A Return To Mancunian Vibes

After recently visiting the sounds and sights of Mars, it’s back to a more local setting today.

Though he’s slipped from his northern roots, Noel Gallagher has cast his mind back to his Mancunian beginnings with his latest High Flying Birds album, due out in June.

Titled Council Skies, here is the cover reveal:

That spot, where the band’s equipment sits, is the preserved centre circle of Manchester City’s former home in Moss Side. For eighty years, this was where fans watched their heroes in blue take the kick-off that would begin their games.

There is a generation of City fans today who never got to experience Maine Road, the club having in 2003 relocated to the Etihad Stadium in East Manchester. With the former stadium now demolished, houses have been built around that circle which has been left for sentimental supporters, like both Noel and myself, who have long historic and emotional ties to the place.

Having said that, I’ve yet to go and pay homage, but it’s on my list.

My first game was in 1982 and my last was that final one, held there twenty-one years later.

In addition to the hundreds of matches that has drawn me through the network of surrounding side streets of that inner city town, there has also been the odd concert, too. I was there for one of the two-night gigs put on by Noel’s former group, Oasis, when they were at the height of their powers in the 1990’s, with Britpop in all its pomp.

I can remember the moon coming out, the blue moon, adding to the saved inner image as it hung above us all, a sign of the musical Gods’ approval, as the band belted out Champagne Supernova.

It was a great night. A great band with great support (Ocean Colour Scene and Manic Street Preachers ). Maybe my favourite ever gig.

On the other night, a couple of my friends were mugged in one of those shadowed back alleyways as they made their way back home. What the Gods giveth the Gods taketh away.

All sorts of memories. Most of them good.

Sunsets On Mars

It looks like a scene set on the fictional world of Tatooine, but this shot is of the sun setting on the empty, desolate planet of Mars.

In the whole of our history, we are the first human beings to witness a Martian sunset. Just think about that. We can see from the vantage point of an island that we as a species should never have reached.

I’ve said it before-this is a place where the silence has never been broken by spoken word.

One day it will. I wonder what that first word will be?

I say ‘silence’, but if you do a search you can discover an audio video that enables you to listen to the sound of this far-flung place. A place with few natural sounds except the wind.

I find things like this awe-inspiring. And there’s now lots of images to keep me going for some time yet. Rocky landscapes beneath a salmon sky.

I hope they instil in you the same sense of wonder that they do me. But if you are looking for a photo credit, though – I’m sorry, I didn’t take them.

Hobbit in the Habitat? Not Quite.

I have a few projects at the moment that have been put on hold due to a local oral history project that I volunteered for. This has taken precedence because, sadly, some of the people that I was due to speak with died before I got the opportunity, and I have also been to the funerals of two people whose stories I have managed to preserve.

So the clock is ticking. Talk about a deadline. Literally.

In pursuit of finishing this endeavour, I was due to catch a train to interview a Bishop who lived on my estate in the 1970’s.

“Who are you going to see this time?” my daughter, Millie, asked.

“I’m going to see a Bishop. And guess what my first question is?”

“What?”

Is it true that you can only move diagonally?”

Long pause. “I don’t get it.”

Things didn’t fare any better with my older daughter, Courtney. She asked me “Where is it you are getting a train to?”

“Chapel-en-le-Frith.”

One of those pauses again. Must be a family thing. “What does that even mean?!’

“It’s a place,” I explained, deciding to slip back into English. Historically it was the upperland area between Saxon land and Viking land, and I love that kind of stuff.

But I didn’t go there (metaphorically speaking). I had a train to catch.

Peak as in ‘Peak District’

At Manchester Piccadilly, I made the fatal mistake of looking at books in WH Smith, something that is always liable to distract me. It was only when I saw some bottles of Buxton Spring Water on a shelf that I suddenly remembered why I was there.

“BUXTON!”

That was the destination my train was heading for, with my stop coming two stations before. It was, dare I say it, divine intervention of my dawdling. And off I dashed.

In short: I made my train, on disembarking was met on the platform by the Bishop (“Jack?” “Andy?”) and was charmed over lunch by both him and his wife. Not realising on my arrival just how close to the station that they lived, I declined the offer of a lift back to the station, insisting that I’d like to walk. I am an ex-postie after all.

And who doesn’t love Autumn in Derbyshire?

