Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meanwhile, in Manchester...

Hello. Goodness, there's all sorts of fascinating and fun things going on in our city at the moment. I may have dropped out of society into a strange, semi-darkened world of milk, muslins and back-to-back episodes of House, but the rest of you guys are still out there doing cool stuff and plotting interesting events that I can't go to. Damn you all.

This cultural bounty really comes as no surprise: after all, it's F-bomb time. No, not that kind of F-bomb. October is when the Festival bomb lands on Manchester, dropping the likes of the Literature Festival, Science Festival, Food and Drink Festival and Comedy Festival on us within a few short weeks. Plus this year we get AND too. Usually I pick out a few highlights from each one but as this would only depress me, you're on your own this year (Go See This and Creative Tourist should be able to help with some inspiration.)

And speaking of Creative Tourist, The Manchester Weekender - their bountiful smorgasboard of cultural goodness - takes over the town this weekend. Go sort yourself out here.

I'm also very disappointed to be missing A Haunting of Nightjars, readings organised by author/publisher Nicholas Royle as part of the Didsbury Arts Festival. In keeping with the Nightjar Press flavor, expect dark & disturbing readings from Conrad Williams, Claire Massey, Stephen McGeagh, Tom Fletcher, Graeme Shimmin, Socrates Adams-Florou and Terri Lucas. They've just published two new chapbooks as well, which I look forward to reading. The event takes place this Wednesday evening from 7-9pm at Northern Lawn Tennis Club, Palatine Road, West Didsbury. It's free.

Also, if you love The Wicker Man like I do (and of course you do), you'll want to check out The Lowry's brilliant Sing-a-long-a Wickerman screening Saturday Oct 9.

Finally, I have been observing with great satisfaction the lush growth of charity calendar project Beards of Manchester, after hearing about it at the slightly mad idea stage from the prodigiously bearded Chris of Mancubist a few months back. Go check it out and appreciate some 200 fine examples of the tonsorial achievement that lives among us. The launch party is at Common Oct 21.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A new arrival

Big news! Just to let y'all know, my daughter Bella arrived this weekend, so I'll be taking a break from blogging for a while. So if you're wondering why I haven't responded to your fabulously interesting email/invite/request this is probably why.

Also, before I forget, I've splashed out on one of those custom urls in honour of my blog's 5th birthday. Check it out: I'm a dot com, me. Next year I want to get some of those neon undercar lights, or maybe some zebra skin upholstery. Anyway, please adjust your feed readers accordingly. See you later.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Happy 5th Birthday Manchizzle

Hard as it is for me to believe, this blog marks its 5th birthday this week. How the hell did that happen? Five is OLD for a blog. Serious greying temples n' gravitas time.

Makes me think about how much this city has changed in that time - the pound store from my first post isn't there anymore - and how my relationship to it has evolved. Back then I was still a fresh-faced relatively new arrival to Manchester (even though I actually lived on the far end of Chorley.) Now I live in Greater Manchester and know it much better, but knowing the city better has, somehow, deepened my curiosity about it. I'm still fascinated by Manchester and I still love blogging and meeting other people around here who do too, people I have found to be disproportionately funny, friendly and interesting to talk to.

So, basically, thanks for reading. Here's to the next five years...

Friday, August 06, 2010

New books: short shorts, werewolves and babies

The three new Manchester books this go-round have very little in common. If they were people, you'd definitely never catch them at the same party. But they're all good in their own very different ways.

First up is Nik Perring's book of short stories. Not So Perfect (Roast), is a little thing, a pint-sized but reassuringly thick book. The stories are also on the more diminutive side of short, but pack a lot of punch into their smaller word counts. One of them, The Angel in the Car Park, first appeared in Rainy City Stories, the Manchester creative writing website I edit, so I was already a fan of Nik's writing. And, as expected, I really enjoyed the book, full of offbeat characters and stripped-down, almost anecdotal narratives that are like short stories boiled down to their most concentrated essence.

And now for something completely different:

Tom Fletcher's book The Leaping (Quercus). It starts out among a gang of friends who share a house in Manchester and work at a mind-numbing call centre, living out their post-uni lives in scenes that'll be very familiar to many of the readers of this blog. Then the action moves up to The Lakes, and that's when things get very weird indeed. Yes, this is a werewolf novel, and a very good one too. It scared the bejeezus out of me, probably because Fletcher never resorts to schlocky horror gimmicks but approaches the material in a new way. It's hard to explain, but if my experience is anything to go by the book unravels into your head like some kind of psychedelic trip. It gets under your skin and creates an altered reality, a real sense of otherness and a way of life that is utterly alien and completely convincing.

Sheesh, I'm getting scared just remembering reading that book. So let's move swiftly from freaky psychedelic werewolves to babies. Yes, babies. Manchester babies, to be more specific, as the third book I want to recommend is the new edition of Babies in the City, Manchester's own where-to-go-and-what-to-do guide for Mancunian childwranglers. Their first book has been indispensable since my daughter's arrival a couple of years ago, and the revised edition has thoughtfully added in more options that will appeal to older kids.

It's all here: obscure-but-cool museums on the fringes of Greater Manchester, parks and walks, indoor play areas, classes, kid-friendly eats in the city centre, baby-friendly movie screenings... the list goes on. Only occasionally do I disagree with the reviews of the writers, and mainly because I think I'm a lot more picky about food than they are (yes, Heaton Park cafe, I'm looking at you.) But that's really my only small gripe. If you know someone with a new baby, this is an ideal present.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New blogs: The Mangle Street edition

Hey, it's new Manchester blog time. First off, I have whole heap of new writing blogs to add. Seriously, a lot. Check this out: Write in for Writing's Sake is an interesting use of the tumblr format to host an online writing group. And Figs Might Leaf is a short story blog. And Manchester-based Fantasy and SF author Andy Remic has a blog here. And Khmer Rouge Strippergram is a joint Mancunian-Irish humor blog. Other Manchester writing blogs: The Paper Face Girl and Something Every Day. Oh, and Potwatch: Observations of a Kitchen Porter. In verse. You don't see that every day, eh?

