Sunday, 9 June 2013

Stoke Newington Literary Festival: Paul Morley on The North

The plush surrounds of Stoke Newington Town Hall appear an unlikely setting in which to discuss a region typified by spit'n'sawdust, steel and graft. But if there's one thing the excellent annual Stoke Newington Literary Festival provides it's variety, from big names including Irvin Welsh, Caitlin Moran and Tariq Ali to comics, poetry and even Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the week-long north east London festival has everything and some great venues to host them in. 

Former NME journalist and author Paul Morley, who was born in Surrey but grew up in Stockport, has come to discuss his book, The North. However, as he explains, he usually gets booked as a last minute stand-in to interview authors about their books. As such, with no such interviewer available, he opts to interview himself - selecting content from a Q&A sent by his publishers.

The format itself is a clever idea - he says he once did it before in split screen on BBC2's The Late Review - but struggles in reality. The book itself is a collection of studies on various northern artists and their views of the north but you wouldn't get that from the first half hour in which Morley addresses his concept of 'a north' in which he essentially explains why the book is heavily biased towards the North West, in which he grew up. 
Despite the interview premise, the talk is rambling and structureless, full of great nuggets - the Stockport viaduct features 11 million bricks donchaknow? - but undermined by pulling back to discuss the book's authenticity every time he piques interest. 

Albert Tatlock
He talks about what Albert Tatlock, Ken Barlow's uncle on Coronation Street, the archetypal grumpy northerner, would have made of the book and makes an interesting observation that Shameless' Frank Gallagher may have taken on this TV mantle. But, again, it's about how it may be perceived. One reason, I suspect, is that Morley moved to London following the infamous Sex pistols Free Trade Hall, Manchester gig in 1976 and he wants to ensure that the book has a ring of truth.

However, his frequent excellent writings on northern musical heroes including Ian Curtis, and The Human League give him this authority and he shouldn't be afraid to stick to it. Moreover, I ask him after the talk, why music didn't play more of a role in his readings, given his first hand accounts of people who have defined the north would be fascinating and invaluable. He replies that figures like The Fall's Mark E Smith do feature but in truth there's not the colour or the effervescent anecdotes which would lighten the whole event. 

Morley does make a good point however, when he address the fact that there being a 'North' means that it's defined by a South. He talks about how trains have to stop at Stockport on the way to London and that northerners perhaps over-egg their love of where they're from in the face of stereotypes etched out by southerners who have absolutely no idea where Ravenscar is. 

In essence, this talk is a list of Paul Morley's favourite northerners' from artist L.S Lowry to author Anthony Burgess, waving his glasses and constantly putting them on and whipping them off as he explains his passions. It's certainly interesting however more of his unique musical insight, which many will have attended to hear about, and a stronger view of what being from the north is about would have been more than welcome. 

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