Romany City

Romany City

‘Oh Romany John, Romany John. You are, so more famous than Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Ron – John, John, John Martyn’. Manchester mid-eighties was a curious place to be. John Martyn’s removal van was in fine voice that fresh spring morning, when we first espied it – creep, creep, creeping around Fallowfield’s streets and into Moss Side. Though certainly not bombed-out Broadfield Road, where no ragamuffin man plied his trade for long. As thrusting, and at times brazen entrepreneurs, we had a thirst for any new enterprise. Here came Romany John, cash-in-hand, ready to buy up and personally remove your unwanted bric-a-brac. His van, laden with old ovens, freezers and continental drink-trolleys circa 1970. Rumour had it Mr Martyn and his boys would make local residents an offer they could not refuse. They would even go down the redbrick alleyways made infamous now by TV series like Scott and Bailey or Cracker, alleyways strewn with dog-shite, empty Thunderbird bottles and 49p Happy Shopper orange juice cartons. No matter. As the loud siren crackled like a Beastie Boy boom-box you knew Romany John would wend his way back to Hulme to his ‘Romany Cultural Centre’. Now, as a retired bareknuckle fighter of some repute, John Martyn never got boxed-in. His headquarters were spacious, situated on the edge of a run-down patch of neglected bomb-site, sandwiched between the Polytechnic and Hulme-proper. As I strolled in that day, I felt comfortable. The Kid and I were not risk averse and cold-calling John at the heart of his Romany empire seemed a natural thing to do. The first thing we saw was a magnificent Mercedes 450 SEL with blue leather seats. Top of the range but with the front two tyres up on bricks. After a pint I plucked up the courage to ask the great man whether the Merc was part of his entrepreneurial empire. Quietly surveying his vast pub and disco area, lit up by juke boxes and twinkling gaming machines he said ‘Ah, I like a boy with a bit of the old blarney who comes in shooting of questions. Shenanigans, oh shenanigans! Well now, Paul, see these?’ He showed me his dusters. ‘I was brought up to use these. Undefeated in a 130 matches on the canvas’. He got up and pointed to his hobnail boots. He had a proper boxer’s broken nose, not like Hollywood Brad Pitt. With a second pint of the blackstuff in our gullets, (he drank his like water) he put his arm around my shoulder. ‘All this is mine, Paul. Now, you’re a University lad, so you should know there is a whole world out there and it all needs entertaining. Show me that stuff again Paul’. I reached for my satchel and produced the designs. ‘I will buy the lot of you for fifty quid. Mine to keep though’. The Kid who had fearlessly plotted the raid having dredged a second year project on Romany history, could never have imagined that Mr Martyn would eschew our value-for-money leaflet and distribution package and want to buy his student project. I was reluctant to part with it, but having driven a hard bargain and squeezed three crisp twenty pound notes out of the man, we were ready to skedaddle. On the way out, John told us that Graham Springer of Manchester City Council had been great over the years, truly visionary and revolutionary. On my bike home I reflected upon Mr Martyn. I saw him as a J P Donleavy character, out of The Ginger Man. But in fact, he was as real as the day is long. He understood the power of brain and brawn with political savvy and courage to boot. ‘Oh Romany John, Romany John. You are, so much classier than Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Ron – John, John, John Martyn’.

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