Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy holidays from Manchizzle

Merry Christmas everyone. See you in 2010!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mad Lab, Good Grief! and the SF Panorama

I was in the Manchester Digital Laboratory, better known as Mad Lab, for the first time the other day and I urge alert readers to add it to your map of good places in Manchester. It's on Edge Street across from Common. What is it? Well...

It’s a space you can get together with like-minded individuals and work on your urban gardening, crochet, hacking, programming, media arts, filmmaking, animating project without worrying that you’re in a library, coffee shop, pub or other unsuitable venue. We know hackers and craftspeople need work space and may need to get down and dirty – we also know sometimes you need a quiet area to present and show works to your peers. We support both activities. And we hope there will be a rich mix of individuals who’ll get out of the usual zones, the knitter talking to the software architect, the cupcake maker scheming with the laser etching builder. We know some good will come of this.

I think some good things are definitely going to come out of the Mad Lab. Also, a lot of robots. It's available for meetings, meet-ups, and dastardly plotting of all kinds, so keep it in mind.

I was in the Mad Lab to talk about the Manchester aggregator project I posted about recently. Many folks let me know they were interested in hearing more, contributing or being involved. This is an open, blogger-led project that is still evolving and if you want to see what we're talking about, join the conversation or just lurk in a shadowy manner visit the Manchester Aggregator group on the Social Media Manchester Ning page. You can also look out for twitter posts tagged #managg

In other unconventional newspaper news, McSweeney's only went and published their latest edition of the literary mag as a broadsheet, The San Francisco Panorama, that people could buy from Bay Area newstands (which sold out in about ten minutes flat. You can order it from McSweeney's in the states, but I can't seem to find anywhere selling McSweeney's no. 33 in the UK. You listening, Santa?) In addition to championing a beleagured format the paper features 16 colour pages of comics from the likes of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Art Spiegelman. If we could get the broadsheets in this country to publish 16 colour pages of comics regularly the UK would be a better place. Or even four pages. But a few months back The Guardian axed the wonderful comic they were publishing on Saturdays. Boo.

To read more about the Panorama head over to Flavorpill's Flavorwire where there's an interview with Oscar Villalon, McSweeney’s publisher, originally sent out in their excellent weekly book email, Boldtype. Pictures via Tonx, who has a good post about it too.

I might head over here and see if they have it:

Yes, new shop Good Grief! brings a bulging sack full of art book, zine and comic goodness to a hut on the third floor of Affleck's Palace. Also music, and posters, and music posters. I am very excited about this. We could really use more places in town to buy this kind of stuff. At the moment there seems to be an amazing bounty of illustrators and comics in Manchester doing weird and wonderful work that it can be absurdly tricky to get ahold of. Keep up with the Good Grief! gang on their amusing blog here. Thanks for the tip Kate Taylor.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Newspapers and blogs

Nobody hates blogs more than journalists. Blogs drive the less digitally-savvy journos and media industry guys crazy (and not just because we are helping to put them out of work). They gripe about bloggers having no accountability, no transparency. There is no tough editor peering over the blogger's shoulder and demanding they back up the claim they make in the second paragraph, no sub dutifully fact-checking their copy, no time-honoured professional code of conduct preventing them from writing good things about their mates or slating the work of people they don't like.

And what exactly are the blogger's credentials? This is what really rankles: Bloggers haven't been carefully selected for their role as critic or commentator by a respected news organisation, required to demonstrate writing prowess and reporting nous. They haven't stubbornly worked their way up the ladder in profession that, while incredibly competitive and often grueling, pays poorly. In short, they've jumped the queue. They're not professionals, they're bloody amateurs. And people are listening to them!

I've been both a newspaper journalist and a blogger, and have been thinking a lot lately about the overlapping ground between these roles, and the antagonism and competition that exists between the two camps in what is shaping up to be the golden age of citizen journalism. Down south, the arrival of theblogpaper has attracted attention. Closer to home, I'm meeting up with some folks tonight to discuss an aggregator project for Manchester bloggers that I suspect will share some of the aims of theblogpaper.

It's early days and I'm not sure what will come of it, but it's encouraging that people are interested. I've been beating the "we need an aggregator" drum since the original Manchester Aggregator, a one-man volunteer operation, died a few years back (and in case you've never met an aggregator before, it's a website that pulls in the posts of multiple bloggers via feeds and publishes them in one place).

But first: theblogpaper.

The all-lowercase name evokes the recently departed thelondonpaper and gives notice of the venture's designs on the freesheet market, but on this front theblogpaper is guilty of putting out mixed messages. They say "we aim to combine two different yet equally important types of media: internet and print." Yet they "promote contents to print" by voting; the top rated stories get published in a London paper edition. What's with the inferiority complex? These days, putting online content into print is more of a demotion than a promotion (and I say this as someone who will let you take away my morning newspaper when you tear it out of my cold, dead hands).

If you're interested there's some more background info on theblogpaper here. I'm not sure if it will succeed or not. The main problem is content: I think there is some truth to the assessment this t5m blogger makes of it (though as a competitor his views should possibly be taken with a few grains of salt). And there are some things I don't understand about their model. Why do they require contributors to submit articles rather than automatically pulling registered bloggers' posts from their sites aggregator-style?

Having to submit articles places more of a burden on participating bloggers, and the site already asks a lot of their community as they need people to vote on what articles to "promote". I understand the model's allure as it is both democratic and time saving. The readers are the selectors, so you don't need editors. But it's a big gamble - I think any new venture that leans too heavily on user participation via voting and liking is on shaky ground unless they have a gargantuan publicity budget.

I see they are selling advertising. Not sure if this will work. It didn't for theblogpaper's predecessor The Printed Blog. In the US big-name blogs command hefty rates. Over here, the only blogs I've seen ads on are the newspaper blogs and the blogs of Gawker's UK copycat Shiny Media, and they certainly haven't found a model that's immune to the problems of the print sector. I like the model where blogs with an established following band together and sell ad space a la The Deck, but I'm not sure local advertisers would go for it, or whether the amount of traffic UK local blogs get (at best, a couple hundred hits a day, I'm guessing) would make this a viable idea, even with the ad display replicated over several blogs.

I wish theblogpaper well and will be delighted if it succeeds; it's still in beta phase and hopefully whatever doesn't work will be dealt with soon. But whether it's this project or not, I think it's only a matter of time before something blog-sourced makes a go of it in the UK. Newspapers are in free fall. There is a content vacuum, and bloggers stand ready to fill it. In some cases, you could say they are already filling it.

Take Manchester as an example. The content of our daily newspaper, such as it is (sigh) has dwindled in terms of both quality and quantity; they've shrunk pages and offloaded experienced (and incidentally, better-paid) journalists in favor of unpaid and exploited rookie journos. No print mag has gotten very far off the ground since Citylife folded; Time Out looked at coming in and decided it wouldn't be profitable enough, I'm guessing. So on the print side, we've got a handful of well-intentioned zines, one or two property circulars masquerading as "lifestyle magazines", and the fresh-faced new culture and listings magazine that seems to arrive with a bang every six months or so and disappear with a whimper a few months later. I wish one would stick but they keep not sticking.

