The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Tag: Manchester (page 1 of 1)

A Taste of Honey: Still Sweet Half a Century On

Hard to believe, but this year Tony Richardson’s wide-eyed 1961 ‘neo-realist’ masterpiece A Taste of Honey, based on a play by Salford playwright prodigy Shelagh Delaney is half a century old.

Filmed on location in lyrical black and white when Manchester was still connected to its chimney-stacked ‘dark Satanic’ past, it tells the story of Jo, a gawky, dream-filled, pregnant, unmarried working class teenage girl thinking about life and thinking about death and neither one particularly appealing to her.

This Sunday the Liverpool-based queer arts festival Homotopia will be holding a 50th anniversary screening of this classic film followed by a Q&A session with Rita Tushingham, who played young Jo in what turned out to be the performance of her life. (As part of the same festival, yours truly will be ‘in conversation’ with April Ashley on Nov 23.)

Back in the 1980s, when it was almost forgotten, A Taste of Honey had a big mouthed, bolshy, blousey northern champion — the singer Morrissey, who fashioned pretty much the entire world of his first couple of albums out of it. And famously lifting several lyrics from it:

    • ‘Hand in Glove’: And I’ll probably never see you again (‘I’ll probably never see you again. I know it!’)
    • ‘Reel Around the Fountain’: I dreamt about you last night/and I fell out of bed twice (‘I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice’.); You’re the bees knees/but so am I (‘You’re the bees knees, but so am I’.)
    • ‘You’ve Got Everything Now’: As merry as the days were long (‘As merry as the day is long’.)
    • ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’: Six months is a long time (‘It’s a long time, six months’.)
    • ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’: (‘I don’t owe you anything’.)
    • ‘Alma Matters’: It’s my life/to ruin/my own way (‘Anyway, it’s your life, ruin it your own way’.)
    • ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ The dream has gone but the baby is real (‘Oh, well, the dream’s gone but the baby’s real enough.’) And I’m not happy and I’m not sad. (I’m not sorry and I’m not glad.’).

The title I gave the chapter in Saint Morrissey examining Moz’s doomed little love-affair with Shelagh/Jo — ‘Dump her on the doorstep, girl’ — was yet another Moz lyric inspired by Taste. As the man himself admitted in the 90s: “Even I — even I — went a bit too far with A Taste of Honey.”

Here’s an excerpt from that chapter, explaining the impact and freshness of the film in 1961, how Delaney’s sparkling script sets Taste apart from the rest of the so-called British New Realism cinema of the 1960s, and why despite the passing of time and all its heinous crimes (and the normalisation of many of the taboos it tackled) it has hardly dated at all:

Unlike the other works by Fifties (usually northern) working class authors that were turned into films in the early Sixties, such as Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, and Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey was written from a female perspective, or rather intro-spective. Unashamedly self-absorbed, it manages to be genuinely ‘shocking’ and contemporary in its subject matter: adultery, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, maternal irresponsibility, abortion, miscegenation, homosexuality, congenital madness . . . (if this list reads like an episode of Brookside, perhaps this is why, in the late Eighties, Morrissey made a cameo appearance in a spin-off of that show called South).

However, Taste managed to cover all these themes without being sensationalist, refusing to hide behind pompous gestures and pseudo politics. It isn’t a play about an angry young man, but a vaguely anxious young girl — a much more ‘universal’ subject, since most of us are vaguely anxious young girls at some point in our lives.

And all of these characteristics — poetic naturalism, shocking without sensationalism, refusal of pompous gestures, dreamy introspection, a freshly feminine perspective — were to be features of Morrissey’s own work.

Mark Simpson Interviewed by Manchester Evening News

Email interview with Mark Simpson by Sarah Walters of Manchester Evening News (unedited version) pegged to his appearance as the bad fairy at this year’s Queer Up North Festival

SW: Sexuality has been part and parcel of your life and writings – how has reaction changed to the topic of sexuality since you started writing? Is there a culture of openness now, or still prudishness?

