Nick Johnson from Urban Splash last week. He's also the chairman of Marketing Manchester, the tourist board in old money. He told a good tale of how he took the themes of his university dissertation - urban living - and explained how that then inspired him to work with Jim Ramsbottom on Castlefield, and then with Tom Bloxham at Urban Splash.
In the aftermath of the IRA bomb in 1996 the city's marketing response was deemed pretty crap - "we're up and going" - to which the reaction was "you cannot be serious". Out of that reaction came a stroppy group that met at Johnson's bar - Atlas - and said "enough". They called themselves the McEnroe Group and have since gone on to form part of the ruling class in the city: Colin Sinclair, Bloxham, Johnson, Andy Spinoza, Eliot Rashman, the late Tony Wilson was around them too. Their adoption of the ideas of urban geographer Richard Florida - who's work, The Rise of the Creative Class - inspired the decision to hire Peter Saville as the City's first creative director.
So, we covered all of that. Nick also revealed that Saville was cheaper than the others but was hired because he was prepared to challenge established wisdom. And he still does, to be fair. It was Saville's initial articulation of the "brand values" of "original modern" that Johnson described as an "economic development strategy".
Anyway, Nigel Sarbutts, who was in the audience for the interview, says he wasn't happy that the city adequately applies or articulates the aspiration. Well, maybe he didn't say exactly that. What he did say is here. "Ultimately Original Modern is an idea in search of substance. It is a
hollow slogan and the truth of its weakness is that it was overshadowed
overnight in August by a thousand flyers in shop windows, reproducing a
logo copied from New York circa 1975."
I feel slightly glum reading that. Not because he's wrong, but because that last bit about the August response, as I said here, is so true. It doesn't detract however from how a big idea like original modern has been reduced to what it was never intended to be. There has always been a danger that Manchester gets carried away - but for me, there is much of modernity and originality abounding. It's time to proclaim it.
There are also plenty of forums where new ideas and new explorations of what the city has and what more can be discovered about Manchester are taking place. There is a thirst for knowledge and ideas beyond our narrow immediate concerns. I picked this up at the recent Science Festival, at the Cockford Rutherford Lecture and through some of the awesome offerings at Manchester's own Literature Festival and this weekend at the Salford University "Believe" day. And then there are the things I haven't had time to see - like Dave Haslam's interviews and conversations.
Someone like Nick Johnson can't have all the answers all the time. He's got a day job as well as a brief to keep the tourist board lively, motivated and on top of the city's assets to tell great stories. But it was a stimulating experience and hopefully useful for those that gave up their lunch hour to attend.