Saturday, May 26, 2018

Manchester Writers

I've had a busy few weeks and so haven't been going to many literary events but with a few days off for the bank holiday I realised its a bit of a good week for Manchester writers. Last night I went to the Lowry to see Fat Roland perform "7 Inches", a one hour, one man, and lots of paper records show. Those who know Fat Roland from his compering of Bad Language and his many live performances, the idea of a scripted show might seem a bit weird. He'd previously put together a show or two for Edinburgh but this latest, commissioned for the Lowry's new work festival, Week 53 was far more of scripted work. Fat Roland has turned 45 (rpm) and is thinking up of giving up his record shop because he has no customers, no famous people come in, and he's not even sure anyone is going to come to his birthday party. He has a record player that jumps, and records that have been in their racks since the dawn of time (the early eighties.) Studded with popular music references, from the populist - Take That and Ed Sheeran (unaccountably detained at the Etihad that evening) - to the obscure, John Cale's 4.33 and Gorky's Zygotic Mynki - Fat Roland's trademark use of paper props, often scattered on stage during his gigs is here weaponised on an entirely paper/card set with everything lovingly drawn by Fat Roland himself. Such a homage to D.I.Y. record shop culture is tinged with poignancy - of a teenage Fat Roland seeing him have "his dream" but wanting to give it all away to make way for a hipster bar selling "Slop." Much fun, but it was the last night of the run so you'lll have to wait till Netflix picks it up.

Whilst running around the country I took a bit of Manchester with me reading "Zero Hours" by Neil Campbell, the follow up to "Skyhooks" that I reviewed recently. A bit like the Fat Roland show, this second incarnation is conceived more as a full piece than (in Campbell's case) a series of short stories. Bringing the story of "Sky Hooks" up to date, the narrator is now ever more clearly a surrogate for its author, with Campbell's literary career now as much a part of the story as the day jobs he's never quite able to give up. Again, a working class writer finds himself both in and out of that culture - working the mail room at the Post Office now, and later as revolving staff in the council's library service. Along the way is a picture of a many-peopled Manchester. Its a poetic novel despite the dark matter, though lacks the change of colour and scene that "Sky Hooks" had with its visits to New York and Scotland. Here we are in an ongoing bildungsroman of someone not getting any younger, who finds affection from adopting a found pet - a tortoise - who then goes to sleep for months on end. When the tortoise fails to wake up after one hibernation the narrator knows its time he needs to find a girlfriend. Full of one line gems about modern life, and characteristically mordantly funny in that glass-half-full way of the long term Manchester City fan (enjoying the wonders of the current team, but still not quite believing it is happening or will last) if we had a decent media these days, these ruminations from a "zero hours" frontline would make a never-ending narrative. As it is we have the 2nd book of a promised trilogy. Short, but worth your time.

If I missed the launch of "Zero Hours" because of being away that week, I hope to get to the launch of two books next week. On Tuesday sees the return of Manchester's cyber-noir chronicler Jeff Noon, back in the city for an event at HOME to launch his new book. Whilst on Wednesday, the Anthony Burgess Centre plays host to its own director Will Carr and his editing of "The Ink Trade" - the uncollected journalism of Anthony Burgess, that other Manchester literary son - which has already received a lot of interest from the press.