Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ramsbottom Festival 2014 preview

Summer has gone from the Pennine Hills. Stepping out of the door in the morning, you can see your breath. The blackberries have just gone past ripe and the woods are rich with the smell of dying leaves. All are sure signs that Ramsbottom Festival must be just around the corner, and here it comes right on schedule, the weekend of September 19-21 at Ramsbottom Cricket Club. It's always a friendly festival and a very good time, and luckily for me it's within stumbling distance of my house.

The big news this year is that they've added another stage, so we can all get more music in. What's on the lineup then? Topping the bill on Friday it's The Levellers, veterans of many a festival. Bet they've got some stories.

Saturday's headliner is epic indie outfit British Sea Power, one of those bands whose name perfectly fits their music, and always conjures up images of Sellafield under stormy skies. Hopefully the heavens will open and give us some driving rain during their set for added effect (I'm only kidding. Oh god, watch it rain now and everyone blame me.)

Sunday's traditionally the big day for folk, so it's a bit of a surprise that closing out the festival action is 1980s/90s R&B superstars Soul II Soul.

Lower down on Friday's billing you'll find Jimi Goodwin, frontman of Manc indie outfit Doves. His first solo album is out on Heavenly:

Also on Friday, Colne husband-and-wife band Bird to Beast do retro-inflected folky poppy stuff.

Scottish folk pop band Admiral Fallow are back again, on Saturday:

Sunday things get seriously folky with Irish singer Cara Dillon:

Also on Sunday: ultralocal (think they live in Ramsbottom?) band A Harp and a Monkey:

But of course that's just the music. With kids' day tickets from just £6, there's plenty in the way of arty amusement for  small members of your party, with performers including Artful Playground, Pif-Paf theatre company and a folklore-inspired shadowplay installation from events wizards Walk The Plank. This is a festival that always takes its beer very seriously, and this year it's going to be provided by Silver Street Brewing Company and Bury's Own Outstanding Beers, with the usual array of good street food. And if we're really lucky, we'll see that guy in the stripey jumper with the stripey-painted face dancing barefoot through the puddles. I love that guy. See you there.

Day tickets from £24, weekend tickets £66. They're laying on buses from Manchester and Chorlton, or take the East Lancs Railway steam train. Full info and tickets on the Ramsbottom Festival website.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wild swim at Gaddings Dam, Todmorden

On the website of the Gaddings Dam Group they describe the path to Gaddings Dam as “a steep, poorly defined footpath.” This doesn’t really get across the effort involved here or give you any indication of exactly how long it will take someone to hike up to the dam while toting an overstretched old carrier bag full of buckets and spades and jollying understandably hesitant three and six-year-old girls up what is definitely the biggest hill they’ve ever climbed. The answer: approximately 30 minutes. At the top be sure to point out your car which is now a tiny speck, parked outside the Shepherd’s Rest pub (not great, nice play area.) Pack a picnic and whatever else you think you’ll need because there's nothing but water and rocks and bleakness up there.

Gaddings Dam is billed as the highest beach in England. This is kind of a joke, but there’s enough sand to amuse a bunch of children and provide a soft place to sit in what would otherwise be a rocky, inhospitable moorland setting. The dam is a stone bowl of cold, clear, black water at the top of the moors. An industrial reservoir built in the early 19th Century, it was purchased in 2001 by a collective who preserve it to be enjoyed by the people of Todmorden and the surrounding towns. When you dive in the water actually smells like ozone, like the sidewalk after a summer thunderstorm, and it brings home the fact that you’re swimming in rainwater that’s probably closer to its original source than anywhere you’ve ever swum before.

On a hot sunny day in June the water was plenty warm enough to go without a wetsuit, but I pretty much always think that and am aware that other people have different ideas about what is and isn’t too cold. The reservoir is a very quiet place – all you can hear is the occasional bleat from a lamb somewhere on the fells and the soft lap of water against the stone. There are cows actually standing in the water at the far end, but at 4 square acres it’s a pretty big body of water, so don’t let that faze you. After you’ve swum, be sure to allow some time for lying in the long grass in the adjacent meadow and gazing in awe at the incredible views dropping down across the Calder Valley – cloud shadows and green hills and pastures disappearing into the haze. Weirdly, dam base camp is accessible by public transport, though with one bus an hour heading up Lumbutts Road it’d require crack timing. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 09, 2014

First Draft and Next Draft

First Draft is good. It's a Manchester-based cabaret event, with people performing music, poetry, stories, comic monologues and short plays on the same stage. Great idea that. One format nights are all very well, but for those audience members with shorter attention spans (hand going up) changing up the kind of work being performed can really help keep things engaging. Your brain does sometimes start to wander a bit after the fifth flash fictioneer takes the stage, or the seventh slam poet, no matter how fantastic they might individually be, and that's only natural.

The idea is that this really is the first place to perform stuff that's still very fresh, so there's an off-the-cuff, low-risk feeling about it that can be quite freeing. The organisers (including the lovely Abi Hynes, above) work very hard putting the regular night together, and they really took on a big project with last month's Next Draft: a two-day event at the King's Arms produced with Studio Salford, aimed at giving past performers a chance to perform works that were a bit further along in its development.