MS: Things have certainly changed. I doubt that the MEN of 20 years ago, would have interviewed me. If anything, it would have organised a campaign against my visit. Frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed them.

To some extent, homosexuality was dirty and sniggersome back then because sex was. Homosex is, symbolically speaking, sex for sex’s sake – not for Mothercare’s or the Pope’s. This of course is why the pop music kids listened to in the 80s was full of queerness: Soft Cell, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and that band called The Smiths.

Nowadays, everything has gone pop – especially Manchester – and sex is everywhere. Except perhaps in sex itself. I sometimes wonder whether, in a world full of broadband porn – and that’s just the TV schedules – whether there’s any point in actually having sex any more. Unless you’re doing it in front of a webcam or in the Big Brother House.

Queerness ain’t so queer any more. Maybe that’s why some of today’s favourite TV queers such as Graham Norton, tend to be reassuringly penis-less creatures from the 1970s.

But then, penised homosexuality can be very scary. And I should know.

Young people seem increasingly more open-minded about discovering and challenging their sexuality. Is being bi-/metro-sexual the new black?

It certainly looks like the future is ‘bi-curious’ and ‘open-minded’. Or at least that’s what it says on its online profile.

I mean, what is ‘straight’ nowadays? Sex outside marriage and Biblically-sanctified orifices has become almost compulsory.

For QUN, you’re taking part in the big Debate on May 10, which is always a huge draw – last year was a sell out. What are the hot topics in queer politics you’re expecting to field?

I’m afraid I’ve no idea what the hot topics in queer politics are. Hopefully I’ll be asked to comment on the new Gladiators’ abs and David Beckham’s Armani-wrapped lunch-box.

I understand that you’ll be taking a devil’s advocate line on the point/necessity of festivals like Queer Up North and speaking out ‘against’ them on May 24. Anti-gay debate (in particular against gay stereotypes) is something you’ve written about previously – what’s your beef with QUN?

Well, I don’t really have that much of a beef with QUN, especially since they’re putting me up in a boutique hotel for the weekend. And full marks to them for addressing this subject at all.

My argument is that with the queering of the mainstream, there really isn’t such a thing as ‘queer culture’ any more. Once upon a time, young queers would have to run away from Darlington to the queer metropoli of Manchester or London if they wanted some ‘queer culture’ – or just to be able to come out without losing their front teeth. This is clearly no longer necessarily the case. Many can come out at home without being made homeless, watch soaps with gay storylines – like Shameless – and log-on to look for love or sex. Or go to ‘gay night’ at the local nitespot. Queer culture was largely a product of queer communities. Queer assimilation and crossover means that those communities are increasingly obsolete.

Has Manchester as a city played a particular role in promoting (or, perhaps distorting) gay culture and liberalising opinions about sexuality?

I don’t think there’s a city anywhere that’s done more to queer the world than Manchester. Home of Coronation Street, Take That, Queer As Folk, Man U’s metrosexual ‘Spice Boys’, Shameless and The Smiths. Thanks to Manchester, it’s not just queer up north anymore.

Manchester itself seems to have been transformed from the desolate post-industrial landscape I knew in 1983 when I lived here briefly, to a city fit for hairdressers. And today’s footballers.

How Queer is it Up North?

Like the bad fairy at a christening, I shall be making a couple of appearances at Manchester’s famous Queer Up North festival.

Cue boos and hisses.

Manchester. So much to answer for. Home of Coronation Street, Take That, Queer As Folk, Man U Football Club and Shameless.

Oh, and that band called The Smiths.

Not to mention that camp Lancashire accent used by their football hooligans. Has any city done more to queer the world?

I’m on a panel for ‘Queer Question Time’ on Saturday, May 10 at 4.30pm. I’d like to ask a queer question of my own: what on earth do they put in the water round there? Poppers?

