Paul Morley’s memoir about his father’s suicide, Nothing, was steeped in the north, merging the author’s childhood in Stockport and the tragedy of his father’s suicide with the trauma Morley felt when Ian Curtis, the singer with the Mancunian band Joy Division, killed himself.
Curtis’s death awakened feelings that Morley had suppressed when his own father died, shortly before Paul moved down south to work for the New Musical Express (NME). The north hadn’t left Morley, even though he’d left it. It’s not surprising, then, that he has now dedicated a book to the subject.
Morley intersperses the history of the north and of his own memories of it with anecdotes about famous people born, or adopted by, the north. The history starts with evidence of Lower Palaeolithic northern dwellers in 500,000BC, works through the effects of the Ice Age, the Roman invasion and the Vikings, and then, slightly jarringly, jumps to modern times. Morley is lucid on facts, although occasional subjective notes creep in, such as calling the Romans “self-important”.
Morley’s enthusiasm has always made for lively prose but a tendency to verbosity. These are apparent here in his trademark strings of words: “... everything that ever happened, accidentally, deliberately, gradually, suddenly, historically, geographically, politically, tragically, comically ...” and over-long sentences (one spanning 10 lines). However, the passion of this Tigger-esque logorrhoea is infectious.
The stories themselves are mostly fascinating, and span a broad range of characters, from pop stars to politicians, and include a 1976 letter from Steven Morrissey (later of The Smiths) to the NME, and Geoffrey Grigson’s outrageously snobbish put-down of W H Auden in 1969. (“Auden does not fit. Auden is no gentleman. Auden does not write, or exist, by any of the codes.”).The cultural snippets are interesting: the poet Roger McGough on being inspired by Philip Larkin; the life of artist L S Lowry. But certain characters appear too often: George Formby, Les Dawson.
This affectionate tribute is more a nostalgic bow to a largely lost working-class community than an objective account of a region, but is no less endearing for that.