A VERY INSECURE EXHIBITION was an exhibition that took place on Friday, 22 February, 2019 in a skate park under the Mancunian Way flyover in Manchester.
It featured the photography of music photographers Karen McBride and Shari Denson, who joined forces to create this remarkable event.
A Very Insecure Exhibition was a very unconventional exhibition, in fact it was totally different to any exhibition I’ve ever been to.
I travel on or under the Mancunian Way almost every day and have walked past the skate park on numerous occasions. Never would I have imagined a photography exhibition taking place there.
The choice of venue was kept secret until the week of the event, when it was first announced on Radio Manchester’s Mike Sweeney Show.
The Mancunian Way is a by-pass road in central Manchester that was first built in the 1960s. This flyover was a later addition, opened in the 1990s. It carries the A57(M) urban motorway over the A6, where it continues as the A635(M) for a few hundred yards. I include these nerdy details as they are important in setting the scene and I know a bit about the history of Manchester.
This is the first time a photo exhibition has taken place underneath a motorway, at least in Manchester. The skate park with its walls of see-through wire netting has an air of New York.
It took about four hours to set up the exhibition. Shari and Karen worked with a team of assistants to place the photos on the sloping and curved surfaces of the skate park. Some of the pictures were cut out to fit into the available space. The photos were printed out at large format in black and white. Some were printed on conventional photographic paper at smaller size.
“Wow, they look great!” I thought as I peered through the wire netting into the skate park, transformed into an exhibition space. We waited in the hut that serves as a cafe and reception area for users. More and more people arrived, including John Robb, Badly Drawn Boy and others from Manchester’s music scene.
At 8pm we were allowed through into the exhibition space. It was great to walk around and explore all the photos – some photos familiar to me, others unfamiliar photos of famous people.
A lot of people came – more than 350. A mobile bar was set up and it provided an air of glamour and a focus. I thought the air might be cold but it was quite mild. It was surreal, looking at photographs while cars whizzed by along the slip road outside, and above, evening traffic moved in both directions on the flyover, drivers unaware of the art event going on underneath.
The music went quiet and John Robb started his In Conversation with both photographers. He asked the right questions, and we learned a lot about their respective interests, shooting techniques and preferences. At the end the crowd clapped, just like a gig. And then there was a surprise.
All attendees were invited to take away the photographs. But there was one condition: People had to put the photos up all around Manchester and beyond and take photos of them for social media.
We managed to find some superb prints which now adorn our walls. That’s not something you can do at the National Portrait Gallery – rip the pictures off the walls!
But this was more of a ‘punk’ event than a photography exhibition. It was meant to be like a gig, and people could walk off with photographs just like the set list at a gig.
Songwriter and guitarist Dave Fidler performed some of his songs. It was great to see a real life artist performing amongst the many images of performers.
The book of the exhibition was on sale and both photographers signed copies.
All I can say is – it was a fantastic event and totally unique. Karen and Shari truly did something new and amazing. Congratulations to them! And thanks for the great photos now taking pride of place on our wall!
A Very Insecure Exhibition was held at Projekts MCR Skatepark (The Pump Cage) · Manchester.
The PA and furniture were provided by James Casper-Mason and The Worx
Photos were printed by Entwhistle.
Vergehen was first recorded in 1985 as a demo tape, and re-recorded 20 years later, in 2005. Words and music by Aidan O’Rourke, who played keyboards, guitar, programmed the drums and did the vocals.
The track is credited to Urbanstrasse, the musical identity or band name used by Aidan O’Rourke (who is not to be confused with Scottish fiddle player of the same name!)
The lyrics are in German and present a collage of images from the 1920s and 30s, touching on war, totalitarian regimes, the inevitability of downfall and more. The verb ‘vergehen’ means passing away or fading away.
In 2018 Aidan moved increasingly into the medium of video, making slide show videos using images from his photography archive, as well as new photos and videoclips.
This format, mixing images and music, presented an ideal opportunity to present ‘Vergehen’ and ‘Berlin Berlin’ to the public as it combines his three areas of creativity and expertise: visuals, i.e. photography and illustration, music and German language
And so ‘Vergehen’ was uploaded to the Explore Learn German YouTube channel on 16th of January 2019. It was the second video to be added to the channel.
Like other videos on the channel, ‘Vergehen’ is intended to help and encourage people to learn German.
There are some intriguing aspects to the song, which uncannily predicted the future. For those interested in finding out more about this, as well as the meaning of the lyrics and images, Aidan will present a special feature on his Patreon page, for subscribers only!
‘Vergehen’ is credited to Urbanstrasse featuring Aidan O’Rourke
Music and words © Aidan O’Rourke
All photos and illustrations ©Aidan O’Rourke
Keyboards, drum programming and vocals by Aidan O’Rourke
Original 1985 recording made at Cavalier Studios, Stockport. Produced by Lol Cooper.
2005 re-recording made in Vienna, engineered and produced by Rick Turner, with creative input from Isabella Turner.
In this video I present some of my best photographs of Berlin from around 1982 up to 2018 against the backdrop of a song I first created and recorded in 1985, in association with some other musicians.
