Steel & Iron
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Teesside by night.
“I’m not a historian – I’ll leave that for others. I’m a child of the suburbs, who was transplanted into the heart of a town by taxi, at night. Surging along the A19; running parallel to the flat, industrial plains; the fallow fields of nothing that flank the works. We still call them the ICI works even though the chrome constructions now belong to a myriad of global firms. Names like Huntsman become replaced by others, like Sabic, and so it goes, until the lack of need for outdated methods and resources outweighs the need for employment of local men and women. Automation is king to the captains of industry and we built our reputation on our industriousness, so where will that leave us? A question for another time, perhaps.
Let’s return to that speeding vehicle, as we glance through the tangled bushes at the glinting lights and glittering towers. Maybe you’re aware that this chemical empire inspired Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, a movie set in 2019. Well, the future never arrived, by the look of it. The towns are still made of bricks and mortar, for the most part: these quickly-built towns that cluster around the industry; this road that acts as an artery that feeds the metropolis and the lonely roads that reach through the works. There are no cars in the sky yet, Ridley, but this place still looks like the future to me.
My past is buried here, embedded into the landscape. History is present in the grand facades that remain from a golden, industrial heyday, rubbing up harshly with various architectural errors that’ve sprung up in the meantime. But, as I said, history is for others. I only have my truth and experience to guide me here. I still associate the promise of a night out with Middlesbrough and Stockton. Not so much Billingham, my point of departure, my suburban hollow, where everyone knows everyone, or at least knows of them. The destination is always more alluring than the safety of home
My first and last pint of ‘John Smith’s Smooth’ in Norton Red Lion, looking out onto the busy roundabout, awaiting my first and penultimate visit to Zanzibar, formerly known as The Mall, where my Auntie Pauline got me Bernie Slaven’s autograph.
Talking to identical twins at Brutus Gold’s ’70s disco in The Millennium, a nightclub stranded at the far end of Teesside Retail Park, then hearing, for the first time, the abbreviation ‘Maccie Dee’s’ in the lengthy taxi queue.
Yes, the farcical sits right alongside the seemingly profound in our teenage memories; countless firsts and many lasts. So, you see, I have nothing but affection for this place, now that time has ironed out the growing pains of youth. My concerns are different these days, and I’m left with this predominant image of the road and the works, taking me out of myself, transporting me elsewhere.
The night is relatively young, our heritage looms on the horizon, and hope lingers longest.”
-Paul Smith, Maximo Park, written for ‘Steel and Iron’.