My internal roadmaps contain a section dedicated to the streets of Manchester in the 1960s. Most of these monochrome memories start from Oxford Road station with its three wooden conoid roofs, a remarkable building for its time with echoes of the Sydney Opera House. Even a self-absorbed teenager noticed such things but when it came to railways, I had previous. An avid trainspotter from the age of eight, what else was there to do, I knew Manchester’s stations intimately: Manchester Central, Piccadilly, Victoria and Exchange – all of them dark, filthy and rundown – hell’s Cathedrals. This was the norm, this was all I knew – smog, steam and rain – the assumption was that this was the way everything ended, Oxford Road included, the station where most of our journeys on clackety closed compartment trains from Altrincham would finish.
Down Station Approach to the left was the Corner House Cinema specialising in ‘adult entertainment’ and to the right, along Oxford Road, was the Family Planning shop, nothing more than a hut beneath the railway bridge. I had no use for either of these services but like forbidden fruit, they intrigued.
The main attractions were the musical instrument shops that lined the south side of Oxford Street, full of guitars and drum kits well beyond our means. At the junction with Portland Street was a sheet music shop, another frequent haunt – we were as likely to buy the sheet music as the vinyl.
St Peter’s Square is dominated by Manchester Central Library, no longer the blackened cake tin of my youth, it roughly marks the point where Oxford Street becomes Peter Street. Less than 200 yards further on is the Free Trade Hall where, on May 17th 1966, Dylan had his confrontation with Judas – “I don’t believe you” …….. “You’re a liar.”
This goes some way to explain an obsession that has not left me. My head is full of disturbing verse, none of it attributable to Wordsworth:
Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles
So when I create an image such as this, inevitably it is Visions of Johanna that conquer my mind:
“Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna” Director: John Hillcoat