The Road to Runcorn
The British spring is a mad mood swing of a thing. Warm, hot, cold, warm, cold, colder. The light lacks confidence and slants experimentally through the atmosphere like a cat dipping a cautious paw in a dubious pond. We bottom feeders are on our way to Runcorn on the Mersey in a Mercedes Benz that has no name. I would christen it if it weren’t so characterless and the christening of vehicles a sickness of the mind.
Pylons pass huffing on a hill with their angry arms, like the skeletal remains of Modern Toss’s Alan. The western Scots must pass through several little cauldrons of mountains before the descent into flat Lancashire. Squat pines line the verges as the M-way dips and arcs through gentle glens with great elegance. The lanes are wide and empty. It’s an easy introduction to the road before the rage and rattle of packed tight England. This section of the journey is as familiar to us as our own feet. Perhaps a tourist might see scenery; we just see signs to services as the fuel gauge sinks. We watch the lambs slip by in their brand new world as the van vibrates and sends us to sleep.
I track our progress on my fancy phone. I can do anything with this device. I could invade Poland. We appear as a blue sphere hovering over an empty grid. It looks like an early video game. I wait for land to appear and up it comes like a book through water. We are in a wilderness of wires – blue for motorway, yellow for local and azure for river. I look through the windscreen and get the idea that we’re a programmer’s invention on a mission to what we know not. It’s Grand Theft Autopilot. The sky suddenly menaces, looking capable of anything – a tempest or a tornado. The wipers spring into service, obliterating the trembling droplets as they try to wriggle up to safety on the roof. We approach Gretna, the Mecca of ancient elopers, a grey web of cul-de-sacs on the map. My friend Paul phones from an airport on his way to California. We are gods of communication, microwave Mercurys. I’m speeding towards Manchester while he’s waiting in the transit lounge. Everybody’s mixing around the big bowl desperate to fend off the great destination.
Co-ordinates are entered and we hone in on our first target, The Brindley, in Runcorn. Last night I watched Phillip Glass expounding on BBC’s Hard Talk. He once explained music as language but grew mistrustful of that idea and now describes it as a place. This makes a little more sense to me. I’ve never liked that language cliché. Music is certainly an environment and to prove it a piece of Bach inhabits my headphones and I’m suddenly somewhere heavenly. I don’t know what it’s saying but I sure as hell know where I am. And I got here without a map.
We swing into a proper truck stop to gobble some sinful scran. The local accents immediately refresh the soul of one who’s spent too long languishing in Scotland. I’m abroad! The lady at the till calls me darling, a particular favourite. What does it cost, that morsel of warmth? We’re so tight-lipped in Scotland, literally. We emit our words meanly through letterbox slits, rationing and filtering them lest any generosity of feeling should escape. The thin smiles cover rotten teeth and the foul breath of nationalism. We drone on about loathing the Tories while our own ruling party siphon cash from Christian homophobes. We’re as greedy as the rest. What is this sense of moral superiority based on? Penicillin and good whiskey?
The Brindley is a nice little modern arts theatre, well appointed and tidy. I take a stroll round the sights of Runcorn. Kebab shops and pizza parlours, a big Co-op dumped in the middle surrounded by a lake of parking spaces. I walk under the two bridges, rail and road, that span the dirty Mersey and connect to Widnes, Liverpool and beyond. I photograph some stupid things; church doorways, a disused cinema, street signs. The little buildings are brick and laid out in terraces. Some locals are playing “kerbie” with their sons and laughing in the low sunlight. I meander back to the gig and wait for the adrenaline to hit. I take the stage and drink in the spotlight, squint and begin.
Here we fucking go.