From Madchester to Dadchester
These days the bars and clubs of Manchester seem full of 'middle youth' taking refuge from real life, says local music writer Neil Davenport It is nearly a decade since Manchester became 'Madchester' and a byword for youth culture: flares were brought back, acid house came up, and funked-up indie thundered across Ecstasy-fuelled parties. As an international pop phenomenon, Mad-chester was all over within a year. But for many locals who revelled in it as teenagers, the party is not over yet. Madchester has put on weight and lost some hair, but still feels pretty good in a new Arc jacket and a pair of Vans. Raves have given way to designer bars, which have replaced suburban armchairs as the place for thirtysomethings to sit in; and for the new artisan with a flexible portfolio of employment, there is always a new club or band to try out later on. Welcome to middle youth Manchester: Dadchester (without the kids).
Manchester council has marketed the city as a 'yoof capital'. But this is no 24-hour city for the restlessly young; more like a laidback lifestyle-bar for the over-25s. The kind of skinny Manc scally that would have domin-ated Madchester has got more chance of appearing in a Channel 4 documentary about wasted youth than making it in Dadchester. Even the skateboarders in Albert Square have been banned.
Manchester's student population is still the largest of any city in Europe, but students too have been marginalised by the new emphasis on over-25s. At hip club nights like Electric Chair, Steppers' Delite or Il Gatto (the kind of must-go places that would have attracted undergraduates to Manchester a decade ago), there are hardly any students to be seen. The dancefloor is dominated by Manchester's middle youth, letting their hair down before any more of it falls out.
'Music is not defined by age anymore', explains John Robb, Manchester-based music writer and frontman for cabaret punks Gold Blade. 'In the fifties and sixties it used to be called youth culture and now it's called pop culture. Loads of people after their teenage years were buying pop music then, but were probably embarrassed about it. Now, no one's bothered. But why should you stay in on a Saturday night and watch Match of the Day?'
Paul Benney, co-editor of Manchester dance magazine Jockey Slut and promoter of a weekly club night called Bugged Out!, puts a slightly different gloss on the middle youth monopoly: 'In some ways it has to do with the impact of acid house and club culture. For many people it did change their lives and some are refusing to let go completely. It doesn't dominate their life in the way it used to, it's just become one of a number of options.
'Ten years ago, it would have been unheard of that people in their late twenties and early thirties would still be going to clubs. It would be seen as really sad, because by that age you'd be expected to be married and having kids. At Jockey Slut we like to think that our coverage has 18-year olds in mind, and Bugged Out! is populated with people in their early twenties. I say all that, but I'm choosing to ignore the fact that most people I know who go clubbing are in their late twenties! I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, though the idea of clubs solely populated by people in their thirties is alarming. But I am concerned that growing up or settling down is frowned upon. There would be nothing worse than a 30-year old stuck in a club because he thought it was expected of him, but secretly hating every minute of it.'
Manchester continues to produce good bands, such as Lionrock, Lamb, Audioweb and Wireless. But not many of the musicians in these bands are under 25; and the few bands that are young may find themselves being ridiculed for it. Benney recalled, 'when Heavenly signed up Northern Uproar, they were excited by these kids making music for kids. But as soon as they were interviewed by the press, usually by 35-year old journalists, they were slagged off for being young and naive, and ridiculed as being stupid'.
John Robb agreed that 'it's getting a lot harder for teenage bands to get a hearing. If you've got 17-year olds talking to 30-year old journalists, there's going to be no common ground. Young bands tend to irritate older journalists because they spoil their pseudo-intellectual claims on pop music. But the flipside is, why should 17-year olds be seen as somehow unique when they haven't really developed their opinions?'.
While the faux-young 'adultescent' occupies centre stage, the real young are left standing on the sidelines. Some are too scared to come out to play (Manchester students live an increasingly cosseted existence, travelling on 'safety buses' and sleeping in CCTV-monitored halls of residence). Meanwhile middle youth are too scared to grow up. They lack confidence in their ability to hold down a job and bring up kids. For them, the easiest option is to move on to the next designer bar and hope that closing time never comes.
Neil Davenport is a Manchester music journalist now entering middle youth.
