Tracks of 2013 — #9 Golden Glow

Click here for Track 8

Don’t get me wrong, I like Manchester. Decent ales, some of which are affordable. The trams are good for the one day each week they run on time. Excellent gigs in tucked away/underground/squashed places which feel, to this Lancastrian, exciting even if the native audience just consider it another ordinary night.  You know Manchester, though, it’s good to leave. It’s because of – and you’ll see what I’ve done here – the scene.

Yes there is a ‘Manchester’ you all know from over-exposed photographs of maudlin singers smoke-plumed and solemn, but there’s a whole different side, and it thrives in spite of the image builders, not because of them. The true ‘Manchester”s narrative is best written by people too eager to jot down all the fine details, including Pierre Hall, I wouldn’t wonder, Golden Glow being by and large he.

All at once (it appears) gig organiser, lead singer of The Lead Balloons, Akoustic Anarchy stalwart, and “crowd surfing scenester” (NME’s words, not his), Hall’s fast-forward through Manchester looks to be a life very well lived. ‘The Scene’ is a press on the pause button. Hypnotic and suggestive of a poison-tipped love letter, the song builds on two questions floating on a repeated melody that echoes the sound of scenes from Manchester and beyond. Taken from the forthcoming Golden Glow release “Duty/Beauty EP”, this gentle punch is a beautiful and intriguing song, and I know more of the same will come in the new year.

Bad days at the electoral office

Back at the faroff long-agos, the BBC would take up by-election reporting with gusto, putting Dimbles and Peter Snow in a room with two MPs hoiked against their will from the escalators at Hammersmith Tube for an evening of chat and analysis. The fondest held memory is Snow taking the 60% vote share of a comfortable victory and, “just for fun”, extrapolating how the country would vote were that the norm across the land. And with that, the credits would roll and they would all sink off to whichever club BBC personalities went to in the 1980s with….Well, I don’t think this sort of innuendo is allowed anymore, is it?

Anyway, the Beeb prefer to show repeats of “Hardtalk” and dual-broadcasts with BBC World Service nowadays, so amateur psephologist types do the analysis themselves across the nerdier parts of the Internet, across messageboards, chatrooms and invariably Twitter. It saves on paying Peter Snow to walk through greenscreen rooms pretending to stomp over the Home Counties like a gentleman Godzilla, doesn’t it?

These versions of the art of chin-stroking by-election results aren’t exactly neutral, but at the best of times parliamentary by-elections are crap shoots from which comfort is garnered from whoever wants garnering. On that turn of the sixpence, here’s my take on November’s democrogry.

Manchester Central




That sticky out bit is Moston, which would stretch the definition of both “Manchester” and “central”, if you were looking at the map for the first time. Maybe that’s number 101 in the top 100 reasons for the plummet in turnout, people not being aware that “Manchester Central” referred to the whole council area, not just the glass-and-chrome city centre?

Okay, so actually the record breaking turnout, for all the wrong reasons, has more in keeping with ‘central’ constituencies having a tendency to do this, such as Liverpool’s Riverside and Leeds’ Central, where Hilary “son of Tony” Benn was elected on a barely respectable 19%. It’s worth remembering that Manchester Central had the lowest turnout of all the constituencies which fought at the general election. Any such disinterest/apathy is worrying, for it opens the door to extremists and complacency, but it’s as much a right to turn up as it is not to, and the good folk of Manchester know how to make themselves heard when they need to. Incidentally, this was the lowest turnout in peace-time, with the war-affected Poplar by-election of 1942 registering exactly half that which came out here. As wise men often say, makes you think.

Let’s deal with what we need to deal with first. Didn’t Respect do terribly? Only 1% of the vote and beaten by Pirates. In what will be a notice we return to later, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition performed particularly badly, but with less name recognition than Respect (George Galloway), it’s surprising to see them score so highly here. By the way, in 2010, the Manchester ballot paper gave voters the choice of Socialist Labour, Socialist Equality or Workers Revolutionary, and they all lost their deposits too. Maybe there’s not that much of a lefty streak here after all? Unless there’s too much lefty choice to go round, obvz. (Surely not?)

Yes, Ed Miliband’s bag carrier Lucy Powell won handsomely. There was no betting shop this side of the moon who thought it otherwise, though the sharp increase in vote shows a real kickback after the Cleggmania surge of two years previously. The Liberal Democrat slump has been well reported and recorded. Yes, it’s a record drop, the furthest drop since the party was formed in the year 1988 and by most measures amongst the worst “Liberal” performance for generations. Reasons? There’s plenty. We’re the party of protest now being protested against, for one thing, and at times of economic uncertainty there will always be targets. Note how the Conservatives fell from over 4,700 votes to 754, just as much a poke in the eye as they’d ever get in Manchester. They remain without a single councillor at Manchester Town Hall.

This is the only by-election of the six not to see UKIP save its deposit, a point which has been swept aside by the wave of relative success they were to have elsewhere. The increase of 3% put them almost above the Conservatives, which I guess is what you might call a clue in a narrative arc.

