Paul has been involved in the arts for many years, here, in brief, are some of the projects he's been involved with:
Co-founded, edited and ran Bolton Free Press, a local newspaper.
He was a member and one of the chief writers for Optical Busstop (an off the wall musical group) which still exists as a broader Arts organisation - see the Optical Busstop web site - where he works with others in producing content for it.
Live Friday, Octagon
In the early nineties he instigated and ran, with his friend Nat Clare, the immensely successful monthly "Friday Live" show at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. Following on from the regular shows there were further performances on TV and radio as well as special events and festivals
He was employed by LAMP (Leigh Alternative Media Project). From its base as a bookshop, LAMP was a community resource, providing a variety of workshops to the community and resources & support for a number of local arts groups. Paul was heavily involved in facilitating, running and assisting in all aspects of the LAMP work particularly in Literature and Poetry projects.
At Ruskin College he ran a Folk/Spoken Word Club and was a punk DJ.
At Liverpool University he assisted in running the Folk Club and was involved in a writing/drinking group there.
He lived for a while in a squat in Islington with a bunch of artists and film makers many of whom went to the Bournmouth film school. They were involved in many arts projects, a couple involving involving music and dance, and at one stage Paul even helped to build an impromtu dance floor.
John Hayes and Paul were very well read by the age of 14 when we became active in CND. There we met people like Dennis and Wendy Pye, others on the left and particularly Paul Harris. Paul was a couple of years older than us and from a very poor background. We drew inspiration from him, as he would be the first working-class person, we knew who went to university, he also introduced us to Anarchism, Syndicalism, Situationism and other aspects of the so-called ‘far’ left.
Following on from our CND involvement, we fell in with a group of young Bohemians including, the charismatic, Les Smith, photographer Henry Heap, strange but well-read John McDrackie. A couple like Frank Blackburn (no relation) and Andy Tonge had been to Thornleigh but had run away. Andy to Bristol and Frank to become a cabin boy in order to see his Jazz heroes (e.g. Bird) in America. Though they were both eventually brought back, they were heroes to us.
Their sangfroid attitude seemed to fit in perfectly with the Anarchist group who were increasingly attempting to challenge the establishment through acts of direct action. This led to three of the group being charged with fire bombing various places including the Army Recruitment office, Police stations (there being many across the borough at the time), Conservatist clubs and even a church.
Together, we learnt about ‘The Beats’, Timothy Leary, The Black Panthers, The Mothers of Invention, etc and kept abreast of the growing international counter-culture scene through underground magazines such as IT, Oz and New Musical Express (much more than a music mag) – these, along with US comics, were sold at the newsagents on Bradshawgate – the only newsagent to sell Bolton Free Press years later.
Paul found like-minded people in several places: the Nationwide corner of Victoria Square, in an era of ‘milk bars’ Mrs Knight’s Pheasant Moon café at the Deansgate end of Crown Street, the Beachcomber Café on Bank Street and its ‘dungeon’ downstairs, Spinner’s Hall for CND meetings, the Socialist Club on Wood Street with its independent left-wing ambiance, its bar open in the afternoons and later the Trotters bar opposite the Queens Cinema.
At the age of 16 (1966) Paul had challenged the authorities at Thornleigh once too often. Taking against a comment from a teacher that as Paul came from Breightmet ‘you must carry a knife’, Paul complained to the headmaster to find himself, inexplicably, blamed for the incident and promptly expelled.
1967 was proclaimed the “summer of love” in San Francisco, but there was little love in Bolton for the long-haired hippies, who were vilified, spat upon and had stones thrown at them.
Most years, the group organised coaches to attend national demonstrations from CND to the huge anti-Vietnam war ones. Paul remembers one demo in Barrow when they navy were attempting to launch a nuclear submarine. We sat in the road attempting to block the arrival of VIPs. The police came and started manhandling us and throwing us one-by-one into a police van, fortunately for us they had forgotten to lock the front door and as fast as they were throwing us in the back, we were climbing out the front – no one got arrested that day but the VIPs were delayed and the submarine got stuck in the mud.
In 1969 Paul was involved in instigating and running a group called ‘Libertarian Circle’, a broad-based coalition of Anarchists, Labour Party Young Socialists, SPGB members, International Socialists, non-aligned individuals and, perhaps surprisingly, some young Liberals.
This group was active over five years and instigated: a campaign against the Biafra genocide; A Claimants Union; a successful free speech campaign; a work creating initiative (Workpiece); a debating chamber (Mouthpiece); a help bureau for young people (Concern); a shelter for young people (Nightpiece); and an alternative newspaper (Bolton Free Press).
These initiatives met with varying degrees of success. Concern was the longest lived (over 6 years) but the one with the most impact was, arguably, Bolton Free Press.
The paper was the brain child of Paul Harris and at an initial meeting at Dennis and Wendy Pye’s house in Smithills, were: Paul Blackburn, John and Lesley Hayes, Nat Clare, Neil Duffield, Eileen Murphy, John Kirman, Pete Dunleavy, Gary McArdle and a few others who made plans for how to get it moving. John and Lesley’s house in Holly Grove would become the HQ though the editorial/distribution meetings were held mainly in Gypsy’s Tent on White Lion Brow.
From the outset the publication was beset with difficulties, the main one being that newsagents refused to sell it, the sellers were moved on by the police as they had no licence - not that the police could identify what sort of licence was required. Every issue had to be sold on the streets, in pubs and clubs. The organisation of the paper was deliberately chaotic, eschewing traditional hierarchical structures in favour of a group dynamic which led to oddities like different articles in the same issue being for or against a particular issue.
However, the difficulty of distribution eventually led to its demise in 1972 after eight issues. Thousands of copies had been sold and over a thousand people had been involved in the publication/distribution and life-long friendships were forged through it.
Many of the leading lights went on to do other things. Several went on to university (often the first ones in their family), Paul Harris & Nat Clare would go on to achieve doctorates – Paul Harris would emigrate to New Zealand were he was a public figure and well-regarded economist, and Pete would become Pro-Vice Chancellor of MMU and, later, the University of Central Lancashire. Les Smith would go to Lancaster University. become involved in the alternative theatre movement and eventually become a famous playwright. ‘Enry Heap, a photographer, would go on to become a hero of the animal rights movement with his undercover exposes of the excesses of the meat industry. Others would go into teaching, social work and/or the Arts.
Paul Blackburn went into union work, became a North-West regional organiser and won a TUC scholarship to Oxford University. Later he would be involved in the Leigh Alternative Media Project (LAMP). He married Stephine Astin and they (particularly Stephanie) would be involved in the struggle to successfully save the Socialist Club from financial ruin. Paul then became a computer programmer, later, becoming a regional software manager in Fujitsu. He would also start and run, with Nat & Gill Clare, ‘Friday Live’, a monthly cabaret at the Octagon theatre which in turn led to TV appearances for Nat and Paul on, amongst others, the notorious ‘Word’ programme.