Onto the city and neighbourhood section, where Manculiar is a new blog about the city's past, present and future, and has turned up some very interesting stuff. mightaswell is exploring the city and poking her nose into all sorts of odd corners. There's plenty more fascinating reading over at Manchester's Radical History. And Hulme seems to have some new hyperlocal action with Best of Hulme.

Mediawatchers will be interested to hear about the MediaCityUK Blog, which "delivers the latest news, views and rumours about the MediaCityUK development in Salford Quays, Manchester - entirely independently and unofficially."

On the arts and culture tip, Andy Brydon writes Curated Place,"A blog trying to capture, critique, explain and explore the meeting points of culture, tech, art, places and people in a world that has gone beyond the museum." A couple more new arts and culture blogs: fellow Rammy-ites Fishink and Pinnikity, who both make stuff. And there's a new fashion blog: Pastime Bliss.

Music-wise, Richard H-J's blog an appropriate response to reality is mainly video-based (music and other stuff.) Bad Cover Versions, on the other hand, is pretty self-explanatory.

The photo above is from this week's new photoblog. Being a former New Yorker in Mancunian exile, you know I love photoblog Manchester is Not New York. Those fire escapes are something you don't notice at all when you live in NYC, so I was almost surprised how taken with them visiting Brits are (someone I know returned from a trip to NYC with hundreds of fire escape photos.) And who knew the Northern Quarter had so many of them? This particularly ornate example is from the corner of Dale Street and the delightfully-named Mangle Street.

And if anyone wanted to get to but missed our Manchester blogmeet last week, I'm sorry for you. It was really great. Seriously enjoyable. The inimitable Fat Roland has an exhaustive (and slightly spooky) round up on his blog here. Many thanks again to the folks from The Lowry for coming and telling us all about their Spencer Tunick exhibition and buying us beer. And also thanks to the fine people at Common, who have a way with the taps and whose halloumi and felafel kebab is a thing of awesome beauty.

Stay tuned for news of another blogmeet in the Autumn.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Manchester Blogmeet July 27

Mark your calendars: The Manchester summer blogmeet will be happening Tuesday July 27 from 6-8pm at Common, and I'm very happy to tell you that the event will be sponsored by The Lowry, in celebration of their current exhibition, Everyday People: Spencer Tunick at The Lowry (on until 26 September, free entry). One of their curators will be there in person to talk briefly about Spencer's compelling photographs - and just what it was like to work with 1,000 naked people in several secret locations across Salford and Manchester.*

Come along and enjoy a drink, a spot of culture and the conversation of your fellow bloggers. All Manchester-area bloggers welcome. Common is the apple-green coloured bar located on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter. I can personally recommend the root beer, though they have a fine array of beverages on offer as well as some tasty food in case you want to grab a bite. We'll be hanging in the Kestrel Suite, which is the new room to the right of the entrance. See you there.

*Clothing, however, is NOT optional for this event. Sorry!

(Photo: Everyday People: Spencer Tunick at The Lowry)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Shh. Keep your voice down. Do you see that woman writing in her notebook? No, don't turn around.

Yes, her. She's writing down everything we say.

I am not being paranoid. She's obviously warming up for Bugged, a national exercise in "creative eavesdropping" that takes place tomorrow.

Here's the deal: We all know writers are nosy parkers, right? And why shouldn't they be? You can't write real-sounding dialogue unless you study the real thing, and sometimes these illicit field recordings get appropriated for made-up stories. The Bugged project just legitimises an age-old process.

Writers are asked to write down what they overhear wherever they are, and then use the material as the basis of a piece of creative writing (poem, short story or flash fiction). Send it in to the Bugged people by August 15th and it could be published on their website or in an anthology alongside commissions from Daljit Nagra, David Gaffney and Jenn Ashworth, which is launching in October at our own Manchester Literature Festival and the Birmingham Book Festival. All the details are here. So get out and listen in.

Just, please, be discreet. It's not okay to ask people to speak up because you can't hear what they're saying. Or to throw them evil, surreptitious looks from behind your notebook, while snickering meaningfully to yourself. That kind of thing gives us writers a bad name.

(Illustration from Harriet The Spy, which you really should read if you haven't yet.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Playing out

I'm a huge fan of after hours parties in museums, and The Whitworth's Midsummer House Party looks set to be a cracker, with a houseful of music, poetry and crafty goodness courtesy of local promoters For Folk's Sake and Pull Yourself Together and the Manchester Craft Mafia. It's this Thursday, from 7:30 to 10:30pm.

The weather is gorgeous at the moment, so the timing couldn't be better for Parklover's handy guide to public parks and green spaces in the city centre. It's a really comprehensive look at all the options for summertime picnics/recreation/sprawling on the grass hidden away in the urban streetscape. Some great little-known spots on there I will definitely be checking out soon.

If you feel like getting outside by the water this weekend, join Manchester Modernist Society for Tales of the Riverbank, a group meander in search of nature in the heart of the city. They say: "Join us on an investigative journey to find out how life on the riverbank has evolved through changing times. How have architects and planners responded to the presence of elemental forces of nature in the city centre? Sarah’s walk will follow the River Irwell uncovering tales of ecological development in the urban environment." Meet up at 1pm outside Manchester Cathedral on Sunday 27th June.

And if getting into the water is more your thing, you might want to check out my piece for Creative Tourist about wild swimming spots near Manchester. If I've missed any, and I'm sure I have, please add your own favourite swimming places in the comments (and no, the Rochdale Canal doesn't count.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Life of the Mind

Ideas are big news in Manchester at the moment. Sure, the city's universities are always hosting fascinating talks and lectures, but it can be difficult for the non-academic public to get involved in their events. Following on from FutureEverything's City Debate, it seems like there are plenty of interesting discussion-based events around or in the works, and this week I learned of a couple more that have been going for quite a while.