Cardiff South and Penarth
The word here was “yawn”. Or the Welsh translation. Google suggests “dylyfu”.

Here in the southern swathe of the Welsh capital, refurbished and regenerated beyond recognition, attached to one of the few Conservative certainties in South East Wales. The result when it came was pretty much ‘as was’, a sort of holding pattern rather than a result. Labour held on, vote going up by 8.4, whilst the Conservatives fell back by the same measure. This widening gap between the top two wasn’t particularly odd on the day, even within the context of highly unpopular PCC elections. There was a steep drop for the Liberal Democrats, again par of the course, although the 10% vote share is a highly resilient figure going forward.

Both Plaid and UKIP moved forward, the latter saving one of their five deposits, making a good case for themselves in a seat which they gained only 2.6% at the election. The Plaid result should be seen in the context of the Welsh Assembly, perhaps as an indication of how different devolution has treated the nationalist parties. The surge enjoyed here retained the deposit they lost two years previously, a mark of how un-nationalist Cardiff is compared with the places across the North where the party speaks its language – literally – to much greater effect.

The only other thing to note in this quiet election is the Communist candidate gaining seventeen – count them – votes from his bottom place two years previously. 
Corby
What do we deal with first – Louise Mensch or Mr Mozzarella?

Remember when David Davies had a rush of ambition to the rectum, flouncing off to stand in Haltenmprice and Howden as a make-pretend Liberal Democrat? Well looky-here. Corby became the next location for an unnecessary by-election, and with it came a host of jokers and knaves to bother the printing presses (which is good for Corby, where the trouser press has been in good use for some time).

Let’s start at the bottom up, shall we?  The United People’s Party landed rock bottom last, under a party formed by the former editor of the Independent as a group created to re-examine what democracy means in the 21st century. It managed thirty-five votes, which is about a third less than David Bishop managed, standing for “Elvis Loves Pets”. I think we can draw our own conclusions, here, can’t we children?

The map above should give you a clue as to why Corby tends to go with whoever ends up winning the election. The blob at the north-west is Corby itself, all industrial and manufacturing and vaguely Scottish. The great swathe of otherness is East Northamptonshire, all tiny villages and handful-shized towns where people work every hour God sends to prepare for an appearance on Masterchef Professionals.  Lots of gastropubs in the rurals you know, why do you think Mr Mozzarella of the Just Eat franchise stood here?

Actually, why *did* he stand here? I don’t think he had any choice, like those page 3 girls who stood as “Miss Great Britain Party” candidates a few years ago in Britain’s most worrying brush with exploitation-as-democracy in some time. Anyhoo, there’s no surprise that the squashed up blob of Corby tends to outvote the rural expanse at times when Labour are on the rise, and the Conservatives do the reverse all other times. Point in fact – the Tories won here in 1992 with 44.5% of the vote in a 4-pronged race; Louise Mensch managed 42.2% under the same circumstances ballot paper wise in 2010. Give Labour over a dozen of candidates and what happens – nearly half of the votes cast, and that’s without anyone misunderstanding how to use AV.

The unfortunate loss of the LibDems deposit was by the very slimmest of margins. The party needed only 10 more votes to be absolute sure of keeping the £500, losing as they did by scoring 4.96% of the vote, not enough to keep the money. If there’s anything to like about the Corby result, it’s  the BNP result, something we should mention now in case I forget. Who loses when voters go to the polls for no good reason in the middle of an economic thunderstorm? Not the far-right, who fell back 3 points here to just 1.7, a collapse in real terms from 2,525 votes in 2010 to only 614 this month. By any measure, that’s a complete collapse, and it couldn’t possibly happen to a nicer bunch of people.
Lessons learned? That “the road to Downing Street runs through Corby” isn’t that bad a slogan, as it goes, and clearly the Conservatives are not safe in the semi-rurals after two years of trying to sound like it. With the narrative arc in full flow, notice how UKIP (2010 result – n/a) finished with over 5,000 votes, which isn’t bad from a standing start, unless your a Conservative in similar bellwether seats chewing your nails. 
A point about the Greens, while we’re at it. There is a place in British politics for a Green Party, though it doesn’t seem to fit that they have a place within British politics outside Brighton. Unless they have deeper pockets than we all realise, how can they afford so many terrible results across the country, even in the bizzarro-world of by-elections?
Croydon North
London elections are a bit special, let’s get that out of the way. With the assumption that all the media and its dogs prefer London to anywhere else in the country, more candidates stand in London elections on average than anywhere else in the country. It’s not just a population thing, London attracts candidates because the London-based media is attracted to places it can travel to on a single flash of their Oyster cards and expenses forms.

To show this in full colour, Croydon North attracted Simon Lane (“nine eleven was an inside job, and also capital letters are symbols of the illumniati”), Lee Jasper, Winston McKenzie and a Conservative with cerebral palsy who chose charity work over massive research job salary packets. So bonkers, all told, and that’s without mentioning that there was an official Monster Raving Loony candidate, whose website proudly declares him to be pro-cuts, pro-Coalition, and pro-Prince Harry.

