Manchester, it’s physical

The morning after ET and BT’s wedding I left early to meet a friend M and see My Bloody Valentine at the Manchester Apollo. We had a hairy moment changing at at Sheffield where the platform signs had been replaced by mercurial dot matrix displays which meant that 2C wasn’t anywhere like the other side of 2B… 2C, which was anchored in place by a legacy hard sign, was far, far the other side of 2A. “Will the station manager please make his way to Platform 2C for his tribunal.” Anyway, we made it with literally 2 seconds to spare. The train was a diesel bus thing which took us across The Peaks. There was a school outing – we saw about 10 little girls get off and reunite with their families. M and I were friends when we were school children (different schools) and we went to Manchester University at the same time. Neither of us had ever been to The Peaks – M said she never really left the B5117 (Oxford Road turning into Wilmslow Rd) except for a broad lolly-pop-shaped shopping circuit at the top. I used to get as far as Prestwich (family) and I seem to remember going to Cream in Liverpool.

I think Manchester on a Saturday night in summer is best expressed by the lyrics to Forget Myself by Elbow.

I’d got us a double room at the very top of the Britannia on Portland Street. We had a huge room-width, waist-to-ceiling sloping window looking up and back at The Peaks.

There were Canal St queens everywhere – absolutely everywhere. On every landing somebody was adjusting a garter or putting on lipstick. It was very cheering.

We ate at a buffet in China Town whose name I forget, but they did me tofu in black bean sauce for free. For dessert I had watermelon and lychees. M had the same but with some kind of whipped product on top.

My Bloody Valentine were extremely good. Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher were small, still figures pulsing with light and sound. They’re all still too deaf to realise that the sound’s so bad you can hardly even pick out the tunes. You don’t recover from that kind of aural damage I suppose. Kevin Shields spent the whole evening in front of his amp. And for the finale for their last song, ‘You Made Me Realise‘, they tried to deafen us with a 25 minute marathon of shapeless noise widely referred to as ‘the holocaust at the end’. I’d been warned in advance from several quarters to accept earplugs so for 25 minutes I enjoyed the pleasantly evocative sensation of being underwater in the bath with the taps on and a wheezing boiler. Memories of my third year house in Rusholme washed through me and I passed the time reminiscing and surreptitiously looking at photos of ET and BT’s wedding. Meanwhile the occasional glance back showed the faces of the fans gradually taking on expressions of hurt, their fingers creeping to their ears. I imagined My Bloody Valentine sitting around backstage laughing at us – “Those fawning twats, they even stick around when we make their ears bleed”. Or, with the bitterness of the past-it rocker, “We’ll see to it that they never hear another fucking band after us”. Every piece of my flesh which wasn’t taut undulated with sound. My chest was quivering and my trouser legs fluttered. They broke in and pummelled my organs. By the end some of the people without earplugs were shifting from foot to foot in paroxysms of discomfort. I was uplifted. Here’s something similar to what my camera mic picked up:

Actually, what you hear is the scratchy ear-wrecking stuff my earplugs stripped out, but it gives quite a faithful impression. Anyway, this is what all MBV live recordings sound like. By the end we must have looked like kicked puppies. Everybody was so relieved when they eventually got tired and stopped that we gave them generous appreciation, but we could hardly hear ourselves clapping. Still, My Bloody Valentine are a brilliant band, nothing like them in the world and they make you feel like nothing else in the world. I got a t-shirt, for old time’s sake.

We walked back feeling massaged and happy. We wanted to walk for a bit so I went to the toilet in our hotel. There was a wedding reception and in the toilet two women were looking after a third. They’d propped her against the wall and were trying to persuade her to put her shoes back on. Then we went to the Spar for provisions and I was indecently groped by a revolting drunk. This took me right back to another time I was pawed on Oxford Rd and I bravely chased the man into Platt Fields threatening to knock his teeth down his throat. This time I didn’t do anything because I value my own teeth. We went back to the Britannia – women on Portland St were dressed like nothing I’ve seen in my life. Such bottoms. Such upper arms. Such decolletage. I like it when big women, ignoring Keira Knightly, dress tight. A man in jeans and white t-shirt with a boyish crop bent and removed a pair of black 4 inch stilettos and sprinted through broken glass for his coach. A car pulled level so a man could show us his naked behind out of the back window. The other men in the car were singing to us – the chorus of something suggestive – and pointing. There were queens of all shapes and sizes adorning the street, the hotel steps, the stairs and the landings. I walked up the stairs to feel the carpet on my feet and see the sparkle of the gilt and chandeliers. The Britannia is a great and colossal hotel.

Looking up from the lobby

M and I sat and talked, then got into bed and talked. We could hear (C)anal (S)treet a below, the comforting noise of a party downstairs. M was talking in a very loud voice because she was still deafened. Men in the next room had sex rampantly – their first of at least four orgasms, at a rate of roughly one every half hour, happened as we were talking about pies. During the next one we were trying to work out what colour the sky was. I slept with my ear plugs in.

The next morning I went out for a walk. I said good morning to a rotund man on the landing who was dressed as a ballerina. “It’s still night for me, love”, he replied. While I was waiting for the lift to deliver M to the lobby, a man saw me see him nearly knock another guest to the floor with his enormous shoulder bag. He explained that it was lucky it hadn’t been his handbag because that was twice the size. I responded politely, “That’s some handbag!” and he said “Yes, it’s good for putting dead bodies in.” And then he left.

We had an early lunch at the Manchester Art Gallery, then we had a look at the Pre-Raphaelites. Then, during a break in the rain, we went to pick up our bags, and then to Piccadilly Station, into seats with a table on a Virgin Pendolino and back to Euston without event.

5 thoughts on “Manchester, it’s physical

  1. That video is really funny, most of the “audience” are sticking their fingers in their ears.

    A friend of mind recently acquired tinnitus, presumably from nite clubs / gigs etc, it almost drove her mad, and it is a life long condition.

    I hate to sound like an old man (but hey, I’ve been around almost long enough to be called that by some) but they (MBV) really shouldn’t do that, that white noise stuff is probably especially bad, because I guess it is basically *all* audible frequencies turned to 11, the damage to hearing is permanent. It’s not big, it’s not clever. I saw them on Rollercoaster (with Dinosaur Jr!! and J&M Chain!!) and they were loud, but I still remember it being nice to hear.

  2. Oh just found this famous people with tinnitus. The list includes: Kevin Shields – guitarist/singer for My Bloody Valentine: “I did the damage to my ears listening to mixes in headphones at very loud levels without giving my ears time to recover.”
    Blinda Butcher – bassist/singer for My Bloody Valentine: “I had a punctured ear drum which fortunately they were able to put right but for a while I couldn’t hear out of one ear and it was very depressing. On stage we all wear hearing protection and encourage anyone who sees us regularly to do the same.”

  3. Brilliant! Silly things. I saw them with D Jr and the J&MC too, and M said she thought they did the same thing at the end of You Made Me Realise but I don’t remember. They’re a paradox. Their music is definitely better recorded – in fact it’s quite dreadful live. But then again, they are definitely better live. Well, they must be doing something right.

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