Visions of Johanna

My internal roadmaps contain a section dedicated to the streets of Manchester in the 1960s.  Most of these monochrome memories start from Oxford Road station with its three wooden conoid roofs, a remarkable building for its time with echoes of the Sydney Opera House.  Even a self-absorbed teenager noticed such things but when it came to railways, I had previous.  An avid trainspotter from the age of eight, what else was there to do, I knew Manchester’s stations intimately: Manchester Central, Piccadilly, Victoria and Exchange – all of them dark, filthy and rundown – hell’s Cathedrals.  This was the norm, this was all I knew – smog, steam and rain – the assumption was that this was the way everything ended, Oxford Road included, the station where most of our journeys on clackety closed compartment trains from Altrincham would finish.

Down Station Approach to the left was the Corner House Cinema specialising in ‘adult entertainment’ and to the right, along Oxford Road, was the Family Planning shop, nothing more than a hut beneath the railway bridge. I had no use for either of these services but like forbidden fruit, they intrigued.

The main attractions were the musical instrument shops that lined the south side of Oxford Street, full of guitars and drum kits well beyond our means.  At the junction with Portland Street was a sheet music shop, another frequent haunt – we were as likely to buy the sheet music as the vinyl.

St Peter’s Square is dominated by Manchester Central Library, no longer the blackened cake tin of my youth, it roughly marks the point where Oxford Street becomes Peter Street.  Less than 200 yards further on is the Free Trade Hall where, on May 17th 1966, Dylan had his confrontation with Judas – “I don’t believe you”   ……..  “You’re a liar.” 

This goes some way to explain an obsession that has not left me.  My head is full of disturbing verse, none of it attributable to Wordsworth:

Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles

So when I create an image such as this, inevitably it is Visions of Johanna that conquer my mind:

And these visions of Johanna ...


“Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna”  Director: John Hillcoat


  1. restlessjo · January 20, 2016

    I enjoyed this very much, Robin. And not only because it contains my namesake 🙂 I don’t know Manchester at all but I can picture all too well. Dylan I know (and love) much better.

    • northumbrianlight · January 20, 2016

      Many thanks Jo and thanks for the RT – I didn’t realise or had forgotten you are a Johanna – perfect synchronicity and such a classic track. I prefer the slower album version but the John Hillcoat film really brings this one to life.

  2. LaVagabonde · January 20, 2016

    Haunting photo and words. A wonderfully atmospheric post, Robin. I felt like I was back in Manchester of yesteryear. The places we wander as children play a major role in the adults we become.

    • northumbrianlight · January 20, 2016

      Thanks Julie – it all started when I went for a sentimental tour on Google street view and realised how much has changed within a relatively small area The smutty cinema is still there but the Family Planning shop/hut is no more 🙂

  3. Cate Franklyn · January 20, 2016

    Terrific post, Robin!

    • northumbrianlight · January 21, 2016

      Many thanks Cate – I have now found out that someone has written entire book about Dylan’s Judas night at the Free Trade Hall – now on order from Amazon 🙂

  4. littledogslaughed · January 21, 2016

    Such a terrific interplay of light, shadow and line-a very lovely image Robin!

    • northumbrianlight · January 22, 2016

      Many thanks Meg – she normally hangs on a bedroom wall but this was taken in natural light on the front room carpet – I think she enjoyed the change 😛

  5. socialbridge · January 24, 2016

    So evocative, Robin.

  6. Karen Thorburn · January 25, 2016

    I don’t know Manchester well at all but I feel like I’ve been for a walk down memory lane with you. These four lines are my favourite Bob Dylan lyrics out of all the hundreds of songs to choose from!

    • northumbrianlight · January 25, 2016

      Manchester is not what it was – many would say it is better but I was fond of the dirty old town.
      Nice coincidence about the lyrics.
      BTW – just booked CalMac HopScotch 11 tickets from Ullapool to Lewis, Harris, the Uists and Skye (in mid April) – thanks again for the inspiration. Its an odd thing this blogging lark 🙂

      • Karen Thorburn · January 25, 2016

        Robin, I’m delighted to think that my blog has played a part in you booking a trip to the islands! I’m feeling more than a little envious thinking about your drive to Ullapool and journey through the Hebrides! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some dry weather for you.

        This blogging lark is a great source of inspiration and you’ve reminded me that I need to give ‘Blonde on Blonde’ a spin – it’s been a while! 🙂

  7. Pingback: LPs and fag breaks | northumbrian : light

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