Dealing with the LibDem collapse first, then, and here it was only then 10 percentage points, and a lost deposit. Not good, though I’m  not one of the voices wailing into my FOCUS newsletters. Our candidate has a proven record elsewhere in London and was a refreshing voice on the one phone-in I heard via Croydon’s community radio station. She was also, by the by, the only woman on the ballot paper, something of a surprise in London. Is Croydon statistically more male than any other London Borough? Or is a call from Julia Gillard needed?

Here’s the thing. It’s not Marisha Ray’s fault that her vote collapsed, or that the number of LibDem voters fell from over 7,000 to under 900. This was a very odd election, in a very odd part of the country, where by-elections always attract mammoth ballot papers. This election had Winston McKenzie and Lee Jasper fighting it out for attention and ego points, and when both have reason to go after Labour’s candidate from different angles, there’s going to be a squeeze. That squeeze came on us, and whilst I accept we have our part to play in explaining or justifying the Coalition’s record, I can’t see this result or others on the same day being some form of coordinated punishment. There was a lot of issues, direct and otherwise, coming down on Croydon in the run-up to the election and it shows in the vote changes of other parties, not just us.

Let’s look at UKIP, who didn’t soar as they did elsewhere. From 891 votes to 1,400 in one leap is hardly a measure of success, even with a high profile and provocative candidate. Winston McKenzie has already switched party to party to party before, even standing as a Veritas candidate at one point, and this doesn’t help his credibility very much. The gay outburst (that is, an outburst about gays, not an outburst which was a bit camp) probably bruised liberals more than it did his election chances, if we’re honest. All the same, it’s an indication that UKIP hasn’t got it right in London.

The Labour surge is impressive. It’s a marked up-shot, adding eight percentage points onto an already commanding lead. The significant drop in Conservative share can’t be just ‘a UKIP thing’, so there has to be something in the movement between Labour and LibDem votes. I can’t see much leakage going to the minority candidates, especially not from the Conservatives – notice how the National Front only managed 161, about the same number of votes in a single block of flats. I’ve not seen anybody question whether Andrew Stranack was somehow abandoned by voters because of his disability, and indeed few people brought up Steve Reed’s sexuality, so maybe there are reasons to be cheerful. Here, as in Corby, the Greens struggled in a crowded field.

Rotherham
Let’s go back to the TUSC lot, for the start. In times of economic hardship and disquiet with the ruling government, where do people go? The opposition, yes, but one kind? In my lifetime protest movements seemed to rely on the fringes, and indeed the anti-war movement could only survive with help from the non-aligned movement who were aided and assisted by the left and hard-left. Stop the War and associated protest groups were founded and moulded by the socialist groups who had been sent to the margins in between moments of greatest unrest.

For whatever reason, and there’s  bound to be plenty, the TUSC grouping of left/hard-left groups just hasn’t made itself known to a wide audience. In a seat like Rotherham, in a time like ours, to gain so little is not good at all. It’s plain embarrassing, and I say that as a LibDem about to talk on our 8th place.

The protest votes for the whole went into three directions – UKIP, BNP and Respect. I’m not going to lie here, I don’t think UKIP are fascists in suits or knuckle draggers. They’re not fruitcakes, or loonies or whatever David Cameron called them. What UKIP is made up of, mostly, is disgruntled people, and disgruntled people without a clear direction of travel. Under Nigel Farage, they’ve become a party of Europe not wanting to be in Europe, turning up to claim expenses without putting in any work. In the UK, they are political pygmies, without a single elected Councillor, without a single elected MP, without a single elected anybody. Using the old BNP trick of co-option onto tiny minute parish councils, UKIP can claim to have some kind of representation outside Brussels, but this doesn’t wash with most folk who know their onions and their bendy bananas.

What UKIP actually want, or how they managed to get 22% of the vote here without explaining anything, is the real question. The adoption scandal broke with exceptionally good timing.  It was used to get sympathy for both the parents, and the candidate. Why the lack of success? Jane Collins is not George Galloway, and Rotherham is not Bradford. Crucially, perhaps, Nigel Farage is not Galloway either. There’s a lot of bom, but not enough bast. Whilst George can speak with passion and target that passion to something relevant (usually the Labour Party), Nigel is too eager to use “Europe” as a codeword for anything and everything, and it will put off swing voters. “Europe” as a catch-all is not a popular electoral subject, as many polls have shown, and people are not made more popular by talking about it again and again and again.

