Stockport in the rain on a Friday night. Grey lashed streets, lights coming on too early for June. A couple of hundred people amble into the Guildhall, collars up to the drizzle. The room is like a function room at a tired wedding. It could be 1972.
Most people are here for Terry Christian, performing his controversial ‘Naked Confessions of a Recovering Catholic’ show, supported by songwriter Danny Mahon. It feels like a gig, a kind of Manc showcase. I don’t think people are expecting what Mike Garry delivers.
That’s part of the appeal, poetry amidst music and stand-up, proud, sharp. A shard of glass. From the minute he walks on, he holds you in a tight grip. We hold our breath.
I honestly don’t think I exhaled properly for the full time he was onstage. ‘Funny is good, but I prefer dark,’ Garry muses as he skates an icy surface, his poetry slicing between pure comedy, Manc history and the dark wells of our collective experiences. Characters emerge. Broken shadows of women, a ‘tearful daughter sat in the back of a steamed-up car,’ or a young girl outside the Embassy Club who’s voice can still be heard on bonfire night whispering ‘Penny for the guy’. And we’re hooked.
Grown men choke. Men who’d later be jeering and heckling as Terry Christian delivers his grim anecdotes of growing up in Manchester. Now they fall between laughs and silences. Poetry can do that. It can fill the air like smoke, like ghosts. His lines pick you up, lift and drop. One minute we’re pissing ourselves at ‘someone’s Gran on E that cost 50p,’ and the next we’re sinking in visions of ‘kids with guns,’ ‘credit cards and dole cards (going) chop, chop, chop,’ or a girl ‘never found on Saddleworth Moor’. Lift and drop.
Before he goes, he finishes us off with a eulogy. And this is another reason you’ve got to love Mike Garry. It’s the eulogy he read at his Mam’s funeral. Precious words that still clearly shake him to deliver. He bleeds these lines. And we’re with him, every word. Even the gobshite who’ll later be jeering through Terry Christian. Even he’s silent. Poetry can do that, like a sudden slap in the face.
Tony Wilson said that when he first saw Joy Division live onstage he realised that there were two different kinds of bands: those that want to be onstage and those that simply have to be. Because they’ve got no choice. You get that from Mike Garry, as he leaves the stage, still clearly cut up about the passing of his Mam, after sharing that gutting eulogy. He’s here because he has to be. And we love him.