Category Archives: Uncategorized

An English graveyard tells a tale

For an atheist, I have a paradoxical fascination with churches and graveyards – especially  ancient ones. It’s not so much that I get involved in avid research about them more that I find them pleasing places to visit, pass the time and take pictures.

There’s a calm atmosphere around a churchyard which is unique. I don’t especially think this is a spiritual thing. I just think that it’s rare in these modern times that any kind of space is set aside for one purpose – especially one of reflection and quiet – so they’re increasingly the most protected oasis in our fast-moving world.

Minster Churchyard, near Boscastle, Cornwall

Minster Churchyard, near Boscastle, Cornwall

Those of a religious bent may well tell me that this is because they are ‘God’s acre’. Those with older spiritual leanings may well point out that many English churches were built on pagan sites (often wells; perhaps on a ley line too) as Christianity subsumed those ancient beliefs which came before.

Minster Churchyard, near Boscastle, Cornwall

Minster Churchyard, near Boscastle, Cornwall

Perhaps it’s all of these things or none, but there’s a wonderfully calm half-hour or hour to be had passing time in a churchyard.

The gravestones themselves hand a story down from the past to the future. The gravestone is almost the purest form of storytelling: just a name, a couple of dates and perhaps a line or two to summarise an entire life.

Wandering through Manchester’s Southern Cemetery, it was pleasing to bump into Tony Wilson’s grave – just as in the past, I’d bumped into Tony himself. I didn’t know him, but I think we met three or four times. The most notorious of those meetings was at a concert of Factory Records bands, held at the Derby Hall in Bury. Notorious, because singer Ian Curtis was unable to perform more than a few songs and – for one reason or another – a pretty solid fight broke out in which both band and audience participated. I’ve read several accounts of this – and seen it twice documented on film (in 24-Hour Party People and Control). None of the accounts seem wholly accurate, but then mine is probably tainted by both memory and proximity to the event.

I wasn’t in the audience – I was one of the people responsible for organising and running the event. I took money on the door, helped move the PA, operated the lights. (Such as they were; Joy Division liked the lighting cold and minimal, I just set up a few blue gels and left things alone.) When the fight kicked up, I turned on the house lights and hid under the lighting table to avoid flying beer glasses.

Tony Wilson said to me after, in the office, that this was “just kids having fun”. At the time, I thought this was a pretty stupid attitude and said so. Although I didn’t use the word “pretty”. In retrospect, I can see that we just had different experiences running a venue – mine was an arts centre; his was closer to the epicentre of youth, sometimes notorious for drugs and minor violence.

Also at the time, I didn’t appreciate Joy Division for the band they were – original, raw, incredible. Joy Division was but one band touched by the hand of Tony Wilson and his headstone, wonderfully designed by Peter Saville (responsible for Factory’s posters and record sleeves), is one of the most original you’ll ever see. It’s almost like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey – a deep black that’s almost unnaturally reflective. It carries the words: Anthony H Wilson; Broadcaster; Cultural Catalyst (my punctuation).

Tony Wilson's grave

Tony Wilson’s grave

How incredible to so accurately sum up a life in three words. It also carries a quote from G Linnaeus Banks’ 1876 novel The Manchester Man: “Mutability is the epitaph of worlds / Change alone is changeless / People drop out of the history of a life as of a land though their work or their influence remains.”

At the other end of the scale (and almost at the other end of the country) I stumbled across the grave of a white witch, just outside the churchyard of Minster Church, near Boscastle. I say just outside and I mean it – she’s buried in woodland, just inches from the churchyard boundary. This may be because she’s excluded – but I think it’s more a matter of choice. It’s not the church mocking her, it’s those who buried her mocking the church.

Joan died in 1813, aged just 38 (probably a decent innings back then), while in Bodmin Jail. She wasn’t incarcerated for witchcraft, but for brawling; she’d suffered terribly from a tooth abscess which made her a bit more than bad-tempered. She got involved in fights and shouted insults at people. When she fought, she was unnaturally strong and was sometimes called the Fighting Fairy Woman.