The song is in the style of the 1980s and has overtones of bands like Vienna, Heaven 17 and The Human League. The influence of David Bowie can also be heard. It is a history lesson in a pop song, telling the story of the division and the reunification of Berlin – die Teilung und die Wiedervereinigung von Berlin. The lyrics allude to the devastation of World War 2, the construction of the Wall – die Mauer – in 1961 and look into the future to the fall of the Berlin Wall – die Wende.
The original song was written and recorded as a demo in 1985, along with my other song ‘Vergehen’, which means ‘passing’ with an English version ‘In Silence’ but as the original sound quality wasn’t very good, I re-recorded both songs in Vienna in 2005. I finally waited another 13 years before finally releasing them as part of my Aidan O’Rourke Productions YouTube channel.
Some of the words seem premonitionary. Before each chorus, we hear ‘it will not be long’. In reality it was not long after I wrote the song before the Wall came down – almost exactly four years. But there is another shocking event that the words seem to predict. I will write about this in more detail on my Patreon blog.
The photographs were taken on a wide variety of different cameras at different times in Berlin. I lived there from 1979 to 1980 but sadly I have very few photos from that period. When I returned in 1982 I started to take photos, including the wide panorama of Potsdamer Platz that can be seen at the very beginning.
Other images were taken on black and white film and on colour negative and slide film. Some of the slides lay forgotten in an old briefcase until I scanned them when compiling the slide show video in late 2018. The video presents a total of 75 photos and videoclips – enough to fill a book, though the video is five minutes long and the lyrics amount to just 324 words (excluding repeated choruses at the end).
Berlin Berlin song and video will be posted on YouTube in 2019.
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View from the Europa Centre Berlin looking west at dusk time. Scanned from an active chrome slide. Photo captured 1992. This photo will feature in my slideshow music video Berlin Berlin (November 2018). #Berlin #DuskPhotos #DuskPhotoShoot #Ektachrome #filmphotographyproject #filmfotografie #abenddämmerung
One of the themes is the crossover between the mid-70s punk scene and what we now call LGBT. In those days members of that community remained mostly hidden. There were just a few places in Manchester city centre where they could be amongst themselves and enjoy a night out without the fear of ‘queer bashing’ or worse.
One of those places was the Ranch, a tiny basement club on Dale St set up by the prominent Manchester drag artist Foo Foo Lamarr. I went to the Ranch around 1977. A friend of mine was fascinated with the unbelievable costumes and make-up the girls were wearing and he took me along to see them. There I was confronted with punk rock in all its defiant and often nihilistic energy. This was a club where the motto was ‘anything goes’ but there was also an air of violence. Going up the stairs I to the exit, I was punched in the face. I think it might have been outsiders drawn into the club to witness the spectacle and indulge in a bit of ‘bashing’.
The Ranch is featured in the exhibition, and there is a remarkable photo of members of the Buzzcocks staggering out the front entrance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the photographer, in fact I wasn’t taking photos at that time. If I had been I might have a prime collection today, but now is not the time for regrets! There some excellent black and white prints by Linder Sterling, Kevin Cummins and Dave Kendrick, Jon Shard and Al Baker.
The exhibition is also about artifacts and I should mention that it is based on a collection of items from the Manchester Digital Music Archive, of which I’m a trustee, though I had no involvement in putting together the exhibition. That honour goes to fellow MDMA person Abigail Ward, who has tirelessly worked to document all aspects of Manchester’s music scene, presented in the MDMArchive.co.uk website.
The exhibition takes up a small footprint as part of the exhibits on the second floor but is packed with interesting material. I love to hear recordings of people and I listened to a fascinating description of the club scene by a speaker who came over from Ireland. In her very appealing Irish accent, she talked about the pub on Princess Street, the Union, later known as the New Union and other venues where people from the LGBT community gathered.
I was also interested to hear an interview with Pete Shelley, whom I interviewed myself at the Russell Club in 1979. Sadly I lost my notes, scribbled on paper and my interview was never published. My lack of success of documenting those times is one of the reasons why I appreciate exhibitions like this.
When you’re off out for a wild night on the town, most people don’t bother to bring a pen and notepaper to jot down the venues they go to, the people they meet, the music they listen to and the antics they get up to, though today’s technology can record what is happening and may be valued in the future as a record of present times.
My memories of the seventies are mostly a haze, though a few key events stand out in my mind including my visits to the chaotic Ranch club.
Reading the articles, watching the video footage, interspersed with snippets of music, I felt a sense of nostalgia and wanting to go back. We can’t go back but at least we can build a picture of what it was like in a time when there were very different attitudes and social conventions to today. The advances made by the LGBT community in asserting their identity and rights has led to the much more relaxed and tolerant atmosphere we have today and perhaps take for granted.
Queer Noise gives us a great insight into different times, but I understand that it’s just a pilot for what could be a much bigger and more comprehensive exhibition. I can’t wait to see it.
The Manchester Digital Music Archive was extensively redesigned and modernised in 2017, making it device-responsive and vastly improving its functionality and visual appeal. It contains an astonishing collection of artifacts related to popular music in the Manchester area. The screenshot on the right shows just a part of the Queer Noise online exhibition. Some of these items are on display at the Queer Noise exhibition at the Pump House Museum. Click on the image to go to the Queer Noise online exhibition.