I saw something in Laura Barton's View from A Broad column this morning about Ladies who do Skepticism - a group I had never heard of before but whose existence I heartily applaud. They have meetings all over the country, at which crictical thinkers gather to discuss the appalling pseudoscience targeted at women (just open your nearest glossy mag to a random page). The Manchester group will be meeting for a luncheon outing this Saturday June 12 at 1pm - details here. And if you're a skeptic with a Y chromosome, you should check out the Greater Manchester Skeptics, who even do podcasts. I had no idea there were whole societies just for skeptical people. It seems uniquely English, though it probably isn't. But how cool.

Also new to me (via our great hyperlocal news blog Inside The M60), The Manchester Salon is a monthly discussion forum tackling current affairs questions such as the politics of football, how cities can best be developed, and the future of transport. The discusssions are led by experts and open to the public. The next one, Weds July 14, is about why crime novels are so popular. It's at Blackwell's Bookshop and there is a charge of £5 to attend.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Let's do launch: New Manchester websites

The past few weeks have seen the launch of three long-anticipated sites that all aim to shake up the way Manchester's cultural life is represented online. I have written something for all of them, so I'm not exactly impartial or anything. But I think each has a lot to offer in its own way.

Following the formal lifting of election purdah (such a funny idea, that) first out of the starting gate was Visit Manchester with a bold approach that sets out a new model for city tourism websites. Built by magneticNorth, it's a dramatically different user experience, with continuous scrolling, invisible navigation and an open-door approach to content.

It would be fair to say that it has divided the city's digital folk. For my part, I'm a fan of the site's design. Of course, it has bugs that need to be worked out over time. I really love that they have incorporated so much social media content, and though its nigh-on impossible to ensure that only relevant tweets/photos end up there, VM is to be commended for relinquishing absolute control of what people say about Manchester on their own site. I wrote a little rundown of the city's cheap eats options for VM, and I'm happy that they used other bloggers' writing as well - hope that continues.

Next up was Creative Times, with a re-launch of the regional creative industry news site/print newsletter formerly run by the sadly-departed CIDS. Creative Times has been reborn in online-only format as a joint venture between The White Room consultancy, Cornerhouse and Fudge in Bolton. Edited by former Metro editor Chris Sharatt, the site looks good and has some interesting features (as well as a good amount of original multimedia content.)

It will be interesting to see how exactly it carves out its own identity alongside sites like How-Do and Creative Tourist that weren't around during its last incarnation; participation from the creative community will be key to its success. And if anyone was interested in the Manchester blog aggregator project I first posted about here a while back, you can read a bit more about it in my Creative Thinking column: Are blogs the future for arts coverage? (though I should point out that the aggregator we're working on won't just feature arts blogs, it'll have Manchester blogs on every subject.)

Finally, fresh out today is Go See This, the new what's on website from All About Audiences (them that used to be Arts About Manchester, who took on a new name following their designation as the regional audience development body in the NW). Now, I did quite a bit of work helping Editor Adam Comstive develop the content side of things, so there's no way I can even pretend to judge it in a disinterested way. It's a place where you can find out what's happening in the city's arts and cultural venues, plan outings, book tickets and get involved in a conversation about the arts in Manchester. We have needed something like this for, oh, about as long as I can remember, and I hope that it will prove extremely useful to anyone who wants to know what's happening in Manctown.

Also want to point you in the direction of the excellent Manchester Scenewipe, a smorgasboard of video from Manchester-based bands, and This is The Now, also from Visit Manchester but focusing solely on promoting live music in the city. It looks very nice indeed, but hope that content is going to keep getting updated as most of the stuff on the mainpage happened back in May.

Friday, May 28, 2010

New Blogs: The May 2010 edition

In a town so small there's no escape from view is a blog about city centres, and often, Manchester's city centre, by Dan of PYT fame. "it is inspired by backstreets, lost architecture, broken windows and forgotten buildings." Some good photos on there.

Lazy Noggin is a new Manchester arts and culture blog. A nice post about Jesca Hoop, of whom I am also a fan, and the photography workshop that CityCo ran last weekend.

A new music blog: Come see the duck, written by Jonathan Hopkins.

Manchester filmmakers L'Institute Zoom have a very entertaining blog, Transmissive Episodes.

Ziggy Kinsella is a horror writer who maintains a blog about writing and other stuff called The Feckless Goblin. Writer Lydia Unworth blogs at getting over the moon.

Some new personal blogs: One husband, two kids (and lots of books), Joe the Dough and The Mobius Loop.

A new (mostly) political blog is Three Legged Cat, billed as the "embittered cynical mutterings of a politically marginal Manchester hack." Also, one new photo blog: Dark Adjusted Eye.

May have to invent a new category for Manchester Massages, which features "reviews, news and information on therapeutic massage, spa experiences and eco-spas in Manchester (and beyond...)" Another new sort of blog for Manchester: Makeup Savvy, which reviews beauty products.

The hyperlocal train just keeps on chugging along, and the latest Manchester nabe to get its own community happenings blog is Macclesfield: The Loop is narrowly focused on what's on there. There's also a paper edition which you can sign up to receive.

And yes, the photo above has nothing to do with any of these blogs. I usually try to use pictures from the blogs I'm writing about, but the photoblogs I have on today don't seem set up to share their photos easily. So I am using this random image of graffiti in Hulme that I have had in my computer for ages and have no idea where it came from. Both funny and appropriate given the debate about social housing on here recently...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The City Debate and the future of Manchester

Hoo boy, is this a long post. But I had so much to say about FutureEverything’s City Debate last Friday, I just couldn’t restrain myself. For another perspective, I’ll point you in the direction of Inside The M60's coverage and blogger Sarah Hartley, who has a very interesting analysis. As a snotty aside, I also find it surprising that a serious debate about the future of Manchester with some pretty big bigshots held at Manchester Business School didn’t rate either coverage by the local press or participation from the city council (though Sir Howard Bernstein did record a video statement.) But what do I know?

