Archive | January, 2013


28 Jan

I have always had a great affection for the city of Manchester, the city of my father’s birth.  A city that continues to reinvent itself and always remain one step ahead of the pack.

Dad used to say on a daily basis, partly to me and partly to himself.  “What Manchester thinks today the world does tomorrow” the oft repeated quote from Sir Robert Peel.  It is good to know that this quote is as true today as when Peel was alive and Manchester was the industrial powerhouse of the world.

I often visit Manchester, living only just an hour away and every time I do I find something new or unique to experience or see.

Obviously Manchester has many wonderful and much vaunted museums, galleries, shopping arcades, theatres.  But in this blog I want to talk a little about some of the fantastic things to do that area little less publicised and just that little bit quirky.

Manchester along with it’s great rival northern city Liverpool been responsible for some of popular musics greatest stars.  Whereas Liverpool’s star shone mainly in the sixties, it has to be said Manchester took the stage in the eighties and nineties and is still twinkling.

If you love the Manchester/Madchester sound; The Smiths, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, Joy Division, Factory Records then the Manchester Music Tours are the just the thing for you.  Winners of a Manchester Tourism award in 2012 these tours were established in 2005 by Inspiral Carpets drummer Craig Gill. Drawing on his first hand experiences he pieced together a walking tour of landmarks synonymous with Manchester music scene.  For myself personally as a devoted Smiths fan, there is nothing that can rival the excitement of standing outside the Salford Lads Club made famous on the the cover of The Queen is Dead album.  What better way to spend a Saturday in Manchester than wallowing in musical nostalgia.  For a list of tours, times and prices check out the website:

With the BBC somewhat controversially, relocating a lot of it’s activity up to Manchester and also the film companies moving into the Salford Quays, the city is fast becoming a media centre to rival London.  But then those of us soap fans will know that Manchester has long been the centre of the universe for television.  Home of Britain’s most popular soap, ‘the’ longest running soap opera in the world and a programme that is still at the top of the television charts sixty three years after it was first broadcast on Granada Television on 9th December 1960.  That programme is of course Coronation Street.  Granada stopped the tours of the street in 1999 when the programme increased it’s output and of course, ‘Corrie’ will be moving shortly to media city itself.  But that doesn’t mean there is not plenty to see if you are a fan of the ‘Street’.

There are a few companies that operate location tours, one being a coach company that operates from Yorkshire but this is the one I recommend if you are already in Manchester.  The Coronation Street Locations Taxi Tour operated by a seasoned extra from the show.  You never know, you just may be lucky and catch some filming.

There are plenty of other things to do if you are a Corrie fan, how about popping into Annie’s restaurant at 5 Old Bank Street near St Ann’s Square.  This newly opened restaurant owned by Corrie’s Jennie McAlpine (Fiz) and her partner.  Celebrity owned restaurants do not always have a good track record but with Annies never fear.  Their speciality is northern food with a modern twist.  The food is a wonderful unique take on hearty northern favourites, black pudding, pies, Manchester Tart and of course lighter bites and Vegetarian specials too.  There is an extensive cocktail menu and their afternoon cream teas are wonderful.  If you are lucky you may well be served by Jennie herself!

Another must do for any Corrie fan with sufficient funds is a stay at the Great John Street Hotel, this sumptuous hotel situated just opposite the Granada Studios gate has a wonderful roof terrace bar with a hot tub which overlooks ‘the Street’, you just get a glimpse of the Kabin and it is the only place outside of Granada you can see into Weatherfield.  So why not order a glass of bubbly, sit in the hot tub and look out for Norris.

If  live theatre is more your passion, the wonderful Lowry Theatre in the Salford Quays always has something interesting and fabulous going on.

Somewhere unique to Manchester is the marvelous Lass O’ Gowrie pub in Charles Street.  An award winning real ale pub that was the 2012 Supreme Champion pub of Great Britain no less.  But the Lass is also one of Manchester’s premier arts and entertainment venues.  Specialising in the very best in new fringe theatre, they even have their own annual fringe festival the ‘Lassfest’ held every January.   They are also a founding member of the multi-venue  Greater Manchester Fringe Festival which is held every July.  So there is no better place to sink a quality pint and come over all thespian.

