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The Madonna of Bolton

The Madonna of Bolton

Whether it’s Into The Groove, Ray of Light or Hung Up, it is likely that a Madonna tune has featured in the soundtrack of your life.  So when a book like Matt Cain’s coming out epic The Madonna of Bolton comes along, it is a joy to read.

Cain hasn’t just written a wonderful story of a young northern lad’s journey to self-enlightenment, he’s set a precedent for LGBT writers everywhere, but more on that later. I was lucky enough to have a good old chinwag with Cain about all things Madonna as well as the small matter of his impending book release which he is understandably, very excited about.

“It’s about a young boy growing up in the 1980s in a working class town in the North West who has a hard time in life because he’s gay and the people around him don’t accept that and reject him for it” explains Cain “He clings onto Madonna as a spirit guide. Then when he grows up and moves away he gradually realises that he has to let go of his dependence in order to find his own voice and become the person he’s meant to be”.

The contents of the book read like the ultimate Queen of Pop Spotify playlist. “Each chapter is a Madonna song, I wanted it to look a bit like a prayer book, the message being in this modern world in which we no longer look to gods and saints for spiritual guidance, we’ve started to look at icons of popular culture”. 

Cain grew up in (yes you guessed) Bolton before leaping onto an unsuspecting world and taking the London media world by storm, you may have seen him on your screen and you will definitely know him from his stint at the helm of Attitude magazine. I wondered how much of the book is autobiographical. “A lot of it is, particularly the emotions and themes” he explains “I played with the timeline and cut characters who didn’t serve this particular story, for example I have an older sister and younger brother. But I did grow up in Bolton, I did have my mind blown by Manchester in the early 1990s, I did go to university in Cambridge and I did move to London to have a media career”. All of these his hero Charlie experiences but some details have been changed. “I lived in Manchester for a year after leaving university and I worked at Granada for a TV channel called Men and Motors, Manchester is really important to me, I think it’s the best city in the world”.

His commitment and belief in this book is both well-deserved and infectious but that’s not surprising considering the uphill battle he has experienced in getting these pages to us. Although he has authored two books previously, this was the first one he wrote way back in 2006. “Between 2008 and 2018 I worked with three agents who submitted it to over thirty publishers who all said no. They said that the mainstream would not be able to connect with a gay central character”. 

Luckily Cain was a bit like his heroine in that he wouldn’t take no for an answer and amid much fanfare last autumn, approached crowdfunding supremos, Unbound. “I told them I wanted to do it in record time and cause a stir and we did, it was funded in seven days” he proclaims valiantly “We got everyone from Mark Gatiss to Gok Wan to Russell T Davies supporting the book.” 

This is a crucial step toward LGBT contributions being recognised across all of the arts and many eyes will be on how well the book does in the coming weeks. Recently it was announced that a film deal has been made for the book and before that could go ahead, a certain Queen of Pop had to be consulted. “I did get an email from her office saying “You have Madonna’s blessing for the project”, I’d love to say she read it but I have no idea if she’s even seen it”. 

All this furore shouldn’t detract from the fact that book is an immensely enjoyable read. The reader is rooting for Charlie at every step of his life journey but there are dark moments along the way which will sadly mean too much for many of us who have experienced bullying. It continues to be a huge issue for the LGBT community albeit in a different form. 

“People talk about bullying now and people can come forward and get support which is great. But at the same time the word has been overused so that it has lost some of its power.” 

“People claim they are being bullied when they have had one bad experience” says Cain “There is a huge difference between that and relentless, merciless persecution that somebody is subjected to by everyone around them. That is what this book is about. Yes it’s about growing up gay, yes it’s about the power of popular culture but more than anything else the subject matter of the book is bullying and how it marks somebody and shapes who they are for the rest of their lives. It is very hard to come forward when you’re being homophobically bullied because some of the insults that people are saying to you, you don’t want to draw attention to. If you don’t want questions being raised about your sexuality, then you can’t”. 

The release of the book has been brought forward to coincide with Madonna’s impending 60th birthday in August which will put the singer at the forefront of everyone’s minds once again. It is true to say that although she is the ultimate survivor, Madonna is copping a lot of flak at the moment, whether in our illustrious press or on social media but maybe surprisingly the LGBT community appear to have turned on her as well. I wondered how Cain felt about this. 

“For those who actively dislike Madonna, particularly gay men, I would say that they have no idea of the woman’s cultural significance. In the 80s we were widely portrayed in the mainstream media as dangerous, disease carrying, sexual predators, people like Boy George, George Michael, Freddie Mercury and Elton John would not come out because it would have been death for their careers. Madonna was flaunting her gay friends, collaborators, her brother and dancers. She was doing AIDS benefits concerts from the mid-80s onwards. In 1989 in the Like A Prayer album she had a leaflet with a personal message saying everybody, regardless of their sexuality, who is infected with AIDS deserves to be treated with compassion and respect”. 

It shows it is easy to forget the impact Madonna has and continues to have “I would say watch In Bed With Madonna and her relationship with her dancers, realise that when you were seeing a French kiss between two men in close up in multiplexes, this was the first time anyone had seen such a thing. Watch the promo interviews from that time when she is accused of being irresponsible trying to promote homosexuality, she fiercely defends us and absolutely lays into her interviewers”. 

It’s not just Madonna that has a supporting role in this story, even our little street makes an appearance as Charlie experiences the gay scene for the first time. “The scene in the book which is to the song Vogue where Charlie gets the train from Bolton for his first night on the gay scene in Manchester is one of the most autobiographical in there. I tried to capture that moment in a gay man’s life. Making your debut on the gay scene is crucial and can be exciting and thrilling, terrifying, slightly repulsing because that’s how I’d been made to feel and I was also turned on. I wanted all of these things to come into that scene. The first time I went to Manchester and experienced that, it completely blew me away. I still get tingles of excitement when I walk down Canal St now”.

So how well does Matt know his icon? I had to put his knowledge to the test and I have to say, the thinking time was non-existent for his answers.

1.Which Hollywood star was a consultant on the Girlie Show?

Gene Kelly

2.Which music video set did she meet Sean Penn?

Material Girl

3.Name four cities she has lived in?

Miami, New York, London, Los Angeles

4.Which song got into the UK top 10 three times?


5 Can you name the hotel the video for Bitch I’m Madonna was filmed in?

You’ve got me but I did have a scene in the hotel where she filmed the video Justify My Love I did have a scene set in there when he went in the footsteps of his idol but I cut it. (Half a point – it was The Standard in NYC)

4.5/5 – Impressive. 

If that isn’t enough for you, why not see Mr Cain at Waterstones on Deansgate on Friday 13th July at 6.30, details below

If you believe that music makes the people come together, hit the official afterparty at Joshua Brooks

The Madonna of Bolton is out on 12 July and available from anywhere that sells decent books. 

By Chris Park for Canal St Online.

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Published: 12-Jul-2018 Top Stories

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