Big props to FutureEverything for organising what was a very ambitious and largely successful event. The format was interesting, but I think there were simply too many people taking part. I'm sure this came out of a well-meaning desire to offer a really broad slate of views. And it was great that such a range of people were there. Unfortunately, having so many panelists made the event longer and slower to get down to brass tacks, as everyone read through their statements and responded to questions from a couple of specially-selected lead questioners. For me, it wasn’t until the questions were opened to the floor that things really got interesting.

Two big things I took away from the event: One is a growing sense of frustration from many of the people in the audience and even a few of us on the panel. For all the horn-tooting about the meteoric rise of the original modern city, the reality is that we’ve just seen a period of tremendous growth which seems to have completely passed by most of the people who live here, especially those in poorer outlying neighbourhoods. It was clear that that many of us would specifically like the people in charge to focus their innovating on making sure this doesn’t keep happening. Patsy Hodson of the Manchester Communication Academy currently being built in Harpurhey spoke especially well on this point, and she should know.

And the second is a sense that the wind is, at long last, shifting in the city. For years Manchester has been in thrall to property developers. But the boom is busted, and what we do in the future will be less about building and more about retrofitting. As a wise audience member pointed out, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Now that the cranes have stopped their seemingly-endless march across the city, let’s turn our attention to what we already have: acres of solid old industrial buildings and solid old housing that no-one’s using. And some of the housing isn’t even that old – I’d love to know how many of those new build “city living” flats are empty?

But many people are discovering that highly-marketed dream of city living ain’t all it's cracked up to be. As one CC resident pointed out at the debate: “I can get as many cappucinos as I want but I can’t find an NHS dentist.” Ever noticed a playground in the city centre? I haven’t. (But don’t get me started on park and green space provision in Manchester; we compare shamefully with every other major city I’ve ever lived in or visited. When is this going to become a priority?)

If you want to depress yourself, consider the number of long-term vacant housing units in the city (recently at more than 6,000 according to the MEN) alongside the waiting list for social housing in Manchester (this article in The Mule puts it at 23,000 a year ago). Then factor in all the houses and flats on the market people can’t afford to buy. Something isn’t working.

Meanwhile, commercial rents in the city centre are skyrocketing, and you know who can’t afford to pay them? The artists, inventors, writers, thinkers and makers who give this city its reputation for being a hub of innovation. We can’t all go and work in the Sharp Project. If the city really wants to encourage a culture of innovation and experimentation, how about fitting out some of these abandoned or derelict buildings as artist live/work spaces (see Islington Mill), community cultural/voluntary centres (Zion Arts), or technology workshops, places like MadLab which provide resources and networks as well as much-needed physical space in which digital/creative folks to do their thing.

I’m hopeful that good things will start to happen in this area. We are lucky in Manchester to have a progressive city council that has supported many innovative programmes in the past; bold ideas that often don’t get as much recognition as they should. What we need is for the city leaders to make this a priority, to devote money (even a little bit) and time and energy to these projects, to develop incentives for people to re-use. Wrangling in court with landlords to take possession of a derelict building for the common good, for example, isn’t glamorous work, but its becoming increasingly important work.

While they’re at it, they should have a think about some of the ideas that were bandied about during and after the debate: Green rooftops and vertical gardens growing food – reducing CO2 and hunger at the same time. Citywide free wifi (though I get the impression MDDA have already established that dog won’t hunt.) Developing the unloved canal network for a range of uses. Making Manchester really bike and pedestrian-friendly. And if something’s working well in another city – the free bikes or city-sanctioned artist squats of Paris, say – let’s not be shy about stealing those ideas.

And yes, I know it’s not that simple. I sure as hell don’t have all the answers to all the tough questions like where is the money going to come from and what if people don’t want to live/work in these old buildings and how much can the council actually do? I guess I’m just hoping we can start to talk about these things in a new way. And that this is a conversation we can all participate in.

(Photograph: E.O. Hoppe, Manchester 1925)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


A few interesting odds and ends:

Some Manchester writers have cooked up a tasty new web-based venture over at 'other' magazine. You can read new writing from various people, admire Nicholas Royle's 20-year-old collection of bread tags, and an annotated diagram of Socrates Adams-Florou's fridge (above). Plus, they're on Twitter. And this post about the absence of a UK independent lit scene has attracted 86 comments!

Not Manchester-based, but interesting all the same. The Literary Platform is a new website showcasing projects involving literature and technology. So if you like what we do over at Rainy City Stories, you might enjoy a browse.

TBA Magazine looks to be a new art webzine based in Manchester. Lovely website and some good lookin' content on there. No word on when issue 1 will be launching - will update this post when I have more info.

And I enjoyed the maiden issue of Things Happen, a fanzine about our fair city from the Manchester Municipal Design Corporation, a subsidiary group of MMU's DesignLab. Website coming soon and a second issue planned for this summer, if they can find a way to pick up the tab. You can find it at FutureEverything events.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Speculative fiction writing group

I have helped organise a speculative fiction writing group tonight at MadLab on Edge Street. No, this doesn't mean the existence of the group itself is speculative (though it is, as this is our first meeting and I have no idea how the group will work. All I know is one person proposed the Turkey City workshop method on Twitter, which sounds scary, doesn't it?)

The group is for people who want to write and talk about writing speculative fiction, a broad category that includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream and stories that are just kind of weird. To my knowledge, there's never been a writing group specifically dealing with this kind of genre writing in town before. Though Manchester has a long and noble SF tradition.

Just to be clear, yes, this means I read science fiction. I've also been known to enjoy stories about cornershops with a pesky door into another dimension, and books which have werewolves as main characters or feature a chick in a lace-up bodice clutching a glowing blue sword on the cover.

You don't think I'm cool anymore, do you? I guess I'll just have to live with that.

Everyone welcome. MadLab tonight at 7pm.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FutureEverything and The City Debate

I was delighted to be asked to take part in The City Debate. It's an interesting idea: assemble a big group of people who think about Manchester a lot and start an open conversation about what the future of the city should look like and the best way to get there. The festival describes it as "An ideas event for evangelists, cynics, digital artesans, policy makers, property magnates, media vultures, urban planners, you, and me."