John Robb is author of The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop (Ebury Press, £9.99)
Lolita: the age question
Adrian Lyne's Lolita is an artfully scandalous film. Based on the infamous novel by Vladimir Nabokov (1955), the story of Humbert Humbert's (Jeremy Irons) seduction of an under-age girl, Lolita (Dominique Swain) is presented as a delicious piece of eye-candy. Grown men with healthy sexual appetites will find themselves aroused, only to be appalled by their own arousal. Likewise, Humbert is a grotesque mixture of lover and father-figure, yet his character remains attractively louche until the moment when he sees his own perversity reflected in somebody else.
If Lyne is setting out to confuse and unnerve the audience, his film is itself an intelligent reading of contemporary con-fusions about childhood and adulthood. By raising Lolita's age to 14 (she is only 12 in Nabokov's book), and having her played by a 15-year old actress with a 19-year old body double, he is able to present us with a female whose sex organs are fully developed, and then ask us to work out whether she is just a child, or nearly-a-woman pretending, coquettishly, to be a child, or both. Lyne encapsulates the confusions of a society which is obsessed about protecting children, while simultaneously promoting the 'kinderwhore' (child-tart) look in fashion shows and videos. Likewise, when the film turns into something like a road movie and Lolita starts introducing Humbert to American culture, their roles are reversed and it is she who is acting in loco parentis. This is in tune with the insecurity about adulthood which is currently experienced even by the middle-aged.
Lyne's film is both clever and uncomfortable. While explaining his reasons for certificating it for cinemas, the new frontman for British film censorship Andreas Whittam-Smith (recently appointed chairman of the British Board of Film Classification; the retirement of long-standing director James Ferman was announced shortly afterwards) seemed to hint that a video certificate may not be forthcoming. Though new to the job, Whittam-Smith is continuing in the time-honoured tradition of assuming that the mass audience, unlike those who go to the arthouse cinemas where Lolita is most likely to be exhibited, is not capable of reading such a sophisticated film in a sufficiently intelligent manner.
Signs of the times
'She's very childish. She loves animals, because loving animals is very easy, but emotionally I think she has a big problem-I think that if you are involved as much as she is with animals, then there is something strange about your dealings with the human race'
Catherine Deneuve on her compatriot Brigitte Bardot
Those caring people at Marks and Spencer will in future be attaching the following safety label to all their children's clothes: 'In the interest of safety, it is advisable to keep your child away from naked flames'
'We didn't have one [a school motto] but my own motto was: "I will do sport and PE and nothing else"'
Arsenal captain Tony Adams, who continues, cryptically:
'I didn't really like being indoors, maybe because I was lanky and had long greasy hair'
'I was sorely provoked. I just could not take any more - I blew my top'
Referee Melvyn Sylvester, who 'blew his top' and repeatedly punched a player while officiating at a football match between the Southampton Arms and Hurstbourne Tarrant British Legion in the Andover and District Sunday League. After being dragged off Richard Curd - whom he believed to have pushed him - Mr Sylvester produced his red card and sent himself off. He has subsequently given up refereeing
'I will be delighted to see my husband's horn for the first time'
Jeannie Frost, widow of Major-General 'Johnnie' Frost, the man played by Anthony Hopkins in A Bridge Too Far. She is of course referring to the hunting horn blown by Frost during battle, but lost when he was a POW
'I won't. I don't even know you. And besides I'm going out and I am busy getting ready'
Violet Hook, 86, in response to demands by the 30 armed policemen surrounding her Kent cottage that she throw down her weapon and come out with her hands in the air. Mrs Hook emerged carrying the small cap gun which she uses to frighten birds off her roof. Police were called when the gun was fired from a window, but for some time Mrs Hook, who is a bit deaf, did not hear the 'negotiator' shouting through a loud hailer, and carried on making a pot of tea inside
The Queen Charlotte debutantes' ball faces an uncertain future. Even Tatler's consultant Peter Townend believes that 'women have better things to do than bow to a cake'.
Like baking them, perhaps, Peter?