So, then, the Liberal Democrats. What do we blame? That our candidate was a bloke with a ponytail? Well, it might be a reason, keep hold of it. Again, I’m not going to wear a black cap here and call time on us all. This was a bonkers byelection even by most standards of these things. We had the adoption case, Labour’s controversial stitch-up/selection, high profile Yvonne Wilson, and a candidate called Clint who came with backing from the English Defence League. We would always find high profile elections like this hard, moreso in government. We suffered a lot, in many ways more than we did in Manchester. In fact the 2.1% we ‘gained’ here is the worst result, of any mainstream party, in any by-election in recorded history for a mainland constituency. What I am certain of is that this was just a kick in the shins as part of a very complex and unpredictable election. We’re not going to be srtuffed like this again.

It’s notable that the BNP, whilst saving a deposit, which is very rare for them (only 4 ever in their history), it came with a short drop in the share of the vote. Clearly they are not attracting votes like they used to, and should no longer be the bogeymen of British politics. Using the BNP as some kind of scare tactic is nonsense when they’re clearly so unpopular, toothless and broke. Look at the figures – UKIP at over 4,600 votes from 2,220, whilst BNP slipped from 3,906 to 1,804. That is a party in decline, here and in Manchester and elsewhere, and there wasn’t many elsewheres for a group with such little money. If this month has shown the death of anything, it’s the demise of the BNP.

Middlesbrough

Give Peace a chance.

By-elections are theatre. Nobody knows who will turn up to stand, or to vote, and as such there’s no real guarantee that the result will marry up with the opinion polls of the day. This is why Peter Snow was so funny in going “just for fun” when taking the election result from one constituency across the country. There’s no such thing as uniform behaviour, much less uniform swing.

Here in Middlesbrough the election seemed to carry out its business without much publicity. Croydon had big names in Lee and Winston and Rotherham had scandal, walk-outs and Yvonne Ridley. So away from all that, the ‘Boro just had candidates standing for election without the media taking much notice.

The result was another disaster for TuSC, who claim to speak for the working class, and BNP, who do the same with a different accent. Neither showed much chance of a break through, less so the BNP who lost 4 percentage points to lose over 1,600 votes in real terms.

The success of Labour needs framing in context, too. Sir Stuart Bell didn’t hold a single constituency surgery for years following an physical attack, which attracted criticism all the same for being dismissive of his constituents. It’s not for nothing that the winning candidate saw his vote share climb from under 50% to above 60%. Voters do notice this sort of thing, you know.

A saved deposit for the LibDems may seem out of the storyline somewhat, although it’s worth remembering that the candidate and his team were behind the success in Redcar next-door. Good campaigners show their mark in many ways, not least a saved deposit and a better overall result than the Conservatives.

And then we get to Imdad Hussain and the Peace Party. No, me neither. Indeed, nobody really knew who this former Labour councillor was until the results were announced. Any clues? Well he was embroiled in a bit of a scandal and defected, although why he went here rather than Respect is anyone’s guess. What we do have is a nice electoral quirk to finish up with – the first time that the Peace Party had saved a deposit, a slice of the unpredictable nature of this business we call politics.

Just for fun, you understand, we ran these results through a super computer, and do you know what it said? Wait until 2015, when the votes really mean something.

Destination Oldham

The woman in front of me at Deansgate does a double take. She has spotted the map above the ticket machine’s touchscreen now shows the newly opened Oldham extension. “Ooh, is the Oldham bit open?” she asks turning around to me. I dampen my anorak tendencies – there’s nothing a random stranger likes more than hearing detailed descriptions of every single stop on a line – and confirm that it has, indeed, opened and taking passengers up and down the line from the media studies magnet of Chorlton. “How exciting!” she beams. “Listen to me, ‘exciting’. Still, not much happens in Manchester, eh?”

I stop to consider what kind of Manchester she must inhabit for the opening of a new tram line to be the most exciting thing in her life. Then remember that I’ve made the trip especially to take the journey, so consider this is a score-draw.

Having closed in 2009, the Oldham loop-line disappeared from network maps, reappearing only as subject of approximately 1.4 million negative comments in the Manchester Evening News website. With Metrolink’s distinctive banana coloured trams prone to delay, spontaneously combusting or going to Altrincham in groups of 12, it’s little wonder that the delay in opening Oldham caused the Professional Newspaper Comment Section Corps. Given that most once-upon-an-age commuters have either moved house or died since Transport for Greater Manchester (yes, they aped Transport for London in the most obvious act of flirtation since Bonzo took a rabbit to the High School Disco to wave the thing by its ears in front of Celia Sprong.)

No section of the Metrolink ‘big bang’ expansions have yet opened on time, which one supposes is just another ape of big brother London Underground. This has opened up a shed load of criticism from just about anyone living with a Manchester postcode; even when lines are opened there’s always a failed tram somewhere, invariably at the MediaCity pokey-out-bit, causing back-ups in central Manchester that would cause the populace of most other cities to storm municipal halls seeking vengeance.

