It’s hard not to view Manchester’s EasyHotel as a sign of the times. Only a few years ago – what, ten? Five? – fifty pounds a night would have gotten you a large room with breakfast included. You’d have probably been given a trouser press, a television, and a mini fridge with one of those choded Pringle tubes and two tiny little bottles of wine you daredn’t drink for fear of the check-out bill. You might even have gotten a little bit of patio, and almost certainly a complimentary breakfast.
Well – not anymore, because in the United Kingdom we love to watch ourselves spiral ever inward and downward, grumbling and grunting but not actually doing anything to prevent it, nation of wet lettuces that we are. It’s almost schadenfreude, except instead of taking joy in the downfall of others, we bask in the tragedy of our own downfall – we get our kicks from it, we get our rocks off, like the people in that film who crash cars and then knob in the debris.
For fifty of Her Majesty’s pounds today you can have an MDF shack with a single orange coat hanger bolted to the wall and an en suite a toilet/shower box blitzed with surgical white light, mystifyingly separated from the sleeping compartment with a sole wall of glass, unfrosted except for a foot-wide genital strip that runs horizontally across the centre. At least at Alcatraz they got to breathe fresh sea air.
“I wonder what’s the biggest orgasm somebody ever had in this room?” I asked, as we packed.
“What? You’ve never thought that?”
“Why would I think that?”
“I can’t ever go to a hotel room without thinking it. Like, when any couple goes to a hotel the first thing they do is bang, right? So almost every day there must be a different couple spunking everywhere in here. So I wonder, out of the thousands of people who’ve banged in here, who had the biggest orgasm. I bet these walls have seen some wild shit.”
“You’re a strange boy, Dan.”
We got slung out of the hotel at 10am, hungover and ghastly, and it would be 3pm until we could meet up with the promoter for the evening’s gig, Gina, whose flat we’d be staying in. Unsure of what to do or where to go, we sat down at the side of the path in a square that was sunnily listed on Google maps as ‘Piccadilly Gardens’ but turned out to be a sparse bit of shrubland sandwiched between a tram stop and a McDonalds where the local winos went to lie down and let pigeons eat crumbs off them. Well, same. We lay amongst our bags and cases, and opened a leftover can of beer at half past ten in the morning because whatever.
The sky was white and the clouds were high and yawning, and the wind said rain but we sat out defiant and the rain never came. I felt a once-familiar delirium setting in; the roll-with-it breezy insanity, the see-saw of hilarity and horror that comes with the territory for nighttime people – like I suppose I used to be, a long time ago. Over a long career of being periodically insane, you learn the best way to deal with chemically-induced madness is to ignore it. Functioning cokeheads only function because they don’t regularly pause to assess their situation; they don’t halt, rolled up fiver in one hand, iPhone in the other, to ask ‘Wait: am I maximising my potential?’ – they just get on with it and tumble along with their own momentum. It’s the only way they can live. They’d crumble to dust if they took a break, zoomed out, looked everything over.
We were lying on the grass beside the path; Annie was telling a story about life in San Francisco. A stream of morning people passed us by, glancing down on these two hooligans sprawled and boozing at such an unpersonable hour – some may have judged, of course, but I was surprised to note a high rate of smiles among the people who glanced down on us. I think it’s because we were giggling so much. People forgive you if you’re happy.
A group of young men walked past, chatting. One of them, the nearest to us, was using his phone. As he passed he flicked something from his hand – a crumble of paper, perhaps, or the ash of a cigarette – onto Annie’s midriff. She paused talking, and a laugh booted its way out of my lips.
“What the fuck?”
He must have been deep in a daydream. It took the man a moment to register what he’d done; he heard my bark of laughter and turned around, mortified, raising his hands in a gesture of peace and apology. He laughed when he saw we were laughing.
“Dude, did he think I was a fucking trash can?” said Annie.
We laughed a lot at that.
It was still a long time until we were due to meet the promoter, so at Annie’s insistence (to which I was perfectly congenial to comply) we went to a Spoons: the Moon on the Water, or something. There was a football match on that day and it was busy, and we got a table and a couple of beers and some food, and I was thwacked with delirium as the drink topped me off from the night before.
“Jesus,” I said. “I feel smashed.”
“It’s the shampoo effect, boys.”
“Yeah. You know when the bottle gets low, you fill it with water and it tops it right back up.”
“It seems a flawed metaphor but okay.”
Annie was wearing her sunglasses inside, red-tinted lenses, and a dark grey beanie.
“Have you seen Leon? The film?”
“No, what is it?”
“You look like Jean Reno in Leon.”
I showed her a photo on Google.
“Holy shit,” she laughed, “I do.”
She made me wear the beanie and glasses next, but hats never suit me because I am an Egghead. I tilted the beanie back and tucked it behind my ears so they poked out at right angles. Annie took photos, chuckling.
