Tag Archives: manchester

Meades Aphex Sandwich Pt. 1

Only the purified impetus of Meades can resurrect this otherwise moribund site.

It turns out that last-minute train ticketing optimisation decisions have their own repercussions. (More later).

With the afternoon off, I arrived in East Croydon, a staging post for Chichester. Having secured Private Eye and the New Yorker in the W H Smith, I was dully lingering by the newspapers, accidentally in front of the ‘i’ pile.

“There’s too much news”, a man informed me. “That one” – indicating ‘i’ – “just has the best bits. Try it.”

Pleasing though it was to receive this advice, I confess I did not take it. Instead I bought my ticket to Chichester, thinking well Oyster, zones, travelcard, yes it will all be fine. The machine appeared to be offering the same ticket for two different prices, so I thought I’d play a trick on it and choose the cheaper one. Take that, Invisible Hand.

Strange aspects of journeys in this region to my urban mind include trains that undergo mitosis, and lots of level crossings, which indicate bad planning.

The man at the Pallant House ticket office was very jolly, this extending to the loan of a special token, because I was such a metropolitan elitist that I lacked even a single coin for the lockers. It seems to be a place where people are keener than normal to discuss why they are there, and the gallery itself. Someone said that the modern extension to the original building had been very controversial in its time, largely treasured though it now is. The man in question lamented that the

“limited art syllabus in schools leads to a conservatism towards modern architecture”

that is very unfortunate. Later, in the central permanent collection gallery, a woman was prompted by the sight of a Peter Blake to complain that he had “airbrushed Jann Howarth out of history” and claimed all the credit for himself.

Sidney Nolan wasn’t particularly known to me. The best pieces were some of the Ned Kelly-related ones,  

a couple of small ones painted on glass, and landscapes:

It was noteworthy that he seemingly felt the need to move to the UK to achieve greater prominence, which I doubt would be the case now. Later on I heard that some people had come specially for him, whereas Pasmore was the priority for me.

To me Pasmore is associated with his designs for Peterlee, and footage I remember of his engaging with the residents who were complaining about them. The show emphasises the series of stylistic changes from figuration to abstraction in his career, described by one critic as the most important in post-war British art, which are indeed quite startling, particularly if you go back to the beginning. In the first room, two women were discussing the patronage of Kenneth Clark that Pasmore enjoyed, and one of them was trying to remember the name of his infamous son. I was able to supply the name of Alan Clark, and she laughed at the way she had whispered her own description of the man whose name she couldn’t remember as a “womaniser”. There is something very satisfying about witnessing the playing out of these changing obsessions, the landscapes becoming more rarefied, the colour blocks, the spirals, the reliefs. Each stage in his evolution has at least one outstanding exemplar. A happy surprise to learn that he created a mural for the Renold building, an icon of childhood train journeys and later University-related visits. Very cleverly, the gallery has scheduled a small show of British Constructivist art from the Catherine Petitgas collection, to coincide with the Pasmore, including some scintillating pieces.

On top of these, there was a lovely single-room display of woodcut prints, including my favourites Albrecht Dürer,

and Hiroshige:

plus Rebecca Salter and Vanessa Bell, both of whose work I’ve seen recently.

Very much worth the long and puzzling journey. As for the return, was needed to be timed for an event at RIBA, it was initially plagued by “signalling problems”, which led to train cancellations. While I waited on the station forecourt, several groups of what looked like wedding guests were gathering, including some lecking men who took turns to make expeditions into the station, returning for approbation and fist-related celebrations. While it was a bonanza for the man with his kiosk on the platform, the staff were dealing well with puzzled out-of-towners like me. Each time the train indicators changed (which was every few minutes), showing a “correction” notice, a strange sound was emitted, and the persisted in holding out hope for trains that hadn’t actually been cancelled, but whose appearance was very unlikely. Owing to my curious decision earlier, I had to buy an extra ticket to cover the escape from East Croydon to the warm embrace of Victoria. I think this was quite an obscure ticket, judging by the length of time it took the On Board Staff man to find it on his device.

With all the extra delays, I missed the first half of the On The Brandwagon screening at the Here Lies Jonathan Meades – Regeneration event. In the programme he dissects the Bilbao Effect, and its attempted implementation in places like Manchester, during the early New Labour period, lamenting the groupthink and the missing ambition. Hatherley asked Meades what he thought might be remembered well from the period. He replied that:

“It’s hard to tell what will endure, and when it does it’s never down to building quality”.

Meades lamented that the work of Rodney Gordon, Owen Luder and Claude Parent had nearly all disappeared, while an uncodified hierarchy of preservation meant that it was much harder to get rid of a dreadful church than a beautiful warehouse. The overall effect of urban regeneration in the ten years after 1997 was to produce “Modernism without meaning” and buildings that became “instantly unfashionable”. Part of the reason for this lay in the strangely plagiaristic approach of many architects, who ape each other in just the way that (for example) writers don’t. He referred to Adrian Tempany, who has written in his book about football, that there was a sense of shame about British cities in the Eighties, as compared with other European cities, with their San Siros and Nou Camps.

