Monday, 17 November 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #31 Oliver

'Lorenzo offered to walk the elephant back to Manchester, which he did in ten days...'

What’s your name?

What do you do?

I’m an artist. I write and draw comic books about landscape and walking. They sell about as well as that sounds so I’ve also had a long career as a barman in south and central Manchester – Maine Road Family Stand, Free Trade Hall, Robinski’s, The Drop Inn, Velvet, Matt & Phred’s – before finishing up with seven years as a manager down The Temple. I get the odd illustration gig as well, like two Elbow album sleeves and animation, for instance. The comics are making money now though, so I’ve been bar-free for a while.

Where do you live?

Old Trafford.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I’m a party baby. Or more specifically a 'cult party baby'. My mum was living in an ashram in Withington, next to St Paul’s Primary (which I later attended) as part of a worldwide cult. Told she couldn’t have kids, she had one nonetheless. Grew up, just the two of us, in a Fallowfield flat. School in Withington then Didsbury. The Didsbury school was a strange mix of working class Burnage and middle class Didsbury. Hated it. Failed most everything and did retakes and such in Heaton Chapel.

I really wanted to study archaeology, but couldn’t get the grades. I took ‘Classical Civilisations’ for GSCE three times, getting, in order, D, D, E – so Indiana Jones was a no go. I wanted to study something though and so I fell onto an art foundation course. Two and a bit years into an art degree, I fell for art. Moved out of my Fallowfield home at 18 into a Fallowfield student house. Standard fare. Then sublet a one bedroom Northern Quarter apartment whilst courting my future wife and working in Velvet and then Matt & Phreds. It was an illegal let, which would have been okay, but a census was done at the time and there’s only so long you can ignore the door to those guys…

I moved into a Chorlton share with my girlfriend and some numpties who would only ‘let’ us in the front room at certain times of the day. Fucked them off and got our own place, – a flat in Whalley Range. Due to an accident my girlfriend had enough for a deposit for a house in Old Trafford. A year later we got married in Las Vegas in a chapel who said, ‘You just tell us, on the day, whether you want God there or not’. Our son, Hunter, was born five years ago. We were married nine years. She’s no longer my wife but we’re great mates in a ripe-for-mockery ‘North Chorlton’ co-parenting team.

What’s great about this city?

Viewing the city with ‘single’ eyes, it’s a different world out there: terrifying but ever so much fun at the same time. I walk everywhere if I can. It’s cheap therapy. I can be in town in less than an hour and Chorlton in ten minutes. You can walk across the whole town centre in less than twenty minutes, with your beer jacket on. Every parent around treasures the museums. I hope they’re not taken for granted and that everyone chips in on their way out.

One of Oli's beautiful Elbow sleeves.

What’s not so great?

I could fire off many a missive about our misfiring trams. Packed single ones at rush hour and empty doubles during the day. The public transport system as a whole is pretty embarrassing when you talk to other Europeans. ‘What, you mean you can’t use the same ticket on all the buses?’ 

The London Road Fire Station situation is shameful.

Fallowfield has been shat on, bit by shitty landlord bit, over the years. With the students now more likely to live in the centre of town, they’ll have to fill the houses somehow and a once appealing neighbourhood will just get worse.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

Central Library, before they gave it a veruca.  The stretch of Whitworth Street, from Palace Theatre to Piccadilly Station looks like a parade of gargantuan gateaux. If you lived in India House or worked at the Palace Hotel, you’d get nothing done, as you’d have your head out the window eating icing all day.

Oxford Road station is the best in town. Love the roof and their stubborn refusal to sort out a lift for years. The egg and toast rack in Fallowfield would have to be up there actually. The residential houses of Whalley Range deserve an illustrator’s attention. I’ll get round to it at some point. Still some grand houses in Fallowfield if you can see past the flyers.

