Victorian architecture and stolen cakes

When you walk into the Night and Day café in Manchester and that big dark wood door closes behind you, it seems to shut out the anxiety of the city. The timeless smell of freshly ground coffee, low lighting and quality thoughts gently embraces you into another world.

“We rehearse in the basement here Jules” said Jaime, confidently searching my face for an agreeable response as he pushed open the front door of the café.
Still not really knowing what to expect from all of this, the only thought I could come up with was to comment on how cool it was that this old building still had its original rosettes and cornices round the ceiling.
The guys laughed at my observation.
Their laugh was refreshing as we marched through the café it brought it home to me that I was ten years older than the rest of the boys.
But it felt good. I felt liberated from all the useless interests and observations I’d accrued over the years.
I can be silly and young again!
Who gives a fuck about rosettes and cornices anyway!
I noticed as I was led down the stairs that the original Victorian banister rail still existed, but decided not to comment.
At the bottom we turned right, past the make-shift toilets, through a dark hallway and then through another big wooden door with some old posters on it.

The basement.

The first thing that struck me was the faint smell of cigarettes and the silence…, the thick tangible silence of a room that doesn’t exist until you open its door.
Phil didn’t hang around, his amp was on before the strip lights had even finished igniting, guitar strapped on, tearing at the strings and exploring the best position for his amp to feedback and howl.
Time to wake up!!!!

Tony was tuning up with a knowing smirk on his face as Phil smashed the silence.
Murad was adjusting his kit with very critical and precise movements.
Jaime was looming over the crappy PA amp, wiggling a crackly plug and doing bingo caller impressions in a retard accent!

“Hey guys, where do I plug in?” I enquired, still more preoccupied with the absence of the recently promised coffee in the café dream.
Nope… Unfortunately the volume of my voice wasn’t adequate enough to compete with Phil’s screaming guitar.
I opted to be amused by this sonic barrage, and in my mind a thousand pennies dropped! I’d never been so clearly aware of having a choice of reactions, and this was no moment to be grumpy.
I decided to roll a joint while I waited for a gap in the noise that would allow me to speak.
So I adorned myself on a decorator’s trestle trying to look cool and half-arsed, but as I reached in my pocket to get my dope out, the fragile trestle buckled under and crashed me onto the dusty floor.

The guys loved this display! And as I disentangled myself from the sorry little bent legs of the trestle, something else broke. I guess it could be called the ice. It was perfect. Murad and Phil were in tears laughing, and Jaime, (once seeing I was ok and equally amused) let out the world’s most infectious giggle. Tony looked delighted at the sight of this cocky idiot crawling around the dusty floor looking for a tiny piece of smoke.

“Let’s go upstairs and grab a coffee!” I said, at last having the command of attention.
It was met with enthusiasm.
“Joe might have arrived by now anyway” said Jaime.
“Yeah and I’m starving” said Murad.
“Jules if you need to eat, we’ve got a tab here” added Phil.
This pleased me beyond description!
So the little rabble of activity that I by now felt very much part of moved back up the stairs into the civility of the café.

Back in 1994 Becky was the cook at the Night & Day café. She was probably only about 20 years old but I could see she’d already established herself in a maternal role towards the band. I liked this, it allowed us to be cheeky grubby little boys charming massive portions of food out of her, and getting away with nicking cakes out of the display.

As I tucked into the veggie burger and chips, I lost myself for a moment in the sharp light of the February afternoon shafting in through the windows. Only a handful of months ago I was desperate and lonely in the gutters of New York City, a dream had become a nightmare.
I’d felt old and jaded.
The good times of my youth seemed so long ago.
I was so fucked, I started to believe they were someone else’s memories, and the resignation to believing my days would end in that loveless city, cold, lonely and hungry, were not a dilly-dally with some fucking bohemian art trip.
“Oh, yah yah my New York stint was such a blast guys!!”
I was 8 stone, dribbled heart-burn when I spoke and protected my night-time shop doorway home with a piece of wood with nails sticking out of the top!
I was only 27 but looked like an old creep. I felt like a creep, I’d been violated but was left battling with an undeserved guilt.

The reason why I have such a vivid memory of my time in Marion is because, as I mopped up the remainder of my delicious café lunch, surrounded by the giggles and wide eyed wonder of this little gang of Artful Dodgers, I knew I was going to devour every moment of that new chance of being alive.

Enough energy to light Blackpool

Shit it’s that pestering fucking landlord!
The knocking on the door woke me.
I didn’t know the time, but knew it was morning coz I felt like a bag of shit.
I pulled the duvet over my head and waited for that spike in my life to
disappear off up the road.
Knock knock knock….
Fuck surely he’s got the idea by now!!
I’m fucking skint!
I’ve spent the last 2 months of rent money on drugs, records and bangles.
If I answered the door I’d just bombard him with yet another stream of charming lies, leaving him confused and monetarily undernourished.