And, assuming I don’t say anything too unpleasant, a couple of weeks later I’m back again for the ‘final weekend’ on Saturday May 24 at 2pm – this time proposing the motion ‘Queer Culture is Obsolete’.

To quote Manchester’s Biggest Mouth, will I know how Joan of Arc felt?

The North Rises Again: Interview With Mark E Smith

The Fall’s legendary front-man has some deep-fried career advice for the Arctic Monkeys and the Kaiser Chiefs

(Arena Hommes Plus, Summer 2006)

“’Avin’ been around the world I reckon we’re very lucky,” says Mark E Smith, pop genius and (usually) lovable curmudgeon in a moment of uncharacteristic optimism. “They don’t realise what they’ve got, English people.” And what have we got? “Well,” he stalls, eyeing me and sensing a trap, “you don’t know until it’s gone do you, Mark!”

Mark E Smith, is 49 years old this year. It’s part of the mythology of the man who put ‘front’ in ‘frontman’, the lead-ranter for the longest-serving pre-post-punk band The Fall, that he looks much older than his years. Maybe it’s because those heady days when pop and art and literature and, well, everything worth caring about seemed to intersect, and everything seemed possible, especially after a line of dodgy speed and a can of Special Brew, now seem much further away than they actually are.

Due to an odd trick of the 21st Century light, the late Seventies, when The Fall was founded after Mark E Smith and most of the English working class was laid off at Salford Docks, is now much, much further away than, say, the early Sixties.

Or maybe it’s just because he’s generally reckoned to have consumed enough sulphate and Special Brew to give ICI indigestion. “A tooth fell out this morning, at 2am,” he tells me with a grin, “I thought that’s fookin’ typical! Just before I’m due to meet the press!”. He orders a pint of lager and a whiskey and lights up, eyes narrowing in the smoke.

It’s clear that Mr Smith has had, ahem, a few late nights, and isn’t going to make the cover of Mens Health any time soon but to me he looks younger than his years. No, honestly. Maybe it’s a trick of the iconic light on this Sunday afternoon in this postmodern Manchester hotel, or maybe it’s because he doesn’t care about his looks in the way you’re required by EU edict these days, but the man behind 25 studio albums and 24 live albums looks as scampish and defiant as ever. A slightly shop-worn Kes with a merciless Mancunian motor-mouth.

How does he feel being an icon? “It don’t bother me” he says with a shrug. “Though, being a Smith I prefer not to be noticed and to just get on with it.”

Smith’s style is anything but anonymous. Lyrically, he’s a cross between William Burroughs, Philip Larkin and Ena Sharples. Above all else, he is distinctively, eccentrically English. In the true sense of the word. That’s to say northern.

“London’s sealing itself off with its prices and its attitudes,” he moans. “London is fookin’ surreal. It’s like: ‘You can’t come in here!’ And what is London, that collection of villages, for? Fook all. Compare it to cities like Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, great cities which changed the world. I don’t wanna get too northern here…”

Please do….

“After 11 o’clock you still can’t get a pint!” He grins. “But we can’t say this Mark coz this is going in a London-based magazine!

Albert Camus, who penned the novel Smith named his band after, described a rebel as: ‘A man who says “no”’. Smith has turned ‘no’ literally into an art-form – always placing himself apart from the latest trend, the latest bleating herd-instinct; it’s made him a lot poorer and a lot less celebrated. But it has also made him a hero. One of the last.

He isn’t impressed by the current renaissance of Northern English pop, even those bands which owe rather a lot to The Fall. “I think that the Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys should open a chain of chip shops in North Yorkshire”, he says, only half joking. “I think the East Germans had it right, actually. Every group used to have to have a permit. Until they came up with anything culturally relevant, like a classical composition. I think they should bring them in here. I should start a musical Stasi. If you can’t play in fookin time, then fook off back to the factory.”

What have the English got? Mark E Smith, that’s what.

Let’s hope this is one thing they appreciate before it’s gone.