I went along and enjoyed Jez Hewes and Andrew Williamson's daft mashup of three songs, a lovely nonfiction essay from Nija Dalal, a funny performance from Anjali Shah, a cheesy story from Fat Roland and Faro Productions' one-woman play about the fascinating Mata Hari. Unfortunately I had to leave before the second half so missed out on Papermash Theatre’s Happy Birthday Without You, from playwright and performer Sonia Jalaly. But they're back to their bi-monthly-ish slot at The Castle next Monday night with a fresh batch of performers ready to rise to the Empyrean heights of the challenge set by the theme 'Songs of Praise.' Come along, or get in touch if you're interested in performing here, the next one's in August.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Writing and blogging workshops at Manchester Central Library

Just a quick one to say that we at writing organisation Openstories have just announced a new series of workshops aimed at emerging writers and bloggers looking to brush up on their skills and try new things. Held at the new and improved Manchester Central Library in June and July, you can take part in sessions on:

  • Making your blog or writing website look good with tech wizard Chris Horkan (17 June)
  • Marketing your writing with poet Jo Bell (24 June)
  • Re-invigorating your blog with ME (1 July)
  • New approaches to creative writing with writer Steve Dearden (8 July)
For full info on the workshop leaders, what you'll actually learn at the sessions and the rest of the whys and wherefores head to the Library Live site, where you can also see other cool stuff happening at the library. All of the above sessions will be held on Tuesday evenings at the Library from 6-8pm and will cost £7 per place. Places are limited so if you're interested get over to our Eventbrite page and book yourself on.

Image courtesy Greater Manchester Transport

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Short Short Story Slam (and why you should go see live literature in Manchester)

So. Manchester’s live literature scene, something happened to it while I was hibernating. It got awesome.

Last night was Flashtag Collective’s Short Short Story Slam at Gullivers. I’d heard great things about last year’s slam in Didsbury, but I wasn’t really prepared for the quality of the readings. Eleven writers all giving it their best shots, and there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Standouts for me included Mark Powell’s surreal hijinks with Scoob and the gang, Mark Mace Smith’s deceptively simple stories, Joy France’s brilliantly filthy opener and runner-up Joe Daly’s bleak closer, which proved you don’t always have to go for the laughs. But there could be only one winner and Simon Sylvester was it with his strange, tightly crafted fictions and what was really a very fetching hat.

Much respect to these writers. It’s fucking terrifying reading your work before a live audience as it is, but to do so knowing that your story will be instantly judged right in front of you, that you will be either the winner or the loser... sheesh. And the Flashtag team were experts at wringing the maximum entertainment from the experience while also maintaining a friendly and supportive vibe throughout. It’s great to hear that they’re thinking of doing this every few months – judging by the big crowd last night it could do very well indeed.

But there's more. Next week, the ever-brilliant Bad Language is at The Castle next Wednesday, April 30 with Luke Brown headlining. Effed Up comes to The Castle on Sunday May 4 with a theme of outsiders’ views of Britain. Cabaret night First Draft is cooking up a special two-day showcase, Next Draft, at The King’s Arms on 5 & 6 May. Open mic  Evidently holds court at The Eagle in Salford every second Monday, storytelling night Tales of Whatever is at Gullivers every month…oh, I could go on. But you get the picture: it’s happening. Get in there.

Image courtesy of Flashtag.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A rant about girls and sport in Britain.

My daughter was in reception when we got the flyer about football sessions on Saturday mornings in the park. I got excited; my eldest daughter loves running around outside and has a competitive streak, this would be perfect for her. We bought tiny shin guards. We turned up, with a couple of her (girl) friends and their mums. Everyone else there, including the instructors, was male.

Molly did one session and told me she wasn’t going back. Neither of the other girls wanted to stick with it, either. It’s possible they just didn’t enjoy it, which is fair enough. But I’m pretty sure that at least some of their reluctance came from the message they picked up loud and clear beneath our encouraging pep talks: this was not the place for them. Where were the girls? Girls spent Saturday mornings swathed in pink, twirling in a ballet class, or maybe in gymnastics. But not on a muddy pitch running about with boys.

While I was writing this, my three year old daughter came up to ask for a cuddle. I gathered her up, kissed her peanut butter-smudged face, and asked: “Bell, do you think you might like to try playing football when you’re at school?”

“No,” she said immediately.

“Why not?”

She gave me an apologetic smile. “It’s for boys.”

When I was a girl I played soccer with girls and boys. I played baseball (see above) and pickup ice hockey, spent afternoons shooting baskets and roller skating. I grew up in America, in the golden age of Title 9, and I enjoyed sports, though I wasn’t good at them or considered “athletic.” In high school, I became one of the arty kids with too many rehearsals after school to go out for the cross country team, which I still regret. But in college, I rediscovered sports, playing intramural women’s soccer very badly but with great gusto. Since then, I’ve been as active as time allows, running and doing excercise classes. I do miss those things you only get from competitive team sports – the companionship, the spirit and the collective drive to win.