In anycase, excitable Deansgate woman boarded her tram to Piccadilly, leaving me alone on Deansgate(-Castlefield) with a return ticket and nobody to share it with.  The Oldham Mumps tram arrived a few minutes later, coming from what will eventually be the direct link through southern Manchester to the Airport. I was one of a number of passengers who stayed on at Victoria, though the crawl through the city centre (during which the tram runs at road level along side shops and shoppers) saw many people depart at Market Street or Shudehill. The greatest influx of passengers came at Manchester Victoria, and of these, I’d be generous to call the majority of them ‘enthusiasts’.  Dozens of men – and they were all men – with various shades of grey hair stood or sat with cameras and notepads close to hand. Six Metrolink uniformed men – and they were all men – stood in a clump on the platform, the least proportionate crowd control I’ve seen outside gigs.

Unlike the London Underground, Manchester’s trams are essentially silent. No constant roll-call of messages and warnings, or the over repetitive destination speeches (“This is a something line to somewhere, the next stop is someplace, change here for other lines and two arbitrarily selected tourist attractions.”). Metrolink’s delicately accented woman waits until a station is arrived at, says “This is an Oldham Mumps service, the next stop is somewhere”, and then keeps silent. Bliss. Joy be praised. She even says “Mumps” with a clipped Lancastrian accent, which is a bonus.

Whilst waiting for the first stop, I check Twitter for various related search terms. “Who the hell decided to call it Mumps?” asks someone. “As if a new line to Oldham is considered news!” sneered another. Tough crowd. “Freehold?!” said another tweet, stunned into just one word by   one of the newest stops on the newest line.

All Metrolink tram stops have been given cheery little posters from TfGM, saying things like “A Perk for Central Park!” and “Nice one Newton Heath”, “Fab for Failsworth!”. I wonder how long that could keep going. If there’s ever a station opening on a Queen Street, I’d pay the advertising department all the money I’ve got to see what they come up with.

As each stop approaches, it soon becomes clear that only two kinds of people are waiting on the platforms; enthusiasts with cameras and twice their number in Metrolink officials/ticket inspectors. I can’t say for certain if anyone leaves our tram at any of the intermediate stations. Other than the Clipped Accent Announcer Woman, the only other sound is the beep-whirr-click of cameras.

Central Park was opened in 2009, then left to gather rust and publicity posters for local music events, leaving the glass and chrome canopy roof resembling the entrance to an abandoned tourist attraction in a recession hit corner of Spain. It seems to be in the middle of a cross-fingers and hope regeneration park, which makes the poster’s slogan – “A Perk for Central Park!” – seem somewhat condescending.

My personal highlight of the journey is the approach to South Chadderton, built like the very best bits of London’s DLR or a low-budget rollercoaster, dipping down from height to reach the station, which has been built in the ‘bowl’. I can imagine – and experienced – drivers having a lot of fun with that.

 Arrival at Oldham was not exactly ‘low key’.  Whilst all local journos had by then gone home – first services arrived just after 6am – there was a large crowd of photographers and curious locals who seemed close to applauding everyone who alighted. My fellow passengers divided into three types – a number stayed on the platform ready to ride the same tram back to Manchester, others left by the southern entrance, and others still followed me into Oldham’s town centre.

The route to Mumps is only temporary, as all maps are at pains to remind locals. A new line will cut into the town centre itself, leaving the current Mumps station as a briefly existing blob on the network. For a temporary station, it’s looking very much the part, not least because it’s been given all the corporate yellow gloss that TfGM can throw at it. The predecessor station was notoriously grim, though both suffer from being located on the wrong side of a dual carriageway.

At the recommended watering hole of the Ashton Arms, the landlady was deep in conversation with locals and enthusiasts about the new line’s opening. “Two years late, more expensive, longer travelling times and no toilets!” she summarised before serving me. “But that’s progress, eh?” I offered.

The new line will eventually cross the front of her pub, one of the few decent drinking places in Oldham town centre that doesn’t resemble a possible location shoot for the new series of ‘Shameless’. What was Oldham’s grand Town Hall is to become a ‘family leisure facility with cinema complex’, a piece of news which triggered a burst of memory from one of the old boy regulars. “There used to be seven cinemas in Oldham, at one time. Seven.  They told us that closing them down would do us good in t’long term, but look around you to see that for what it was!”

The journey back into Manchester is noticeably slower, with the driver, an assistant in a hi-viz jackets and two ticket inspectors (and/or revenue protection assistants or whatever we’re calling them this week) enjoying the view from inside the cab.

Views of life outside the trams show a very mixed economic and social picture of this part of Greater Manchester. Freehold and South Chadderton give very resplendent shots of empty, decaying factoriesa, their chimneys the only element not crumbling around themselves, green-blocked windows staring out across terraces and far-flung suburbia. There may be amble opportunities for photographers to make mean and moody shots of northern England from the pristine white platforms of the Metrolink, but it’s not so good a selling point watching so much of England’s industrial past left to rot and ruin.

As much as I enjoyed my….three….pints (and a packet of Scampi Fries, of course), Oldham is in need of whatever economic boost the trams provide. The walk into town is quite an eye-opener, with more For Sale signs than I could count attached to long since abandoned stores. The open market was a great sign, with people milling about occasionally stopping at a butcher’s or what seemed to be a bathroom fitting salesman, though even this is tucked away in the background with all the signs of it being left to fend for itself.