I enjoy running. One favourite route is around Trafford Park, with the warehouses and industrial bakeries, glimpses of The Lowry and a bridge over the quay.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Lorenzo Lawrence. He worked at Belle Vue zoo in the late nineteenth century. The owner of the zoo travelled to Edinburgh, with Lorenzo, to buy a load of animals. The plan was to get them back by train to Piccadilly but the elephant they bought kicked off and smashed his carriage. Lorenzo offered to walk it back to Manchester, which he did in ten days. But the elephant was already trained and had been used to carriages for years. Once Lorenzo had got it on the train that would have been that particular gig over for him. So, a skilled trainer, he somehow gave the elephant a signal to panic. Thus blagging himself an extra ten days work. I’m working on a comic book about the whole thing now.

I worked in Velvet for a couple of years and there was a character, Tony Dean, who used to write poetry for his favourite bar staff. I’ve still got a load now. He wrote a short story about a beauty spot on my cheek. He made me a spoken word cassette (both sides) of him reading sonnets called ‘In Celebration of Oliver’. He was fun.

Bumping into Guy Garvey is the highlight of any day and honourable mentions for Steve Manford, Carol Batton, Emma Jane Unsworth, Hannah Thomas and me Mam.

One of Oli's public wall pieces.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

My homing instincts always take me down to The Temple (of Convenience). It’s a hole, it stinks, the staff are surly, it’s a nightmare on Saturday nights, but I love it. Having worked there for seven years, off and on, I’ll always find someone down there with whom to over-share. That, and its older sister, Big Hands, are the only two real rock and roll bars in Manchester. Being newly single means I’ve had to broaden my horizons beyond these two, for it not to get too incestuous with the bar staff.

Fletcher Moss Park for nostalgia reasons (mainly sticky fumbles) and the Mersey that runs round to Chorlton and Stretford, via Northenden, which is good for running. Longford Park as I used to take the boy there every day, reading a book while I pushed him around.  He would make his first steps in the avarium there.

As for restaurants I have some pretty ingrained phobias about eating, so anywhere where I can order, it comes quickly, and I can pay and leave while still chewing, works for me. This ‘n’ That, where I go with the boy before Bolton Wanderers home games is great. The Mexican stand in the Arndale food market does a massive burrito, a bottle of decent beer and a shot of tequila, for a tenner. Top way to start off a hung-over Saturday.

Rage Against The Machine at The Ritz is always up there as one of my favourite gigs. Used to go to Dance Yer Docs off there as well. It’s a great venue with buckets of sweaty nostalgia.

Whenever tourists would come down The Temple I’d always tell them about The Briton’s Protection. As good as pubs get in Manchester. Ask me again when I’ve been single for a year and I’ll know more places.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?


If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Panic. I’m totally unqualified for such a position. But until I was found out I’d get shot of that Simpson character. The architect who keeps getting every gig going in Manchester? Yeah, I’d do away with him. I’d make The Temple and Big Hands rent-free forever more. I’d sort out the road above The Temple so it didn’t leak all the time.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Steve Manford. Filmmaker who works at Afflecks.

All of Oliver’s books can be bought from
Forbidden Planet International on Oldham Street but, if you can live with the shame afterwards, they’re also available on Amazon. He also has a website, a Tumblr where he posts process pictures and inspiration, and he also does a bad job of hiding his anger issues over on Twitter.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Virtual Books and Library Twickets

As part of my role as a writer-in-residence for Chaos to Order, I’m executing a small-scale digital art project that utilises library books, photographs and the Manchester Central Library Twitter account.

In a modern library you’re just as likely to leave with a laptop full of information as a rucksack full of books. I wanted to find a way to symbolise the evolution from paper to data that empathises the importance of both.

To that end I’ll be rummaging around the many shelves of Central Library, unearthing books that appeal to me in some way, and reducing the physical item of a book down to a single photograph and a single Tweet. That’s one digital image and 140 characters to capture the essence of a book.