For girls to feel comfortable doing sport, they need to be shown that it is theirs as well – and if it takes girls-only football clubs, then that’s what we should give them. So I ask. There is some funding available for girls’ football clubs, I am told by one of the organisers of the boys’ sessions, but no girls seem interested. No one is bothering to try and get them interested, I point out. I offer to hand out flyers at the local schools for a girls-only session and help out with organising, but I am politely rebuffed. I live in Bury, where Sport England is spending £2.3 million on a big campaign, I Will if You Will, aimed at getting women active, and it’s fantastic to see all that’s on offer for us. But if girls don’t learn to love sport when they are young, teaching them to be active as adults will remain an uphill battle.

I feel bad for Sport and Equality Minister Helen Grant, who responded to a question that reflected some unappetising but very real pre-conceptions about sport, and promptly had her head bitten off, with commentators up and down the land quoting her out of context. It’s facetious to pretend that there isn’t something very wrong with women’s sport in this country, whether you like it or not.

But it’s a very welcome conversation to be having, the columnists say – maybe now people will start taking women’s sport seriously in Britain. Yeah, okay. Maybe now, they said, every time a women’s football or cricket team did well in international competition. Maybe now, they said, when female athletes won 22 medals for Team GB at London 2012.  Maybe now, they’re saying at this very moment, as women have won three quarters of the medals at Sochi.

While we wait, another generation of girls is learning that football is for boys. Another generation of girls is learning to value their bodies only for their visual appeal, not for their strength. Another generation of girls is growing up without learning the pleasures of physical activity, without building habits that will prolong their lives. Another generation of British girls is growing into women who will buy pretty pink ballet outfits for their little girls and football shoes for their little boys.

Apparently, it’s already too late for my daughters.

Friday, January 31, 2014

News flash: I am not cool

I am a fraud. I am misrepresenting myself, living a double life, guilty of perpetrating an online persona that is more than a little out of whack with reality. Actually, there is a gulf so big between the two things that you could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through it. But it’s so easy now, isn’t it? We all have these virtual aliases, a pocket full of glossy digital incarnations which only resemble our real selves if you squint really hard.

Writing about ‘what’s on’ is a young person’s game. Look at the Guardian Guide, with its slavish devotion to niche musicians you’ve never heard of and easy way with slang so laughably unfamiliar you suspect they’ve invented it (also see: The Skinny.) These publications are written by actual young people who care intensely about these things, with a few good fakers trying to hide in the back. And they should be. They know what they are talking about.

When I started this blog, I was young. I had just arrived in this city and was on a mission to map Manchester’s every hidden hangout, coolest surprise, weirdest place. I stayed up all night, so many nights, dancing around rusty machinery in an old cotton mill and then tumbling out into the bleak Mancunian dawn. I saw every important movie on release and plenty of not-remotely-important ones too. I had an insatiable appetite for new music, could go to three or four gigs in a week, and I didn’t even care if there was comfortable seating. Theatre press nights, restaurant launches, readings, art exhibition openings – any occasion attracting the same dubious band of Manc bohemians conjured, as if by magic, with the sound of the cork popping on a bottle of Barefoot (hey guys) – I was there, talking and swigging free horrible wine and going on to the pub to drink and argue and laugh some more, while smoking approximately 46 fags at once. But that was almost ten years ago. Much shit has happened.

So here’s my confession: I am not young. I am not cool, if ever I was. I am not urban. My finger isn’t exactly on the pulse. I listen to Radio 3 just as often as I listen to 6Music. I’m 40 years old, with two children who aren’t even babies anymore. I don’t really drink, and never do drugs or smoke anymore. I go to bed before 10, and get up at 6:30. If it's not on television before 10, I'm not going to see it until I grudgingly shell out for a secondhand box set years after everyone stopped talking about it. I watch Countryfile while wearing fleece (mostly for the excellent, in-depth weather report. But still.) Getting me to leave my house in the farthest reaches of exurbia on a January night, even for a trip down to the pub on the corner with some mates I adore, is like chiselling a barnacle off a rock.

The irony is, now that I’m settled in the hills, I get invited to everything. In UK blog years, Manchizzle (est. 2005) is like the Domesday Book, so I am on every PR list in creation. And then there’s the fact that my day job is also writing about interesting things to do and see and eat in Manchester. So for the past couple of years, the old/reclusive thing, plus the fact that I get paid to write Manchizzle posts for a living (just not here), has meant that I haven’t had much to say on this blog.

I feel like a fraud writing posts like this last one. Because those events were all genuinely enticing ways to spend an evening and I desperately wanted to go to each one of them. Just not as much as I wanted to sit in my perilously cosy red armchair and reread Gaudy Night for the 17th time. I didn’t go to them, and I knew I wouldn’t when I wrote that. But I still wrote about them, so that maybe you could go to them, if you wanted to. But there might be less of that on here for a while.

I’m not saying culture is only for the young. Hell no! It’s just that I’m hunkered down for the winter, and going through a hermitty time in my life, so it seems fake and distasteful to write a blog that doesn’t reflect that. I have no desire to break up with the 'chizz, and I miss blogging more often. So this blog may increasingly not do what it says on the tin.

How exciting.

Image: Guilherme Kardel via Flickr.