Who else is going to be taking part? Sir Howard Bernstein (Manchester City Council) by video, Susan Woodward (Sharp Project), Roger Milburn (Arup), Mike Ryan (Manchester Digital), Dave Carter (Manchester Digital Development Agency), Lyn Barbour (Manchester City Council), Walt Crowson (Learning Skills Employment Network), Patsy Hodson (Manchester Communication Academy), Alice Morrison (NWVM), Nick Johnson (Urban Splash), Professor Alan Harding (Institute for Political & Economic Governance), Martin Carr (True North), Mike Emmerich (Commission for the New Economy), Colette Williams (Moss Side independent candidate), and Tim News (MIDAS). The BBC's Jenni Murray is going to be moderating.

Each of us had to write a statement summarising our views about where the city should be headed, and given the nature of my work I chose to focus on culture and creative industries. I'll post a link to it here when its online.

In the meantime I had to boil that statement down into a 140-character summary (that was fun) and I came up with this: "supporting small orgs, artists, writers + thinkers will ensure MCR's creative renaissance reaches beyond Salford Quays." Now I'm thinking going with revival instead of renaissance could've saved me a few characters. Ah well. You can check out what some of the other participants wrote on twitter by searching for #citydebate.

It's Friday, May 14 at Manchester Business School on Booth Street West from 3-5:30pm. Entry is free, but you have to book and tickets are limited. Come on down.

FutureEverything's full programme is online here. There's plenty going on all over the city, and the art strand has some especially interesting stuff planned this year.

(Photo by Mike Colvin via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sounds from the Other City 2010

Mayday... mayday. Sounds from the Other City is this Sunday. I will not be there as SFTOC involves standing around in hot, crowded rooms and watching other people get drunk, both profoundly un-fun ways to spend your time if you happen to be a pregnant woman. But you should go, of course. If you're looking for a rundown of the music on offer, head over to Creative Tourist, where Matthew Britton did us an excellent preview. This year, however, the homegrown Salford music festival has expanded its focus to include art and literature.

Box Office is an art installation at Salford Central station, a phantom ticket booth which will offer tickets to an intriguing assortment of one-off gigs, events and performances taking place across the city in a range of overlooked and under-loved spaces between 26th April and 2nd May. It launches tonight with a little opening shindig from 5-7:45.

Paradox is a mash-up of live literature readings and music featuring the likes of Socrates Adams Flourou, Chris Killen, Thick Richard, Jackie Hagan and Frank Sidebottom. Watch out though, they might try to give you a flower if you go in there.

And take a gander at the SFTOC souvenir programme from the folks responsible for the Shrieking Violet zine (that's the cover up there). Pretty neat.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Manchester magazines, online and off

Here's a long overdue roundup of new activity in Manchester's cultural media landscape. Some gigantic web launches lurk in the wings, but at the moment there' s some evidence that, at least on the smaller and more grassroots side of things, print is not entirely dead here.

There's encouraging action on the zine front. I should have heard about this one ages ago, as it's already pretty well established, but Pull Yourself Together is a music zine dedicated to the indiepop scene that's published every two months. They also have a nice sideline in gigs, and clubnights at Common. And they now have a web presence over here. Also in the zine and music business is Moon Printed Shadows, which is shortly launching a publication called Knick Knack featuring poetry and short stories from Manchester writers.

I got a chance to peruse the Salford Zine Library at Islington Mill the other day - some real gems in there, and its good to see someone taking responsibility for collecting and championing zines. If you make a zine, get in touch and send them a donation. They also have what appears to be every single edition of the long-departed City Life over there. That made for some pretty interesting reading.

In case anyone missed it, Words & Fixtures published an excellent list of Manchester magazines, fanzines and online publications that are open for creative writing submissions, as well as writers' groups - incredibly useful info for writers in our fair city.

Copywriter Tom Mason, who was responsible for November in Manchester, has a new web-based publishing project: 330 words "The concept behind 330 Words is simple. Take a photograph and let it inspire you towards a piece of fiction. Let your photograph form the foundation of your story. Choose your own genre and style. Keep the entire thing under 330 words." (Auto) Flash fiction?

Not to be confused with the previous, 3030 Magazine describes itself as "articles, reviews and stories aiming to get people in Manchester interacting. Fans of old-style documentation - written on paper. Free press out in early 2010." No information on when/where/how it is launching, though going by their Twitter activity they seem to be collecting submissions and doing a spot of matchmaking.

Now Then, the Sheffield arts and culture print magazine that planned to launch a Manchester edition this month has postponed the launch and will take a few months to regroup: "It is with sincere regret we write to inform you that, despite our best efforts, we have been unable to gather enough support from independent retailers, charities and community groups to print an edition of Now Then Manchester this month," they wrote on their blog today.

"This is not us giving up, but a postponement in order to create something which is sustainable on a monthly basis. We are all still hugely committed to seeing a magazine on the streets and in the cafes of Manchester, and to the task of informing people about their local independent artists, traders and politics," they say. They'll continue to publish content on the blog in the intervening period (props for including the word bombinated in their recent Magnetic Fields review.)

The Skinny, the Glasgow listings magazine that was planning a Manchester edition, has now reportedly shelved those plans. They started posting a bit of MCR content online, but stopped short of launching a print mag. Just like Time Out. That's right, we got stood up again. (sniff.) Come on, what's wrong with us? We deserve a what's on magazine just as much as anyone else does, dammit. Is it something we said?

Or is it the fact that everyone seems convinced that there isn't the local advertising market to support a print magazine in Manchester, to say nothing of the fact that we're in a recession, or that the entire model of financing print journalism by selling ads is crumbling before our eyes.

Oh yeah, well, okay. There is that.

(Illustration from Toothpaste for Dinner)

Malcolm Gladwell at The Lowry

Canadian journalist, writer and professionally supersmart guy Malcolm Gladwell will be appearing at The Lowry May 11. The great-haired one cometh to promote his latest book, What the Dog Saw, a collection of pieces from The New Yorker, where he became a staff writer at the tender age of 33. His consistently great work on the magazine has established him as a master of the journalism of ideas.

