Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

QUENTIN CRISP: STEWY’S CHORLTON PORTRAIT

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Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the Manchester suburb where I live, has a lot of interesting, quirky little features. One that I’m fond of is this charming, Banksy-style portrait of Quentin Crisp (1908-1999), painted by the street artist known as Stewy.

Quentin Crisp is remembered as a wit and raconteur, author of an autobiography called The Naked Civil Servant and a notable campaigner for Gay rights. He died in Chorlton, on the eve of beginning a tour of his one-man stage show. He didn’t die in Keppel Road, though: that was a few blocks further away again, in nearby Claude Road.

He’s famous for describing himself as one of ‘the stately homos of England’, and for his advice on housework: just don’t do it, because ‘after the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse’.

He was also a friend of my old friend and mentor, the poet and literary scholar Kathleen Raine. The picture shows him with his characteristic broad-brimmed floppy hat and silk neckscarf. Sadly, it’s a little battered now (not that Crisp himself wasn’t, by the time he came to Chorlton – dare one say it?).

Anyway I smile whenever I see this painting. For more Stewy artworks, including John Betjeman and Joe Orton, follow this link: http://stewystencils.tumblr.com/

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chorlton’s Rock’n’Roll History

Sister Rosetta, pioneer of rock'n'roll

BBC4 continues to put out some of the best music programmes on any channel. But last Friday’s offering, ‘Godmother of Rock’n’Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe’ was one of the all-time greats.

Sister Rosetta, who started as a 1930s Gospel singer from the USA’s deep South, graduated by way of nightclub singing at the Cotton Club and touring work as a jazz, blues and gospel soloist, to being a pioneer of Rock’n’Roll and one of the all-time great figures. yet she’s been almost forgotten.

Listening to her wonderfully percussive guitar style you could hear at once how much Chuck Berry learned from her; and the archive footage of her hugely energetic performances, full of movement, power and infectious delight, made it quite clear that she was a – if not the – key figure in the transition from Black gospel music to Rock. Popular music history needs to be rewritten to put this lady at the centre!

But the most amazing thing for me was to learn that, when her career (like that of many blues musicians in the US) had stalled in the early ’60s, she was invited to the UK by Chris Barber of all people – and that Granada TV invited her to perform at the disused Chorlton-cum-Hardy railway station about five minutes from where I live in Manchester. Just take a look at the clips! And more important, listen!

The rationale was something to do with freight trains and all that – the vague mythology of train tracks and the Blues. Whatever. Granada decked the old station out as a kind of Wild West scene, with a fake ‘Chorltonville’ sign which they must have thought sounded American. They put the band on one platform and the audience on the other, and delivered Sister Rosetta in a horse-drawn carriage. The horse is a typical piebald cob – a ‘gypsy horse’ of the kind you can see by the hundred at Appleby Fair every year. Her affection for the horse is typical of this immensely sweet and loving woman who seems to radiate kindness and warmth with every ounce of her being. Good to know, then, that the UK tour put Sister Rosetta back on the map and she remained a big star in Europe at least until her death.

We all knew Chorlton was special (Quentin Crisp died here, Badly Drawn Boy lives here, and of course it’s full of wonderful creative people) – but now we know it has a place in Rock’n’Roll history too. The station is about to reopen as a Metrolink stop. Maybe there ought to be a blue plaque on that platform.