'It is not even worth talking about. That's cricket. I expect that sort of thing. I cannot be a lip reader. If they started throwing punches then I would have to do something'
Australian match referee Barry Jarman on (then) England captain Mike Atherton's two-word, two-fingered farewell to West Indies batsman Philo Wallace
'My space is harmogeneous [sic]. That too has a spiritual level of an interaction of where you're staying with a peaceful person who is my guest and is graceful'
Anouska Hempel, of minimalist Hempel hotel fame. 'I think I'm doing something useful for the world', she adds. She used to be so much nicer on that old murder quiz with John Pertwee
Arks and eco-tech
The architectural practice Future Systems is now so fashionable that when an exhibition of its work opened at the ICA in March, you had to queue to get into the private show. Formed in 1979 by Czech-born architect Jan Kaplicky, and now co-partnered by Amanda Levete, Future Systems is currently engaged in a number of major projects, two of which are featured in the exhibition: the Natwest media centre at Lord's cricket ground; and the Ark, the centrepiece for Doncaster's Earth Centre. Both projects are examples of 'eco-tech', the combination of high technology and green concerns which has become the hallmark of Future Systems.
After working on shell-like structures for 20 years, Kaplicky has made good use of his experience in the design of the Lord's media centre. Constructed like an aircraft, the semi-monocoque structure is made from aluminium, with its skin and internal ribs providing lightness and strength. The plan of the Ark looks like a cross between an insect's eyes and a pair of Ray-Bans. The building employs photovoltaic cells alongside a vast system of scoops to trap and direct sunlight. Together they provide power and 'natural' light. As implied by the biblical reference in its name, the Ark is meant to be more than a building. It is billed as a showcase for a sustainable future, 'translating ideas, research and world events into a language that will reach the hearts and minds of many'.
Some of the projects on display are still at the model stage. The idea for a habitable bridge across the Thames is certainly imaginative, and the proposals for Hallfield School seem to offer a new type of prefabricated building which would be cheaper and more flexible than almost anything we have seen before. The imagination which is highly visible in many of Future Systems' ideas does indeed 'reach the hearts and minds'. But there is also a deep tension in this work. A playful 'Pop Arch' sensibility sits uneasily alongside an inherent anxiety about the direction of 'spaceship Earth'. If only we could have the one without the other.
The Future Systems exhibition is showing at the ICA, London, until 24 May 1998, and will then go on tour to the Centre for Understanding of the Built Environment, Manchester, and the Institut Francais d'Architecture, Paris
The Ark, 1995
Umweltbehorde, Hamburg, 1991
Project Zed, London, 1995
Bibliothèque de France, 1989
No longer an oldie instrument relegated to Jimmy Shand and his Band, an accordion is now as fashionable as a 'synth' used to be. Ever since The Pogues came on the scene in the eighties with James Fearnley's squeeze-box high up in the mix, the accordion has been on the rise.
The piano accordion, the button accordion, the concertina and the harmonica are all part of the reed-organ family of musical instruments, descended from the Chinese Sheng. All produce musical pitches by means of thin reeds, set vibrating by air under pressure or suction. The name is derived from the German akkord, meaning agreement or harmony.
Waves of European immigrants took the accordion across the Atlantic to the USA, where different versions took pride of place in a host of folk music traditions. Irish showband players usually perform on a piano instrument, which is also popular with zydeco musicians. Cajuns tend to use a 1-row 4-stop button machine. These have no tremolo and are often tuned to a natural scale which adds dissonance and fattens the sound. Tex-Mex/conjunto players often prefer 2 or 3-row button instruments. Eastern European polka players opt for a 2-row, and frequently use an alarming amount of tremolo. Tango players, following Astor Piazzola, use everything from a piano accordion to the button concertina.
The roster of players past and present includes novelists Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, Mahatma Gandhi and film star James Stewart. Also on the list are Richard Nixon, Ross Perot and Valery Giscard d'Estaing, whose failure to become prime minister of France in 1996 prompted newspaper front pages featuring an accordionist and the caption: 'Giscard squeezed out.' Last but not least is Ed Gein, the real-life serial killer who was the inspiration for Psycho and Silence of the Lambs.
Why has the accordion regained its popularity? It is certainly not an easy instrument to master, as any struggling beginner can testify. Perhaps the fact that the instrument underpins so many different types of music means that it is impossible to ignore. Or maybe the rediscovery of the accordion is symptomatic of the quest for authenticity in a culture that seems increasingly disposable and derivative.
For many years the accordion was despised because, as E. Annie Proulx explains in Accordion Crimes, her Pulitzer prize-winning documentary novel of the immigrant experience, 'it stood for the old folk and their old ways. Younger generations could funnel their feelings into hatred of the accordion, a joke instrument'. Whereas the demand for the modern was characteristic of the early part of the twentieth century, the second half has been marked by a retreat into searching for ethnic roots and celebrating difference and tradition. In this context, the parochial connotations of the old folks' accordion are also its main attraction. This would explain why modernist-turned-primitive David Byrne (ex-Talking Heads) is a charter member of the Dallas chapter of the Texas Accordionists' Association.