Online, things are buzzier. Manchester's cultural institutions have gone into the content business themselves, setting up their own web magazine (and making a damn fine job of it, says this admittedly very biased contributor) and turning to bloggers to review their exhibitions and plays. In this city, at least, bloggers really are the new press. Manchester Confidential's recent decision to start charging for content in the new year prompted an interesting debate (also here) with some asking "why would people pay for content they can get for free elsewhere?"

It's good that bloggers are getting more attention here. And I think a group endeavour that would unite the best of our content in one place would be good for everyone: readers, writers, cultural and civic institutions. But Manchester bloggers will have to step up our game if we want to be taken seriously (though some couldn't give a rat's ass about being taken seriously, and more power to them). We aren't professionals, but I think maybe we ought to hold ourselves to more professional standards. What does this mean? Well, for starters...
  • If you get press tickets, actually write about the thing
  • Be transparent: if you get free meals, free drinks or free gear say so in your post
  • Be independent and dispassionate, don't allow freebies to influence what you write
  • Get permission to use copyrighted photos instead of thieving them fecklessly
  • Attribute. Use links to other blogs/sites generously; credit where credit's due.
  • Be respectful of readers who disagree; publish and respond to critical comments
  • Be as accurate as you can. Sloppy mistakes erode your credibility
  • Correct mistakes quickly and prominently
  • And fer chrissakes, spell check your posts.
Hmm... I have a feeling I may come to regret posting this list. All nitpicking comments taking issue with my grammar, spelling, photo crediting, accuracy or legitimate parentage gratefully received ;) Anyway, I'll keep you lot posted on the MCR aggregator project. If anyone wants to be more actively involved, please get in touch.

Blog picture via Tubuans and Dukduks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'My log has something to tell you'

Twin Peaks. The drama. The flannel. The unearthly blend of mawkish and surreal that could only come from the dark, dark mind of one David Lynch. And, of course, the pie.

I'm not sure exactly how watching the weekly adventures of The Bookhouse Boys, Agent Dale Cooper, the Log Lady and the rest of the gang as an adolescent warped my mind, but I think it was in a good way. Nobody's ever figured out how the TV execs agreed to let Lynch loose on prime time, but thank god they did. The first season is some of the best TV ever. The second season... well, really, it's kind of a mess but still miles more interesting and original than 99 percent of the crap on television.

If you've always secretly longed to don Laura Palmer's prom dress, you're in luck: Islington Mill in Salford will be turned into the town of Twin Peaks for one night only on Sunday Dec 13. Come in character. There will be a Miss Twin Peaks 2009 pageant, live music, performances and djs. £11 (advance only here, limited capacity) gets you in with a slice of cherry pie.

I'm also going t'mill tonight to catch the amazing Mayming and World Sanguine Report. Some really great gigs coming up there.

Club Brenda, the big hearted club night renowned for its eclectic playlist, is the subject of a limited edition book. Strange Trees. The book is getting a proper DJ-assisted launch Dec 1 at Urbis 7:30-10 (free entry). The book "moves through the history of Club Brenda, using a series of classic narratives to form a dark urban fairytale, alongside a series of commissioned photography and artwork" from the likes of Rachel Goodyear and David Hoyle, who will also be selling art on the night. Enjoy your Urbis while you can, kids.

And closer to home (well, for me and those of us who live in the farthest reaches of North Manchester, much further for everyone else) Horse & Bamboo's Deep Time Cabaret comes to the Boo in Waterfoot on Saturday, 28 November. Looks like fun.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Just wanted to say that I'm doing some long-overdue maintenance of the creaky old blogroll at the moment. Wow, is that thing dirty. I've rolled up my sleeves and added a long list of new literary blogs today, but that's really just the start. There are scores of new blogs to add and a few nasty defunct blogs to de-link.

Phew. This could take a while.

Anyway, if you want me to add your new (or old) blog, now's a good time to tell me.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

November in Manchester: Literary News

Well howdy. It's been a while, no? Now that the Literature Festival dust has settled, I'm here with a lot of long-overdue literary news things.

November in Manchester, an ambitious "social media love story" undertaken by Tom Mason, an SEO copywriter whose first love is creative writing, is now live. I spoke with Tom about it at Social Media Cafe and he told me how it works: he's written a story which is going to be published via characters' first-person tweets and blog posts (here are blogs for main characters James and Persephone.)

Readers can take part by sending in pics and films representing the characters and/or scenes they experience during November in Manchester (photo above is from their Flickr Group.) It's not really a collectively written story, more a collectively illustrated one that employs social media in its delivery. Interesting idea.

A wave to those intrepid Manchester writers furiously sprinting through National Novel Writing Month. Good luck, guys! In case anyone is just finding out about this excellent endeavour and doesn't want to wait another year to take part the folks who run it also do short story and script-centred projects throughout the year, so sign up to their list to find out about those.

Some news on the publications front:

Author, dreamblogger and literary Mancunian of note Nicholas Royle has started up independent publisher Nightjar Press, which got things rolling last month with chapbooks from Manchester writer Tom Fletcher (who writes a blog at Fell House) and Michael Marshall Smith.

Knives, Forks and Spoons press is now publishing poetry and organising readings, their next one features Simon Rennie, Alec Newman and John G. Hall and is at Central Library on Nov 26 at 6:30. The press was begun by Richard Barrett earlier this year and is being continued by Alec Newman. They live on Facebook here.

Lit zines The Shrieking Violet and Belle Vue (write up of it at The Mithering Times) both have fresh editions out, as does new-to-me zine Geeek and web journal The Manchester Review (now on twitter at @mancreview).

A new writing group is setting up shop at Nexus Art Cafe. Called Bad Language, it's being organised by Dan Carpenter. The first meeting was Nov 3 but as I didn't get around to posting about it til now, get in touch via Bad Language's twitter account or contact me and I'll pass on Dan's email.

And if anyone missed it, Manchester's butt-kicking literary scene gets a glowing write-up in the Guardian Books Blog by Jerome de Groot. Interesting debate in the comments on whether Manchester is tiresome about blowing its own horn. Maybe I see the original writer's point. Honestly, we've got a lot to brag about. I would say that, though. Mancs are known for being gobby, and Americans, well - we're not generally considered backward in coming forward.

What do you think? Should Manchester stop grandstanding? Answers on a postcard TO THE GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD, EVER please.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading, writing and listening

Ah, October. Plenty to blog about on here at the moment, but not much time to do it. That's because my blogging energies are currently divided between the Manchester Blog Awards blog and the reinvigorated Manchester Literature Festival blog (not forgetting Creative Tourist), with whatever's left trying feebly to keep up with the three Twitter accounts I seem to have acquired. Ain't social media grand?

