Category Archives: blog

Manchester 23 March 2017: The Outsider

I stopped listening to the morning news during that awful Brexit campaign. All the coverage given to any European or US politician evil enough to campaign on a fascist agenda only reinforced my view that this was a spectacle that didn’t interest me and that I was a happier, healthier, saner person without it.

And when I commute on those crowded morning trains, I usually make a point of saying hello to a few people. I can’t understand why people don’t greet the people they see travelling to and from work each day. Why let the depression, stress and anxiety of your working life stop you from enjoying life outside of work? Why retreat into your own shell and block out the people in front of you? Why let work win?

So I’m walking across Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter to pick up a connection from Victoria to the thrumming soundtrack of a police helicopter overhead. This took me back to living in the city centre, when there was always something kicking off and the sound of the police helicopter would keep you awake in the early hours.

I had 10 minutes to spare. It was a sunny morning; despite the racket overhead, I thought it would be well-spent sitting with a book in Exchange Square. It can be difficult to come up with somewhere really nice to sit without having to buy something. That’s nothing new – George Orwell mentioned the same thing in the 1940s. But the route along Studehill to Exchange Square was blocked by a police cordon. Back round The Printworks and along the tram line towards Victoria. Another cordon. A homeless guy stops me to tell me I can’t get through to Victoria – a bomb’s gone off.

I ask the two coppers at the cordon if there’s any point in me trying to make it to Victoria. “Don’t expect it to be open for a while yet mate,” the oldest one replies. I ask what’s happened. “A bomb went off and 23 people were killed”. What? Really? That’s crazy. “I haven’t seen the news this morning,” I stammer.

The city’s complexion changes. The sound of the helicopter isn’t annoying – it’s the soundtrack to the aftermath of a disaster. And nobody’s breaking their neck to get into work this morning – they’re ashen-faced and have furrowed brows. Resignation and gloom have replaced the morning panic. Through their minds went the only words from the bowl of petunias in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as they plummeted from the sky towards the ground below, “Oh no, not again.” And I notice cameramen taking photographs of police cordons. Yet again.

And in my morning routine, I stopped getting distracted by my mobile phone – preferring to read a book on the train than to be drawn into the inconsequential nonsense of social media. My phone is full of messages from people wanting to know if I am safe. I call my Victoria-to-Swinton commuter-friend Ruth. She’s upset and amazed that I’ve only just heard about it. Grabbing some cheap veg in The Aldi, I bump into Gareth, who is resplendent in a Motorhead t-shirt. He lives behind Victoria, and heard the blast last night. He says he sat in his flat and contemplated, “What would happen if that was something serious?” And then the sirens started.

I write without having looked at today’s news. Before politicians, already puffed-up campaigning for a general election have had a chance to grieve in front of me. I stop for coffee on Oldham Street, I wonder: What has a Westminster politician got to do with Manchester on a Tuesday morning anyway? And what place has the news? The endless reporting ahead. Making us spectators on other people’s hurt. To shape opinion, mould our characters, manipulate, exploit. To capitalise on outrage like the vendors in the temple courts of biblical Jerusalem. Who will drive them out?

I feel like The Outsider. Stuck in time, before the media is unleashed on me. Before outraged headlines from the very newspapers that sometimes sidelined the city and its people. Before the news churn. Before comment and analysis. Before horror becomes grief. Before grief becomes hate. Before hate becomes a friendly clap on the back to any small-minded bigot who articulates their own hate. I sip coffee in the heart of a city that adopted me. The vibrant, cosmopolitan city that took me in. And I wait to read the news.

Dave Dictor – MDC: Memoir from a Damaged Civilisation (Stories of Punk, Fear, and Redemption) (Manic D Press)

Squats, cops and nazi skinheads – Memoir is part band-biog, and part collection of Dave’s Maximum Rocknroll columns, recounting anecdotes of one of the most abrasive anarcho-thrash bands to have emerged from the west coast US scene in the early 1980s.

Dave tells of his early punk days fronting the Stains as part of the vibrant Austin, Texas, scene and the west coast’s magnetic pull that put them alongside the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag et al, and from where they unleashed their furious first album – the anarcho-thrash classic Millions of Dead Cops.

San Francisco in 1981/1982 was truly a land to behold,” says Dave, “a countercultural oasis attracting youth of all stripes to its bounty; teenage runaways, punk rockers, industrial art types, college art types, and just young people everywhere we turned.”