‘You’re wasting your time Landlord…..go and fuck someone else’s day!!’

Still coming round from sleep when I realise Paul my flatmate is now knocking on my bedroom door.

‘Jules, Jules the band are here!’
What!? What!
What the fuck…!!!!??!!!!
‘They said they were coming at half 10!!’
‘It’s half 10 now Jules!’!!!!!
‘Whaat Half 10 in the fucking morning!
You’ve just gotta be kidding!!’
‘What kind of band is that?’

I looked through the window and saw Jaime grinning up at the window, with a knowing twinkle.

‘Give me 5 mins Jaime; I’ve just woken up mate’.

I recoiled back into my room before I got a reply.
Shit shit shit!!!
Action action!!
I looked round my room for departure prompts.
Keys, cigs, dope, loose change, plectrum and horrible death metal bass guitar I’d managed to borrow from some creepy mate of Tims (another creepy guy).
Most of my clothes were already on from last night, so only half of that job to do!
Clean teeth…
Back in room for last look around for items I may need….
nope! got everything.
Quick pause to recalibrate.
A moment of silence….

Well here goes… The beginning of Marion.

I swung my front door open and ‘vogued’ myself onto the pavement, Jaime, Tony, Phil, Murad and guitars were shoehorned into a Ford Fiesta.

Mustard would be the best description of its colour… looked hand painted and done in a hurry. The back wheels were groaning inside the arches under all the weight. It reminded me of one of those overloaded donkeys you see in the middle east.

They were all grinning and chatting, it was a little hive of activity and mischief.
I sauntered up to the car, feeling important.
I looked good and people were waiting for me!

Yes!!! this is my kind of world! :)
Informal greetings all round. The only person I hadn’t met before was Tony.
But when I heard that quiet little giggle from under that massive fringe, I knew immediately I liked him.
I could tell he wasn’t a huggy person, so I leaned past Murad and imposed an over long and sentimental hug on him.

As we set off I heard Jaime and Phil giggling in the front seats like school boys.
They were fiddling around trying to de-mist the windscreen. Each time they turned up the heater control, the air vents let out a warm trumpy smell.
Although it amused me, I decided not to laugh . . . didn’t wanna give too much away on first day of new school.

I had no idea where we were rehearsing, and kind of liked the mystery.
But it seemed like an obvious question to ask….

‘We rehearse in the basement of The Night and Day cafe in Manchester’ Said Jaime, still giggling at the car heater with Phil.

‘Wow’ I said, wishing I’d got more leg room.

‘How often do you guys practice?’

‘Every day’ said Phil.

‘What?’ I said, trying to sound breezy – ‘you travel to Manchester every day like this?’

‘Yes’ they chorused with ironically feigned enthusiasm.

‘Well, we started rehearsing every day from last week’ Said Murad.

I felt my heart sink a bit at the thought of waking up early, to be jammed in a flatulating car for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week!

The journey was accompanied by a back drop of The Buzzcocks being played really loudly on the world’s shittest car stereo.

The Buzzcocks jarred mercilessly on my ears, still groggy from last night’s dope and shit boring trance music.

I’d not heard The Buzzcocks since I was a kid, totally forgotten about them actually, but Jaime’s detailed enthusiasm made them seem magic.

I started to settle into the journey and found my footing within the youthful power play of the boys.
I liked where I positioned myself on the pyramid and felt assured I had a confident role within the band.

The guys were great and the vibe already had an air of destiny.
5 buzzing guys cramped into a tiny little car, generating enough energy to light Blackpool!

Yes!!! This is my kind of world!

Entering Manchester was a bit surreal, the rhythm of daily activity was tangibly more urgent than Macclesfield. Car horns, buses, a billion people weaving around, stop lights every few metres and the smell of every continent cooking goodies, all at the same time.

The switch had gone on.
We’re no longer farm punks from the hills!
We’re a cool mysterious band strutting and shimmying around town….
Manchester Town….
Magical Manchester town!
I’ll take that back….
Manchester’s a fuckin dump!!

Actually I’d better take that back too!
Anyway it was in 1994.
Affleck’s Palace had turned into a fucking ‘souvenir of itself’.
The Arnadale centre looked like a giant portaloo.

There was building work going on everywhere And it was freezing.

We all rolled out of the car once we’d parked in the northern quarter.

‘The Night and Day cafe is just round the corner’ said Phil, observing my wonderment at some of the derelict mills practically falling down around the car. Jaime was almost paternal on that short walk to the Cafe.

‘We’ll have a nice cup of real coffee upstairs in the cafe before we start Jules’ he said.

I liked Jaime.
He was the friendly face in the classroom on your first day of a new school.

Phil and Murad were in front of us joking around and pushing each other off the pavement.

Tony was silently marching behind us with his hands fixed in his pockets.

‘Wait till you meet Joe Moss Jules! You’ll love him’ Jaime beamed

‘Who’s Joe Moss?’ I asked, loving this whole scene more with each step.