Anyway, while I'm here, I'll stick in a reminder to come to the blog awards, which is on Wednesday Oct 21 at Band on the Wall. It's hard to pick other literature festival events to recommend as so many are enticing this year, but I'm looking forward to Eoin Colfer's And Another Thing launch tomorrow. Yep, that's the sequel to Douglas Adams revered Hitchiker's Guide series - I haven't read or heard any of it yet. But whatever the book's like, you've got to respect the man for voluntarily exposing himself to so much fanboy "how dare you step to The Master" bitching.

Then I'm going to catch the much-missed No Point in Not Being Friends Monday night at Matt and Phred's, and Tuesday is our Rainy City Stories Live tour. I wish I could go to the entire Short Weekend, but I have a scheduling conflict involving the other literature festival launching this week, the excellent Lancaster Litfest. If anyone's up that way next weekend I'm going to be reading my own writings at the launch of Flax's Mostly Truthful anthology of creative nonfiction, along with some Manchester blogfriends. I'm really excited because this is my first creative writing to be published since sixth grade. Yay! Anyway, it kicks off at 2pm in the Storey Auditorium on Saturday Oct 24 - info here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Vote for Jenn

Friends of the Manchizzle, please take a moment to vote for Jenn Ashworth in the Guardian's Not the Booker Awards. Her first novel A Kind of Intimacy has been shortlisted for this exciting new award.

Jenn is a fine lady. Few people know this, but during the Second World War she was part of an elite female spy unit that singlehandedly saved the French resistance. I know she might be uncomfortable bragging about things like this herself, so I'll tell you confidentially she's an accomplished accordion player and can beat the pants off anyone at five card stud. And the crazy part is, Jenn is resistant to many new strains of bacteria and may be able to cure swine flu by just breathing on you.

Okay, so I may have embroidered a bit there in the spirit of Jenn's fabulous blog Every Day I Lie a Little. One thing Jenn is for sure, though - a damn fine writer. So go vote for her in the Not the Bookers. It only takes a minute or two. But voting closes at noon tomorrow. Don't delay!

And remember, you can hear Jenn reading her work and talking about it too at the Manchester Blog Awards October 21.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Manchester Blog Awards shortlist announced

The shortlist for the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards is now available for your perusal on the MBA website.

I had a lot of fun picking this year's shortlist. As much as I try valiantly to keep up with blogs in the city, I was totally unprepared for the sheer number of new blogs out there - in many cases, of a very high quality indeed. It seems to me that people have really figured out what blogging is for and how to make it work. There were so many good blogs this year that I had to expand the shortlist to five in each category.

I'm especially happy about how many great newcomers there are in the city and neighbourhood category. We added this in 2008 after seeing an uptick in blogging about Manchester, but this really exploded this year. I love how all of these folks are offering up their own highly personal takes on different aspects of life in the city.

Perhaps this has something to do with the rise of hyperlocal content and citizen journalism. Maybe it's because we're losing local media outlets right and left, and bloggers are stepping in to fill the vaccum. Or maybe we're just lucky enough to have a healthy online community who enjoy Mancunian life so much they want to share it with people. I think it's probably a little bit of each. Long may it continue.

Another big trend this year: Mommyblogs ... erm, and Daddyblogs (congratulations Mr. Jones) Perhaps I should just call them "parenting blogs" and have done with it, but this sounds far too serious and worthy to me. I'll have to come up with something, though, because there are getting to be so many of these things that I'm going to have to add a new category on the blogroll soon. Some lovely writing on there. And a just-emerging trend: foodie blogs. Yes, we're finally getting more of these. Look for some additions to the blogroll soon.

Anyway, enough blathering from me, go and read the shortlist. And if anyone is wondering what happens next, or who will be choosing the winners, you can learn all about it over at the blog awards site. Winners will be announced at the all-singing, all-dancing blog awards evening at Band on the Wall October 21.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To Do: Homelife, food fest and blogger treats

The ever-changing Mancunian musical collective Homelife are launching their new album Exotic Interlude (out Oct 5 on Humble Soul) with a gig at Sacred Trinity on Friday. The band's latest incarnation has shrunk to founders Paddy Steer and Tony Burnside (pictured above). I've listened to the album and am really impressed with the new more mellow and folky sound emerging, but there's plenty there along the lines of their older sound, a ramshackle goody bag of surprising noise, tiki grooves and snatches of melody. This is sure to be a popular show as live Homelife appearances are rare as hen's teeth, so get in there.

Manchester bloggers are invited to join Havana rum for a shindig to launch their Havana Cultura twitter campaign/new mix CD at Cord on October 8th, preceding a Havana club night at Odder, which they will take you along to. And yes, they're handing out some booty in the form of CDs, photo books, drink mixers and free rum. Yo ho ho! If you're a blogger who's interested in attending email Krista AT theneonhub dotcom.

Any Manchester bloggers interested in covering the upcoming Conservative Party Conference should speedily contact Craig Elder (craig dot elder AT conservatives dot com) Don't think they'll be doling out free grog there, though. Oh, and in other digital gathering news, Social Media Cafe is back at The Northern, Tib Street on Tuesday October 6. FYI, I'm posting stuff like this here now but will likely move these blogger-relevant announcements over to the MCR Bloggers Facebook group, so sign up if you haven't already.

The Food and Drink Festival is set to yummify Manchester October 1-11. This year brings a brand new independent wine festival, foodie hubs at St. Ann's and Albert Squares, and all manner of special meals, food tours, talks and cocktail hours. They have a shiny new website too. Go forth and nosh.

At Urbis, 'Show & Tell' opens today and runs until Oct 12. It's an exhibition by the Urbis Creatives art collective. The exhibition will give the Urbis team a chance to show their work and tell the visitors about what they do outside of the creative environment of Urbis. It will comprise of many different disciplines from photography to illustration, painting and also projects the members are involved in such as community work and music events. For more information about the collective visit the website at www.urbiscreatives.org.

In other art happenings, the big Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism exhibition has opened at Manchester Art Gallery. And the famously difficult to please Jonathan Jones has called it "magical."Am going to this soon and will report back with a full review.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Oh, it's you. Hi. Just taking a break from reading blogs, which is making me crosseyed. I'll be doing a lot more of that as I compile the shortlist for this year's Manchester Blog Awards. An incredibly difficult task, given how many fantastic blogs there are this year. We had almost 200 nominations but not quite. That's loooads more than last year. I blame twitter and the flash new website. Anyway, look out for the shortlist in a week or so. Hopefully by then my vision will have returned to normal.

Some nice writeups of last week's blogmeet at Cord here and here. And here, which also comes with an excellent bonus poem at no additional charge. About 30 intrepid souls came out, many of them new faces. Thanks for coming, guys. It was fun. And thanks again to the extra-fancy Creative Tourist for sponsoring the event. It looks like we may have a sponsor on board for a blogmeet in November already. I'll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MLF seeks bloggers and tweeters

Next month's Manchester Literature Festival has plenty of treats in store, and if you're willing to write reviews for their blog or help run their twitter feed you might be able to get to see some events for free.

Last year's MLF blogging project was very popular and I'm happy to be helping organise it again. I'm really glad MLF has gotten behind this - it's great to see a Manchester cultural organisation making a serious effort to involve bloggers in what they do and engage with them in a more organised way instead of just banging out press releases.

