Thursday, December 13, 2012

New blogs: The cheap shills edition

Wow are there are a lot of blogs to be added to the good old Manchester Blogroll. The upside of having to trawl through the 543 blogs nominated for the Blog North Awards is finding a few good ones. And it's been so long since I updated the blogroll that whole new amazing blogs have sprung into existence in that time. Praise be! (On the flip side, some people who emailed asking me to add them have actually lost interest in blogging and wandered away to do something else in the meantime. Sorry guys.)

As you can see food blogs continue to be popular, as more of us cotton on to the fact that there is such a thing as a free lunch (kidding, food bloggers!) But more seriously, bias, transparency and independence are getting to be real issues in blogging these days. During the BNA nominations this year we were flooded with blogs that almost entirely consisted of pictures of stuff that the bloggers want to buy or have recently bought, or free products they've been sent for 'review' by media-savvy companies. I affectionately call them 'flogs.'

I'm sure they all have their audience, but for me that's not what blogging is about; It's about showing a piece of yourself, sharing your passion, and communicating something personal and unique, whether you're writing about music, football or your adventures in dog training. It's not about providing cut-price advertising. Wise up.

I'm not going to link to flogs unless they are extraordinarily original, helpful, independently-minded and well written. Sadly, most of them are not. They're all weirdly alike in tone and format, like the bloggers are writing from the same creepy script. For ages I have been building up to write a massively ranty post about PR, the commodification of blogging and the rise of the will-shill-for-freebies  blog, but then I saw that Ebba at Jenny Wren and Bella Wilfer had essentially written it, so go read it. (Thanks Ebba, that saved me some time.)

Anyway, here's some good ones for you. Happy reading.

Foodie blogs
The Afternoon Tea Club
Flavours of Manchester
Gin-Fuelled Bluestocking
The Offal Club
Two Greedy Mancunians
All you can eat

Icarus City
Manchester 503
Young Explorer
Love Levenshulme
Street Art Mcr

Life on Pig Row
Everyone and Everything

Literary Relish
The Literateur
The Endist
EM Powell
A Fine Lung

Arts & culture, design, fashion
Let's all do colouring in
32 things
Wonderman Diaries
Norton of Morton
The Mancorialist  
Silent Radio

(Image: Duncan)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Eat on the street: Guerrilla Eats

I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks the street food situation in Manchester is just fine needs to have their palate examined. When it comes to street food we most certainly do not have game. If Manchester is going to be a (whisper it) 'world-class city', as we seem to be constantly striving to become these days, then we gotta do better than the Friday Piccadilly farmers' markets, nice though they are, annual one-offs like the MFDF or Manchester Picnic markets and the yuletide currywurst invasion currently on display at a public square near you. And you know, I like the potato kiosk too, but it's hard to get that excited about a jacket potato*.

Let's be clear about this: When I say street food I'm not namechecking some mindless foodie trend. I  mean food that you  buy from a cart or a kiosk on the street, not necessarily as part of a council-sanctioned street food market, but individual traders just there, or there, on the street. (See the ace Northern StrEATS for illustration.) Other cities have a thriving pavement ecosystem that encompasses everything from shi-shi gourmet food trucks to tiny stainless steel push carts selling dosas, dumplings or tacos, from the highfalutin' to the humble; the good, the bad and the tasty. Why the hell don't we? We've certainly got the footfall to support it. It's a mystery to me, though I've heard grumblings for years about high trader fees and beauracratic insanity detering all but the most determined food vendors. And I can understand that space is at a premium here and the weather isn't amazing year round, but it seems to me that with all we have going on culturally Manchester should be better at this.

Why does it matter? If we had better street food we might have better restaurants. It all goes back to this idea of the ecosystem: Without the little guy plankton of a healthy street cart population the whole culinary environment struggles. Street vending provides an ideal first crack at running your own catering business. A popular street cart often spawns a great restaurant, maybe after expanding to two or three mobile units and doing a pop-up restaurant or two, contributing positively to the city's food scene along the way. And street carts provide a great low-cost, low-risk way to try new cuisines. People who might balk at having dinner at a Colombian restaurant will often be quite happy to buy an empanada for a couple of pounds if it's in front of them and smells good. Eventually what you get is a dining public that can support a more interesting variety of restaurants than the standard parade of identikit Mod Brit places, chippies and kebab shops. Everybody with tastebuds wins.

