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.