Audience members asked about London in the Sixties and Meades said that he enjoyed the messiness he found when he first visited then, and that

“Swinging London was completely atypical”

while more generally “tidiness kills cities”. This led on to the problems in regional cities, which used to be proud of their distinctiveness, whereas now they are subject to a relentless homogenisation.

In the programme he had a great time with litanies of newspeak

“Cultural springboard into the regional sector”

that he said he largely made up, though Hatherley claimed that he’d actually encountered

“Housing market renewal partnership”.

Further on language, he decried the vapidity of Executive language, which is

“(the) Language of the sycophant and the flunkey, used in hope of promotion”

and compared that unfavourably with Jonathan Green who celebrates the “slang poetry of the gutter”.

Asked again whether any of the regeneration projects could be considered successful, he thought that Bristol maybe performed better than the rest, owing to its peculiar topography, and that it effected regeneration without social clearance. On the latter point the “Class clearances” in cities were cited, and the terrible “decanting of the poor”. These social divisions “follow building patterns”, leading to social atomization and an almost total lack of “mixity”. A government with any spine should compulsorily purchase the thousands of unused buildings in cities like London.

Someone asked about a skit on the Village People’s YMCA, reworked as “INLA”, and the fact that on a programme scheduled in September 2001 this was fatuously censored by the BBC. A woman from Bilbao said that she wasn’t sure whether she supported him or hated him, because she claimed that contrary to his thesis, there had been genuine improvements since the arrival of the Guggenheim. He thought that those improvements would have happened anyway, and that the idea of the eponymous effect was a “faith without foundation”, the same as “dripdown, which we know doesn’t work”.

During these questions I was slightly mesmerised by my view of the on-stage monitors and the flashing red digits indicating that they were running over time, according to the schedule. The second screening of the evening was “Get High: the perilous attractions of vertigo” from 1994, a programme that he said

“addresses no weighty matters at all”.

He noted that he only suffers from it in buildings, not in nature, and that his hopes of the condition being cured by making the programme were not fulfilled.

Considering fairgrounds in the programme, he referred to the workers as “tattooed clerics of pain”. An inflatable Meades suffered on his behalf. Cablecars were described as unusual in being “both structures and modes of transport”. The mania for lifts in office buildings provided “workplace intoxication” and the “introduction of irreason” into the day. Footage of Canary Wharf was gilded by the theme from Where Eagles Dare, rather pleasingly.

An evening that more than justified the angst of trying to rush back from Chichester.

We shall return to the concept of “irreason” in part 2, which will also cover Field Day, Aphex Twin and more Meades.










From Ambleside to Margate part 1

During an officially-sanctioned period of recreation, part of the schedule of a work-related trip, I wanted to explore Ambleside. Naturally, it was raining, which attenuated any small desire I had to climb the hills. I had thought of going to the Armitt Museum, where I’d enjoyed the exhibition about Royal College of Art students being evacuated to the area during the Second World War, a few years ago. However, the current show was about Beatrix Potter, which was a little less appealing. I decided to explore Lake Windermere a little and took the Green Cruise launch, the “Queen of the Lake”. We passed by a castle, where the family sailing with me descended and a couple of people boarded.

Ambleside August 2014

At the next calling point, Brockhole, I got off and walked towards the Lake District Visitors’ Centre. Other than the view of the gardens and the house itself,

Ambleside August 2014

Ambleside August 2014

the main thing I noticed as I approached was the sound of people whirring down the zipwire, in the woods. There was a small exhibition, though the main focus seemed to be on “family activities”, mitigated a little by the climatic inclemency. In past epochs I might have gorged on fudge and/or Kendal Mint Cake, but of course such things are now Verboten. Mainly.

A little frustrated, I wandered around outside, making sure I’d seen all of the gardens indicated on the map, when I spotted a sign for a “bird hide”. Mindful of the precedent of Bill Oddie, and wondering exactly what this would be, I followed more arrow signs to a small hut which enjoined quietness upon those who entered. There was no-one else there, so I could spend as much time as I liked, enjoying the spectacle of the birds in the clearing festooned with feeders. The first lesson was not to make noise when opening the windows, because a slight creak sent the birds flying off to their hiding places in the trees. I liked the way that the birds’ persistence and eagerness would cause the feeders to rotate, creating a nutritional carousel, and they appeared to compete even though there were enough feeding points for all. There were identification aids posted inside the hide, though I mainly just took in the strange and rather pleasing mixture of quiet and intermittent activity.