Who cares? From the Louisiana bayou to the Buenos Aires brothel, the concert hall to the ceilidh, the accordion has always made a big sound that sets your foot tapping and your soul soaring. Playing an accordion is almost a sexual experience: you can run your fingers over its buttons, put your arms around it and squeeze away. Groucho Marx, no mean musician himself, had this to say on the subject: 'There's nothing I like better than the sound of an accordion, unless of course it's the sound of a chicken caught in a vacuum cleaner.'
Armand Thompson plans to spend more time with his squeeze-box
Lachlan in substance
You might have heard Murray Lachlan Young's latest poem, the one that goes, 'Multidigipsychosensomaxopleasureonomy/ Is the feeling you get and just happens to rhyme with Virgin Atlantic Economy'. Or maybe you heard his business class poem: 'So for tranquilizing bonhomie/ Cool your jets in Premium Economy.' Even if you have not seen the Virgin adverts, you might have noticed Lachlan Young on the London Underground as the man in Liberty store's latest poster campaign. Or perhaps you heard about the £1 million contract he signed with record company EMI. All this exposure has prompted the question 'if poets are obscure people who starve in garrets, what the hell is Lachlan Young doing with all this money and fame?'.
In the eternal search for the new rock'n'roll, poetry's turn has finally come. Lachlan Young is part of a new generation of poets who are said to be reinventing the art form. Performance poetry nights have been popping up at some of the hippest clubs in Britain and the USA. In March, London's 100 Club staged Litpop 98, 'a three-day festival of poetry you can dance to', which included Atomic Lip, who describe themselves as 'poetry's first pop group', a Japanese 'poet' working herself up into a wordless love-frenzy with a cabbage, and the aforementioned Lachlan Young.
Described by one critic as 'Shakespeare on Acid', and compared by others to Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde, Lachlan Young developed a flair for self-promotion while studying at Manchester University for the world's first media performance degree. He also wrote a dissertation on fame. When he was picked up by EMI in 1996, the marketing department considered promoting him as a comic or a singer, but decided that the best way to sell Murray was to make him the first poet superstar.
But is there enough substance in his material to warrant all the packaging? Veteran poet Michael Horovitz, the British contemporary of the Beats who organised the ground-breaking poetry reading in the Albert Hall in 1965, thinks not: 'Murray Lachlan Young has a certain technique as a ham actor which he uses quite well, but the distressing thing is that there's absolutely nothing inside it.'
For Horovitz, the defining characteristic of poetry 'is that there's something being said that you really want to remember because it's profound, because it makes you think'. He cites Linton Kwesi Johnson's 'Inglan is a bitch' as a poem with 'lots of levels', whereas Lachlan Young 'just repeats refrains like "Simply everyone's taking cocaine" and "I'm being followed by the Rolling Stones" which don't bear thinking about for one moment'.
Horovitz caused a stir recently on Radio Four's Today programme and in the London Evening Standard by railing against 'dumbed-down doggerel [that] glops on the name and nature of poetry'. Not that he thinks Lachlan Young is the only one to blame. Horovitz sees the degradation of verse as the almost inevitable consequence of the 'culture of selling', and he regards eighties poets such as Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison as pre-cursors of today's 'doggerel'.
Lachlan Young counters that 'poetry has always been part of the entertainment industry and I don't know where people get off thinking that it isn't'. While I too think that blaming the market is too easy (Shakespeare's plays were among the first to be written for the marketplace, after all), I think Horovitz may have a point when he says that easy-listening poetry is part of a superficial, non-critical culture in which we are advised 'to be realistic' and 'to accept everything from Thatcher to Tony Blair to Murray Lachlan Young'. Perhaps the executives of EMI agree with Horovitz. I have just heard that they have not renewed Lachlan Young's contract.
Murray Lachlan Young's latest book is Casual Sex (Transworld, £5.99). Michael Horovitz is the co-editor of the POW! anthology, available at £7.99 (including p&p) from New Departures, PO Box 9819, London W11 2GQ
Reproduced from LM issue 110, May 1998