So this is the way it works: Bloggers can choose a few festival events they'd like to attend and write a review of for the MLF blog. MLF will then commission some bloggers to review an event or two in exchange for free admission. Bloggers will need to be able to write and send in the review relatively quickly after the event - the next day ideally. All reviews should be around 500 words in length and include relevant links. MLF will publish a link to the author's blog or website at the bottom of each review.

MLF is also looking for an experienced blogger or two to edit these reviews and one or two people to help out with the festival's twitter feed or facebook account- both in exchange for free tickets to some events.

If you're interested in any of these online endeavours you can find out all the details by coming along to a meeting next week. The main MLF Volunteer meeting is scheduled for Wed 16th, September (Yes that's tomorrow) 6 - 7.30pm in Committee Room (2nd Floor) of Manchester Central Library. Digital volunteers should show up at 6:45 as the last part of the meeting will deal with blogging and social media. Please email admin AT manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk to let them know you're coming and include the url of your blog. If you can't make the meeting but still want to get involved then just email the folks at MLF and let them know.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

To Do: Hobopop, Mixed Up North, Umbro Industries

This summer is officially OVER. Don't know about you, but I am so over it. (Glances out window, shivers.)

So what happens now? Now we get overrun with students, overloaded with festivals, and overwhelmed by tasty offerings from cultural venues freshly awakened from their summer siestas. Happens every Autumn.

One interesting recent discovery of mine is Kirsty McGee (that's her above) and the Manchester-based Hobopop Collective. I'm really digging their rootsy, old-timey stomps, rags and torch songs. McGee has the kind of voice you can expect great things from. And it turns out they're recording a live album over at Contact (This is October 10, not Thursday as I wrote before, sorry peeps! But hey - more time to get tickets.)

Thursday night Bolton Octagon raises the curtain on Mixed Up North, a provocative play that revisits the Burnley race riots. Director Max Stafford-Clark and the wonderful Out of Joint theatre based the play on interviews with Burnley residents. Some blistering comments in the Burnley Citizen suggest there is strong resistance to the idea of reopening any kind of discussion about the riots there. Seems to me that's just what this kind of theatre is for - making it possible for us to talk about and think about difficult things, and consider different people's perspectives on the past. Kudos to the Octagon for having the chutzpah to mount this production, which runs from Thursday to Sept 26.

Umbro Industries
is a pretty impressive new project from the Manchester-based manufacturers of athletic gear: a rolling fund of bursaries to support Manchester-based creative industries. If you have an idea for a club night or an art exhibition, want to make a book or record an album or create a pop-up fashion line, or want to do something else creative that will cost less than £10,000, go to the site and submit it and you could get the money. While people who view the site can give ideas a thumbs up, their votes have no impact on who gets the dosh. That's decided by a somewhat Hacienda and football-heavy judging panel.

Speaking of soccer, there's been some interesting news about Urbis today. The Football Museum is moving in, and Urbis' programme of changing exhibitions is moving out, or at least into much smaller quarters (I'm sure if I've got the wrong end of the stick on any of this one of Urbis' team of eagle-eyed blog readers will write in to correct me...) This might be great news if you're very enthusiastic about football, but not such great news if you're more excited about art and popular culture exhibitions, and like me were enjoying Urbis' new wide-ranging programme of events. Times are tough and needs must, I suppose. But for me, it's Art 0, Football 1. And the goths are NOT going to be amused.

(Photo Graham Smith)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Blogs: The raining cats and blogs edition

It's Manchester Blog Awards nomination time, and I'm being deluged with new blogs to add to my blogroll. Seriously. It's raining blogs, hallelujah. Like that.

So I'm going to be briefer than normal and just list a whole bunch of new additions here, because, you know, there are about fifty more lined up behind them, and the baby could wake up at any time.

Art, design and fashion
Switched on Art

Manchester City and neighbourhood
LOL! Manchester - A new MCR comedy listings blog

Literature and writing:
Wondrous Reads - a really comprehensive YA/Teen fiction blog written by a bookstore employee from Stockport.
Personal/writers' blog Stick it to the Mand, and the same writer's fiction at Words Etc
Writer Richard Barrett has a new blog, Yawn.
MA writing student Kim McGowan's blog Justtesting
Power is a State of Mind

Irontwit, chronicling an Ironman attempt
The Amazing Shrinking Gaz

What DO you do in Preston?
Travels in my house

TdM Photography

Songs from Under the Floorboards
S’il vous plait clubnight blog

Fluid Creativity

Review: Margaret Atwood at Manchester Cathedral

The long queue of people stretching out the doors of Manchester Cathedral last night was an encouraging spectacle. Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood evening was a sell-out, and whether people were there because they loved her writing, or because they thought it sounded like a good show, there was no cause for disappointment on either count.

The Trailblazer event for next month’s Manchester Literature Festival was the first performance in the author’s international book tour, with each event doubling as a fundraiser for a local environmental charity (in this case, the RSPB.)

The Year of The Flood
brings us back to the world Atwood introduced in Oryx and Crake, widely acknowledged as a masterwork of speculative fiction. It’s a world where most of the human race has been killed off by a pandemic; where the few people left scrabble for survival in a dystopian wasteland overrun with freakish genetically engineered animals and patrolled by the company soldiers of CorpSeCorps. Most of all, it’s a world where a homespun religious cult called God’s Gardeners farm rooftops and sing hymns about holy pollination, vegetarianism and the preservation of species.

These hymns were set to music by California composer Orville Stoeber and they marked the beginning of the performance. You heard the singers before you saw them, filing slowly into the centre of the Cathedral bearing cardboard banners inked with images of endangered species such as the Natterjack Toad and Kingfisher. The singers, drawn from the Manchester Lesbian & Gay Chorus, Ordsall Acapella Singers and the Blackburn Community Choir, delivered Atwood’s hymns with their gentle melodies and simple harmonies in a straightforward and humble manner befitting God’s Gardeners.

In order to reduce the size and carbon footprint of her traveling posse, Atwood is enlisting local performers in every city, making the presentation slightly different each time as well as engendering a kind of community ownership of the event. The change was refreshing; It couldn’t have felt less like the standard book tour dog-and-pony show.

The real stars of the performance were the wonderfully talented and versatile actors who read the parts of main characters Adam One (Kevin Harvey), Toby (Samantha Giles) and Ren (Samantha Sidall.) They had a challenging task: the dramatic of reading of whole passages fully embodying their character while also filling in as several secondary characters. But they held the whole cathedral transfixed; the narrative spell was never broken. The readings were linked by Atwood’s elegant summaries of the background action, so the audience were able to understand the wider sweep of action in the book.

Still, at evening’s end, when all were invited to stand and join in singing a farewell hymn, several questions remained tantalisingly unanswered. There can’t be many people there last night who won’t be seeking out The Year of The Flood sooner or later. I know I will.