She had been a seer and healer. One of the things she did was to tie clooties (strips of cloth) to trees or holy wells – as the cloth rots, so the person’s disease dissipates. It was somewhat moving to see that someone else had tied a strip of cloth to a tree, just above her grave.

A clootie, hanging over the grave of Joan Wytte

A clootie, hanging over the grave of Joan Wytte

Her headstone reads: “Joan Wytte. Born 1775. Died 1813 in Bodmin Jail. Buried 1998. No longer abused.”

The grave of Joan Wytte

The grave of Joan Wytte

She had been abused in death, her bones disinterred and used in séances. Later, they were on display at the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle and were finally given a proper burial after, it is said, just a few too many poltergeists were disruptive at the museum.

It’s both sad and touching that our lives can – and will – be reduced to just a few lines of text. But those few words count. They can inspire you to find out more about the person, or appreciate the feelings of those they touched.

Seven things you possibly don’t know about me

I was blog-tagged by the matchless Johanna Pitcairn. Essentially, this means I have to tell you seven things you don’t know about me. Since I don’t know who’s reading this, you may know these things, I can’t guarantee it.


Joy Division

In my twenties I used to help run a live music venue in Bury; it was called Gigs and was held at the Derby Hall. Possibly the most notable thing about this era, other than my then shoulder-length hair, was that I was the lighting operator on the night that Joy Division performed. This wasn’t the most notable thing about the evening, however. This was the performance where a substantial fight arose, lots of beer glasses were thrown and a legendary rock and roll event occurred. Where was I? Cowering under the lighting desk. On the evening, I didn’t realise that this was history in the making and one of the last performances of one of the greatest pop songs ever written. If you’ve not seen the truly superb film Control, then I recommend it highly – even if the gig in question is portrayed in the wrong venue.


Cardboard band

I’m fairly given to doing mad things. In my twenties I formed a band, with friends. The thing is – we played cardboard instruments, essentially miming out an intricate set of visual gags over a 10-minute set. It was a joke. However, after several gigs and building so many cardboard guitars, drums, keyboards and amps that we needed to go to gigs in a van, we realised things were getting out of hand. I don’t know what was the tipping point – seriously considering applying for an Arts Council grant, or being invited to tour with a real rock band. We had to turn our backs on success: it was all getting too commercial for us. Yes, I have photos. No, I’m not posting them.



At school I was only really good at two things: art and English. I decided that a career in graphic design trumped one in writing and went to art college. It’s served me well: I run my own marketing business. But it was the wrong decision. I still draw, but not terribly well or especially often. You can judge for yourself.

Meeting my hero

So many of us don’t get to do the things we really want in life. I had the good fortune to meet one of my all-time heroes, Peter Gabriel, whose work and ethics I enormously admire. I won a contest to attend a private concert at his recording studios in Box, Wiltshire – only 100 people were there. It was the best. And yes, when I met the big man, I was verbally a clumsy oaf.

Peter Labrow and Peter Gabriel



I have a collection of around 80 Daleks. Really. I’ve always loved Doctor Who and especially the Daleks, but as you grow up these things can slide. In 2002 I had a serious neck injury and was incapacitated for months. During this time my Dalek obsession was rekindled. But don’t worry, I’m not really obsessed.


Close Encounters

Close Encounters – the bit at the end? Where the aliens invite Richard Dreyfuss to leave Earth. I would go, even if it meant I’d never taste curry again. I’d love to fly into space; stand on the moon. I believe mankind’s destiny should have been in the stars and we’ve essentially blown it.


Favourite places

I think my all-time favourite place (currently, these things do shift, don’t they?) is the Akamas peninsula in Cyprus. I also love New York, London, Scotland, Lancashire and Florida – though not necessarily in that order.