However, quaint though the local train station was, what I didn’t realise was that trains to Manchester ran only once every hour, and I had forty minutes to wait.

Just as the rain came in with a dampening down of mood.

I’m sittin’ in the railway station . . .

There was a shelter on the opposite side of the tracks, (the Manchester side), so I could sit down and take in the setting. There was nobody else around. Windswept and empty, it was obvious that the locals were all au fait with the timetable.

The type of rain that Peter Kaye made famous.

At first glance, looking to the opposite platform, I thought that this said ‘Home of Frodo’.

Ferodo is a brakes company.

A friend later told me that when she was there she’d thought that the sign said ‘Home of Freddo’.

Hobbits/Chocolate . Maybe chocolate hobnobs?

In the autumn chill I was pretty sure that at least some of the locals were snug and warm.

Snug as a, well, you know.

I couldn’t help but contrast my surroundings with this welcoming depiction of the town. I think a bit of artistic licence had been used, especially with the climate. I could just feel that heat. Almost.

Looks lovely, doesn’t it?

The time soon passed, (with still not a living soul arriving to keep me company), and my train rolled in to puncture this almost picture-portrait of times past. But not before the clouds broke and I was given one more contrast before my departure.

Chapel-en-le-Frith by sunshine.

When A Queen Dies

When the statement was made that the Queen was under medical supervision, with doctors concerned for her health, the gravity of the situation was immediately acknowledged as the Palace don’t normally comment on, or share, private things like that.

And it spoke volumes when we learnt that her family members, independently of each other, were all heading up to Balmoral to be with her.

We knew that she had been working just two days before, appointing Liz Truss as our new Prime Minister. We had seen the photograph commemorating that moment, even though it illustrated as it did an increasingly looking fragility about her. Speculation had also been prompted by the fact that tradition had been broken: Truss travelled up to Balmoral, in Scotland, to be appointed instead of the Queen travelling down to Buckingham Palace where the previous fourteen appointments had been made.

This all pointed to something ominous happening. My wife was out shopping with her Mum, and I text her the news about the ‘medical supervision’. She didn’t have to fall back on her experience working in the funeral business to know what ‘all of her family are travelling to be with her in Scotland’ signified.

As the news rolled on it seemed that every news presenter had unobtrusively slipped into dark clothing.

I missed the announcement.

By this time my wife was back and we were getting ready to leave to take my son and a couple of his friends to their football training. While I was in the kitchen locking the back door I heard the National Anthem begin to be played in the lounge. I walked in to see the confirmation on the screen.

Queen Elizabeth II had passed away that afternoon. I went to the door and shouted to my wife who was stood by the car. “Jen, they’re playing the National Anthem now.”

“She’s died?”

Even though the woman was ninety-six and we always knew it was going to happen sometime, the question was still asked with an element of shock. She had been a constant figure throughout our lives, and quite irrationally we expected her to go on forever.

We drove to the football pitch, the kids asking questions from the back seat. Who will be in charge now? And then who? How will that happen? What will change?

My son mentioned the currency, which hadn’t crossed my mind. How strange it will be to see the image of Charles on our coins, notes and stamps instead of the ubiquitous Elizabeth.

King Charles, no less. The next time we hear the National Anthem, I thought,. every time it will be sang before our international matches , our cup finals. “God save our gracious King . . . Send him victorious . . .”

It will take some getting used to.

Smooth Radio was playing a solemn, classical track that I knew although I couldn’t remember its title. I had it on an old Melancholy CD somewhere.

“Dad, can you put Capital on?” my unappreciative son asked. Capital is the one I normally put on for him and his sister, conceding to their requests with the caveat “Any rapping comes on and it’s straight back over!”

I switched stations and the same music track was playing on that too. Smooth, Capital, BBC.

“It’s going to be this music on every station.”

“All night?”

All night.”

We arrived at the training pitch and parked up. Looking at my phone I saw I had a Facebook notification: a woman who, as a young girl, was my grandparents’ next door neighbour. She had tagged me in a photograph of herself stood with my brother and I, holding Union Jack flags while celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at our street party.

That was back in 1977 when I was six. Queen Elizabeth had reigned for another forty five years after that. That brought it home, the length of time she reigned. The length of time she served. Seventy years in total.

Of course, while the lads trained, the Queen’s death was the topic of all conversation among the adults. Afterwards we called at a local service station for a coffee on the way home. Immediately outside the doors, and inside too, there were reminders of this historic moment everywhere.

