By Paul Wright
Growing up in Manchester during the eighties was an interesting time. I can vividly remember one of my first trips into the city centre. Sat in the back of the family Vauxhall Viva driving up Princess Parkway en route to the dental hospital, where unfortunately for me I was getting some troublesome teeth yanked out.
On the way back it’s safe to say I was in agony, I remember my dad trying to distract me, telling me stories and pointing out various landmarks as we drove out of Oxford Road. Not obvious landmarks, but places like the brewery and Reno club in Moss Side and The Toast Rack in Fallowfield. After this trip I was always intrigued by these places and developed a fascination with the inner-city suburbs. As a child they seemed exciting, slightly dangerous and energetic places, worlds away from the suburbs of Baguley and later Sale where I grew up.
Another vivid memory I have is during my first year of high school. I remember jumping on the 263 bus from Sale with a few mates for our first venture into town without any parents or older siblings. As the orange double decker drove up Chester Road passing through Stretford and Old Trafford there was a sudden feeling of trepidation when we approached the Mancunian Pub on City Road and drove into Hulme.
This was circa 89/90, when Hulme was a haven for punks, drop-outs and artists. I’d never seen a place like it, the giant concrete crescents, flat roofed pubs with the obligatory Alsatian for security, the graffiti-ed up walkways daubed with political messages and abandoned smashed up cars. It was a real eye opener at a young age to see how different life was just a few miles up the road.
These experiences and memories probably explain why this is my third feature about Hulme. For me it’s a place from history that needs to be preserved and documented.
I was in contact with photographer Richard Davis, a former resident of Hulme who around this time lived in Charles Barry Crescent, one of the four crescents. Whilst putting together my previous feature on Hulme I discovered some of Richards images from around the late 80s. I was intrigued to see more and find out his story about his time living there.
Richard: “I grew up in Birmingham and left school at 16 in 1982 with no real qualifications and no idea what to do. I spent a few years on various worthless schemes, but mostly I was signing on. It was whilst on the dole my interest in photography really began. I got involved with the Birmingham Trades Council ‘Centre For The Unemployed’ and was encouraged to go out and photograph things that caught my eye out on the streets as well as the many political demonstrations around that time in the Midlands.
They had a darkroom at the centre which I really took too and it wasn’t long before I was teaching basic photography and darkroom skills to other unemployed people. I loved it and a life long love of photography began. Someone at the centre suggested I should look at getting a qualification in photography and before I knew it I was accepted onto a course at Manchester Polytechnic which began in September, 1988.
I’d always loved Manchester music so I didn’t need any persuasion in leaving Birmingham for a new life up north! On day one at the Poly we were all advised not to go into Hulme, a neighbouring district to where the Poly was sited. A dangerous, lawless place to be avoided we were told! So obviously the next day I decided to explore Hulme, see for myself. I never did like anyone telling me what I should or shouldn’t do.
Little did I know at the time this place would play a massive role and shape my life for many years to come. I took to Hulme straight away, how could you not, it was just so damn photogenic and so very different from anywhere I’d seen before. A lot of it was derelict, whilst what was occupied tended to consist of a diverse mix of artists, musicians, drop-outs, ex-students & the unemployed, the kind of people mainstream society seemed to reject.
It also had the most amazing creative spirit and sense of community, and for a lot of people a real source of inspiration and get up and go energy. I quickly made friends with various musicians and word got out I had a camera and knew how to use it, it was that easy. Remember this was well before mobile phones and Manchester at that time didn’t have many photographers.
After only a few months in Manchester I got offered the keys to a squat in one of the four big crescents in the heart of Hulme. The place used to belong to Harry Stafford from Manchester band The Inca Babies, turns out I could have his flat as long as I forwarded all the mail to him that his band used to receive. I was in heaven, I had my own rent free place which I converted into a darkroom and studio.
The flat had no windows at the front, all boarded up, this was perfect no light would get in. The only problem was keeping the temperatures of the chemicals consistent for developing and printing photos, this was difficult in winter as it was so damn cold, the flat only had one plug in heater. Hulme was ideal to use as a backdrop for my photos, all full of concrete and strange walkways in the sky and an amazing lack of colour which really suited what I was after.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s Manchester went through a real creative period, you definitely felt it living there at the time and having Hulme as a location also highlighted it even more. What was funny for me was I moved to Manchester, in large part because of the music – big fan of Joy Division, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Magazine etc but during those years I found myself at the heart of the Comedy/Spoken Word scene which also started up at the same time as Madchester.
I became good friends with Henry Normal (who later went on to form Baby Cow Productions with Steve Coogan) through Henry I met and became friends with Caroline Aherne, John Thomson, Steve Coogan, Lemn Sissay & Dave Gorman. I ended up photographing Steve Coogan a lot and helped him with his projections at his early comedy shows.
After my two year course at Manchester Polytechnic finished, I did a further year hanging about with Steve Redhead (known as the Professor Rave) who ran the Unit for Law and Popular Culture at Manchester Polytechnic. Steve was working on a project at the time of the early 90’s which involved the crossover of “FOOTBALL, MUSIC & FASHION” he wanted me to do the photographs for a book on this topic.
It was a really productive time for me, a lot of the photos around this time were shown in various exhibitions and Steve Redhead’s book called ‘Football With Attitude’ came out in 1991.
I always felt lucky during this time living in Hulme, having my own darkroom and studio right in the middle of things. All the clubs and the gigs were all in walking distance of my flat and most of the time I took my camera along to capture it all.
All photographs used courtesy of Richard Davis.
Article by Paul Wright for British Culture Archive
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