I will then check the book out of the Library ‘virtually’ via the Central Library Twitter account. The book will be sent out into the world as a small digital artefact that will represent a combination of the contemporary and the traditional library.

You’ll see me check in and out of the Manchester Central Library Twitter account from time to time over the next few days, sending virtual books into the world.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Fiona Ledgard goes drive time on All FM

If you live in Manchester and you love your music, chances are your path will cross with Fiona Ledgard’s sooner or later. A compulsive gig-goer, champion of new music, radio DJ and more, when I speak to Fiona she’s just back from seeing Bob Marley's band The Wailers. (‘Moving and inspiring!’ she enthuses.)

After graduating Manchester University’s ‘Music, Culture and Society' BA, Fiona made a trip to Berlin, returned to the city, volunteered at All FM and has been broadcasting eclectic quality music to south, east and central Manchester ever since. All FM is Manchester’s community radio station and has been soundtracking the city for over a decade now. As well as quality broadcasts, the station offers radio training and other unique opportunities to everyone from the city’s unemployed, to Mancunians experiencing mental health issues, to students in musical training programmes. The station’s remit is all about community and diversity, and for that reason alone it’s a credit to the city.

Fiona’s own commitment to music and culture has seen her interview a crazy range of people, from punk geniuses The Slits to queer icon JD Samson, from fellow DJs like Mary Anne Hobbs and Dave Haslam to radical performance artistes like David Hoyle and Justin Vivian Bond, plus more bands than you can shake a tambourine at.

As of this week, Fiona is taking over the coveted time slot of 5-7pm. That’s’s right, she’s going drive time! Her show will hit the ground running tonight, including three brand new features: Is it 'anging or is it banging?, Rappers Delight and Thank You For The Music. Tune in to find out what exactly they're all about. You're going to hear something that will perfectly kick off another tremendous weekend in Manchester. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

John Grant, John Lydon, and deconstructing Barbarella

I’ve witnessed John Grant perform on a few unforgettable occasions: a bare-bones grand piano set at the Bridgewater Hall as support for Efterklang; on the Glastonbury Park Stage in the middle of the afternoon in shorts and flip-flops (him, not me); and at the hottest evening ever inside Manchester’s Ritz, the day before he had his Mac stolen. Tomorrow (Friday 3 October) I will be pinching myself good ‘n’ proper as I travel to Media City to see John perform select cuts from Pale Green Ghosts with the BBC Philharmonic as part of the ‘Philharmonic Presents’ series, previously featuring Culture Club and Jarvis Cocker. Pale Green Ghosts is becoming an album for all time, one that the Philharmonic will no doubt be able to find new dimensions in.

On 9 October, old punks, young punks, bookworms and musos will be crowding into the Albert Hall on Peter Street to hear Dave Haslam interview the Richard III of punk-rock, Mr John Lydon. Lydon’s autobiography, Anger is An Energy: My Life Uncensored, is just about to hit the shelves so it seems he’s in the mood to talk which is good news for us, and for Dave. Lydon has, in his way, been an acute cultural critic over the decades, often in short and sweary portions, never without substance. Let’s see if he has insight into where he himself exists in the peculiar maelstrom of UK musical culture.

It’s hard to believe four years have passed since Peaches Christ and her divine crew of ‘Frisco drag queens turned the Cornerhouse upside down with a live-action show and premier screening of All About Evil, the debut feature length from Joshua Grannell (aka Peaches Christ). I like to think some of that residual performative magic stuck around; there’s been an explosion of drag and performance in the city ever since. On 11 October Peaches returns to Screen 1 with Bearbarella, a drag deconstruction and outré comedy based on the 1968 cult classic Barbarella, which will also be screened. Lady Bear takes the title role while the rest of the cast includes Manchester’s own Cha Cha Boudoir performers, so dress your sci-fi best and be ready to holler; there is nothing else like this in town.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Manchester coming of age

