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

Life on Mars

I have just finished reading Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts Edgelands – Journeys into England’s True Wilderness.  As it states on the cover, the wilderness is much closer than you think.  Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands – those familiar yet ignored spaces are neither city nor countryside – have become the great wild places on our doorstep.  It prompted me to scan some 120 roll film negatives taken in Manchester and around Trafford Park at a time when everything was verging on edgelands.  The title for this post is inspired by the first photograph if you can spot the reference and also by the fact they were all taken in the mid-1970s – I would guess 1976.

I am almost disappointed by what has become of Manchester Central – still a functioning railway station when I was a boy, it closed to railway services in 1969 and for a time was used as an undercover car park.  The picture included here shows some of the fire damage which closed the interior before the structure was eventually converted into the G-MEX Exhibition Centre.  It has since been renamed Manchester Central in recognition of its heritage but that glorious smoke filled cathedral is no more – the dilapidated remains had a more direct association with its past.  Sadder still, the Free Trade Hall opposite, once home to the Hallé Orchestra, is now a Radisson Hotel.  I attended many an event in that fine building, most memorably, a Simon & Garfunkel concert in 1967 – Manchester ‘seems like a dream to me now’.

Trafford ParkTrafford ParkTrafford ParkTrafford ParkManchester Central