So I'm watching Guerrilla Eats with great interest. This new collective of seven of the city's most interesting independent street food vendors is running their first event, a group gathering at a car park on Port Street in the Northern Quarter, this weekend. They'll be serving up barbecue, burgers and dogs, paella, chaat and cakes and ice cream. I've sampled some of their wares (I still dream about the peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream on warm brioche I scoffed at Rammyfest two years ago courtesy of Ginger's Comfort Emporium) and heard great things about lots of the others. Go forth and eat yourselves silly. Remember: you're noshing for a good cause.

*Though I have heard things about a mythical foodstuff known as a Christmas potato that you might be able to get at the All Saints potato kiosk about now. I believe stuffing may be involved.

Image of Ginger's Comfort Emporium from Pretty Nostalgic, who have done a great piece about the country's best street food providers here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Ramsbottom Festival 2012 preview

I am making many sacrifices to the rain gods in hope that the sun will shine down upon our soggy Pennine Valley over the weekend of September 14-16, when the Ramsbottom Festival comes to town. Last year's festival was many things, but dry was not one of them. It was, however, all of these things: fun, well-run, immensely entertaining, child-friendly, adult-friendly and (in a humble, Rammy-appropriate way) totally rocking. You can read my review here.

Can we expect the same degree of awesomeness this year? I had a nice chat with Victoria Robinson from The Met the other day and she filled me in. For starters, ticket prices have gone down (when does that ever happen?) with day tickets £18 on Friday and £20 Saturday and Sunday,  weekend tickets £50 and Saturday/Sunday tickets £37.50. Kids under 6 are free, kids 6-16 pay £5 day and £10 weekend, and there are family tickets available too. (You can buy tickets here )

You can't really do anything about the weather, but there is much more preparation happening at the Ramsbottom Cricket Club site to prevent mud and/or flooding in the event of serious rain. They've done more to make the festival truly family friendly: There's going to be a ladybird tent with children's entertainments, and the funfair rides will be free. The festival ale will be brewed within shouting distance at Rammy's own Irwell Works Brewery, whose wares I was able to sample the other day and I'm not at all worried about the quality of the beer. Camping has moved to St. Andrews Primary School, a short walk away.   (Updated: I heard residents' complaints have put the kibosh on this campsite, but sure the festival folks have cooked something else up for campers.) And I understand they're laying on coaches to transport folks to and from Chorlton and the city centre each day of the festival. Not as atmospheric as arriving by steam train on the East Lancs Railway, perhaps, but surely very handy for some.

Here are some of the acts I'm most excited about:

Sometime in early 2004 I went to my very first Manchester gig knowing literally nothing about the band, the venue, or the city. I just thought the band's name sounded interesting. It turned out to be I am Kloot at The Night and Day. (Yes, I accidentally went to the most Manchesterest gig ever.) They put on a great show and I instantly became a fan of this fine band, fronted by the raspy-voiced songwriter Johnny Bramwell, joining an army of other Mancunians who make up their loyal following. Why they haven't gotten really big like their contemporaries Elbow and Doves is a complete mystery to me.

I like folksinger Thea Gilmore a lot, something about her lyrics remind me a bit of Suzanne Vega. Her ballads are beautiful, spare things. Recently she became a little bit famous when the BBC used her song 'London' in an Olympics montage. Her latest album sets to music a notebook of Sandy Denny's lyrics found after the folksinger's untimely death. Here's an older song:

The Leisure Society are an artful indie band whose arrangments and musicianship put most of their contemporaries to shame. I saw them play a great show at Ruby Lounge a couple of years ago so I'm expecting a good set from them. Their biggest hit is probably this beautiful song:

Scottish musician Roddy Frame is a wonderful songwriter, and I'm looking forward to hearing his new solo stuff. But most people will surely know him best as the lead singer of Aztec Camera, the ace indie band from the 80s whose hits included Somewhere in my heart and my favourite, this one:

Seth Lakeman is a traditional fiddler and singer-songwriter who was nominated for the Mercury Prize a while back. This song is about a servant girl who killed herself on Dartmoor and is said to haunt the place. Intense.