All that said, at Failsworth a number of people boarded who looked positively normal (teenage girl with scowl, two teenage boys with hats at a jaunty angle) and Victoria, where I departed, was a success for people shopping over people taking photographs. It’s doubtlessly overdue, dripping with cynical doubts and occasionally just plain not reliable, but Metrolink is a success  and this new line was an interesting day out experience. I will not, however, use the excuse of one decent pub for having daily excursions to Oldham.

Timothy Alexander "16/12/27"

Timothy Alexander and Diacope Records are swiftly becoming the watch words in exciting and inventive  House and Techno. The new release “16/12/27”, available to buy from Monday, encapsulates the  risks and revolutions taken, enveloped with a distinctly minimalist flavour.

16/12/27 by Timothy Alexander (www.facebook.com/timothyalexandermusic)
The three sides of the techno triptych relate to each other as so many distant relatives in a family gathering – distinctly different with shared traits, a form of storytelling through solely electronic means. “16” is enclosed, attracting the visceral unease towards dark shadows and the noise you hear from the bedroom when you know there’s nobody around. “12” is an unsettled wind looking for a current to reverse, breaking out into a vaguely tribal motif. The lighter “27” channels multiple layers of sounds and beats through increasingly tighter curves,  not so much blending into each other as assimilating.

Each track is so twisted they might as well be cousins, and married, and really into chains.

You can find out more about Diacope through their Twitter  and Timothy Alexander can be sought after at Soundclound

Greater Manchester Parliamentary Boundary Review

The Coalition Government’s proposal to reduce the number of MPs to 600 (the second part of this one), is one I support, if only to cut own costs of representation never mind the question of whether Britain requires so many Members of Parliament as an additional layer of representation.

Those “removed” MPs represent constituencies of thier own, of course, so as a consequence major boundary changes would have to be considered before the next (hopefully fixed-term) election in 2015. I have already given a broadbrush review of my Lancashire proposals elsewhere (though these have been tinkered with since, I’ll re-visit them later).

Greater Manchester had to, in my opinion, be attached to Lancashire for reasons of review. In some places, it seems very natural – Parbold and Appley Bridge are essentially Wigan anyway – though I concede some of my creations may raise eyebrows.

Manchester itself undertakes a massive change – gone is the very word “Manchester” itself from the Parliamentary map – whilst the one-time LibDem constituency of “Littleborough and Saddleworth” returns after 20-odd years away.

It’s not been easy, not least because the new regulations makes “wiggle room” almost impossible, but I present what I think it is a fair crack at the whip under the circumstances.

1. Wigan
2. Makerfield
3. Leigh
4. Westhoughton
5. Bolton
6. Radcliffe and Farnworth
7. Worsley
8. Bury and Heywood
9. Eccles and Prestwich
10. Salford Quays and Urmston
11. Altrincham and Sale West
12. Stretford and Chorlton
13. Piccadilly and Rusholme
14. Wythenshawe and Cheadle
15. Blackley and Newton Heath
16. Middleton, Moston and Failsworth
17. Rochdale
18. Ashton-under-Lyne
19. Littleborough and Saddleworth
20. Oldham
21. Stalybridge and Hyde
22. Stockport
23. Didsbury and The Heatons
24. Hazel Grove and Gatley
25. Gorton and Denton

Tithebarn

Many decades ago, some bright spark with a ‘grand vision’ for Preston decided its Ring Road should split the town into unequal segments, consequences from which are still being suffered today. Following Beeching’s Axe to all-but-one Prestonian railway station, the construction of the iconic Brutalist gem that once was Britain’s biggest Bus Station was seen as a futurist vision of how the town should look to the next generation.

The Ring Road has been a disaster. And we’re about to do it all over again.

The Tithebarn fairytale was pencil-sketched in an earlier age, one where credit was cheap and money flowed. That was the time of plenty; now is the age of austerity. There is not justification for squeezing the Tithebarn circle into today’s square hole. Hard working Prestonians should not be expected to pay the cost of yesterday’s plans being railroaded for the short-termist headlines of today.

It is the demolition of the historic bus station which is at the centre of the whole shameful decision. Not only is it such an architectural masterpiece, it also has 1,100 car parking places available for use, more than any other site in the town. Zealots cannot justify the lust for John Lewis as well as the demolition of 1,100 car parking places. “More shops, less opportunity to park!” is not much of a slogan. With the new bus station being built only 10 metres from the current site (behind a nightclub, ironically on the site of a current small car park), it’s not as though train-travel into the new Manchester-upon-Ribble is being encouraged either.