In the immediate aftermath there has been talk about sports events being cancelled, of previous funerals and coronations.

The second Elizabethan era is over. We are now in a new period of British history, a period of new beginnings but also, conversely, a period of continuity. For in the following proclamations and fanfares, we have been witnessing events that have never been witnessed before. Modern technology is enabling us to see what in the past has taken place in private.

And I am surprised at how I’ve been feeling.

When pressed I’ve always said that I’m neither a monarchist nor a republican. I didn’t feel a particular strong connection to either camp, not enough to sway me in any direction. Not exactly apathetic, just a casual acceptance of what has always been.

But I love history, I love these islands.

And what I’m now discovering, with the help of modernity, is a deepening love for our age-old traditions, traditions reinforced by a reminder of this woman’s seven decades-worth of selfless service, service to this land that is in my blood and my children’s blood. Service that began long before any of us were born.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The Seventies Slip Further Away

I was intending to do a post tonight about the death that I heard about yesterday, of a musical figure from my childhood, when suddenly news broke of yet another such figure.

The first one was Judith Durham. One of my first musical memories is of my Mum singing the song Morningtown Ride by her group (The Seekers) to us when we were children. I’d be coming up to four then, so it would be around 1975.

Decades later I could recall some lines of the song but not its title or its singer, so with the help of Google one day when on a nostalgia trip (I take these trips often, I’m that kinda guy) I typed up the words and was immediately transported back to the house that we lived in until 1977. And that song led to others, each anchoring me further for a while in a place and time now gone.

Isn’t it wonderful how music can do that to you?

R.I.P Judith Durham, 79.

And now there’s more breaking news, but my memories are much clearer this time and so the sadness more acute.

R.I.P Olivia Newton-John, 73.

Olivia Newton-John had passed away this morning. I guess she finally succumbed to her decades-long fight against cancer. I love her Jeff Lynne-penned hit Xanadu but my favourite of hers is Magic. And of course there was Grease when we were kids.

I don’t watch a lot of musicals but I’ve always had time to watch that one during the holidays.

You’re The One That I Want. What a finale.

‘Finale: the close or termination of something.’

That’s what the dictionary tells me. The close or termination of something. Some things survive, though. Somethings can be relived. Music and memories.

Rest easy, Sandy.

Newton-John and Travolta reuniting as Sandy and Danny in 2019, and the original Sandy in 1978.

Shaking The Heavens

My daughter Courtney surprised me on Father’s Day with tickets to see Kula Shaker in Manchester, at a venue I’ve seen them before. And, as lead singer Crispian Mills pointed out on the night, this time round it was quite an appropriate venue.

Their latest album release (a double album) is a bit of a concept album. Titled 1st Congregational Church Of Love And Free Hugs, Mills explains:

“It is set against a theatrical backdrop, a small church in a semi—fictitious English village called Little Sodbury. I just liked the mental imagery of the small church with a rickety, leaky roof and a great storm raging in heaven, with all these tiny people huddled together to tell stories and sing songs and make it through the dark night.”

The concert took place in the Albert Hall, which was built as a Methodist Hall in 1908.

Huddled together to sing songs through the dark night. Thankfully, though, with no leaking roof.

There are also connections with Manchester for the group: Mills told the audience that Manchester was a special place for them, we Northerners accepting the group when the ‘villains’ of London said “no.” It was after a gig in this city that they were signed by a record company.

The band made a nod to Manchester’s musical heritage during their performance of their popular song Tattva, breaking into the native Happy Monday’s Hallelujah.

My daughter, familiarising herself with their better known hits during the preceding days, asked me how old they were. On telling her that I didn’t know the age of every member of the group but I did know that the lead singer was born in ‘73 (with me checking in in ‘71) I think she was expecting four frail old men to take the stage.

But they blew her away. With Mills as energetic as ever and the other three in sync, they were only halfway through the opening number when she remarked to me “They’re great live!” Which came as a relief to a veteran like me.

And when Mills threw his guitar into the air, catching it on the spin before throwing himself down, horizontal, onto the wooden boards without missing a note, she exclaimed “My God!”

Not for the first time that that phrase would have been uttered in these surroundings. But what was definitely a first for Courtney, who already has a number of concerts under her belt, came during the encore: singing along to a song entirely in Sanskrit! (Govinda)