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.)