Something else Manchester is rightly proud of is it’s links to the suffragette movement.  Emmeline Pankhurst was born in Moss Side, Manchester in 1858.  60-62 Nelson Street, which was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters is considered the birthplace of the Suffragette movement.   This is now known as the Pankhurst Centre, there is a blue plaque and a small museum at the building.  If you want to learn more about the suffrage movement and it’s links to Manchester there is a great walking tour that runs throughout the year.

With all these walking tours, I suggest you fill up with a good breakfast before setting off and The Koffee Pot in the Northern Quarter has just about the best breakfasts you can find anywhere.  It is also a great place to do some trendy celebrity spotting.  Last time I was there having a Veggie fry-up, Guy Garvey from Elbow was at the next table.  Be prepared to wait for a table though this place is excessively popular.

Obviously I have only scratched the surface of this ever changing metropolis, but I hope I have given you a few ideas of some interesting and uniquely Manc things to do.




13 Jan

Janis Lyn Joplin would have been seventy years of age on January 19th 2013.

Much has been written about the tragic circumstances that culminated in her untimely death on October 4th 1970, resulting in her becoming an unfortunate member of the ’27 club’.

I have to admit I was slow to pick up on the marvel that was Joplin.  Janis never achieved the height of fame in the UK that she did in her homeland.  Of course she was famous, an icon and a legend, but you never heard Janis being played on the radio when I was growing up.  Subsequently her music was not something I was overly acquainted with. 

Then when my partner entered my life, she brought Janis with her.  Dawn was devoted to Janis and had been an ardent fan since the age of twelve, she already possessed a large collection of Janis vinyl and memorabilia.

It wasn’t really the music that first captivated me, no it, was Janis herself.  I have never really been a particularly big fan of the blues, or blues rock.  But this woman was something else, she had a stage presence that burst through the screen, how could this woman be dead?  She seemed more alive than any old footage of the Beatles or the Stones.

Janis was an original, there had never been anybody like her before, sure her music was derivative and she drew heavily from her musical influences Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith etc.  Janis though was unique, a bluesy white Texas woman, not particularly beautiful, but she had that one attribute that can never be fashioned or created.  Janis had charisma and she had it in spades, the throaty laugh, the wild hair, the way she stood on the stage and positively took the music by the neck and consumed it.  No there had never been anybody like Janis and I actually don’t think there ever will be.  Janis was a wonderful wild pioneer.

So, during my years of travelling with Dawn I got to visit many of the places important in Janis’s life.  Port Arthur, Texas the place of her birth and the startlingly quaint museum they have in her honour. 

Barney’s Beanery in Hollywood, the wonderful diner that used to be her favourite hang-out and actually turned out to be the last place Janis dined on this plane.

Ashbury Heights of course in San Francisco, where she really broke through and her musical star shone so brightly.

Most poignantly and dramatically, we stayed at the Highland Gardens Hotel (formerly known as the Landmark) and we located the room that Janis had actually died in.  The numbers have been changed on the rooms, but somebody in the know helped us locate the correct room. 

Now I know what you are all thinking, what an incredibly ghoulish thing to do, which of course it was.  But for a fan, it was irresistible, when we stayed, the décor was exactly the same as that fateful night.  The cigarette machine in the lobby, where Janis had bought her last packet of smokes was still there.  The hotel was redolent with her presence, I half expected Janis to be in the room when I woke up.

Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way that some places and events are probably best left be.  I contracted extreme and violent food poisoning from a rather upmarket establishment in Santa Monica, which left me extremely ill.  I couldn’t leave the room for five days, had to have a doctors hotel visit and eventually cancel my flight back to the UK.

For a couple of days, I thought I would actually be exiting this planet in the same confined space that the mighty Janis had done, on tragic Fall day in 1970.  The irony was certainly not lost on me, as I lay on the bathroom floor, the same floor Janis had lay on and watched the room spinning on its very axis, a wry smile made its way to my lips, perhaps Janis was teaching me a big lesson from that great Woodstock in the sky, focus on the music, the life, the wonder and forget the negative.

How Janis died, or how she lived, is the small part of the story.  Joplin was the most amazing, dazzling artist and for the short time she was here she burned brighter than anyone else in her orbit.

