Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Visited the Hackney Wicked Festival a few weekends ago....a small local arts festival in its third year in the hipster East London area of Hackney Wick. Evidently still in its embryonic stages, the festival attracted a smattering of curious locals of the slightly chavvish variety and a swarm of young hippies, too-cool-for-school art students (below), along with other assorted post-modern riff-raff.

Hackney Wick remains a predominantly industrial area, its numerous dilapidated factories now converted mainly to artists' studios (above). Many of these studios were open as part of the festival, allowing the public to view the artists' working within their natural environment, witness their creative process, ask questions and of course, purchase work (below). Having a window into these artistic work spaces proved an extremely interesting experience as well as an inspiration to see creative people making a living from their practise.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


And so onto the final destination of my tour into the heart of northern darkness...the pretty little town of Macclesfield 15 miles south of Manchester - home and final resting place of Ian Curtis.

I wasn't sure what to expect after the horrors of Blackpool but Macclesfield proved to be a charming little village full of quaint workers' cottages set off by gentle green rolling hills behind the town. Named Most Uncultured Town In Britain by the Times in 2004, Macclesfield seemed to have upped its game since then with a cute retro cinema (where the Sumner/Hooky interface clearly found lyrical inspiration on one of their pilgrimages to chez Curtis) and a hip art show at the local library (below).

Ian Curtis lived at 77 Barton Street, Macclesfield (below bottom) with his wife Deborah and daughter Natalie in the three years preceding his suicide. It was apparently in the kitchen of this house, after watching Warner Herzog's film 'Stroszek' and listening to Iggy Pop's 'The Idiot' that the Joy Division singer hung himself on the eve of the band's first American tour. There is nothing remarkable about the house - it looks like a nice, comfortable first home for a young couple in a tranquil leafy street. Standing outside the house, it seemed easy to imagine the difficulty Ian experienced in reconciling this pretty, homely normality of family life with Deborah to the the intense relationship he had established with Belgian journalist Annik Honore and the international success Joy Division were beginning to experience.   


Curtis' memorial stone lies in the leafy grounds of the Macclesfield Cemetery, the attractive, worn original stone unfortunately stolen in July 2008 to be replaced by a more modern version (below). People as far as Canada and Japan had visited the site to pay their respects and leave talismans and other precious objects in tribute. Don't walk away in silence...Ian Curtis 1956-1980 RIP.

Friday, 6 August 2010


I'm not exactly sure why I'd always conceived such romantic notions of sunny Blackpool in my mind (like the nostalgic scene below left). The idea of the charming north west seaside town's 'pleasure beach' abuzz with red-lipsticked girls in high-waisted shorts licking ice creams, their sexy, quiffed rebel boyfriends draped around their shoulders with fags dangling from the corner of their mouths seemed so cool to me, I guess I still hoped to find some trace of that long-gone innocent era. Maybe I watched Grease one too many times, or more likely excellent 1987 British film Wish You Were Here starring Emily Lloyd (below right). 

What I did find in Blackpool was pretty amazing, unfortunately not in a good way. The town managed the unenviable accolade of being The Chavviest Place Robert Smiths Tears Has Ever Visited (beating even Tracy Emin's creepy, sordid hometown of Margate) and at the risk of sounding like an insufferably patronising Guardian-reading member of the chattering classes, I actually felt incredibly sorry for the local Blackpool folk trapped into the cycle of benefits, council housing, teen pregnancy, lack of education and worst of all obesity. This seaside town seemed to encapsulate all these problems the media likes to brand Broken Britain. The Brokeback Coalition should really spend a day here, forcing down a tepid pork pie'n'gravy lunch in despair from the buffet cart (actually located within the slot machine enclosure gambling addicts!) of the gigantic, tacky Coral Island gambling emporium as the last of their benefit payment gets swallowed up by a greedy, whooping machine.   