One of MDC’s triumphs was that they took fast, aggressive anarchopunk to places that hadn’t experienced it before. The reaction of a crowd in Barcelona sums it up: “They were frozen in space trying to make sense of a style of music they weren’t used to,” Dave says. “The next night we played again; it looked like exactly the same crowd. Everyone was in place, standing, waiting, but this time from the very first note to the last they went absolutely apeshit bonkers, like we were returning conquerors.”

MDC suffered a shifting line-up, and some albums suffered. And Dave isn’t shy of talking about his personal disintegration into drug addiction and how he bizarrely wound up living in Portland, hanging with Poison Idea’s Pig Champion and making a living by dealing amphetamines. His path to redemption is slow and fraught with pain, but Dave, and MDC survive.

MDC’s recent tours have given back these ferocious and funsters the credit they deserve and Memoir shows how they spurned the mainstream to evolve their own music and develop their own voices. If the book lacks anything, it’s a couple more drafts to flesh out the band’s story even further and to give it more coherence in the tale of one of anarchopunk’s most significant and influential bands.

Available through Active Distribution

Merrick Badger – The Story about Peter Wells (Glad to be Gay/Purple White and Green)

Tom Robinson’s sardonic masterpiece Glad to be Gay (on his Rising Free live EP) peaked at Number 18 in the pop charts in 1978, just 11 years after homosexuality was “decriminalised” in the UK, and during an era when it was still openly and habitually persecuted. Robinson’s song contained a verse dedicated to Peter Wells – a 21-year-old who served two years in prison for a same-sex relationship with an 18-year-old, which destroyed his life. Merrick delves into the culture and attitudes of 1970s Britain to uncover the story behind Wells’s persecution. He talks to the people who knew him, and even interviews his lover. In late 2016, the UK government still couldn’t apologise to thousands of men convicted of same-sex relationships. Peter Wells’s story highlights how the law is used to cosh what the government identifies as unacceptable outsiders.

Audio book also available, narrated by Tom Robinson himself: HERE

Sue Coe – The Animals’ Vegan Manifesto (OR Books)

Equal parts beautiful and disturbing, The Animal's Vegan Manifesto draws heavily from Orwell's Animal Farm in a tale of animal and human liberation over 115 intricate, painstaking woodcuts. Sue says she grew up next to a slaughterhouse in Liverpool, which informed her work and inspired her veganism. That her creative process is so scrupulous, but subject matter often so often distressing, makes this book a labour of much devotion from a committed animal rights activist. Each panel is carved from the wood of wild cherry in a cacophony of different voices, which reach a joyful conclusion. The Animals' Vegan Manifesto keeps drawing you back to revisit its sometimes outstanding beauty.

Various – In Tribute to Tom Waites

You get the feeling Tom Waites would welcome this bizarre punk tribute to his work. If Tom's musical career had stalled a few years he would have been swept up in the New Wave of the late 1970s and asked by record company executives to play faster and sneer at the camera – a bit like Elvis Costello or Ian Dury. But he took his own path, unencumbered by musical trends with carte blanche to pursue his own interests. As a roaming outsider, his influence on contemporary DIY punk makes sense when spelled out on vinyl.

The Domestics kick off with a raucous UK hardcore version of Cemetary Polka, which magnifies the desperation and angst of the original into a frantic writhing chaotic mess. And Casual Nausea replace Tom's throaty grunt on God's Away on Business with demented gang vocals. Liverpool punkers Dead Class take hold of Raindogs and give it the Jello Biafra treatment that you always suspected was possible but never dared to articulate. And The Minor Discomfort Band have pop-punk fun with a Waites rarity, Take Care of all my Children to round off a project that could easily have turned into a double album. Love Tom Waites? Love raucous UK DIY punk? Get it before it goes.

Through: Antipop Records HERE


How not to subvert an art exhibition…

So I thought I'd be clever and sabotage John Hyatt's Rock Art exhibition at Home cinema last night and plant a copy of The Vegan's Guide to People Arguing with Vegans in an exhibit. John is vegan and would probably enjoy such an act of subversion... 

The zine wasn't there long, and soon disappeared. Towards the end of the night, I asked a member of staff why they'd taken it down and told her “it's not a punk thing to do”. She told me she'd taken The Vegan's Guide down to read herself, that she thought it was really funny and it had kept her going on a long shift. I was left feeling humbled and very flattered – she got a few free copies of Cubesville to take home too. 

But the charming vegan staff at Home didn't find the copy I sneaked inside one of the comics - The Vegan's Guide is (invisibly) on show for a few weeks more.