We attended an art show in Las Vegas given by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, one of Joplin’s closest friends.  We were honoured to get to talk to her for about half an hour about her friend.  Grace spoke about a wonderful human being, who was shy and loved life.  I will always remember Grace telling us “Janis was my friend, not a day goes by that I don’t think about her, or miss her”

Janis Joplin, icon, trailblazer, hellraiser, star, legend, friend. 

Happy 70th birthday Janis, you would have made a wonderful old lady!  I shall have a rather large Southern Comfort in your honour, and I may just swig it straight from the bottle!




6 Jan

My mother was an amazing woman, I only had her in my life for the first twenty years of it, but her memory burns bright inside my heart.

As I approach that age that I really remember her vividly being, it is her sense of humour that I find myself thinking about the most.

Brought up in Liverpool, she had an amazingly quick wit, she was kind, loving with a wonderful sense of the ridiculous, and an unswerving conscious. 

One of my very first memories is her marching my four year old self, with great speed and determination up to Peartree common in Woolston to a demonstration against Margaret Thatcher who had decided when she was Education Minister to remove free milk from schools.  I remember her chanting “Thatcher, Thatcher milk snatcher” then every so often telling me what an appalling woman this Thatcher was.  I often marvel at how astute mum was back in 1970.

It must have been about the same time that mum mounted the sit-in protest in the shoe shop in Bargate, Southampton;

Mum had been sold a pair of shoes in the sale and we had both gone back to the shop so she could get her money back, as the sole was coming away from the shoe.  Unfortunately, we were met with the manager an oily, unctuous, supercilious man in a grey suit, who made it plain that items bought in the sale could not be refunded due to their sales terms.

I remember looking at the display in the store for ‘Tuf’ shoes and thinking this man had made a big mistake. Twenty minutes later, I was proved to be correct.

Mum had sat down on the floor in the middle of the shoe shop and of course sat me right down beside her, then she had embarked on telling every person that entered the shop that they should not buy any shoes from this store as their stock was ‘total crap’ and that when they fell to bits after a week you would not get a refund. 

The oily manager had tried to remove her but this had just caused mum to then accuse him of assault.

The refund was eventually processed and mum and I were escorted from the shop, as we walked along the High Street laughing I told mum “don’t worry I spat down that back of that man’s suit”.  The look of horror, pride and delight on my mother’s face was a joy.  I think it was then she realised I was I was a chip off the old block.

I want to interject at this point and state that my mother was a real lady, please don’t get the impression she was a brawler.  She was impossibly glamorous, always decked out in the best jewellery and make-up and could dazzle at the Savoy when attending awards dinners with dad or just dazzle when she put the bins out.

Talking of bins, the walk to school with mum often became a bit of an embarrassment, especially if it was bin day.  All the bin men would stare and start wolf whistling at mum, she seemed secretly pleased.  I asked her once what they were doing, she told me “oh they are just being friendly, your dad gave them a good Christmas box”.

But, undeniably there was just something about my mother that bizarre situations always seemed to find her.

In her later years mum did a lot of charity work for the local church, I remember her once organising a car boot sale.  The man who was working with her ushering the cars into the church car park, insisted they needed arm bands.  As soon as he said it I just knew this would get her goat, she hated anybody who possessed a bit of petty power, clipboards, armbands, name badges, traffic wardens etc.  When she was cross or tipsy her Liverpool accent would always re-emerge.

“Why do we need an armband John” she said, sounding like Marie from Brookside.  John stuttered, “because people need to see we are in charge”.  Mum looked at him with incredulity, “we are standing here telling them where to park, isn’t it obvious’?  I watched as she got increasingly irritated and John became more and more flustered as I edged away I heard mum say “tell you what John, go and make yourself a bloody armband and I will be here still organising when you get back”

Life was never boring with my mother, I have an endless fund of stories.  She had her own business when most women were still mainly housewives, she was a great artist, political activist and refused to ever be middle aged.

People often say to me, what a shame it is that your mother died when you were still so young.  I always reply ‘of course, but would I have swapped her for anybody else’, no she was the best and twenty years of the best is a blessing.

So now when I look in the mirror and I see her looking back I feel very proud, and I think her gift to me has been to ensure that life keeps finding me the most bizarre and ridiculous situations I think I owe it to her memory to always act with the same impulsive incredulity that she always managed with such aplomb.