“Jesus,” she said. “You make me laugh so easily. What the fuck.”
We sat for hours doing accents and impressions, discussing farts one second then lamenting lost loves the next, veering from madness to sincerity with an alacrity that I’ve noticed can be a little dizzying for new company. That’s the reason we prefer to hang as a duo whenever we meet up: as in all good friendships, nobody else can follow what the hell we’re on about.
I felt like a Sim, with my social and happiness bars slowly rising and turning green, even as my health and productivity bars sank into the red. It’s okay, I told myself. You’re allowed to disappear for a week. Just let go, and relax in the knowledge that it’s not a permanent change. Silliness for a time, fuck it all, then back to discipline – you’ve got this; you won’t forget everything you’ve been trying so hard to learn. Consider it a test, if it helps: a dabble, a fuckabout, and back to it in ten days.
We left Spoons in the early afternoon, white sky, warm air. We met the promoter, Gina, at a bar beside a church, somewhere across town. I think we’d had a good four pints before we arrived, and she drank another with us. Gina was down to earth and friendly, full of the sort of northern candour that you miss when you move away. We talked about the art of promoting and Manchester, and then I zoned out while Annie and Gina discussed club music in more detail because I don’t understand anything about knobs and mixers.
Gina took us for dinner at a Thai restaurant, which Annie told me is something that promoters often do as part of the package when they book an artist to play their night. Gina paid for Annie and also me, although I protested. It was very kind of her. I’d have protested more, probably, had I not been drunk and anguished from my red curry which had been pumped full of explosively hot peppers that burst all the blood vessels in my eyeballs and made me weep for forty five minutes.
We took a tram to Gina’s flat, 20 minutes outside the centre. Gina was giving us her bed for the evening; she would sleep on the sofa. That’s also something promoters do sometimes, apparently. Again, I felt guilty to accept, but not so guilty as to refuse. Annie and I took another three-hour nap ahead of the evening’s gig, and when we awoke we freshened up (I did not shower) and headed out: off-licence, pink gin, tram, city centre, Northern Quarter, Soup.
A large man in cargo pants and a flak jacket met us at the door and took us inside, past two bouncers with earpieces. The club was red-lit and smoky, just warming up, and we crossed the dancefloor and went through a door with a neon sign that said ‘green room’. It’s weird: before meeting Annie, I have no recollection of ever seeing a sign for a green room in a club. Like, ever. I would have remembered: I would have tried to get in.
Green rooms are nice, because they give you (me) somewhere to relax that isn’t on the dancefloor. When Annie plays her sets I’m mostly alone in the crowd, of course, and I don’t know how to dance to her music at the best of times, let alone when I’m hovering nervously in front of a speaker stack that looks like Megatron’s beheaded torso. In the green room – usually a grungy backroom with an old sofa, a beer fridge, an exciting smoke-indoors ashtray, and the ever-present throb of distant bass – I can rest, be cool, be present yet remain myself: supportive yet invisible, like a wireless bra.
We chatted to a few familiar faces – people we’d met on Annie’s last trip to Manchester, 2021 – and at 2am Annie stepped up for her set. Rather than dance in the crowd I hung out at the side of the decks – offstage of course – and leant and sipped and smiled and took photos. I was relaxed: I suppose I’ve gotten used to seeing Annie play now. I’ve seen Annie perform, come to think of it, more than any other artist in the world. I must have seen her play around fifteen times by now. I’ve seen the Arctic Monkeys eight.
She was great, of course, and never struggles for energy. English crowds get her intrinsically; her high-energy madness does very well over here. I sensed a change in Annie as well, when I compared the evening to the shows I’d seen her play seven, even two years ago: she’s more relaxed now, taking the evening in her stride. Her performance is professional and self-assured; the pre-show nerves that used to have her jittering the whole day ahead of a gig are all but gone now. She’s moved up a notch or two in her career – she’s been around a bit, she’s matured, she’s seen enough green rooms and afterparties for a lifetime, it’s second-nature by now.
And second nature it was, then, when the club closed down in the early hours and whoever was left lingering in the green room – a small, sweating, beady-eyed herd – were rounded up and shepherded to an afterparty somewhere around the block. I chatted to a lot of people and made false narcotic friendships and talked passionately about nothing at all until about 8am, when our host gave us all the boot and we took a surreal daylight taxi back to Gina’s. I slept not a wink, of course, and simply lay awake and stupid, until at 2pm Annie woke up and it was time to go for our train to Leeds.
“You know, it’s strange,” I told Annie, as we sat on the bus that would take us to my family home. “I’m so sleep deprived and ill that if I was alone I’d be really scared right now. But with you, I feel absolutely fine. Aren’t friends nice?”
I know, I know: I talk like Winnie the Pooh when I’m tired.