(Photos Jon Parker Lee)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Manchester Blogmeet Sept 17

I've organised a long-overdue Manchester blogmeet for Thursday September 17, from 6-8pm at Cord, off Tib Street in the Northern Quarter. All are welcome... bloggers, friends of bloggers, blog readers, whatever; come on down to the basement.

And for the first time this will be a sponsored affair. The folks from Creative Tourist, the web magazine of the Manchester Museums Consortium, will be buying everyone a drink and giving us a brief rundown of their goings-on.

As nobody put forward any objections when I asked around a couple of months ago, I'm trying out this sponsorship model for future blogmeets. Seems there are quite a few organisations about who are interested in working with Manchester bloggers, so if they'd like to buy us a beer or a coffee I figure we're willing to listen to what they have to say for ten minutes or so.

As ever, the rest of the time will be spent in making friends, catching up, flirting, frontin', bullshitting and otherwise interacting with other Manchester blogfolk. If you plan on coming say so in the comments, comment on the MCR Bloggers FB group message I'm about to write, or email me so we know how many to expect.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Metro Life is dead

Staff at Metro's Manchester office have just been told to clean out their desks. They were responsible for Metro Life, the local arts and culture section that previewed gigs and club nights, art exhibitions and poetry readings and films, and ran book and restaurant reviews. I used to write for it myself, so I'm not claiming any sort objectivity here when I say that it was a often a thin slice of clued-up and enjoyable writing that seemed oddly out of place at the center of a free newspaper that in terms of actual news value or readability pretty much deserves to get stepped all over on the floor of the 142 or flap around in the wind with the empty crisp packets.

Under a series of editors (most recently the lovely Tamsin Curry, Lucie Davies and Ruth Allan) the section did a fine job of letting us all know about good things happening in town at just the right time. The Metro folks took their work seriously and were very progressive about including a really wide range of arts and culture, especially fringe and avant garde stuff that other local news outlets generally ignored.

In the last year things had started going downhill; Associated Newspapers laid off staff and kept on a skeleton crew from the Manchester and Liverpool offices to produce a thinner Northwest Metro Life section. They were trying to cover a wider area in less space with fewer people, thus quality and range understandably suffered.

So this news isn't really shocking, but no less disappointing. Associated Newspapers: I'm sorry that you don't think the people of Manchester and Liverpool deserve good cultural coverage. I'd threaten not to buy your newspaper, but, well... Anyway, I certainly won't have any reason to pick it up from now on. And neither will a whole bunch of other people.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stop! ... Rammytime

Okay. So, Ramsbottom is lovely place to live. I've only been living here for eight months and already have a hard time imagining hanging up my hat anywhere else round Manchester. You get the best of both worlds: living in what feels like a small, friendly town in the green Pennine foothills, within arm's reach of the big bad city. I know there are a few places like this about, and all have their band of loyal adherents, but I feel lucky to be here.

One thing has surprised me: I didn't expect it to be so happening around here. It'll take a lot to coax folks out of Rammy with all that's going on at the moment.

First, a long-overdue tip of the hat toThe First Chop. Less than a year old, this laid-back bar and restaurant is already feeling like a comfortable pair of old sneakers. The bottled beer selection is fantastic and they always have something good on tap. The food's just right for the place - simple but classy offerings made from carefully-sourced ingredients. Their pork kebabs with salsa verde have won my heart, and I'm trying to forget how devilishly good their chips with aioli are. Their music selection is wonderful, and they're great for the bambinos. All became clear when I learned recently that the owner came from the much-loved Jam Street Cafe, a South Manchester institution.

The Chop is at the centre of a resurgence in Rammy's nightlife, which probably needed a bit of a shot in the arm. It has always been good for food and now hosts an enviable array of eateries including Ramsons and Fishermans Retreat, China Cottage and the lovely Bailey's tea room, newcomers Chocolate Cafe, Sanminis and Buddha Lounge, and my latest happy discovery Thai restaurant Spice Garden which has been tucked away on Square Street for ages. And there are plenty of good independent butchers, greengrocers, delis and shops in the area. But after dark it feels much more like the traditional Lancashire Mill Town that it truly still is, "New Chorlton" hype aside.

Some upcoming events look set to shake things up a little. The first is Rammyfest, a free musical extravaganza unfolding over August Bank Holiday Weekend. Musicians including DJ Graeme Park and The Cordels will play in venues around town and busk outdoors. And the organisers are bridging the North-South (Manchester) divide with a handy charabanc between Chorlton and Ramsbottom to ferry folks to the festival.

The party has been organised to celebrate the launch of Ramsbottom Online, a new website set up to promote all things Ramsbottom and to act as an online hub for news and discussion about life in Rammy. They've got a blog up with some nice posts about the muy controversial new Aldi currently being built (amazingly the town's third supermarket) and the pros and cons of riding the Witch Way bus.

Next month, the big excitement is the long-anticipated return of the Ramsbottom Rhythm and Blues Festival, dormant since 2005, which Bury Met is bringing to the cricket ground the weekennd of September 26 and 27. Musicians include Matt Schofield Band, Otis Gibbs,The Ben Waters Big Band among others, plus food stalls and family activities.

Nominations open for 2009 Manchester Blog Awards

Hey, it's time to send in your nominations for this year's Manchester Blog Awards.

Come visit our delightful new Manchester Blog Awards website and submit nominations in the following categories: Best Writing, Best Arts and Culture Blog, Best City or Neighbourhood Blog, Best New Blog and Best Personal Blog. This year, instead of emailing us your nominations you can fill in this simple form here.

Multiple nominations are cool, as is nominating yourself, but keep in mind that a blog only needs to be nominated once, so there's no point getting all your mates to stuff our virtual ballot box.

Now in its fourth year, the annual awards recognise the best of Manchester’s independent online writing. Eligible blogs submitted by the close of nominations on September 18 will be narrowed down to a shortlist in each category - look for that before the end of September. Then a judging panel will select the winners, which will be announced at the Blog Awards evening event.

This year the MBA extravaganza is moving house: we'll be kicking our heels in the brand spanking new Band on the Wall on Swan Street. As much as we all adore Matt and Phreds, it was getting kinda cramped in there, wasn't it? So mark your calendars for the evening of Wednesday, October 21. Jenn Ashworth, former blog award winner and the author of A Kind of Intimacy will read her work and talk about blogging and writing.

And of course we'll be lining up a gang of blog readers over the coming weeks, with further announcements about the kind of madcap literary and musical shenanigans you can expect on the night as the date approaches. For the freshest updates subscribe via our website, catch our feed, or follow us on Twitter at @mcrblogawards.

Many thanks to our valiant supporters: The Manchester Blog Awards is run in partnership with Arts Council England, and is supported by the Manchester Digital Development Agency, which is part of Manchester City Council. And it's part of the Manchester Literature Festival, whose programme has just gone online here.

Back in the Saddle

Hello Manchester, I return to you revitalized, refreshed and burnished to a fine sheen after a long and glorious period of rest. Before I get into blogging business, a small technical issue needs dealing with: My mobile died a spectacular death a day or two before I left for America, going down and taking a slew of texts and messages with it, so if you tried to get in touch a month or so ago and I never got back to you, that's probably the reason why. Please try again and I will reply promptly using your communication mode of choice (though please note the messenger pigeons are all vacationing in the South of France this week.)

