The weather could only be described as typical Manchester weather. It was grey, it was raining and it was blowing a gale through the dirty streets.
I’d parked my car in the car park that I’ve used the last few times when going to concerts at the M.E.N. Arena, had something to eat and wandered around the shops to kill a little time.
I must have wandered up and down Oxford Road hundreds of times when I was attending Manchester Polytechnic, as it was then known. Nothing much has changed, just a few more coffee shops than I recall. There is a little square, past the main building, opposite the students union. I remember having lectures in a room in one of the buildings. The memory is especially vivid as it was one of the few times that I’ve had to speak in front of a group of people. Not something that I enjoy at all.
I managed to find the prestigious Manchester Academy and had a little wander around the block. Really to try to find Manchester Academy 2, which I think is in the students union building. I joined the queue of people and waited the 45 minutes until the doors opened, walked in, sat in a great seat dead-centre on the second row and waited another hour until show-time.
At 8:30pm sharp the lights dimmed and the orchestra started to play a be-bop arrangement of Henry’s hit ‘Liar’. The curtains opened and twelve dancing girls, the famous ‘Henriettas’ no less, high-kicked their way across the stage. Each one of them had legs up to their face and were wearing pink sequinned swimsuits which glimmered in the myriad of lights. Pink ostrich feathers in their headbands made them look even taller. Each of them were blonde, blue-eyed and big breasted, no doubt hand-picked by Henry himself. As the song reached its climax there was a drum-roll, Mike The Tour Manager said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Manchester Academy, in association with SJM Concerts proudly presents, the king of spoken word himself, Mr. Henry Rollins.” Mike dragged out the ‘Henry Rollins’ bit, similar to the way wrestlers and boxers are announced before fights. The ‘Henriettas’ split into two groups, high-kicking all the while and a huge lighted staircase lifted up from beneath the stage. The orchestra started to play ‘Liar’, again, and the man himself appeared in a spotlight at the very top of the staircase. Henry was resplendent in his white tie and tails, carrying his top hat and his silver topped cane. His thick mane of jet black hair shimmering in the lights, his deep California suntan, no doubt regularly topped up at the home of his Hollywood pal, George Hamilton, his teeth the kind of brilliant white that can only be seen at the polar ice caps. Henry’s high kicks timed to perfection with those of his dancing girls as he descended the staircase. The entire audience were on their feet, just basking in the glow of this legendary performer. Seeing this outburst of adulation Henry did a little soft-shoe-shuffle on each step, which only excited his adoring fans even more. Upon finally reaching the stage Henry tossed his top-hat and cane to two of the ‘Henriettas’, grabbed the microphone in his left hand, wrapping its cord three times around his fingers and said, “Good evening”.
This is the third time that I’ve seen Henry’s spoken word shows. They are always consistently funny, thought provoking and value for money.
You can never really re-count what has been said to a third person, you can only try to hit upon the subjects covered: Bush, New Orleans, Basic Instinct 2, The Royal Family, Big Day Out, Visiting The Wounded, Ijaz, Siberia, Vomit, Liar, Black Lesbian President. Henry relates his experiences but instead of reciting them verbatim he fleshes them out with vocal mannerisms, impersonations and body language. Similar, in a way, to one of his heroes Richard Pryor. He even received a round of applause for saying, “Birmingham” using the correct accent for that locale. The revelation that one of his ‘man-sacks’ swings lower than the other should be safely filed under the category: A Little Too Much Information.
Henry is someone that I admire a lot. Hell I even have a picture of him on the wall of my living room. If he didn’t travel so extensively then he wouldn’t have any experiences to relate when it came to his spoken word shows. Me, I’m not a big fan of travelling. When the chairs were set-up in the Academy for the show tonight they use a specially calibrated stick so that the rows are a consistent distance apart. This is the distance from my ass to my knee minus 6 inches. Not a comfortable situation for me. This yard stick is used by every theatre, bus, train, and aeroplane in the civilised world. In the uncivilised world the stick is snapped in half.
I still can’t quite believe that Henry just walks around Manchester during the daytime before a show. That is something that I would have to see to believe.