The other night, I traveled across the Pennines to see my big brother and to witness Grandaddy in concert at Manchester’s Albert Hall.
The Albert Hall is a marvelous venue right in the city centre. It’s a converted methodist chapel with a balcony (a bit like a smaller, less springy Ritz, for those of you who know their Manchester venues). I really like it, although the couple of gigs I’ve been to there have been a little on the quiet side for my liking. It could, of course, be that my ears have been blasted to partial deafness by decades of gig-going but I do like the bass to rumble through my feet and ribs when I see live music.
Well, I was both looking forward to and dreading my outing to an equal degree. The reason for dreading it is the outward hour and a half I spend in the car, inevitably following a heavy load or getting snarled up in the bob and weave of the A6 as it passes through Hazel Grove. Coupling this with the fact it was a school night and leaving hot on the heels of returning from work, I was filled with a sense of impending fatigue before I’d even started.
This sense of forboding means I’ve held off getting tickets for other upcoming Manchester dates such as Thee Oh Sees (now sold out, I think) and Thurston Moore, who I’ve seen solo several times over the last few years (I’m a big Sonic Youth fan).
It turned out the journey wasn’t so bad, apart from the inevitable tailbacks on the Derbyshire / Cheshire border. Even Hazel Grove wasn’t too bad and I managed to successfully circumnavigate the box junctions, the buses in the left hand lane and the turning drivers in the right without too much difficulty. It still took me exactly an hour and a half.
As a student in Manchester a quarter of a century ago, it used to make me smile that I could catch a National Express bus home, or a train, or get a lift with my dad, each of these taking wildly different routes, and for any number of reasons it would always take an hour and a half. And it still does, give or take five minutes.
Once I’d reached my brother’s house, had a cup of tea, said hi to his family (making them look up from the XBox for a second) and made a fuss of his new dog, he did the driving into town. This took the stress out of finding parking spaces and the like and I ended up relaxing into and enjoying my night out.
It has to be said, great though they are, Grandaddy aren’t the most thrilling act to watch live and I ended up with the standing-in-one-place fatigue that you get at gigs, shifting from one foot to another to see past the head of the guy in front. In fact, the thing that worries me most – my legs giving way and crashing me to the deck in a public place – happened to someone else nearby. He was OK though, and his friends carefully lifted him back up and dusted him off, checking he was alright.
Afterwards, we made it back OK and I hopped into my car for the drive home.
This time, instead of the usual route, I set my sat nav for a neighbourhood in Gorton, a predominately working class area on Manchester’s east side where I used to share a house, way back when. Just for old time’s sake.
It’s not a studenty area at all and my walk into uni used to take me along the A57 Hyde Road, a good three miles, past a huge railway sidings, a multiplex where I’d seen Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey in the middle of the day with the cinema to myself, an Eccles Cake factory which used to smell sweet and comforting in the middle of winter, and the crumbling ruin of the charmingly named Fort Ardwick – a condemned, concrete housing monstrosity from the 1960s.
Driving through in the middle of the night, I was amazed how much I didn’t remember. A neighbourhood can change a lot in 25 years, of course, but I didn’t even remember the huge Piccadilly-bound railway viaduct I would have had to walk under on my way to lectures every day.
Mentally shrugging my shoulders, one hand on the wheel, I altered my sat nav for home.
For whatever reason, I missed my turn for the Snake Pass and ended up following the old National Express bus route along the Woodhead to the north of Sheffield. The last time I’d traveled this way, I’d been in the last vehicle to travel over the tops before the snow had closed the route, and I remembered that night as my headlights lit up the white snow posts at the side of the road, my sat nav telling me about the reservoirs lost in the night just beyond the road’s edge.
It seemed to take an age. I was at the head of a line of traffic twisting uphill in the slow moving lea of a heavily laden juggernaut. Eventually, somewhere near the route’s apex, it pulled into a lay-by to let us all past and I sped along for a hundred yards or so, only to hit a series of speed checks and an almost identical juggernaut on the downhill stretch.
Eventually I waved it goodbye near Stocksbridge and I hit the M1 southbound, flying along the home-stretch in the early hours of the morning.
Slotting my keys into my front door, I checked my watch: an hour and a half exactly.