Fifty years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the world’s first spaceman, and after circumnavigating planet Earth on April 12th 1961 he was dubbed ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ by the USSR premier, Nikita Kruschev. He gained instant worldwide fame, and later that year made a more conventional circuit of the globe, starting out in the UK.
Interviewed in July 1961 at the Russia exhibition in Earl’s Court, London he told BBC TV he was not nervous during his inaugural flight. ‘Can you really honestly say you did not have butterflies in the tummy before you started?’ asked broadcast journalist Richard Dimbleby. ‘Yes I assure you there were no butterflies, moths or anything else in my stomach’, he replied, with a disarming smile.
But before he captivated the world via British TV in London, Colonel Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin had thrilled cheering crowds in the Northern city of Manchester, England. Invited by the Manchester branch of the Amalgamated Foundry Workers Union – and Gagarin was once a foundry worker at the Lyubertsy Steel Plant in Moscow – he assented, presumably in solidarity, and to the absolute joy of the local population.
The Macmillan Government then extended the invitation to London, having seen the extent of his popularity, and thus adding an extra few days to the planned tour, which included a visit to the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery, London. As it was the middle of the Cold War, London was distinctly lukewarm until spurred on by the people of Manchester. Apparently Harold Macmillan was heard to mutter, on being informed of the popularity of the cosmonaut up North - 'There would have been twice the number if they had sent the dog.'
25,000 Manchester factory workers – as well as children and smitten young women, who chased after his open top Rolls Royce, embellished with the number plate YG 1 - turned out to cheer him on. The Cold War recieved a boost of hot air when Manchester Town Hall flew the flag of the Soviet Union, and as his entourage approached, the National Anthem of the USSR was played to the crowds.
On Pathe News in a BBC broadcast entitled 'Hail, Gagarin' the voice over states - 'Downpour notwithstanding, Manchester left Yuri Gagarin in no doubt that the great city had never had a more welcome visitor'. In the true spirit of Manchester, it was raining hard, but still Gagarin insisted that the top of the Rolls remain open so he could have the same experience as everyone else. As one Manchester citizen remembers - 'He was a real man of the people'.
In that crowd was the young Mancunian, Dave Formula, keyboard virtuoso and founder member of iconic 80s Manchester band, Magazine. His striking childhood memory of going with his mam to stand outside the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers in Brook’s Bar, to welcome the arrival of Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin has inspired his solo music collection ’Satellite Sweetheart’.
A gorgeous amalgam of jazz, blues, dub and soul music, and featuring original members of Magazine, as well as guest artists, this is a glorious tribute to the Russian cosmonaut who once charmed the people of Manchester, as well as a lovely reflection of this cool Northern town (which also happens to be my home town!) in the swinging sixties. The first track ‘Elvis In Space’ reflects the impossible glamour of Gagarin. Tinged with stardust, he must have seemed as exotic to the earthbound citizens of Manchester as would any average arrival to Moss Side, fresh from Outer Space.
Yuri Gagarin died in a plane crash in 1968 – just one year before the US space program landed a man on the moon. His flight around the globe inspired human exploration of space, as before he circumnavigated the Earth the only living being to enter space was Laika, a Russian dog in Sputnik 2, in 1957. Though she became a national Russian heroine, she died before the flight ended, though Russian children were told she had made it back alive and well. Undeterred, Gagarin took flight – leaving the butterflies – and the moths – behind him.
His heroic journey also inspired a fabulous musical heritage - from Elton John's 'Rocket Man' to David Bowie's 'Ziggie Stardust' and 'Major Tom' - right up to the 21st Century, and Dave Formula's 'Elvis in Space'.
Satellite Sweetheart Amazon US
Satellite Sweetheart Amazon UK
Eileen O'Sullivan highly recommends this music collection which she bought herself from Amazon UK