Referenced in Song

I’ve some things in common with Tony Corbell, the award-winning photographer. We both shoot with Canon, we’re both heavily involved with training and photography; it’s just that for him the latter is his main wage earner and the former is something he believes in very strongly; sharing knowledge and experience. Those roles are reversed for me of course but this week I found something else in common with him.

He describes himself as the “biggest fan in the world*” of an English group of musicians who achieved some success in the 1960’s, and so one of his personal projects has been to document things and places mentioned in their songs over the years. Coincidentally in the same week that I was watching one of his training videos explaining this, I found myself in the same city where he has shot so much of this project.

It’s a city I’ve worked in before and so I didn’t come expecting to capture any great shots; I won a ViewBug challenge last year for images from this city, so felt I’d been there, done that. I had an entirely different landscape in mind to shoot nearby, but in the short excursion from my hotel in search of food and drink I couldn’t help myself. Like Glasgow the architecture here seems to have so many autobiographical tales to tell of the city’s past.

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One of the world’s major ports, there are tales of slavery and immigration, heroism, death, artistry, poverty and wealth to be discerned from the names and decoration of the buildings and public spaces here.  As I was staying in the commercial district it was predominantly the wealth that I encountered through banks and insurance companies and building names such as West Africa House and New Zealand House.

The Town Hall is 18th Century, and whilst it lacks the braggadocio of Manchester’s structure it is a fine Georgian building with some unusual decoration that again reflects the city’s international role and is topped of course by Britannia, ruler of the waves that brought this affluence.

My intended subject on this trip was a location aimed at protecting the city and its important trade.  Money talks.

Which brings me back to Tony Corbell and his fandom.  In case you haven’t yet recognised the city, here and some images that might just clinch it for you, and a couple of lines from one of the songs his idols recorded:

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That’s what I want

(Further clue – I’m not talking about The Flying Lizards!)

*A claim that would surely be disputed by my old school friend and bass-player, George Mitchell.  We never rivalled these guys:

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Mancunian Magnificence

Back in Manchester, and time to turn my attention away from Salford Quays to the city proper, but what should be my subject?

For a historic city, Manchester is missing a vital ingredient.  A castle.  The chester suffix derives from there being a Roman fortification here, but visit Castlefields and there is no trace of a fortification (unless you count the turrets on the railway bridge).  I need to find a different structure to write about.

Medieval options are out generally.  Manchester’s growth to prominence was a product of the industrial revolution, so there is little left predating the Victorian era.  That still leaves a huge variety to choose from; neo-classical, high-tech, gothic, art-deco and more.  One of the notable features is the brown terracotta tiles that clad many of the buildings.  The same industry that made the city wealthy made it polluted (think of the mill chimney’s of Lowry’s paintings).  These tiles were supposed to shed the dirt.

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I could easily have opted for Manchester Town Hall, a temple to municipal power and the status of he officials within.  There are few structures in the gothic revival style to rival it.  The shame is that the Town Hall extension alongside it should be such a plain building (though the 1930’s were not a time for exuberant design).

I may return to the town hall on another occasion; when I can add some interior shots to the story.

Then there’s the The Manchester Free Trade Hall.  Built to mark the repeal of the Corn Laws, this magnificent structure stands on the site of The Peterloo Massacre, when cavalry charged a group of protestors seeking parliamentary reform.  I was ignorant of all that until I read the commemorative plaque on the building’s facade, though another moment in its history resonated with greater strength.  The hall was Manchester’s premier concert venue for both classical and popular music, though on the one occasion I made the return trip over the Pennines it was to the Apollo to see Alice Cooper.  Despite Alice’s excesses, that evening has faded into obscurity, but a single word uttered by a member of the audience in the mid 60’s has become legendary.  Dylan was playing the Free Trade Hall with a show that marked his adoption of the electric guitar.  In a quiet moment during the second half of the show a voice rang out shouting “Judas”.  Dylan was still talking about the incident as recently as 2012.

Manchester Free Trade Hall
Manchester Free Trade Hall

The building now houses a hotel, although tragically two of the facades were demolished for its construction.  The details that remain though are an entertainment in their own right.

Manchester Free Trade Hall detail
Manchester Free Trade Hall detail

In the end it was a hotel that I opted for, but you’ll have to wait for another post before I reveal my choice.

All Features Great and Small

_PW_7579-EditI’m back in Glasgow, but based more centrally than on previous visits and on foot too, my preferred option for exploring a city photographically.  As a consequence I’ve ended up with too many pictures for a single post so will probably spread myself over two or three.  So what have I been shooting?

Not the people; this is no Havana where everyone will engage you in polite (but financially motivated) conversation.  Nor it is a Barcelona or Bologna where style and attitude are commonplace.  The attitude here seems harder and I’m not inclined to test it.

Nor will it be food and drink, for though the city undoubtedly has some gastronomic highlights the streets I walk are littered (I chose the word carefully) with fast food outlets and the usual suspects of the chain restaurant fraternity.  But raise your eyes a few feet above the gaudy corporate logos and sheets of glass and you find riches.  Architectural delights.

I’ve written before about the City’s mighty past, and the wealth it garnered is evident in the exteriors of so many buildings.  Tired, dilapidated, and stained by years of industry they may often be, but their design and detail is fascinating.  That Wikipedia devotes a page to Architecture in Glasgow is evidence enough. There are churches, theatres, pubs and tea rooms of note here, but for now I’ll just whet your appetite with some of the features and details that are all around you in the streets that emanate from George Square.  Flagship buildings for corporations familiar and long gone.

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