IT TAKES me a couple of seconds to realise that the Third Davyhulme Scout & Guide Marching Band are playing Hit The North as they turn onto Deansgate in front of us.
Somehow their spirited instrumental rendition of Mark E Smith’s tale of useless MPs and big wide streets manages to be utterly ludicrous and totally brilliant at exactly the same time, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the Procession put together by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with the people (and football club mascots) of Greater Manchester.
Criticised, a little unfairly I think, for not attracting more Manchester residents to Manchester International Festival in 2007, MIF director Alex Poots wanted to find a big, high-profile, mass-participation, free event for the festival’s opening weekend and with thousands of people lining the parade route, Procession seems to have done the trick.
While Deller has a history of tackling big ideas, people are always at the very heart of his work and it is the people of Manchester who make the parade – and the city – what it is. Poignant, daft, inspiring, hilarious and baffling in equal measure, it perhaps sums up the complexities and contradictions of Manchester as well as any official census or commercial survey.
“I love parades, so I’d like to do my own parade about a town that I have a lot of love for,” Deller told me at the festival launch. “Even though I don’t live here, it means a lot to me as a part of Britain. It’s a town I’ve been interested in for years. You come up here and the buildings are really telling you about the past. You feel it, you feel the history. I find that very exciting, walking around.”
“There’ll be surprises, but there won’t be problems, that’s the way I look at it,” he continued. “People might improvise on a theme, they might do stuff I’m not expecting, but I kinda like that, when people bring stuff to things.
“I don’t want to dictate terms or be a control freak about it, so I’m quite happy for things to develop as they happen. I’m providing a rough framework and I want some kind of order within it – but I don’t want too much, because you want people to improvise. And it’s their thing, really. Well, it’s their thing and my thing, so we’ll just see how that goes.”
Drawing on its inhabitants’ history as much as their present, Deller’s celebration of Manchester includes ramblers and ‘hoodies’, librarians and unapologetic smokers, Stretford Rose Queens and Big Issue In The North vendors ..
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