So, okay, I'm a big fan of MG. His books, which include The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers have become required reading for executives because of their useful applications in the business world, but they're recommended reading for anyone: fascinating, well-written and engaging books that make highly complicated ideas accessible. And I've heard that he's a good speaker, so I'm really looking forward to this rare appearance on our shores.

(Malcolm Gladwell drawing from Deadspin)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Three new books from Manchester

I recently read Len Grant's Billy and Rolonde. It follows three socially excluded people - a junkie, an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe and a homeless alcoholic in their daily lives through a Manchester most of the people reading this probably wouldn't recognise. It was certainly new to me.

Both writing and photography are simple and direct, letting the people speak for themselves. The author is appealingly open about the setbacks he has throughout the project and the way that his relationship with the subjects changes over time as, inevitably, he becomes personally involved with them. Rather than trying to become invisible, he lets us see him engaged in the work of trying to tell these stories. This tactic can easily backfire, but here it works.

It's hard not to like Len Grant as a narrator, he seems honest and rarely gets preachy - facts and statistics are offered in an almost offhand manner, when they come up in the story, and are all the more powerful without the usual window dressing. And it's hard not to like each of his subjects, regular people in difficult situations who have done a brave and generous thing by allowing him, and us, this degree of access into their lives.

The book itself is a beautiful thing, designed by Alan Ward at Axis in Chorlton and released by Cornerhouse Publications. So it's an entirely Manchester-made project, which seems right. In my ideal world this would have been a prizewinning series in Manchester's local newspaper instead of a book, but there's not a snowball's chance in hell of the MEN devoting the necessary space and resources to a project like this. So it's a book, and a pretty terrific one.

I also read the two most recent chapbooks from Manchester author Nicholas Royle's Nightjar Press, which I can't recommend highly enough. Each one contains a single short story, the perfect size to shove in your bag and read on the tram. I was impressed with the solid binding and the thoughtfully-chosen covers. Chapbooks conjure up images of bent staples and inky fingers, but these are sleek beasts.

When the door closed, it was dark by Alison Moore is about a British woman who goes to an unspecified foreign country to live with a family and look after their infant. I'm not going to say any more than that, except that it is extremely creepy (in a good way), and that it might not have been such a good idea to read it while waiting for my 20-week scan in the antenatal department of Fairfield Hospital.

Black country, by Joel Lane, is a detective story in which a cop pokes about in the anonymous suburban districts of the West Midlands, investigating some weirdly troubled kids, and ends up exorcising his own buried memories. The ending raises as many questions as it answers, but satisfies all the same. Both were so good that I'll definitely be seeking out anything else Nightjar sees fit to offer us.

(Image from Billy and Rolonde courtesy of Len Grant)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New Blogs: The Bank Holiday Blues edition

New blog time. So what have we got? A whole mess of new arts and culture blogs. Blog Station is the blog linked with Chorlton's Lead Station, showcasing the MCR artists whose work they exhibit in the restaurant. Artist Jai Redman of the UHC Collective has an interesting blog about his work and what he's up to, most recently working with the Buddleia Commissions project in Cheetham Hill.

Look Up Manchester is a collaborative blog by students at the Manchester School of Architecture - some great images of the city on there. There's also a new crafty blog, Sally Fort's Tinkering Times. And another food blog, Manchester Foodie.

Headstretcher is the blog of Creative Concern honcho Steve Connor. Jon from music blog Black Country Grammar has started a more broadly-focused posterous blog called I'm Jonthebeef. Some more personal blogs: The Laughing Housewife, Rich Rich Rich, and a new photoblog by Boris.

Some media additions: BBC Producer Gemma Hodgson, and the (mainly) media oriented blog by my neighbour Andy Walker, Walker's Rambles. And my other neighbour Jamie and his friends have also a started new music blog, Good for the Soul. Go Ramsbottom!

A new made-in-Manchester comic blog - yeah! Flesh and Bone serves up new strips every Monday and Thursday. That's one of them up top. It's the work of David Bailey, whose excellent illustration work (as part of the Mount Pleasant duo) on gig posters and the like you may already be familiar with.

Had good chats with some new-to-the-blogroll folks at last Wednesday's blogmeet, including Abbas of Call Centre Confessional, Benjamin of the brilliantly lo-fi Ribbons & Leaves, and not one but two Gareths (The Cardboard Kid and Cutteruption), among others... please remind me if I've forgotten anyone I said I would add. It was a good night all around, thanks to the ever-delightful Common and sponsors Look out for another one in a couple of months.

Incidentally, it's another busy week for social media in Manchester, with the hyperlocal themed Social Media Cafe at the BBC tonight, and the Manchester Aggregator group meeting tomorrow night (7pm at Madlab, any curious bloggers welcome.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wolf Haul

Road trip! In The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan's gobsmackingly weird 1984 film of Angela Carter's werewolf fantasy, is going to be shown Friday evening in the spooky surrounds of Grizedale Forest as part of AND festival's programme of events in Lancashire and Cumbria this spring.

The film is being presented by the fabulous Scratch n' Sniff, so that means viewers will be able to appreciate it in full Odorama splendour. People are encouraged to come in fancy dress and I am told that "a transformation station will allow patrons to paint on lips as red as blood or attach a tell-tale monobrow. Rose-imbued gin will be served on arrival, plus wolf stew, a blanket of fog and an origami apple orchard."

Details here . It's cert 18, which is too bad, since teenagers who think Twilight: New Moon is the shit should be kidnapped and forced to watch this. And smell it too.

The rad limited edition screenprint by Simon Misra above will be for sale at the film for £10.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Twestival Thursday at Hulabar

Nearly time for the Manchester incarnation of Twestival, a worldwide charity event that harnesses the awesome power of Twitter to raise money for good works. Ours takes place this Thursday, 25th March, from 6pm-11pm at Hulabar in Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter.

