Working Class Poets: Dedicated to Colin Blaney and Wendell Willis

Awe. It doesn't seem long ago Colin was diagnosed. And Wendell's was out of the blue for me. Weird. Death is so weird. Condolences to both families. I can't imagine losing a sibling. All you've shared in the world. That person who really really knows you gone. Wow. Pic Karen Rangeley. Thanks love.

In our Whitworth Space, listening to David Ruffin ‘Walk Away From Love.’ In an English Art Gallery. Get on that. Loud. It’s wonderful. Old, posh, white guy is trying not to get down looking at our photos. I’ve just smiled at him. It gives him permission. I’m full of really strong, really conflicting emotions today. Really calm and secure: I finally understand what the fuck it’s all about. Really upset: 3 Reno heads have died this week: one I knew really well since little. Drained: did 2 monumental fabulous events back to back this week. Afraid: for some reason that is a constant. The tune is taking me right back to childhood.

Well, me, John and Karen had a little workshop. I billed it as a conference. 8 turned up. For the level of intimacy that happened that was about all we could handle. Mentioning no names, blabbing no stories, cos I haven’t asked them if I can talk about their stories. But you know me sooner or later they will be on film. Laughing. Cos they tell really important validating stories. Been in the arts business with 3 of them for the last 20 years at least. Suffer with the same problems. His Master’s Voice.  When you are working class it is really hard to feel entitled. But we have accrued a certain amount of power between us. Amazing. One, I had this exact conversation with 25 years ago. Who controls the narrative? If they, for example the BBC, the police, control the narrative they paint our picture in certain colours. You know the shade. The shade of shit. Laughing. I’m really trying to be positive. Laughing. Oh come on we all know the script. Those limited narratives instil in us limited beliefs about our capabilities. We can only be such and such and such and such. 

The best way to talk about what I want to talk about: in the 19thcentury in a working class area in Salford there was a famous gang called the Scuttlers. Just looked them up and in Wiki their entry says ‘whose behaviour was labelled hooliganism.' A famous gang. Imagine how hard it was to get your street cred. The politics. The arses you licked. The times you refused to be bullied. The good deeds you did. The clothes you wore. Imagine the colour of it all.

Curtis Mayfield: Give Me your Love has just started. 

Fab video. This guy in a long leather is crossing the road. Totally pimp like. They take control of the narrative and tell us who we are. What they don’t include in that narrative is philosophers, poets, poncy artists like me. So you’re a working class kid. And you’re sat in your bedroom. And you’re having these thoughts. I remember one that is truly profound. I had been given this watch for Xmas. I must have been 11. All the rest of the Xmases has had this sheen. It’s Xmas. It’s Xmas. It’s Xmas. Then suddenly, this Xmas, looking at this watch, I don’t give a fuck about Xmas. I don’t give a fuck about the world. My parents who I loved faithfully till that moment don’t matter either. Something has broke in me. I began the quest. What the fuck is it all about?

Suppose I thought it was natural to write poems about this. To search this out. Suppose I go downstairs and the fridge is full. And there are a row of muddy boots for the walk in the park or the country lane and there’s enough room for there to be a boot room. At the very least a hall wide enough that you are not gonna break your neck stepping over the muddy boots. And I say to my educated parents who have time to listen to me [because they don’t have to clean the Manchester Royal Infirmary on Xmas morning] after they have piled logs on the Xmas fire.

“I feel like this.’

They sit at the dinner table that has been passed down the generations because there is an attic to keep it in, and explain ‘I once felt that too, when you go to Oxford to read English you will find other educated people in the pages of those books that felt it too. And then you won’t feel alone.’

Even if you read those books in your 2 up 2 down, you can’t find anyone to discuss them with you. Marvin Gaye: I Want You is just finishing. Best album cover ever. Reminds me of old Moss Side. 

So I had this conference to reconnect with my working class artist friends again, like I reconnected with my Reno friends.  That began with only 15. Look where that has got. Each of these artists have a certain amount of power and respect. So what if we weave it together. Control the narrative. Strengthen each other’s platform. Lash our platforms together. We’re not on our own. Leave a legacy that builds our version of Oxford. So a working class kid who feels artist in their blood will have somewhere to go, somewhere to look, to get educated in what matters to us. Tell their truth from our angle. So our ears hear. Without shame. A kid like me can get a watch for Xmas, and feel that disconnection, not elation. It’s happened to someone else. It’s happened before. And Linda survived. It was a rite of passage that happens to us all. And know all our hearts beat the same. Rich or poor.

Huge respect to Colin Blaney. Without being poncey he built a platform for himself that sold to ex football hooligans [smiling] like my son-in-law, [you cannot imagine the heroism involved in becoming a truly validated football hooligan, as elite as a fucking Viking] and housewives alike. Huge respect. Beyond his family, which I can't imagine, Colin will be hugely missed by his fans. A fucking achievement. A legacy of honest stories about people like us. Part of our Oxford. He also left the project and all the future generations this. 

Thank you Colin 

Every so often Wendell Willis popped up with his beautiful little comments that waved good fortune on the project. And I know he was private which made them all the more special. 

His sister Lorriane would like you to know: 'He was in Chester but of course I will bring him back to Manchester where he always said he wants to be at the end .. xxx Wendell will be having a small private family funeral..You have my blessing to let his long time friends know about his passing.' 

The third person I will dedicate next week to because I don't have the family permission yet. 

‘It is so refreshing seeing and hearing real people share real stories more spaces should be filled with stuff like this.’

 

'What a wonderful exhibition – so important to tell these stories such inspiring interviews. Loved the Reno findings. [lipstick etc] from the Reno ruins.'

 

'Dear Linda this space is fucking incredible. It is so moving to see so many years' work and so any peoples' stories all in the same room together. What a powerful thing you have done.'

 

'Made me laugh. Made me sad. Such fantastic Mancunian characters. Well done Linda. Have got memories as a kid of feeling scared of the Reno and the Nile yet seeing this makes me realise there was nothing to be scared of.'

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