Lots to tell you about today. I'm rolling up my sleeves and getting down to it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Manchizzle Summer Vacation

That's me, my brother and my cousins at the New Jersey shore. And that's where I'm going right now, to relive the summers of my youth, followed by Vermont and NYC for some intensive accent retraining. And a complete blogging blackout, so if you're looking for something interesting to read I'll direct you to those industrious folks at the right. I am now officially on vacation and won't be back until mid-August. Don't break anything while I'm away.

Manchester International Festival: De La Soul

The 20th anniversary of 3 Feet High and Rising? That can't be right. Man, this album was the soundtrack to my college years, along with the followup De La Soul is Dead. So this makes me, let's see ... yep. Offically old. Shit. How did that happen?

3 Feet High didn't really sound much like the hip hop we knew before it came out, but pretty much everything that came after sounded at least a little bit like it. It was that influential. It was also pretty important for me personally, because this music was the gateway drug that eventually got me hooked on the deep funk source tracks that they were sampling. If you really, really like Me Myself and I, you'll love the song's venerable direct ancestor, (Not Just) Knee Deep, recorded by Funkadelic in 1979. From Parliament/Funkadelic and their whole crazy conflagration of splitoff projects it's a short hop to Bootsy Collins, James Brown and The JBs, Issac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, The Meters and the rest of the soul/funk explosion. So I owe De La Soul a lot.

What I miss about this music is its friendliness, the De Las willingness to be silly and lyrically real on top of actually making good music. There are people making great hip hop today that does all of these things but you mostly do not hear them on the radio.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard De La Soul would be coming to Manchester for the festival. And they put on a wonderful show. Believe it or not I had never been to the Ritz before. It's definitely seen better days but I was pretty happy with the venue, which was the perfect place for a gig like this.

The De Las and Prince Paul gave us a gig that was a seamless good time. Sure, they might be a bit older (and, in some cases, living very much larger) but there was no doubt that these guys still have it. Sometimes performing as a full band, and other times stripping it back to how it was in the very beginning, three men and a machine, they played the hits (A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays, Me Myself and I etc), but also revisited some less well-loved tracks from their back catalogue that actually held up extremely well.

The night had a wonderful vibe. The band seemed to be having a great time and the crowd sure was - everyone was dancing. I've never encountered a friendlier audience in Manchester. For me it was a great close to what has been a really fantastic festival. Roll on 2011.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Creative Tourist arrives in Manchester

This week sees the launch of Creative Tourist, a wordpress-based online magazine about our fair city's arts and culture from the Manchester Museums Consortium.

And what a time to launch, eh? Manchester is positively stuffed to bursting with fabulous cultural encounters, life-changing art experiences and can't-miss performances. I don't know about you, but my art-appreciation muscles are getting tired. My critical faculties are so exhausted that I'm being forced to take myself off to New Jersey for a restorative week in which my most challenging cultural experience will probably involve getting past the windmill in mini golf, or maybe deciding what flavor of water ice to order. (Actually, this is a serious matter which I am already working on. Root beer or cherry?)

Issue 1 features Jeremy Deller, Ansuman Biswas (better known as the Manchester Hermit), Marina Abramovic in conversation with Whitworth Art Gallery director Maria Balshaw, Andrew Shanahan's guide to the best videogames ever, and Dea Birkett writing and ranting about children in galleries, among other things.

Creative Tourist's main features will be published monthly but the idea is that the website, blog and twitter feed will keep up a steady stream of interesting content. I will be helping out Editor Susie Stubbs with the words, cruisin' the local blogsphere for tasty bits to link to and commissioning guest posts from Manchester's finest culturebloggers.

If you're one of them, please don't be shy. Get in touch and let me know what you're doing and you may be linked to in a blog roundup or be asked to pitch in and write something, like Katherine Woodfine of Follow The Yellow Brick Road, who wrote up Procession for the Creative Tourist blog.

Anyway, back to work: Root beer or cherry?

Iain Sinclair and Corridor 8 launch at Urbis

Ever wondered whatever became of that whole SuperCity thing? Ah, doesn't the very phrase make you yearn for a faraway time when Manchester's urban march seemed unstoppable? When the pots of money to build fantastically coloured and fancifully designed buildings upon acres of scorching urban blight seemed bottomless? When people camped out overnight to simply have the chance to buy an upside-down terrace or a scandalously overpriced flat in an aged tower block with a twee ladies' name in Salford and it seemed perfectly normal? Well, almost.

Things are rather different now. But here comes Corridor 8. It's an arts annual billed as "The new cultural voice of the north." It will showcase "the best in contemporary visual art, architecture, writing, photography and more." And issue 1's theme is ... wait for it... SuperCity. And as much as I don't really dig the whole SuperCity concept, I very much dig what writer and psychogeographer Ian Sinclair wrote when Corridor 8 commissioned him to create "a literary documentary that explores the ordinary and extraordinary lives and landscape of the North."

I got a sneak peak at this piece the other day and I have to say, it is just wonderful. It made me want to go out and buy everything he's ever written (if you have the same reaction, a friendly Sinclair scholar I met recently says to start with Lights Out for the Territory). It's the best kind of poetic ramble through our city, through the idea of Manchester and through Sinclair's mind-bogglingly overstuffed brain: ‘Wandering Deansgate was like finding yourself in the middle of some dark fantasy for which you had no instructions. Cliffs of unreason. Deansgate as a river of human traffic, the Irwell its liquid margin.’

And the really good news is that Sinclair will be talking about the work at the Corridor 8 launch at Urbis this Thursday at 6:30 pm. Places are limited, to register email si at corridor8.co.uk. Though a little bird told me someone might be liveblogging the event if, like me, you can't make it. What's more, a modified version of the piece is available as a podcast you can download from the Urbis website, and listen to on the hoof. A route map should be up there shortly I'm told.

So now I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Corridor 8. Look out for it later this month.

Young bring the bling

Oh, and several people have asked where I got this blinging new masthead. Yes, it's a reference to the Snoop Dogg-inspired orgins of this blog's name. It's exactly the way I pictured it. And the designers Pete and Geth, who operate under the name Young, whipped it up for me with the greatest of ease. I don't know how they do what they do. You'll have to ask them.

Having a new masthead is great, by the way. Like buying a new pair of sneakers. This one will need to be broken in - still a bit pinchy around the ankles, and too-bright white clean. But already I feel 100 percent bouncier. I highly recommend it.

Manchester International Festival: It Felt Like a Kiss

I was trying not to look like I was eavesdropping, but I was straining to hear every word. The couple a few tables away were totally absorbed in excited conversation. A few tantilizing phrases floated over the drone of the cricket announcer and the scrape of cutlery:

"... a broken toe"... "completely isolated"... "it was pitch black"..."chainsaw"...