The organisers say: "the event is a unique opportunity for local Twitter users, who normally communicate through the site, to meet face-to-face and build on the relationships they have made online while raising money for international charity Concern Worldwide.

Entertainment at the event will include music, a charity auction, and many other Twitter-based activities all sponsored by low cost airline BMI Baby, North West based digital agency KMP Digitata and Manchester airport."

Tickets are £6 or £10 and include a free drink. And if you have a business it's not too late to donate a prize. More information over at the Manchester Twestival site, or follow them at @manctwester

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Party in the library

If you've been reading this blog for a while you may have picked up on the fact that I'm kind of a library geek. I worked in libraries on and off for years (oh, I can shelve books all right), and my mom was one of those righteous activist librarians they seem to have lots of in the states and not enough of over here. So one of the first things I do on moving to a new place is check out the library. And when I visited Central Library for the first time I was not disappointed. It's pretty wonderful.

Unfortunately we're saying hasta la vista to our library for a while; it is closing to be renovated until 2013. During that time we'll have to make do with a scaled-down temporary library on Deansgate. I hope that the things I love about it don't get messed with too much in the renovation (the spectacular Great Hall, the language & lit library) and the things I don't like are going to be all sorted out (the outdated cafe, the tiny general readers library, the lack of a good space for children's books and reading activities). We shall see.

The library's getting a proper literary and musical send-off tomorrow night with Manchester Central Library: A Celebration.
Sean O'Brien will read from a collection of short stories written entirely about a city library, The Silence Room, and Jane Rogers will read 'Lucky' set largely in the library. Other readers include Nicholas Royle and Mike Garry - and they're going to have a klezmer band too. It starts at 6:30 and it's free and open to all.

There's another interesting bookish event on the radar in Salford:
Reading for Reading's Sake, a 4-day event aimed at exploring reading as a practice. "Unlike a regular reading group, this event aims to unfold the activity of reading, the situations in which we read, reading as a shared event, a private passion, concentration, interpretation, sound and voice, the symbolic and emotional value of the act."

It takes place Thursday April 8 - Sunday April 11 at Islington Mill, and includes a whole host of reading-related activities, workshops and evening performances. Booking required, places limited. Full details here.

(Manchester Central Library photo by Flickr user brightonsinger)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Magnetic Fields at Manchester Cathedral

Another great gig coming up: I'm getting pretty excited for The Magnetic Fields at Manchester Cathedral this Friday evening. A Magnetic Fields show is always something to look forward to, but this one especially so: It'll be my first time at the Cathedral since the church began hiring itself out as a gig venue and I'm really curious to hear how that vast, grand space deals with rock music.

With their love of strings and unusual instruments I think the Fields are probably a good choice to try out the acoustics. Their most recent album, Realism, released in January, was recorded entirely unplugged, and used a variety of gonzo percussion instruments. I love this album, as does Alexis Petridis from the Guardian, whose glowing review includes the following delicious qualifier:

"It's not a perfect album: it is perhaps otiose to complain about the level of camp in the songwriting of a man who owns a Chihuahua called Irving Berlin, but it has to be said, The Dolls' Tea Party would cause Duncan "Chase Me" Norvelle to suggest Merritt man up a bit."

Hopefully they'll be playing lots from Realism as well as some old favourites from the warped and beautiful mind of Stephin Merritt.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green shoots in Ramsbottom

There always seems to be lots going on in Ramsbottom, the northernmost bit of Bury where I live. But there have been a couple of developments recently I thought I'd let the rest of Manchester know about too.

I've always loved the hundreds of funky little community gardens dotted around New York City, and I watched a great documentary recently about the urban communal gardens in Cuba - every scrap of land is used to grow stuff. Well, it looks like a bit of this spirit is coming to Rammy. Inspired by the example of nearby Todmorden, whose residents use empty lots and odd bits of disused land around town to grow fruit and vegetables. Ramsbottom is getting its own homegrown gardening effort: Incredible Edible Ramsbottom.

The group will be meeting up 7:30pm Monday March 22 at Christ Church off Bolton Road North. They also have a webpage here with a discussion forum- and it looks like they've already lined up some plots in Nuttall Park and a disused orchard in Greenmount. This could be just the thing for people despairing at the multi-year waiting list for allotment plots, or really for anyone who likes the idea of getting their hands dirty.

One really great thing about living here is the Ramsbottom film society, Real 2 Reel. The good news is that they've just moved house. Instead of showing their monthly films in the Civic Hall, they'll be screening them in the newly renovated Theatre Royal, home of the excellent Summerseat Players. I've seen a film there and can say that the seats are way more comfortable. The next movie is Rebecca Miller's The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, showing on Wednesday March 31 (unfortunately the same evening as our blogmeet.) You can keep up with their schedule on the Real 2 Reel Facebook page.

(Photo by Flickr user innpictime)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Manchester Blogmeet March 31

Time for another gathering of the blogging clans. Yes, our spring blogmeet is upon us, and this one will take place on Wednesday March 31st from 6-8 pm in The Kestrel Suite at Common. It sounds very fancy, but don't worry, it's just the extra room they added on in their recent renovation. For those who haven't been before, Common is the bright green bar on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter (just off High Street). They serve a full range of hot drinks and tasty snacks as well as a fine selection of beer, wine and spirits.

The drinks will be courtesy of our sponsor for this blogmeet, Jamie Scahill and Richard Dyer will be on hand to tell us more about their site. They say: "Now in its 9th year of operation, it's is officially one of the largest and fastest growing what's on guides in the UK. With over 222,306 events listed, 620,000 unique visitors and 119,754 registered members we offer the ideal platform for club promoters, festivals and event organisers to promote their event."

As always, you don't have to RSVP but you can always leave a comment to let me know you're coming. Or just turn up. All bloggers are welcome, so if you haven't made it to a blogmeet before please don't be shy. It's a chance to meet your online comrades in a relaxed and friendly setting. And it's usually lots of fun.

