Monday, October 26, 2009

Paint A Vulgar Picture: The Smiths return to Salford Lads Club

It's a wet and windy Saturday night as the taxi draws up beneath the iconic frontage of the Salford Lads (and also now, girls') Club. Once inside the legendary venue, we dash along the echoey tiled corridors and into the Dutch barn-style Concert Hall, where Peter Wild is introducing tonight's event. It's the launch of Paint A Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired By The Smiths, hosted by Wild, who edited the collection (he has previously worked on similar projects for The Fall and Sonic Youth), and featuring readings by some of the authors who submitted short stories to the volume.

Wild decided to put the book together, despite certain reservations ('The last thing I needed was hordes of Smiths fans camped outside my house telling me why my plan to have writers use Smiths songs as the jumping-off point for an anthology of short stories was not a wise one'), largely because he's a big fan of the band and also because there are so many allusions to authors within the lyrics that a literary project inspired by the group seemed like an obvious thing to do. Of lead singer-cum-poet Morrissey, Wild enthuses: 'Reader! The man is a reader!'

Paint A Vulgar Picture, itself taking the name of one of the band's songs, is an anthology comprising stories influenced one way or another by the Manchester foursome and provided by various writers, both established and up and coming. Contributors include Mike Gayle, Scarlett Thomas, Mil Millington, Chris Killen, Kate Pullinger, Matt Beaumont and Helen Walsh.

This evening, we are treated to readings by James Hopkin, Jeff Noon and Catherine O'Flynn. Hopkin, first up, presents: 'A radio edit, if you like, of my story, Jeane.' It takes as its point of reference the B-side to the original seven-inch single of This Charming Man, and its Northern voice bears its own charm: mentions of Joy Division, Tetley tea and The Britons Protection are bound to find friends among the onlookers tonight.

Jeff Noon is on next, and it's something of a homecoming for the Droylsden-born writer after being in Brighton for coming up to a decade. His tragic tale of Johnny Boy and William tends towards violence and (as Noon himself admits) Sylvia Plath, but his animated delivery keeps us pinned to The Queen Is Dead, despite the shouting kids and blaring patrol car sirens outside.

What Was Lost author Catherine O'Flynn tells us, in her lilting Midlands accent, how The Smiths provided the soundtrack to her teenage years, and her school-based story, You've Got Everything Now, feels very real with its description of Millsy and Banks and the bullying of fellow pupil and enigma Quinn.

The three writers now come together for a question-and-answer session, revealing, among other points, their favourite Smiths songs (O'Flynn: I Know It's Over; Hopkin: Frankly Mr Shankly) and whether they work while listening to music (Noon: 'I can't actually write without it.'). We're tempted to finish off the free drink and 'retro nibbles', but venture instead to the special Smiths room set aside by the extremely friendly Salford Lads Club volunteers in a former squash court. It's a fitting tribute to end an evening of fitting tributes.

Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor and press officer. Her blog, Words & Fixtures, won Best New Blog in the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards.

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