Monthly Archives: April 2019

Joy Division: an oral history, a book by Jon Savage

On Saturday 27 April 2019 Jon Savage gave a talk at the Home arts centre in Manchester on his new book, Joy Division: an oral history, after showing a rare video which he produced of the band playing live at the Manchester Apollo in 1979. He is a music journalist who moved to Manchester in the 1970s to cover ‘the scene’.


The Manchester music scene in 1970s-1990s worked because:

– all the corporates were is London and Manchester ‘only’ had independent labels. They weren’t perfect, not many talented female musicians thrived in the blokey culture, but it did sustain bands such as Joy Division. Had JD gone to a London corporate, Ian Curtis would have been peeled away from the rest of the band as a solo artist, and expected to make a hit single every three months and an album every year.

– there were basically semi-derelict spaces within the city for affordable living, where new communities could grow and flourish. JS felt that this was no longer the case for Manchester, but was still possible in Glasgow, and maybe in parts of Birmingham. This is the tension within place-making, where artists create desirability, but then rising values which attract investors but push away creative clusters. The knack of doing urban regeneration based on sustainable communities remains a lesson mostly unlearnt since the 1980s because of short-term capital pressures.

I agree with JS and I liked his talk because it matched my taste in music, but also matched with my interest in genuine urban regeneration based on sustainable communities. Useful lessons I feel that work across cultural and arts sectors generally, eg screen, theatre, music.

On Impatience

Friends who know me well might sometimes call me impatient. I don’t know this exactly for a fact, but I’m pretty sure even so.

Is it a bad thing, or can it ever be good?

Since childhood I’ve known I am prepared to be different at times, to be comfortable with not following a trend, if I thought something else was right or needed to be said or done. Perhaps this is what people now call as having confidence.

But it can have a downside – being maybe seen as not being a team player, or worse, of arrogance.

So, I’ve always known it is balancing act. Trying to be humble helps, I find.

The fact that I might do more than average at times is not a criticism of anyone else. When I was young and involved in student politics one of my colleagues complained in a meeting that I did too much work. I would be writing letters or giving welfare advice to other students (my role at the time) while my colleague was downstairs playing bridge. What can you do? (As I write this I am the only person in this cafe with a keyboard…)

Also important is being open to being told one is wrong on something. It does happen, embarrassingly often it sometimes feels. And maybe it is me, but in general I think men need to reflect on this habit more than women. I try and be clear with people about what is just a suggestion of mine, just an idea, some bit of new research that might be useful, and that what I am saying is really no more than that.

I guess one of my personal drivers is a belief that we all have some power, whatever our circumstances, and a belief in a moral or ethical obligation to use that power in a positive, sharing, generous manner. I’m not saying I do that, or often enough, but it is my objective and is a good one to have.

So, can an impatient person be a team player?

I think so, but it isn’t automatic or guaranteed.

Teams are always a balance of different strengths, and there are a few models in psychology that suggest different types of individuals (eg horizon scanners) and the good or bad team dynamics that come with different mixes.

But I think there is an extra layer to be taken into account. It isn’t just the personality type that matters, it is also the personal values that each person brings to the table that matter too.

For me, that is the balance I try for: yes, to “get stuff done” but always within a social context of a shared endeavour. Even when writing a book.

Finally, some politics.

In her day, and my childhood, Barbara Castle was called a fire-brand. A strong woman, left wing, and a radical Minister in the Labour government during the 1960s. She was as well known to the public as Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister.

She was at a Labour party conference one time, speaking to the vast hall of thousands, saying how the government wasn’t doing enough for working people, and urging more radicalism.

“Conference,” she said, “all they ever promise us is jam tomorrow. Comrades, what we demand is jam today!”

I know how she felt.

Disabled People and Manchester City Council: on being a critical friend

Sometimes a friend has to tell someone close to them an uncomfortable truth. That truth can be the test of the friendship, and it can also be the making of it, the defining moment when change and renewal becomes possible.

I was struck while in an ordinary meeting of people working in the built environment, where no-one knew my background, that unprompted two people separately said how Manchester has an excellent reputation across the UK for access for older people and disabled people.

For another day we need to make this practice and its history more widely known. An excellent start currently is the mini-series of graphic story-telling magazines produced by young people at the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) called, The Accessibles.

These graphic magazines acknowledge the work of council officers such as Neville Strowger, as well as the various campaigns by GMCDP and the Access Group. Innovations such as the Local Routes project which started in the housing estates of Wythenshawe in the early 1990s, as well as the first fully-accessible multi-sports stadium and international games in 2002. And especially noting the Design for All programme of policies, training, and informative leaflets.

However, and this is the difficult bit, in recent years we have seen basic level mistakes start to creep back in. The re-paving of Lloyd Street which has created trip hazards with members of the public being injured and now temporary pedestrian barriers in permanent use around hazard areas.

Next, and possible politically worse, is the new design for a monument on the 200-year anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. Approved in a rush in March 2019 and to be built and finished by late July 2019. A monument that is inaccessible to disabled people, who will have a smaller, flat replica nearby, a segregated version of the real one. A segregated monument to the fight for democracy. Oh Manchester! How could you?

How has it come to this? Unfortunately it isn’t a simple matter of not knowing or forgetting. The access consultants gave early advice on Lloyd Street re-paving on how to avoid trip hazards. Similarly, the consultation on the monument design created a lot of adverse comments on the exclusion of disabled people. The written summary of the consultation responses even included a bemused observation by the officials on just how many comments were concerning the access barriers. As if these comments were somehow unwelcome or inappropriate.

So, why is advice bring wilfully and repeatedly ignored?

And this is the tough message, as you would expect from a close friend. Somehow there has developed a ‘we know best’ culture in some areas or teams within the officials. Perhaps it is a sign of how proud they are to work for a council with a strong reputation. The demise of working with the local access group as key advisors is part of the mix. But instead of building on previous gains and relationships, there is instead a perception of arrogance, that the past was flawed, its people mistaken, and all such old ways need to be ignored from now on.

The past wasn’t perfect, by any means. But it was actually better then than now. These basic mistakes were not made when the city centre was redeveloped after the 1996 bomb. Nor when Central Library was first refurbished, the Art Gallery made accessible, John Rylands library opened to disabled people a century after it was built, and the old Town Hall opened up to democratically include disabled people with equal civil rights.

How we get away from a ‘we know best’ culture and move towards a ‘we learn together’ culture is, ultimately, a task for the paid officials to sort out for themselves. But disabled people deserve better than the current back-sliding, and the good reputation and hard work previously won by Manchester learning together is about to slip away on their watch.