Summer 2014.  I’m walking down Burton Road in West Didsbury, the street where I’ve lived for almost a year, and I see Vini Reilly standing in the doorway of one of the bars, wearing sandals and smoking a rollie. It’s Vini that you can hear playing guitar on ‘I Know Very Well How I Got My Name’, probably the most-purchased and least-listened-to Morrissey B-side (it’s on the other side of ‘Suedehead’). I must have played it a thousand times, on vinyl and then on my first guitar. (When I was thirteen years old, I really did dye my hair gold). At the bar on Burton Road, Vini looks like he doesn’t quite know if he’s arriving or leaving. We lock eyes for just a second. It’s eighteen years since the IRA bomb went off in town, and I got my A-level results and a place at Manchester University.

Yesterday. I am sitting in my Auntie Dee and Uncle John’s bedroom in Stretford and I can see the gasworks out the window and I’m struggling through the guitar chords for ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ as I have done for twenty years. Outside, dozens of Man United fans file past the house, fresh from a four–nil victory over QPR. Downstairs I can hear Dee, a Dubliner, chatting away with my other half Oisín, whose story started in Australia and came to Manchester via Ireland. This is at once exactly where I think I’m meant to be, exactly where I most want to be, and exactly where I never thought I would end up. It’s eighteen years since I moved to Manchester, half my life ago. I have lived here longer now than I’ve lived anywhere. I did it.

John drives us past the end of King’s Road on the way home and when we get dropped off in West Didsbury we walk along Burton Road again and the sky is criss-crossed with jet trails. I want to write something to mark my coming of age in Manchester because I feel suddenly emotional about it, so at home I start listening to some songs to try and level out my thoughts a bit. Morrissey’s ‘Lost’ is first – ‘jet trails in the sky leave one thought behind…’ – followed by his epic Raymonde cover, ‘No One Can Hold A Candle To You’, which I always used to pester Dave Cottrill to play at the Star & Garter, and he always did. Billy Bragg doing ‘A New England’ at the Kirsty McColl memorial concert, Eddie Reader doing ‘Dear John’ the same night, and eventually back around to ‘I Know Very Well How I Got My Name’, with Vini on the guitar.

So far, nothing in my life, and by my life I mean Manchester, has gone the way I imagined it, and certainly not the way I planned it, since the plan from childhood was to live in Manhattan, hence the portmanteau of my blog. I thought by now I would have at least two novels published and would live off the proceeds and be an activist. Instead, this month I will pay the rent with my fee from being the theatre writer at the Manchester Evening News and with the money I made from the gay RnB night I run. If I was a character in a novel it would be something by Tama Janowitz and everyone would agree that it was interesting but the characters’ lives seemed a bit contrived. We haven’t starved yet.

How to celebrate my ‘birthday’? The same way you always should: have a party, look back a bit, and count your blessings. The party has been had, at Festival No. 6, aka ‘Manchester by the sea’. I DJ’d there, partied until my screws came loose with some of the best people who live in this town, heard Weatherall play my favourite Frankie Knuckles edit, and saw Pet Shop Boys perform ‘It’s A Sin’ under the night sky. As for looking back, this is my twelfth address in Manchester and I remember something good and bad about them all. I am very happy where I am. I work in this place all day long looking down Burton Road, and I never get tired of it. Oisín comes home and we make food and we make plans for a future that might or might not turn out a certain way.

Some things never seem to change. Manchester is a city in terrible poverty.  Morrissey has no record contract but he’s still out on tour. The Council’s assault on our architecture makes Manchester feel less like itself to me than ever before – and I arrived on a bomb site, remember. It will always be home here, but I’d move to Berlin or Brooklyn in the morning. I’m saving the blessings bit for when I count backwards from fifteen at Trafford General next week. I won’t run out before I get to zero.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Another gorgeous Northern Quarter video

This time it's footage from the BANG street party on 24 August, filmed by Sarah Jenny Johnson. Beautiful.

BANG STREET PARTY from Sarah Jenny Johnson on Vimeo.