The plan was to spend most of the Christmas period in Manchester, including an excursion to a party in North Wales, at the Church into Home residence. For once, instead of the safe (expensive) option of an off-peak return, I bought a much cheaper advance ticket, reasoning that now in numerical terms I must be a grown-up, surely I can board a specific train… Naturally, I missed the train. I did spend the extra day well, seeing various exhibitions across London and buying remaining present items. The result of this was that I bought an extra off-peak return, because it was only 30p more than a single, and I then had a spare return from Manchester to London, due to be used within a month.
This Saturday, I made use of that return, gambling even more recklessly that I could make the 0655 from Euston, which was the latest cheap ticket I could book. Reader, I did make that train, reaching Euston even before W H Smith had opened. It felt quite odd arriving in my estranged hometown this way. First destination was the Lowry, via the tram. One of the things I like about the tram is the earthy diction of the announcement lady, who curiously tells you the next stop when you arrive at the current one. In fact, I arrived before it had opened, in common with a few other people, so I wandered around the ever-curious Outlet Mall, always an eerie presence when walked through on the way to comedy, as I recall. When I did enter the building, two people said “good morning” to me, which never happens down here.
The first show I saw there was Defining me, illustrating Manchester’s musical history through the collections of various people, including the wonderful Bruce Mitchell of the Durutti Column, and Sarah Champion, who was a slightly notorious figure amongst my set at the time, for no good reason. A lot of the 1980s and later stuff I knew already, but it was very satisfying to read about clubs and venues from earlier decades. It was put on by the Manchester District Music Archive, one of few bodies trying to preserve this sort of cultural memory. It overlapped in my mind a lot with the last show I saw in that space at the Lowry, of early 1960s Top of the Pops. The larger show I saw there was curated by Alison Goldfrapp, part of their new Performer as Curator series. It’s certainly a good idea to bring in new ideas, I’m just not sure in this case that what was on display amounted to a very coherent experience. Maybe that’s okay. I hadn’t heard of most of the people she selected and it’s always good to find new things.
After a pleasing lunch with an ex-colleague, I went around the two current shows at the Manchester Gallery, to my mind still the City Art Gallery. The last time I was there, catching the end of the Do It show that had been part of the International Festival, Jeremy Deller was wandering around with an entourage. He looked like he was planning his own show in that space, and that is exactly what happened. The show is a touring one, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, inspired by the Industrial Revolution. In fact, I stood next to him briefly at the recent Facing the Modern show at the National Gallery. Anyway, I’ve always quite liked him, from Acid Brass and the Orgreave recreation, to the parade through Manchester as part of the inaugural Festival and the retrospective at the Hayward I saw in 2012. He seems to write his own blurbs, which makes them much more edifying and meaningful (and funnier). It’s recommended, and (for once), though it’s now finished in Manchester, it is touring around the country. As with Defining Me, I suppose there’s an extra cheap resonance for me when I see old photos of my places from my childhood, but I don’t believe that coloured my appreciation. The very recent photos from one of Amazon’s “fulfilment centres” were particularly chilling, albeit at perhaps less bodily risk than the miners and factory workers of the 1800s.
Downstairs in the same gallery is the touring set of tapestries made by Grayson Perry for his Channel 4 series on taste, from 2012. I found him much more engaging and appealing as a “pundit” than as an artist. The tapestry galleries were very crowded, much more so than the Deller upstairs, though there was less space. While I like the bright colours of the material, the tapestries themselves don’t really succeed as objects beyond their social commentary purposes. Whilst I was there I had a look at a one room collection of post-war British figurative painting, including Bacon, Freud and Hockney. New to me was Euan Uglow, whose somewhat abstract colouring I found quite appealing.
Because my ticket was a flexible return, I wasn’t tied to a specific train, though I did need to be back in London for comedy at the Union Chapel that night…