The real Blackpool looks like the pictures below - the lone remaining Bay City Rollers fan trying to make some coinage while avoiding 'paedo!' taunts from the local teenage toughies and an obese woman no longer able to walk (no doubt wearing one of these quality Justin Bieber tops purchased from the local market stall). 

It must be so gratifying for these northerners to know that while their town and prospects decay before their very eyes money continues to be thrown at London's Olympics and other 'crucial' public services such as Boris' massive London Cycle Hire scheme - no doubt aimed at protecting his legacy in the event of a comeback by Red Ken at the next election.  

I didn't hang around the misty, grey seafront to witness the nocturnal carnage brought on by Blackpool's notorious paralytic hen and stag crews already starting to congregate along the promenade in matching outfits. I'd had enough and my eyes were hurting. Stopping at an off license on my way out I bought the man's only copy of the Guardian to which he expressed surprise saying 'I haven't sold one of those for ages. People round 'ere only ever get those' pointing to the redtops. Get thee to the train station...pronto.      

Images 2 and 3 courtesy of Google

Sunday, 1 August 2010


Liverpool, sweet Liverpool...so much mythology so little time. How could four cheeky moptops (pull me finger Paul!) mean so much to so many? And how many of those people leave this fair city disappointed that 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' will never sound so charmingly whimsical again?

The first thing I noticed about Liverpool was how underwhelming the Mathew Street Beatles area was (the original Cavern Club no longer exists), the second being the alarming number of strip clubs. There seemed to be fifteen or more in the space of a few streets, one piss-filled alley literally wall to wall with salubrious establishments. The wittily monikered Moll Teazers (left) was particularly enterprising, managing to combine the cheap sleaziness of the sex industry with a nostalgic Beatles tip at the Eleanor Rigby hotel. I wondered what the Wives And Girlfriends did as their pissed up menfolk shoved sweaty, coke-rimmed fivers down the tooth-floss of their high school classmates (or are they Romanian sex-slaves)?  Then I noticed 'free bubbly for the ladies' at the Thursday Ladies Night (below) at tacky antipodean venue Walkabout. Mystery solved! Not too sure if it was a great victory for feminism or merely the lowest common denominator form of Liverpudlian entertainment - not only 'normal' but presumably 'fun' and 'harmless' as well.

Liverpool's city walls were dotted with gigantic, bewildering messages of doom painted sky high on the sides of decrepit buildings. Asking dystopian, cryptic questions like Do You Care? or the brilliant Do You Want To Die Old And Slow Or Young And Tragic? (right), this public probing was giving rise to a creeping sense of existential unease until I turned a corner to be confronted by a massive Do You Believe In God??? Phew, I thought, just the crazy musings of a bunch of northern religious zealots then...I thought the religion here was shopping? 

After sampling the delights of the seagull shat-upon city centre I decided to cut my losses and head straight for the fabulous Albert Dock area (above), centre of Liverpool's important trading, storage and migration history. This part of town (its touristy redevelopment obvious) very pleasantly contrasted the depressed centre - featuring all the chattering class' favourites including waterfront pubs, organic cafes and of course the Liverpool branch of the Tate Gallery (below). I visited the excellent Museum of Slavery instead however, wanting my museum experience to be more intrinsic to the Liverpool area and its history than what Picasso could offer. The museum charted the history of the international slave trade from the African and Atlantic coasts, outlining the enormous  socio-economic effects the industry had and its shaping of modern world. Certainly an illuminating and educational experience. 

Unfortunately, the famous Mersey ferry didn't quite measure up to the swinging 60s anglophile imaginings I conjured up whenever I heard Gerry and the Pacemaker's evocative tune. The Mersey itself was a muddy light brown, made even less appealing by the huge waterfront exhaust building crudely pumping out Liverpool's grime up the chattering class' and tourists noses alike (not to mention the local commuters' twice daily dose). The ferry seemed to be full of local oldies, chavtastic families and a smattering of young hipsters (below - where did they come from?)...all enjoying the afternoon sun whilst holding their noses. A great day for a day trip Liverpool...but I'd save the ferry ride for Manly or Staten Island.