Kissing The Cotton Clouds

Shari Denson, friend of mine I’ve never met but know on Facebook, is a photographer and has taken loads of great pictures of bands playing in and around Manchester. Last year she put on a one- off exhibition in a slate park under the Mancunian Way which I missed but looked really good. A week ago on Facebook she posted this picture, a shot taken at Cotton Clouds festival a couple of years ago. Shari asked ‘does anyone recognise either of these gorgeous folk?’

It is a stunning photograph, a moment in time caught. I don’t know which band the couple are watching, it looks like daytime so presumably a band lower down the bill. They’re a good looking couple, photogenic and sexy and they embody that freedom you have when you’re young. He is caught up in the performance happening to the left of the picture, she has noticed the camera and glanced at the shutter, looking straight at us. Both are in the moment, together but with a different focus. Some of Shari’s friends said the woman looks a bit like Madonna and the man like Jeff Buckley. Another suggested it could be from an 80s film, this one maybe…

Shari said that if she were her, she’d want the picture printed and on the wall, ready to show her grand-kids in several decades time. This generation have so many photographs of themselves, they document themselves and their lives constantly almost without thinking about it. I’ve got very few photos from my teens or twenties. We only really started taking photographs regularly when we had children. Selfies weren’t really a thing until phones and cameras became brought together in one object.

Since the original thread a week ago I think the man has been identified but on the night she posted it another friend Karen said that in some ways she hoped they wouldn’t be found, that she liked their anonymity, she didn’t want to know who they were- ‘Mystery is everything sometimes, right?’ In some ways I agree- without names they are a kind of every couple, young and unfettered.

Karen said that when the couple who were in the famous photo in Times Square at the end of World War II were named and their stories known it ruined the photo for her. Both lived into their nineties. The woman, Greta Friedman, said that the sailor, George Mendonsa, didn’t ask to kiss her, he just grabbed her. According to Greta it wasn’t romantic, more a drunken celebration, and today that strikes a very different tone.

Times Square: Sailor and nurse kissing in iconic WWII photograph ...

More happily, the couple from the sleeve of the Woodstock album were found forty years later and happily were still together.

It also made me think of this photo taken in New York in the mid- 1940s,a snapshot of Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs near Columbia University. One of the books I’ve read about the Beats, it might have been Carolyn Cassady’s autobiography, wrote about this picture and said that the only person who is in the moment is Jack, meeting the gaze of the lens. Hal is looking at Allen, Allen has his eyes closed, frozen slightly, Burroughs too. Jack is there, alive and looking back at us, tuned it. Shari’s photo is similar- a better photo too- him intensely looking elsewhere and her looking down the camera at us.

Cotton Clouds takes place, or took place, at Saddleworth near Oldham and has been played by The Coral, Sugarhill Gang and Nick Heywood in 2017, Sister Sledge, Starsailor and The Orielles the following year and Peter Hook, Alabama 3, The Wailers and Tim Burgess last August. I think the promoters have since gone into administration and it probably wouldn’t have happened this year anyway.

I’m assuming that Cotton Clouds was named after the line in Elephant Stone, a song that is one of The Stone Roses finest moments. I’d take Elephant Stone over the entire Second Coming album, it’s unaffected, weightless and heady-

‘Burst into heaven
Kissing the cotton clouds
Arctic sheets and fields of wheat
I can’t stop coming down’

Elepahnt Stone is a technicolour burst of northern psychedelic, the words and guitars in a rush to unfold and Reni’s drums driving everything on, the sound surfacing only for a breather with the ‘seems like there’s a hole/in my dreams’ before diving back in again.

Elephant Stone 12″ Mix