GREAT INTELLECTUALS THINK ALOUD
PAUL MORLEY ON THE NORTH, EUROPE AND BREXIT
as imagined by
January 1st, 2020
Imperial War Museum Public Domain
A family in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, listen to She's Lost Control by Joy Division while sitting in front of a giant early pattern JVC music centre in 1979. Note mantelpiece scarf coddling the precious northern record player.
The sundering begins, as all things begin, in the North. The North, being somehow, abstractedly, oddly European, a place of rain and grime and hard knocks but also of beauty: that great Mancunian Karlheinz Stockhausen (born, contrary to standard historical works, in Didsbury in 1928) knew this and reflected in his great works. The North speaks, the world listens. I recollect standing, in a pair of flares, flares born, made, imagined and construed in a northern sweatshop from cheap material, material thought suitable for those that did not come from the net-curtained, be-bourgoised niceties of those suburbs where the men hid behind their Daily Expresses and hoped for something, anything, while the rain, northern rain, hard rain, grey rain, rain a thousand, million years old, rain returning, diffusing, returning, rain that fell on DH Lawrence (Nottinghamshire southern homosexual that he was) and Salford mill-owner Friedrich Engels and Jimi Hendrix (born Chadderton, Greater Manchester, 1942), rain that fell on the True Cross (Christ lived for a time in Eccles and some psychogeographical works give the location of the crucifixion as a spot very near Palantine Road, West Didsbury, where Factory Records began), rain as grey and non-negotiable as coalminers’ semen that pattered inexorably on the bay windows of their lounges while light colonial music written by posh southerners emerged from Bakelite wirelesses, Bakelite polished by wives who wondered why their husbands were cowed behind their Daily Expresses when the pair of them could be throwing up their arms, throwing off their flannels, moustaches, housecoats and pinnies and celebrating the sheer teak-hard, grain-honest northernness of the North; rain that would not stop yet could not cow northerners, northerners of the celebrated different gravy, the kind of gravy that the evil Empire was built on, like your Aunt Nellie’s gravy, mahogany coloured, deep not rich but a kind of afro-brine that oddly and unlike southern gravy, you could pick up and throw across the room like a Frisbee, and it would bounce off the faded rosy wallpaper, the wallpaper reflecting the innocent oppressed charm of the North and then it would come spinning back to you with the glossy certainty of a cricket ball, but a cricket ball thrown at Old Trafford by a great northern cricketer; then you would lob the gravy disc again and it would strike you, as the disc of hard northern gravy, like the faecal matter of some magnificent monster span away into the room your parents called the lounge as if it was some southern jessie room in which no one had died awfully from tuberculosis or colic, spitting their last blood, red as the blood spilled at Peterloo, while cursing their bosses, it would strike you that the disc of gravy was like a record, like your copy of Electric Ladyland or Unknown Pleasures, but instead of it being a record of music, it was a record of human, sorry, northern ingenuity and indefatigability, of spit, sweat and B.O., of the Wigan Casino and the pie factory; yes, I recollect standing in flares in the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall watching the Sex Pistols in 1976 and, as the spittle flew past my ears, thinking, ‘This is Europe, this is café society writ large.’ Not bad for a southern band, I thought. We’ll do better, I thought, we’ll do better as we always do. Has the south ever produced a painter to rival LS Lowry or a killer to rival the Yorkshire Ripper?
And so we did do better, but then or rather now, the North has voted to leave the EU; similarly the North had the casting vote in the 2019 general election, which will result in the sundering, the great sundering, the sundering that will be remembered and though it goes against all my instincts because, as I have explained, it being my life’s work to do so, that European abstraction and critical theory is the cherry on the cake of the rest of the world, the world that was built entirely by the North, but despite this, the North has drawn the spotlight of the world on to it, the North has become famous once again, and rightly so. In a sense, a certain very careful sense, and to deploy the trite sloganeering of the Tory Hate Comics from Fleet Street, Brexit is the New Ian Curtis, convulsing, dancing, with a meaning and a reach as big and wide and brick-grimy as the Stockport Viaduct or Ena Sharples’ hairnet or Noddy Holder’s window-pane check suit. Heidegger (born Altrincham, Greater Manchester) knew this in his way. The North grasped the dualism, the binary nature of the debate (no one else did); it was Brexit and Remain, like Home and Colonial, Alcock and Brown, Newton and Ridley, night and day, black and white, Beatles and Stones, Flotsam and Jetsam, Brady and Hindley, Cannon and Ball, Burke and Hare, Peters and Lee (there is no space here to dilate on the huge, existentially thrilling information that Lennie Peters was Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’s uncle - Watts, contrary to official histories not born in Kingsbury, northwest London, but Bleasby, Nottinghamshire, 1941), Burton and Taylor, Lennon and McCartney, Pakistan and India, Catholic and C of E, Morecambe and Wise, Cheese and Onion, bronchitis and pneumonia, poo-poo and wee-wee, Little and Large. Now having voted for Brexit and all that goes with it the North is being discussed at great length in Bild and Le Monde and so, as the rain falls, the hard rain, the rain as predicated by Dylan on his 1962 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which I bought in Hard Bastard Records in Merseyway, Stockport, in 1968 on the same day I successfully masturbated for the first time; the spunky northern rain that fell alike on Wilfred Pickles, Norman Collier and Gandhi, I say floreat North if I can deploy such southern poncy nonsense as latin.