Demolishing the Station in favour of a John Lewis is a depressing indictment of our times. Low and fixed-income residents of Avenham and Deepdale will get the message; from your bedroom window observe progress you cannot afford glow in glorious glass-and-chrome. Such cheque-chasing short-termist nonsense is almost abuse of power. Where do Prestonians go if the Mini-Manchester being forced upon them is not their vision of the Market Town they call home? What of history, heritage? What of taking each part of Preston in turn, to deal with priorities at the point of need?

Why the rush to demolish England’s youngest city? How much will this cost Prestonians when the expected rush of High Street names fail to materialise?

How will the rip-it-up-to-start-again policy solve the current issue whereby dozens of shopping units stand empty today? It’s a fact that investors are using Tithebarn as a direct reason AGAINST investing in Preston. Why would they change thier minds now?

The blueprint for Tithebarn was a vision nobody could guarantee, and today the onus is on the zealots to prove it will go ahead exactly as planned. If those desperate for modernisation for the sake of it want Preston to be demolished so quickly, and demand Manchester-on-Ribble so readily, I suggest one of two actions. Either move to Manchester, where they will see the “island of glass in a sea of debt”, or demand a binding Referendum on the WHOLE CITY, to see if their profit hungry vision is shared by people living in Larches, Ingol, Tanterton, Ribbleton, Plungington or Callon.

Tithebarn is a capitalist wet-dream. Some of us are far more level-headed and reasonable, hoping the zealots wake up.

Prestonians have never, ever, not once, been asked if they want their history and heritage demolished for a mini-Manchester they cannot afford. So let’s have a referendum.

Let us make the case for saving our Bus Station, saving our Town, securing our identity.

I urge the zealots to make the case for a Referendum. Let the whole of Preston decide.

Jealous of Girls : Strawberry Kisses


Manchester songwriter Matthew Lewis is the antidote to that city’s angrier side, albeit for all the songs other than the opener to his debut album which lampoons the modern gig attendee as ‘bastards’ for talking over acoustic guitarists. Whomever they might be…

It would be untrue to describe the rest of the album as free from such resentment though the mood is noticeably lighter once that particular spleen is vented. “Strawberry Kisses” is robust, direct, a stripped down collection that hints at his indie and alt.rock roots whilst merrily wandering down paths largely of his own furrowing.

The very best moments here are Lewis at his most fragile, “Batter Up” and “She” being clear examples, “Sunny Side Up” deliciously implicit in its barbed romance as it attentive upon pop melodies.

Although largely free-flowing, when the brakes are applied it’s straight into the wall; the attempts at solemnity struggle to convince, consequence of an almost complete absence of other instruments. Given these limitations, the standard is exceptionally high; there’s no flippant diary-writing angst and influences remain bedded down rather than fully grown.

There is an engrossing quality here, one which should quieten the target for abuse in the first song; if it all goes well, he may not have to play it anymore.

Matthew Lewis (“Jealous of Girls”) can be found at MySpace and Twitter

“Strawberry Kisses” is out now at jealousofgirls.co.uk

Do Not Want

Dragged my hungover, sleep deprived body into work on Monday. The Sun tried a surprise sobering-up tactic by printing unexpected shots of Ashley Cole’s baggy underpants on the front page. No need, really, was there? There is the redeeming factor that it was obviously a cold day when the photo was taken, I suppose…

An email arrived from my landlady. Some kind of boiler inspection is forthcoming. Joy of joys; my mood was not dragged from lethargy and clock-watching, and on returning home I slumped into a heap on the sofa rather than deal with the kind of bedroom you’d expect to see photographed by a whistleblower revealing the truth about “Britain’s Worst Laundrette”.

Getting somewhat fed up with Twitter. This may not surprise the thousands of people whose own accounts and feeds lay dormant after initial interest. I have yet to decide on all the reasons why it has become rather tedious, although recent British “memes” related to domestic politics really has turned me completely off. How can UK politics be so tedious? There is numerous examples of “walled garden” activity, of users with little influence in the real world assuming they speak for thousands in the virtual one. I should know; the readership of this blog is not high enough yet for me to claim world-wide audiences even if occasional visitors to arrive from South Korea, Ireland, and…er…the House of Commons.

A topic to return to later, I suspect.

Up until this weekend, whenever pub or workplace conversations turned to “worst football songs ever” – and every month or so, they tend to reach such topics – I would always suggest with the predictability of a cracker joke the uninspiring dross that was the Embrace/Spice Girls/Echo and The Bunnymen disaster from 2006. Oh, Euro2006, will your consequential ripples stop flowing through history?

Anyhoo, turns out this auto-response will have to be updated. For reasons unknown – and it may take time to find any with credibility – a former X-Factor loser has written a stirring anthem for the upcoming Carling Cup match against Man Utd. Now, given that the song is called “Championee” – as a friend points out, the Spanish for “mushroom” – and no team has ever before been prompted to mark the league cup with an official song, you may be getting the slight hint that the finished product is rather second rate.

It’s not even that. It’s barely a Eurovision song, never mind a future terrace chant favourite. Which, with depressing predictability, is exactly what the writers suggest it will become.

