Moss Side Story

      9 Comments on Moss Side Story

It was a terraced house in Marcia Street, on the edge of Moss Side in Manchester, just behind Whitworth Park. And it was the late 1960s. The house and the street have long gone. For a short time it was the home to a bunch of Manchester University students – male and female who – rather than paying rent – contributed a modest sum every month towards paying off the mortgage which one of our number had taken out on the house, which also included the cost of coal for the fires which heated every room. I was one of those students.

Membership card of Poetry Society

We recently watched the documentary movie Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love about the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his muse Marianne Ihlen. Hearing so many of Cohen’s early songs conjured up that part of my life. I was a member of the university’s poetry society along with Dave, the mortgage holder and we agreed that we could use our place as a venue for a couple of society events. One was (and remember this was the sixties) a ‘mixed media’ event where those taking part could paint or draw, or recite/declaim their poems. Frankly I don’t remember much about it. As part of these events we brought in a couple of crates of Newcastle Brown and sold some of them at a considerable profit, and drank the rest.

The other event, was a talk by David Pirie, a lecturer in the English department about the poetry and songs of Leonard Cohen. Everyone seemed to own a copy of his album Songs of Leonard Cohen, even though his own version of Suzanne did not reach the charts. Cohen always said that he got no benefit from the many other recordings of the song since he’d signed away his rights to it in a legal document which he did not read.

Whatever the truth of that, we advertised the meeting on various university noticeboards (no Facebook or Twitter then!) and an hour before the meeting was due to start the house – a fairly sizeable terraced property was jammed solid with Cohen fans. The lecturer stayed at the top of the house and I doubt more than a handful of those present heard him properly. Some of the organisers were stuck downstairs, tucking into the supplies of Newcastle Brown, while others were trapped upstairs.

As far as I know no photographs were taken to record this momentous gathering. It remains a rather hazy memory to me. There were a couple of sequels to this. For quite a while my party piece was to perform my own version of Suzanne making up new words as I went along and accompanying it very indifferently on the guitar. My friends seemed to like it but then they were probably easily pleased. The other sequel was that I married one of my fellow organisers of that event. It was poetry brought us together including a poem which mentioned the no 43 bus which is the one she used to visit her grandma who lived on Princess Road.

A couple of years ago the two of us found ourselves in Holborn in the rather austere setting of Swedenborg Hall listening to a poet reading from her new collection. She also happened to be the person who effectively brought us together nearly fifty years before when she was secretary of the Poetry Society. We had come along unannounced, and as we came up to her she eyed us cautiously until suddenly recognition dawned and her face lit up: ‘It’s you two – and you’re still together!’

I didn’t quite feel transformed into the slim, long haired, handsome young hippie poet I once imagined myself to be but it was nice to know I hadn’t changed out of all recognition.

9 thoughts on “Moss Side Story

  1. Cassius

    Marcia Street isn’t there now, been trying to find where it was for years, do you know what was nearby that might still be there?

  2. admin Post author

    It was behind Whitworth Park. Looking at the current map there’s now a school roughly where Marcia Street used to be – but all the streets there have disappeared.

  3. Joan Gudgeon

    I knew the street in my time at university 1958-1961, The whole area seems to have been redeveloped and the Manchester Academy High School now stands where Marcia Street was. Sadly my friends from those days have also gone: Don Caldwell, Mike Fletcher and DJ Williams were three of the students who shared a house there. RIP.

  4. admin Post author

    I was at the university from 1967. We were the only students on the street, and most of our neighbours hailed originally from the West Indies. But the street is long gone and the city itself – starting with the IRA bomb has changed almost out of recognition. We’ve lived in London since 2002, but go back occasionally. Lots of happy memories of student life, but we stayed making our lives there and brought up our daughters there. Thanks for getting in touch, Joan.

  5. Anne Needle

    I came upon this blog by chance. I was one of the 7 originals who lived in the house in the room on the ground floor at the front. Others I remember were Dave who found the place, Nigel, Dave ward (and partner Penny)Jo Josh, and Mike- are you Mike? I was not a member of the poetry society, BUt a record player was taken from my room after one of the meetings. I am Anne (Southcott, now Needle), who lived in the room for two years. When I graduated I left Manchester, returning with Nigel only once to stay with Penny.
    Surely we were students at the best of times.

  6. admin Post author

    Lovely to hear from you Anne. Yes, I am Mike, who lived up on the top floor along with Dave. I’m sorry about your record player which I don’t remember being taken, but its a long time ago! I think you’re right about the late sixties being a good time to be students. We had grants and living expenses were much less than now. My own children faced the hurdle of paying off their student loans, and the financial hurdles for my grandchildren will be horrendous. I left Marcia Street in autumn 1969 when I moved in with Angela, (still putting up with me after 52 years!). One of our daughters still lives in the Manchester area but I rarely go back there now. Anyway, there will be more stories from sixties Manchester in the future on this blog so do come back occasionally and take a look.

  7. stephen lee

    I used to visit the house on Marcia St often back in the day.

    I came across this strand today because only yesterday I learnt of the sad death last year of Dave Ward, (RIP Dave, see link below), .which led me to google Marcia St in an idle moment. I learnt of Dave’s passing in a very indirect way through a connection with Ben, his son with Penny Henry, who lives in London. Penny is still living in Withington, South Manchester as far as I know

    Stephen Lee

  8. admin Post author

    Thanks for letting me know, Stephen. Of course I remember Dave as a member of the household – though I never really knew him well. I probably remember Penny better. I think she was pregnant (presumably with Ben) when I left Marcia Street in 1969.

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