I had maintained a scrupulous information blackout regarding It Felt Like a Kiss, dutifully tuning out reviews and telling my gobsmacked friends I didn't want to know. They all seemed to NEED to talk about it afterwards. I remained in a state of pristine expectation. Still, sipping the recommended stiff drink fifteen minutes before go time at Quay House, I suddenly wondered what the hell I was getting myself into.

A mixed bag, as it turns out. If you haven't seen it yet, look away now.

Adam Curtis' experimental documentary film, orginally made for the BBC but never shown, is the main attraction at the heart of It Felt Like a Kiss, and lends the whole production its title. Like the walk-through theatre experience built around it, is both fascinating and deeply flawed. It aims to pinpoint the moment where the picket-fence-painting, hula-hooping America of the fifties and early sixties climbed to ideological dominance and then curdled, tipping from something big and wonderful and glittering and too powerful to be denied into something sinister, whose long evil fingers reach forward into the present day.

Curtis starts out with the bad shit the CIA got up to during the Cold War and loads on a smorgasboard of conspiracy-theory greatest hits: electroshock therapy, serial killers, military dabblings in LSD, the origin of AIDS, the Black Panthers, BF Skinner's mind control experiments, the Kennedy Assasination and more dodgy US-backed coups and clandestine interventions than you can shake a stick at. While all these fragments successfully build an unsettling mood, they fail to knit together into a cohesive statement of any real power.

It's like that guy in college who liked to get high and talk about the freemasons a lot was given an unlimited budget and turned loose in the CBS archives. It stops short of actually saying the CIA's germ warfare research and imaginative assasination techniques were responsible for the AIDS epidemic, but only just. It is a triumph of suggestion and style over substance.

Still, I enjoyed watching it. It's mostly an unhinged procession of gorgeously edited archive material, a complete pleasure, with a few moments of sheer genius. Some brilliantly selected fragments from a Doris Day movie. And a section where footage of middle-class couples doing The Madison is woven into an explanation of the single bullet theory, complete with diagrams, made me laugh out loud.

The promenade experience surrounding the movie screening was deeply unsettling. It's awash with evergreen fairground creepshow tricks that will not fail to make the most hardened heart pound. I was surprised that there weren't as many actual actors involved in the production as I'd expected, but the dummies were certainly effective enough, if not really very lifelike. The music throughout from the Kronos Quartet and Damon Albarn was solid horror-movie stuff, pulse-quickening but completely overshadowed by the pop songs featured in the film.

It's great having a set you can poke around in at your own pace, a mystery you can actively engage with. Punchdrunk paid attention to smells, which are very important. But there was a lot they didn't pay enough attention to: A weatherbeaten address book full of Clapham and Lewisham, too many books about walking in the Pennine Dales lurking among the Reader's Digest Condensed Books and Phillip K. Dick. Yes, it's tricky to source the right props when mounting a production about the USA in the UK, but surely not impossible. Worst of all were the packs of American Spirit cigarettes littered around the sets. The name is appropriately ironic, but they didn't start making American Sprits until 1982. Lucky Strikes would have been a better choice. Okay, yes, pedant's corner, but it's this lack of attention to detail that erodes your faith in a production while you're in it.

As an AmericanI will doubtless have a different point of view here than most of the punters. I didn't know much about Adam Curtis beforehand, like what his nationality was, but I knew he wasn't American after watching the movie, though I couldn't say exactly why. This could have been a point in his favor: sometimes we can't see ourselves as clearly as an outsider can (ask the many Americans who devour the Guardian's excellent US coverage). But here Curtis seems both tin-eared, like he never really got America, and hung up on hammering home a very particular point, one that is neither new nor very interesting to me, and I sit in the front row of Curtis' political church choir. Like Michael Moore's stuff, it is basically high quality pinko porn. When I was 18 I'll bet I would have adored it. But frankly, I was hoping for more.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Art in Bury, Margaret Atwood and Flax wants you

Not at this Address is an exhibition at Bury Art Gallery opening Aug 1 (private view Friday 31 July at 7pm). It features an interesting group of folks including one of my favourite Manchester artists Rachel Goodyear, a master of the deliciously uncanny. That's her Fawn with Hand above.

The Literature Festival is now taking bookings for a trailblazer reading by Margaret Atwood on Tuesday Sept. 1 at 7pm in the august surroundings of the Manchester Cathedral. MLF describes it as "a unique literary performance with music to launch her new novel The Year of the Flood. Set in the same dystopian world as her previous novel Oryx and Crake, it tells the story of God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the preservation of all species." Book quickly, I reckon it'll sell out.

Meanwhile, Flax is looking for submissions from bloggers. Yes, you read right. A respected literary house recognising the sterling work of many online writers.

Well, I'll be. They say:

The next Flax anthology will be a creative non-fiction anthology. Bloggers can submit work under the title of your blog and use this as an opportunity to widen your readership.

Full details on submission here. Note they're looking for up to 1000 words of prose which is NEW WRITING that hasn't appeared on your blog or elsewhere previously, submitted between 19 June - 26 July 2009. If you're a blogger who's been wanting a chance to stretch your legs creatively, this is it.

Abandon Normal Devices launches with a bang

Abandon Normal Devices is a festival of new film and digital culture which is part of WE PLAY, the cultural programme linked to London 2012. It will move between Liverpool and Manchester in alternate years, with organisations in Cumbria, Lancs. and Cheshire contributing to the mix. The inaugural AND takes place in Liverpool 23-27 September. On tap: film screenings, art exhibitions, online projects, public art, debates, workshops and live events.

AND just released its lineup which looks to be a veritable goody bag of tasty stuff. No surprise considering that it's headed up by Manchester's own Kate Taylor, co-creator of the Halloween Film Festival. The festival represents a partnership between FACT, Cornerhouse and folly, and is a welcome example of arts collaboration across what can sometimes feel like a very splintered region. Here's a roundup of what's in store:
  • Primitive, the first UK solo exhibition by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Godfather of independent Thai cinema.
  • Keep It Slick - Infiltrating Capitalism with political artists The Yes Men in their first European outing.
  • Dark Fibre, a provocative feature film mixing scripted fiction and documentary by Jamie King (Steal This Film) and Peter Mann, set in Bangalore, India's silicone valley.
  • Strange Attractors - The Anatomy of Dr Tulp by KMA, a new interactive light installation that will take place in Arthouse Square. Using light projected onto the ground, the project explores how our bodies mediate between the internal and external worlds, at a microscopic and global level.
  • War Veteran Vehicle, a new large-scale video projection by Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko for public spaces in Liverpool, which explores the situation of soldiers who fought during recent armed conflicts and are returning to civilian life.
  • DJ Spooky will create an audiovisual remix of DW Griffith's infamous Birth of a Nation, using the new Liverpool Museum into a gigantic cinema screen.
And there's an interesting chance to get involved: They're after cyclists to make an interactive game using all of Liverpool as the setting. At a workshop on 22 July, artist collective Blast Theory will take participants through the basics, using their acclaimed cycling work Rider Spoke as a working example.

