On its website (www.lovesavestheday.co.uk/), the Manchester deli ‘Love Saves The Day’ describes itself as ‘an integrated licensed, coffee, food and grocery store for urban living … brought to you by a hands on and committed team of food, coffee and drink loving individuals. Collectively the team has relevant experience gained in the food, coffee, retail, lifestyle, entertainment and music sectors’. The leader of that ‘team’ is none other Chris Joyce, drummer for Simply Red (famous for international smash hits such as ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’, ‘Holding Back The Years’ and ‘The Right Thing’, among others) from 1984 until the end of the group’s ‘A New Flame’ tour in 1989, and now one of the leaders of the Slow Food Manchester Convivium.
Today Chris has lost much of his old interest in music and is sharply f&w-focused. I had the chance to speak to him and Simply Red singer Mick ‘Red’ Hucknall when they came to Verona in April for Vinitaly, Italy’s top wine exhibition. We met in the Slow Food office. Over one bottle of Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra ’85 Clerico, another of Langhe Rosso Bric di Luv Ca’ Viola, plus a dish of freshly fried olive ascolane, I asked Chris the obvious question.
How did your interest in food begin?
‘Touring Italy in the mid-eighties with Simply Red,” he replies. Other rock bands used to smash up hotels, we were into good food. We traveled virtually all over and I was tremendously impressed by the variety of the regional cuisine’.
‘Yeah,’ recalls Mick. ‘The best restaurant we went to was in Lucca in Tuscany. I can’t remember what it was called, but the food was fantastic. I’d never tasted anything like it before. Then there was the wine. It was love at first sight for me. I particularly remember my first glass of red wine here. It was fizzy and ice-cold, and I drank it in a little bar on the outskirts of Milan. Then there was a Dolcetto d’Asti and an Amarone. All great stuff.’
Today Mick even has plans to make wine himself. ‘I’m going to produce the best red wine in the world in Sicily,’ he quips. Not that he’s joking – anything but! The fact is that he’s already buying up land for the purpose in the area of Sant’Alfio on the slopes of Mount Etna at an altitude of 750 meters.
Mick loves Italy and speaks Italian well. Besides homes in Surrey (England) and Paris, he also keeps an apartment in Milan. He’s proud of the fact that he’s been named an honorary citizen of Montepulciano and he’s also a regular visitor at the white truffle festival held every March and November at San Miniato in the province of Pisa.
‘I really love them truffles down there!’ he exclaims, and you can tell he means it.
‘I think Italy’s great too,’ says Chris. ‘In fact, I’ve rented a farmhouse in Umbria for a couple of weeks this summer.’
Chris is actively involved in the initiatives of the Slow Food Manchester Convivium, helping co-leaders Michèle Barlow and Clarissa Hyman to stage a variety of eating events. He speaks enthusiastically about the multiethnic character of the city, about its ‘curry mile’, its host of Indian teashops and its Italian restaurants.
But what about traditional Manchester grub? Yes, Chris is interested in that too. He tells me how the Slow Food Manchester Convivium is keen to support and promote foods unique to the northwest of England, produced using traditional and artisan methods, but, alas, now in danger of extinction. (Just this week the Convivium hosted a ‘Building the Ark in Manchester’ evening, featuring goodies such as Ravensoak Dairy cheese, James Peat’s Southport shrimps, Sillfield Farm cured meats, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese, Bourne’s Cheshire cheese, Hereford beef from Lower Bridge Farm, Manx Lockton lamb, Ormskirk gingerbread and Fitzpatrick’s cordials). One of his personal favorites is the black pudding still on sale at Bury market, renowned for its offal, just outside the city.
At this point, Mick Hucknall butts in with a paean to another classic, Lancashire hotpot.
‘I still make it to me grandmother’s recipe. It’s the real thing. First, a layer of onions, then a layer of mushy peas, then a layer of taties, then a layer of lamb chops, then …’. And so on.
Speaking of his native city, Chris takes exception to the cover of the recent monographic Manchester number of Slow. He didn’t like it at all.
‘It showed a West Midlands Police sergeant dealing with what looks like some sort of riot or demonstration. What’s that got to do with Manchester?’
Chris is now very much the ‘enogastronomic’ entrepreneur, and occasionally slips out of the office to keep business appointments with wine producers. Mick, in the meantime, is content to munch away at the olives and quaff the Piedmontese wines on offer. Occasionally Slow Food staff members pop in and ask to have their photos taken with him. Ever the showman, Mick takes all this in his stride and is obliging with everyone. When Chris is out, the talk turns to football (Mick supports Manchester United, Chris Manchester City) and music; when he comes back, it automatically reverts to food and wine.
How do they account for the current wave of wine-mania in Britain. ‘I think more liberal licensing laws and drinking hours have got a lot to do with it,’ says Mick. ‘The tendency used to be for people to drink themselves into a stupor. Now that they don’t have to drink up fast, they’re more laid-back and prepared to relax and really enjoy their wine’.
As for food, Mick’s very anti-McDonalds (‘I wouldn’t care if they could make proper fucking hamburgers!’) and he ‘s also very taken with the idea of joining Slow Food.
‘I’m going to go out to the desk and sign up here and now!’ he says. And that’s just what he does, only to pop his head back into the office again after approximately ten seconds.
‘Can I have another of them olives before I go?’ he asks.
John Irving is the editor of the Slow Food www.slowfood.com website
Photo: Chris Joyce