Ambleside August 2014

Ambleside August 2014

The next day, after the work had finished, I took the train to Manchester, having sought the advice of people who Know About These Things that I could “break” my journey like this, and take a somewhat indirect route back to that London, over several days. Two tables of people in my carriage had broken through passenger reserve and already had nicknames for each other: Prosecco Man and Scones Man. One of the young women was told that she would make a good tram driver, while the older table tried to explain to the others about racist TV in the seventies:

YouTube love thy neighbour.

We have to accept that verbing now, I think.

I had 90 minutes free before the rendezvous with my local host, so I alighted at Oxford Road and entered Cornerhouse to see what was on. Unfortunately, they were in between exhibitions. Hmmph. At least I bought a couple of magazines (Jackdaw and The Modernist). With the Whitworth still closed (and a little too far away), I walked up to what will always be for me the City Art Gallery. Downstairs there was a display of jewellery by Bernhard Schobinger: The Rings of Saturn. This was quite a traditional show, with the old-school glass cases, contrasting with the attempted iconoclasm of the pieces themselves, which I must admit I found rather facile, albeit intermittently witty. Much better was the exhibition upstairs – Sculptural Forms – A Century of Experiment. Whenever I’m passing through TCR station, which is quite often, I try to savour the Eduardo Paolozzi mosaics, marooned as they are in such a morose environment, and I liked his contribution to this show, as I did pieces by Toby Paterson, Victor Pasmore, Michael Challenger, Ron Arad and Cecil Stephenson. There was a tribute to Alan Turing, that included an artist’s idea of a circuit board, which was endearingly naive. An excellent idea to show some of the pieces from the Whitworth collection while it’s being refurbished and extended.

The show attracting most of the publicity was up a level – Ryan Gander’s Make every show like it’s your last. Unaware that I’d have this opportunity, I’d seen an episode of the normally wretched Culture Show (every time I see it I lament the loss of the Late Show, even if I was one of the super-served 250,000 who watched it every night…) about him, which consisted of edge-free encomiums, for the most part. It struck me that he has a lot of clever slogans, which make for good blurbs, but the art to which the slogans and blurbs refer is mostly rather insubstantial. I confess I did smirk to see a computer case fan with red LED illumination inside one of his “useless machines”, while I actively liked the chess pieces based on industrial design, nestled in the Design gallery.

The next day, during my journey from Manchester to London, via Sheffield, there was quite an extended conversation between a man who must at most have been in his early twenties and a middle-aged woman. He wanted to go to the school in Croydon that “Jessie J and Amy Winehouse” went to. His backup plan was “celebrity journalism”.

My vocabulary is very good. I do actually use very good words, and a lot of them I learned from famous people. It was in the Lady Gaga music video. She sounds so smart in that video.

When we arrived at St. Pancras, a man asked me to confirm that it was the quiet coach. He hadn’t realised…

Flickr set from Ambleside



Ticket enormity reconciled

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…

I Wish

This weekend I was asked whether I thought that the venue in which I watch a film is important.  At home, the argument ran, there is a pause button and non-gouging snacks are available.  At the cinema there are various potentially confounding aspects, such as projection quality, seat comfort and the behaviour of the audience.  I decided that I preferred the extra commitment of leaving the house and taking a risk, even if, judged by some arcane objective standard, the experience might be less pure.

During the dark year of 1994, I was able for many months to choose early afternoon screenings at Cornerhouse and one of those was The Big Parade, a key Chinese fifth generation film.  No one else turned up.  It was just me and (for some of the time) the usher.  Would they have proceeded if even I hadn’t bothered?  Hard to say.  I remain convinced that I enjoyed it more than I would have done had I merely watched it on BBC 2, back when such things were shown on terrestrial TV, perhaps more so, given the odd circumstances.

On Saturday I went to an early afternoon showing of Hirokazu Kore-Eda‘s I Wish.  Apparently it was made in 2011 and it’s taken until now for UK distribution to emerge.  Tsk.  I’ve seen three of his previous outings – Afterlife, Nobody Knows and Still Walking.  The latest popped up when I checked what was on at Curzon and I was delighted.  If there could be a modern reincarnation of Ozu, Kore-Edu comes the closest to that archetype, quietly and unfussily revealing Japanese society.

The focus here is on two brothers, living apart with their separated parents.  We witness how they protest against this rupture and try to engineer a reconciliation, arriving ultimately at a manner of acceptance.  The childish logic is mad, fervent and relentless, yet makes perfect sense because Kore-Eda takes the children seriously, as always.  The behaviour of the adults is also somewhat cracked, such as the grandfather’s quixotic dream of a cake business.  He does, though, accept and assist in their quest to harness the magical powers created by the Shinkansen.

The Renoir was pretty full and there was lots of laughter throughout, some of it the nervous type ejected when a tragic element intrudes.  “That was lovely”, I heard someone say at the end, and it really was.  It’s quite a long film and, very unusually, you feel frustrated at the end, wanting to spend more time with these characters.

I think seeing it at home would be to miss out on a valuable part of the experience.  As a collective the bond with the protagonists is stronger.