If you want to volunteer at the festival, the closing date for applications is 17 August.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Blogging Business: July

I have genuinely been trying to get there for months, but never quite did. So I was happy to be able to make last night's Manchester Social Media Cafe held in the subtropical microclimate of the BBC cafebar. I especially enjoyed Maria Ruban's film The Joy of Ceefax and Tandot's wickedly-executed game of Ceefax bingo, both of which served as my initiation into the bewildering world of Ceefax. I actually got very nostalgic for the British childhood I never had. And I now understand the cultural significance of Bamboozle. Hooray.

There is another opportunity this weekend for those of the social media persuasion to enjoy chatting amongst themselves. Labour blogging guy Mark Hanson has organised a political blogmeet for this Saturday at 4:30pm at Nexus Art Cafe on Dale Street, in the red room off to the side.

Mark says: "This is largely social/informal but we also have an open invitation to ask for more help from HQ in terms of access/info/content as well as thinking of things we might want to work on together to create an impact." All are welcome.

I am working with a couple of potential sponsors to organise a regular old Manchester blogmeet this summer, but it looks like it won't happen until August now due to holidays and MIF-related calendar overload. Watch this space. Also have some riotously exciting Manchester Blog Awards news to announce soon.

Oh, that reminds me of one more thing: Dazed and Confused is getting into the Blog awards game with the first Dazed Raw Blog Awards. they say:

"The open nomination period has begun and will be open until July 31. You can nominate your own blog or it can be someone else's blog, as long as you think it's browse-worthy. Whilst we would love to feature blogs dedicated to heartclogging fast food, we have decided to restrict our blog categories to mirror the Dazed Digital categories; fashion, music, photography and arts and culture.

Dazed & G-Star will be shortlisting 15 blogs from each category which will all be put forward for a public vote. The winner of each category will be featured in the Dazed October issue and will also receive £500 worth of G-Star product."

Go on, don't be shy.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Manchester International Festival: Antony and The Johnsons

Hearing Antony Hegarty sing is like listening to God speaking right in your ear. If I were a religious person, I would appreciate The Almighty even more for putting this voice in the body of a 300-pound transvestite who uses it to sing songs about being beaten up by lovers and falling for dead boys. Who, moreover, chooses for his opening act a painted woman clad only in silver knickers and two strategically positioned strips of duct tape, straight out of an East Village performance art dive, who danced for twenty minutes to avant-garde noise. (The audience, which seemed heavy on nice middle-class couples, was slightly discomfited.)

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that last night's Antony and The Johnsons/Manchester Camerata concert at Manchester Opera House was a real experience.

In his flowing white gown, Antony Hegarty was an angel, big and wise and sad. He has that peculiar quality of otherness that David Bowie has - as if he is visiting us from another planet or another time, watching our downfall with a powerless sorrow.

And at the opera house, with the full powers of the Manchester International Festival at work, you really felt like you were seeing him perform in the best and most fully-realised way. The lights, the set, the whole staging of the performance was incredible.

The set featured a white kite-like structure suspended above him where he stood at the centre of a multilayered set with a series of scrims that went up as the night progressed, only revealing the orchestera near the end. The lighting did something different for every song, weaving facets, veins and bouncing prisms of light. Hegarty explained it as the manifestation of "my dream of what it's like to live at the centre of a mountain." The overall effect was weirdly powerful.

I hadn't heard any of the songs in The Crying Light before, so it's a testament to Hegarty and composer/arranger Nico Mulhy that I found every song completely engaging. And this was a million miles away from the soupy arrangements you often get when pop singers do the orchestra concert thing. The Camerata provided a lot more than a musical backdrop, at times working as a surprisingly complicated foil to Hegarty's melody, at other times creating something very different on its own.

Hegarty strayed from the new material to give us a joyous For Today I Am A Boy and an intense Cripple and The Starfish. And we had the unexpected pleasure of a gleefully deranged cover of Beyonce's Crazy In Love, reimagined as a dirge of doomed obsession.

But, for me, the high point was Another World, when he stood against a dark background studded with red pinpricks and flares of light like a starfield. Against a sustained drone, as if emphasizing the emptiness of space, Hegarty sang words chilling in their simple truth: "I need another world. This one's nearly gone." Listening to him, you feel like he's more than halfway there.

(Photo by Flickr user black_celt)

Manchester International Festival: Kraftwerk

Before Thursday night I would have told you there was bound to be nothing exciting about watching four catsuit-clad pensioners sway gently behind their laptops. I mean, sure, music was playing, but for all we know they could have been messaging dirty jokes to each other or doing their grocery shopping online up there. I didn't really care, in the end. Because the whole spectacle, the show Kraftwerk put on to launch the 2009 Manchester International Festival was completely absorbing.

There was something monumentally right about seeing Kraftwerk at the Manchester Velodrome - not just because of Ralf Hütter's well-known cycling obsession but for the shape of the place, the long slow curve of the banked track hugging the audience like some giant gear casing.

It's a tough one as a music venue; Opener Steve Reich's piece seemed sadly diminished in the giant space. But it was just right for the main event. The sound was great, and you couldn't beat the view. From my perch up on the battlements, the scene resembled some weird postmodern rally, like a scene out of Metropolis, the crowd sparkling with the blue lights of a thousand mobiles recording. They went wild when Kraftwerk came on with Man Machine, four streamlined figures outlined with elegant brutalism against a giant screen flashing up propaganda-poster style text. And they totally lost it when cyclists from Team GB took to the track during Tour De France.

There were hiccups. The event started late, probably because it took everyone longer to get up to the Velodrome than they thought, which is, like, really far from the city centre (and next to what someone told me is the biggest Asda in Europe on the walk to the bus stop.) They ran out of 3-D glasses at some entry points whilst others had extra. And then there was the heat. Sweaty doesn't even begin to describe it. Everyone's 3-D glasses were fogging up.

The best bit for me came during the 3-D section, when the launched into Radioactivity, the stark menace of the names Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield, Hiroshima flashing up on the screen, that voice instructing us with the cold precision of roentgens to STOP RADIOACTIVITY. This was the Cold War-era vision of the future as certain nuclear apocalypse. It made me almost nostalgic for the time when I went to bed at night and listened nervously to the drone of planes overhead.

So maybe we don't travel by hovertrain or have cyborgs running the country (yet! though there are a few I have my doubts about), but musically, at least, their vision of the future was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their songs don't sound cutting-edge to us anymore simply because Kraftwerk was so influential. Even leaving aside the warring tribes of Electronica who owe their very existence to these guys, Kraftwerk's haunting melodies have turned up in some pretty unlikely places. You have to wonder how many people heard Computer Love last night and went, "wait a minute... that Coldplay song."

Whoever did the visuals earned every bit of their fee. The much-anticipated 3-D section surpassed the hype, with numbers and drug capsules and radioactive symbols bouncing off the screen at you with spooky immediacy, even from as far back as I was. I devoutly hope nobody there was foolish enough to have taken hallucinogenics; none were needed. Just being there was more than enough to bend your brains.

(Picture by Catharine Braithwaite.)