So, then, here it is. I am sure all other teams, not least Birmingham and Wolves, are eagerly downloading this in anticipation of the Utd victory…

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/4732641/

Jesus Christ and John Smiths

Forty days. And forty long nights. “A bit like Jesus,” suggested a lad at work. Well, quite. Our Lord and Saviour may well have survived, as have I, on powdered soup and tea leaves.

Not wanting to appear somewhat inconsistent in my argument – as if a liberal ever would! – I decided not to buy any booze for the period of my financial kerfuffles (see Missives passim). From watching the might Berske lose to Halifax in the FA Cup qualifying to last night’s High Voltage shindig in Manchester, I endured and partly enjoyed the “dry period”. It would have somewhat invalid a stance were I to claim financial responsibility in one breath while hoiking 12 cans of best ale from the corner shop every week.

Drinking that first pint of Smooth last night returned a very strong sensory recall memory. My earliest attempts to purchase booze in a pub was at the age of 15, with my best mate at High School attempting to look awfully older slurping two pints of Fosters at the Ship. I was wearing his t-shirt and his dad’s trousers in an attempt to look older. Still was refused entry to the Blue Moon, later on, though. Never forgotten.

It took about 40 minutes to drink the first pint, last night. The tight head this morning certainly seems familiar. Unlike the Son of God I dare say my month of sacrifice has not taught others to live a different way, and my blog readership stats suggest these words may well be reaching a world-wide audience, but only of thousands rather than billions. I take the view, as I sit here in a stuffy library struggling against the pinching headache behind the eyes, that in the manner of someone from Thought For The Day, drinking in Manchester and buying a Burger King for the midnight train is a little bit like Jesus….Er….and….surely when He…erm…taught the lessons of fortitude he was thinking about…er…the pocket shrapnel one does not like counting through the early fog of the morning after?

Or…you know….something. Cheers!

backstory – moshpit

Manchester, night. Far too many stories could start this way, I concede. Platforms 13/14, waiting for the last train of the night, so-called ‘vomit rocket’ among train staff. To be specific, then; Manchester, night, in a bar with complete strangers.

To being with, most of what happened on this particular night has been long since sorted out and forgotten. Misunderstanding and on my part perhaps too much exasperation rather than reasoned questioning. I did stay for about an hour, crouched and cross-legged, with a bit of a sulk, but otherwise looking like a drug-dealer whose sitting down was far more subtle a positioning than standing-up, active and obvious. Who was I there to review, originally? I forget. I shook the hand of one of the band’s members, who looked like Preston College’s former SU head, hair all over the place like fireworks, only black.

Before this, then, the strangers, of whom I counted four. Two of them I cannot bring to mind at all, I just know they existed. One bloke was clearly gay without ever saying anything to prove it; the fact just sat alongside him, unremarked. The woman was quite attractive, and funny, with the dry irony preferred by indie-kids. We made refuge in her (or their?) flat, eating pasta. I used up all my usual jokes and anecdotes until the problem on the door. Like me they had names on lists, open doors, pleased-to-see-yous. But all this has been sorted, now. I had been a little angrier than I should, all told. In the drizzle, on the street-corner, I must have looked like a runaway, only one with a mobile phone.

If not this story, then “Manchester, night”, could introduce the walk I had to make from the Academy to the Roadhouse with one leg of my jeans torn knee-to-boot. Without any context the image must have been totally hilarious, or else the effects of a fight. I had, in fact, been reviewing (I always say this, as though I am an inspector. I’ve heard other journalists say “assignment”, which doesn’t do it for me. “Other journalists”, have you heard?).

Alexisonfire, it was, and a very good gig it was too. I would go on to interview Dallas Green, who was attractively geeky and deadpan. The kids around me were a bit of a muddle, though. Some had clearly not revised how best to act at gigs, so did their best to be violent. I can hold my ground very well – many a bus and train commute behind me – so am not pushed to either side very easily despite my frame. I fold my arms, hold tight. Some gave up ultimately, watching the gig through their mobile phones, or muttering something about me while barging their way to the front by other means. At some point there was a foothold made, a successful push ahead, resulting in a small tear to my jeans, opened up like a wound within minutes. I walked out to the streets as proud and unaffected as a man could with one jeans-leg tied into his sock.

(Incidental memory – Fightstar, who I have seen three times now, Preston. Not much drink inside me. Actual moshpit ‘action’ is not my scene, all things considered, but close proximity can often suck you in like tiny flecks of hair sucked down the plughole after shaving. I left with bruises and a stolen hoodie, lost in the clump of shirtless men and angry, grit-teethed girls with sharp-fringes)

This is not entirely about how this old man has grown awfully cynical about the behaviour of younger people at gigs, although there is something to be said. To show that even folk like me get things wrong, I could either make reference to the night I nearly fainted during a Jack Penate gig (that is, at the gig, not at him); or when my jeans fell down during Coheed and Cambria.

But never violent. To my memory. Yet.