padlock with a pair of bolt cutters before getting in. Some started to rig up a basic soundsystem while others headed for Harsthead services, just up the M62, to collect their guests.

Just after 2am they headed back at the head of a convoy of hundreds of cars and vans. The police, including the West Yorkshire force’s helicopter, followed at a discrete distance.

Hundreds of people got into the warehouse before the organisers closed the doors. Hundreds more gathered outside. Sue Hollingsworth had travelled over from Blackburn earlier in the evening.

“There were police all over the place,” she remembers. “We abandoned the car and legged it towards the party but you couldn’t get anywhere near it. All the roads around had roadblocks on them, they had dogs, searchlights, the lot.”
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