Tuesday, 9 March 2010

the train now departing platform 12…

long before the instant gratification of cheap airlines, the railway station was the epitome of glamour and modernity, gateway to far off lands, symbol of the triumphant submission of time and space to a new metropolitan world order.

accordingly the railway was a central motif on the silver screen, a rumbling cathedral to sophisticated urbanity, to the relentless efficiency of the metropolis, all whirring pistons, bustling smoky platforms, colossal clocks and the clackety clack of the destination boards, site of passionate trysts, clandestine assignations and mysterious intrigue. from dr zhivago to some like it hot, the lady vanishes and brief encounters, the railway has long evoked both the romance and menace of the urban experience.

in contemporary life this ubiquity might have receded but its nostalgic hold on our collective imagination is reaffirmed in the harry potter franchise. who hasn’t secretly looked out for platform 9¾ when they’ve passed through kings cross? or at least wished it might be possible? in our hearts we all long to be whisked away on a journey to a far off world, real or imaginary…..

as you might recall, dear reader, brunswick sits in the crook of the city’s two giant causeways, the mancunian way and piccadilly station, the latter prime gateway to the north west since its opening in 1842. my daily routine is consequently dominated by travel, speed and noise; other people’s schedules form the backdrop to my life and mundane existence. and whilst i could walk around the station in my customary expeditions across town, i invariably prefer to walk through it, relishing the muffled tannoy announcements, basking in the hustle and bustle of commuters, day trippers and holiday makers and its tantalizing glimpses into the lives of so many strangers.

so it was only natural that i should gladly accept an invitation to a journey with a difference departing at 6.30pm on march 4 from platform 12…

‘night and day’ is a photographic celebration of the musical footprint of the city by jan chlebik, a lyrical, poetic text by phil griffin and musical annotation by guy garvey; the elbow frontman’s observation that the halle orchestra was in fact the first manchester band being the springboard for this temporary exhibition.

chlebik’s raw and seemingly unassuming depictions, shorn of artifice, special lighting or crafty photoshopping, perfectly captures the grimy, unlikely and often uninviting geography of the musical landscape of the city and reawakens the excitement of hunting out a favourite band down some dingy alley or improbable spot in the days before purpose built arenas held sway. in these wistful images, stripped of the glamorous paraphernalia that follows the cult of the musician, the venue becomes a metaphor or receptacle; a memory box or more literally a musical box ingrained with a unique archive of precious memories and seminal encounters, reverberating with the soundtracks to a multitude of lives, connecting otherwise disparate generations and musical tastes across time and space. and all the while word wizard phil griffin conjures up a truly melodious topography casting music as ‘city cement’ where ‘the city is stage, and performed, set, script and score’, its notes saturated into the very masonry of the buildings.

and ‘off the plinth’, outside the usual gallery confines, the long walk along platform 12 becomes the ideal frame for accompanying our guides headlong, pied piper-like, into the stratigraphy of the city on an acoustic ride through the free trade hall, via the opera house, the ritz and bridgewater hall, calling at the band on the wall, the roadhouse, night and day and the nearby star and garter, which the taller amongst us (like the nearly 7ft tall mr haslam) could just about spy on his tippy toes.

of course, this musical tour includes the obligatory hacienda and younger sibling the boardwalk but this is no mere harping to factory mythologizing or madchester glories but a thoughtful tribute to a long standing love affair which outlives temporal fads and fashions, with room for alternate itineraries such as the twisted wheel, the jolly angler and the short lived hardrock, whose residues seep into gutters and along drain pipes and remnants still drift on the breeze faintly audible to the odd soul stepping out for a smoke on the night air outside such johnny-come-latelies as the warehouse project or deaf institute.

this ‘city for fagins boys and bar room bores and ladies of the night’ drew me back into half forgotten dives such the international, fagins or the desolate b&q car park where once ziggy stardust played guitar amidst the ghosts of a former bowling alley, or debbie harry’s vocals might still be detected besides the hurly burly of the turkish cheese counter...

so if you find yourself at piccadilly station be sure to make your way to platform 12. who knows where this trip might take you....

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