When George Orwell wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier that Manchester was the "belly and guts of the nation", he may just as easily have been talking of the city's visceral literary tradition as its industrial heritage. 24 Hour Party People is a celebration of Manchester's way with words that cuts a path from Shelagh Delaney to Mark E Smith and Morrissey.
"I came to Manchester when I was 18 years old," says Lemn Sissay, poet in residence at the Southbank Centre and the evening's host. "I did my first poetry reading in the middle of Moss Side. There was a vibe about Manchester that was, 'Do it yourself, follow what it is you believe in, make all your mistakes, enjoy it and wake up in an ashtray in the morning.' There was a real punk-rock ethic, which is still there now. Manchester is a place that allows writers that freedom."
Spread over two rooms, 24 Hour Party People offers an eclectic mix of Manchester's current wordsmiths. Henry Normal, the poet and comedian, performs, as does the I Am Kloot front man, Johnny Bramwell, whose sharp lyricism lends the band their spark.
Among others, the transvestite poet Chloe Poems spins anarchic tales of tenderness, Zoe Lambert delves into her short stories and the actor Shobna Gulati reads Jacqueline Wilson's work. The evening comes to a carousing finale when the author and veteran Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam steps behind the decks to bring some Northern soul to the south bank.
The line-up illustrates an air of collaboration and cross-pollination within the arts, which, thinks Sissay, affords the city its distinctive vision. "If you go on a night out, you find that the cross-over is much closer than in other places," he says. "Comics sit next to musicians sit next to the poets. It's all part of a whole, part of the Manchester scene, and writing is at its centre. If you want to know the grit and the stuff of Manchester, it's there. The writers are the critical heartbeat and pulse of the city."
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