Danny Moran gets up close to the death car in this bizarre 'artistic exorcism'
The word comes through on Messenger, as it so often does where Austin Collings is concerned. There’s to be a xerox re-enactment of Princess Diana’s funeral, staged at the White Hotel night club, twenty years to the day after the Peoples’ Princess was originally slung to rest.
“Cat. Pigeons. Us.” reads the note, and there’s a link to some fulminations in the Daily Star. “Harry’s mum” to be “exorcised” at the “sick and twisted” event. As a writer, and head farmer at the secretive Salford culture-barn, Collings has never shied from sticking two fingers at popular sentiment - in fact, he’s more or less got two fingers on a stick, truth be told - so it seems too earnest an invitation to swerve.
Inside a mouldering ex auto garage, on the lip of an uneasy edgeland, a mitred minister steps up...
That’s how we wind up in a dog-leg alleyway by Victoria Station, as a coffin draped in quartered livery is unloaded from the back of an estate car, and a procession duly unfolds, sending us down back streets, along the contours of the river, through the thick of the rush hour jam, to an industrial estate backyard of stolid Strangeways-land. A hundred-or-so White Hotel faithful in ragged mourning tweed…shades and veils…clutching posies to throw at the sadness in the road.
“We are gathered here in The White Hotel to give thanks for the life of Diana…”
Inside a mouldering ex auto garage, on the lip of an uneasy edgeland, a mitred minister steps up to deliver the solemn ceremonial bidding. In the half light, orders of service in our mitts, we crane our necks to glimpse the establishment in the quire. Behind us, the hull of the death car…or a treacle-toned VW Golf, at least…crumple-nosed, bedecked with flowers, driver's door torn off, hank of blonde hair fluttering limply in the footwell.
“Goodbye England’s rose…”
The music is delivered by a three piece mariachi band…charro suits, sombreros big as boats, as flowers rain down on the low stage and words are wistfully mouthed by the congregation.
“The girl given the name of the Goddess of hunting was in the end the most hunted person of the modern age…”
Earl Spencer’s famous tribute, voiced by the writer Jonathan Meades, is piped in from up in the gantry where the DJ awaits his slot.
“Diana, our companion in faith and sister in Christ, we entrust you to God…”
Brexitland satire? Poundland publicity stunt? Or just a retread of one of MI5’s greatest hits? Take a look at the spectacle surrounding you. The avant garde is in power now, and the world stopped making sense. It’s all cabaret, and dada is the official line.
The dry ice clears. The bar opens. The DJ puts on some vinyl.
“Is that the Ryanair logo?” says someone, as we gather around the car.
"Oh yeah..." says a voice as the coffin drapes are inspected.
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“She’s got her tits out.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“Apart from that, though…it’s the Ryanair symbol isn’t it?”
We stand and sup our drinks as patrons take turns behind the wheel, try the seatbelts, and the scene slowly fades from funeral to party.
The White Hotel has worked hard to acquire its status as the city’s premier under-the-radar den of iniquity. To compare it with the early years of the Hacienda might be to stretch an unwilling point, but point also to some home truths regarding local culture. For just as Factory’s famous playroom took its name from the situationist injunction that “the hacienda must be built” so this surreptitious night spot derives its identity too from the annals of literature: DM Thomas’s 1981 novel of that name is an excursion into the horrors of the holocaust courtesy of Freud’s controversial theory of the death drive.
The remote academic who christened this Salford establishment believes that the shoah should not be responded to solely through piety: to do so is to risk replicating the fascist impulse, so the theory goes. You have to pick at the rules. Browsing the posts on the Atrocity Boy blog which attended the White Hotel’s predecessor, The Bunker, you might glean an insight into the motivations swirling around the club. If your night time is cut to the beat of the Northern Quarter then you will go out, drink, flirt, fight, fall in love, and go home according to somebody else’s plan. And then one day you will die. Is that a contract you are willing to sign and seal?
Here, so the management would have it, with its all-night licence and its reputation for casual hedonism, is one of the sparks of the regeneration of the Salford border. The spectacle of a bunch of nighthawks, not one spring chicken among them, doing their damnedest to offend everyone in sight might say much about the corporate / Art Council ethos which has taken hold of contemporary culture, and the generation gap which divides the old and the new Manchester. What Collings, writer Stanley Shtinter, filmmaker Chris Petit, impresario Ben Ward and others are up to may be difficult to discern, but you can be sure they’re manning the frontier between ideas of the city.
Follow Danny @dannyxmoran