‘He’s our manager; you’ll get on great with him. He smokes rollies and talks about cool things like books and obscure musicians’

Jaime’s enthusiasm was infectious; he effortlessly invited value to situations and people. A trait I long for.

‘We’re the first band Joe has managed since The Smiths’ said Jaime, as he pushed open the door of the Night and Day cafe….

“We’ll pick you up at half ten Monday….”

I saw the guys out of my door of 25 Boden St into that freezing February night.
We stood there a while, talking non stop at each other in a flurry of enthusiasm.
My usual evening of stoned self indulgence, had been knocked sideways,
I watched them make their way up the road.  The steam from their breaths illuminated by the street lamps. The importance of the moment seemed scarily and beautifully tangible.
I made my way back up the stairs to my warm bedroom, completely forgetting I had a girlfriend perched patiently on the edge of my bed, waiting for the next nightly instalment of the ‘Jules show’….., endless guitar riffs and repeated gushings of my latest favourite songs.

I entered my room.
I re-entered my world.
It looked different now.
Everything looked different.
My little nest of cushions on that vile patterned carpet now looked like cretins, losers, beckoning me back to the comfort of being nobody.
The plate with crumbs from my daily cheese on toast supper, were remnants of a different me.

Everything looked small.
I knew my world had changed.

I saw Anya’s eyes rolling as she said something along the lines of ‘what’re you getting yourself into now Julian’?
I tried to deny it, I tried to belittle it.
Fuck it! ‘yeh those young shits have morphed me from Keith Richards to Bill fucking Wyman in one short visit’!!
But I knew in that moment, this long suffering and supportive girl was already history.

I knew my world had changed

I smoked the rest of the joint that Jaime and Murad had politely declined, then nervously waited the arrival of the posse of mates that filled my room each night after the pub.
The social dynamic was about to change.

Back in 1994, mobile phones were mostly toys for power brokers and people, who had a certain and sometimes questionable angle on ‘cool’…,
Anyway, I didn’t have one, nor did any of Marion.
The instruction I was left with was:-
We’ll pick you up at half ten Monday. . . .

Macclesfield to Toronto to New York City and back again….

I was running a little club in Macclesfield in 1992.
The club had 4 bands a week playing.
I’d become almost immune to impression, the odd band made me look up from the bar.
One night a little punk band replaced the booked hardcore dance DJ at short notice…., no sound check, they set up as the club was filling up.
Two ramshackle half songs into the set, I was beginning to notice this beautiful powerful and sensitive voice coming from the singer, it was soaring through the room and truly perplexing the Ee’d up crowd who’d turned up expecting to hear nosebleed techno.
I however sensed something special and told the bar staff they’re gonna be one down on the bar tonight.
I watched this kid singing, his back mostly turned to the crowd, he looked about 15, and definitely far too young to be stood on that beer soaked floor called a stage.
For the final song of their 20 minute set, I saw the guitarist privately roll up every knob on his amp to full. Fuck sonic correctness and fuck this crowd.
The singer was Jaime Harding.
The guitarist was Phil Cunningham.
The band was The Shags.
The worst and best band to have come through those doors in my time at that club.
Two months later I joined The Shags…… But Jaime had already left.

I left the club to go on a dream holiday to America (I wanted to go to Hollywood to become famous). However, I got mugged at knife point in Toronto and had all my money taken away. I had no return ticket.
I spent the beginning of 1993 riding a bicycle from Toronto to New York City (dressed in a dinner jacket, polka dot shorts and brogues). I lived off food from bins and slept wherever I could find. I nearly and genuinely lost my life 3 times.
I ended up as a chimney sweep in Marysville PA. I looked so bad it was the only job I could get. I was broken.
I finally returned to England at Christmas 1993, went into my favourite pub (The Millstone) and saw Jaime sat at a table with some friends… I was still fucked up from the trauma I’d just come out of, but I needed to tell him how knocked out I was a year ago at that gig.
It was the first time I’d spoken to him and was surprised just how friendly he was, especially when all I knew of him was that nonchalant fuck you performance I’d seen.
I said something corny like “stay with it kid coz you’ve got what it takes”. I also told him I’d joined The Shags specially to be in a band with him. Corny or not, I fucking meant it!
A week later I was sat in my room listening to The Fall and smoking pot when I heard a knock at the door downstairs, I opened my window to look out (too caned to go downstairs).
I saw in the street below Jaime with another guy.
I invited them in and played The Fall, The Chameleons and Joy Division at them really loud. After about half an hour, Jaime and Murad (the other guy) said they’ve started a band called Marion and want me to be bass player.
I said “I don’t play bass…….”
They said “we want you in our band.”
Jaime also told me they’d knocked on every door on my street until they got to mine, as they didn’t know which was my house.
I said “get me a bass and I’ll learn.”

4 days later I was part of Marion.

16 unbelievably crazy dangerous years later, I’m part of Marion again.