(photo: Tim France)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Blogs: The Dark Corners Edition

A really interesting bunch of new blogs to add: Urban Adventures, Rookie and Gone, a trio of urban explorers who post photos and reports from their adventures poking about in some of Manchester's dark corners, high roosts and forgotten buildings, getting a look at the places most people don't go. The photo above is from Jim Gillette's trip to the 5th Avenue Culvert on the Medlock in Central Manchester - a place many of us have probably passed over countless times without being aware of its existence. And they take their photography as seriously as their exploration; the resulting pictures are beautiful.

East Angles is Manchester journalist Ben East's blog about all things cultural. Dead Rabbit is artist Naomi Kendrick's blog about multisensory participatory art. Bren O'Callaghan blogs about film, digital art, media, culture and various other things.

Hey, some new music blogs: Pigeon Post and For Folk's Sake. On the latter blog you can read about Single Cell Collective's monthlong programme at Zion Arts Centre in Hulme, Finding Zion, which runs from 27 Feb - 26 March and features all manner of cultural goodies from mass bike rides, music and food.

There's a new hyperlocal blog for Saddleworth, Saddleworth News.

A few new personal blogs: Two Hour Lunch , The Tea Shop Diaries, The Book of Scrap

Some new writers' blogs: Sian Cummins and Andrew Beswick's Moon Printed Shadows. And Your Call is Very Important to Us, featuring the amusing email correspondence of Martin T.R. Higgins and Richard V. Hirst.

A photo blog, Percy Dean

New tech blogs: Tom Mason's SEO Manchester and the I-COM blog

And last but not least, the menswear fashion blog Style Salvage, which is one-half based in Manchester so we can include it here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gigs: Jesca Hoop and Jonatha Brooke

Tonight Jesca Hoop (above) is playing at the Deaf Institute. A few months back I heard a track from her recently released second album on the possibly endangered 6Music (BBC: so, so wrong) and loved it enough to get her amazing first album, Kismet. It's hard to describe her songs - quirky, funky, folky but very personal, and she's got a killer voice. Turns out she moved from California to Manchester last year at the urging of her friends in Elbow. Yay! I'll be looking for other chances to catch her playing her hometown.

Another amazing folksinging lady and one with a voice that's equally unique: Jonatha Brooke is coming to Band on the Wall on Feb 20. Her old band, The Story, released a couple of great albums back in the early nineties and disappeared, but Jonatha's been doing some quality solo stuff since then. Should be a good gig.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Seoul Kimchi and Bubble Cafe

Where can you get the best dumplings in Manchester? Until recently the answer to that question would have been easy: Red Chilli, where the Beijing dumplings have long reigned supreme. But a new contender has emerged: Seoul Kimchi, a tiny grocery and restaurant on Upper Brook Street that serves up Korean home cooking. Many of the Asian restaurants in Manchester don't bother to make their own dumplings and seem content to serve frozen ones shipped from thousands of miles away. So the gyoza at Seoul Kimchi are a revelation: crisp on the outside, bursting with flavour inside, you can tell from the first bite that they're the real thing.

The japchae, a fried noodle dish, and bibimbap, a rice-based dish, were also excellent. Don't leave without sampling the kimchi, the spicy pickled cabbage that Koreans eat with practically everything. And there are lots of choices for veggies. It's nice to finally have an alternative to Koreana, which is much more formal (and more expensive). Unfortunately Upper Brook Street isn't really convenient to anywhere, but you can take the 50 bus right there from Spring Gardens. There are only three or four tables, and if it's full, well, Red Chilli have opened a new location nearby on Oxford Road.

These are good times to be a foodie in Manchester. We may not have any Michelin-starred restaurants, but on the casual/ethnic side we're doing pretty well. During my time living in New York I got swept into the city's amazing foodie subculture. There are thousands of people who comb the five boroughs for the ultimate felafel, soba noodles or corned beef hash, and cultishly track the movements of favourite street food vendors on Chowhound ("The Arepa Lady is back on Roosevelt Ave!") One of my favourite foodie haunts was Sau Voi Corp, a Vietnamese record store on Lafayette Street in Chinatown with a lucrative sideline in banh mi, unbelievably addictive Vietnamese sandwiches filled with meat and veggies.

When I moved here seven years ago, not being able to get banh mi in Manchester got me down; it was like some kind of litmus test. Well, I'm happy to report that you can now get these sandwiches here. The recently opened Bubble Cafe on Portland Street sells bubble iced tea and a selection of Vietnamese snacks including pho, noodle soup and banh mi sandwiches (Bubble's Sandwich). On the day I went, they were out of pate, a grievous omission, but the baguette had ham, sliced pork, grated carrot and coriander. Instead of the usual sweet and spicy sauce, though, it was topped with some kind of weird mayonaise - not an improvement. Still, it was good, and at £3.80 for a giant sandwich it's a solid lunch option.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Factory seconds

So Peter Hook's Factory-themed nightclub, FAC251, opens tonight. Whoop-dee-doo.

Sure, everyone's entitled to their own nostalgia trips, but this particular one has been rammed down our throats for the last 20 years. And I'm not even one of these hippersnappers that utterly scorns the music that came out of that scene. Yeah, I decorated my teenage walls with Peter Saville album cover postcards and still consider most of it great music (Happy Mondays, though... I think maybe you had to be there and on those drugs). But enough already. I've got chronic Factory fatigue.

And I know I'm not alone. Check out Tony Naylor's exasperated, well-argued post on Guardian Music Blog, and this post on Words Dept., which is where I found out about the brilliantly vitriolic FUC51. They're also on Twitter. Anyone considering going along to the opening tonight should check out their blog for an eye-opening Youtube preview of what's likely to be on tap.

Maybe it's time for us to move on and show some love for the great new music coming out of Manchester? It'd be interesting if this club actually did that, but I'm not holding out much hope after checking out their website. Too much grandstanding and too much Rowetta. There's something depressing about watching the Factory folk shamelessly attempting to cash in over and over again, with books, reality show slots, second-rate reunion gigs, crap DJ sets and now this. I ask you: Can officially merchandised Joy Division oven gloves be far away?