Liz Green has become a firm favourite in the Manchester area and is developing a growing audience around the country. A bluesy folksinger whose voice sounds a lot like Billie Holliday to me, doing her own thing musically and sounding great at it.

There are plenty of other acts on. Some performers my friends are excited about include: Roddy Woomble (of Idlewild fame), The Inspiral Carpets (sorry, I kind of missed that whole Madchester thing) Air Cav and Admiral Fallow. And there's plenty more fun to be had in the silent disco, which proved the sleeper hit of last year.

But as entertaining as the silent disco was, it couldn't compare to the sheer joy of watching this guy dance. Like a Lancashire Bacchus, Stripeyman embodied the true spirit of the festival. I'll be looking out for him.
Stripeyman photo by Brian Connor.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Manchester Blogmeet Aug 28 with Revolve

A quick reminder about our blogmeet on Tuesday, August 28 from 6:30- 8:30 at Common Bar on Edge Street. And one change to announce: our previously-announced sponsor Hannah Makes Things has sadly had to cancel, but we have an equally wonderful replacement in Blackburn-based Revolve Boutique.

Sophia Smith (right), the woman behind the pre-owned designer clothes and jewelry online emporium, will be on hand to introduce the site and share her tips for decluttering your wardrobe. And bloggers with designer clothes or accessories they no longer feel the love for are welcome to bring them along and see if Sophia can help them find a new home and make you some dosh. To buy more clothes and accessories, natch.

But even if you're the kind of blogger for whom designer fashion is, erm... not a priority, get yourself down to Common and meet your friendly blogging compatriots. It's a very laid-back evening of informal conversation over a beer or coffee, and anyone with a blog is very welcome. Drop in for a chat.

Images courtesy of Conker Communications.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Blog North Awards

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I'm the organiser of the Manchester Blog Awards, which started seven years ago. It happened in the cafe bar at then-Urbis. We were sharing the bill with a rather serious poetry reading night, and there were maybe 25 people there and most of them were probably there for the poetry. There weren't very many bloggers in Manchester back then. It still felt like we were doing something new (though this was by no means the actual dawn of blogging or anything.) It was exciting just meeting another blogger.

Over the last seven years, thanks to the support of Manchester Literature Festival, Arts Council England, and Manchester Digital Development Agency, we evolved into a bigger and better event - and, we like to think, helped a fair few writers (and photograpers and illustrators) in this city become better known, better supported or at least more fired up about their work. I know I'm biased, but Manchester's blogging community is pretty freaking awesome.

And now we're evolving again: We've just announced that the Manchester Blog Awards is becoming the Blog North Awards, and will merge with the Blog North network and events series organised jointly by my writing organisation Openstories, Manchester-based webzine Creative Tourist and artblog emporium The Culture Vulture from Leeds. I'll still be the main organiser and it will still be a part of the programme of Manchester Literature Festival, but it will now be open to bloggers across the North. And there are some new categories just to shake things up a bit: We'll be handing out awards for Best Food and Drink Blog, Best Young Blogger and Best Specialist Blog alongside our past categories of Best Arts and Culture Blog, Best Personal Blog, Best Writing on a Blog and Best City or Neighbourhood Blog on 17 October at The Deaf Institute.

Over on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog I spoke to Sarah-Clare Conlon about the event and answered some questions about why we're changing things and the state of blogging in general. I'm really looking forward to reading great blogs from Yorkshire, Cumbria, Merseyside, Northumberland and everywhere in between. And there are lots of them to read: 205 blogs are in the running as of today (gosh, I'd better get back to reading them.) You can enter your own blog or a blog you love reading over on our Blog North Awards website, where you'll also find all kinds of information about the competition and the event. And to keep up to speed on everything you can follow us on Twitter @blognorth or Facebook. Happy blogging.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eating local in Ramsbottom

Over the past few months, two tired old pubs have reopened under new ownership, all shiny and newly kitted out, with food of a quality to create a stir around my 'hood of Ramsbottom. I'm talking about The Eagle and Child and Hearth of the Ram. Both are doing the same kind of thing: enlightened updates of the sort of hearty fare that Lancashire mill workers would have eaten. If you're a fan of the food at Nigel Haworth's Ribble Valley Inns, or Robert Owen Brown's cooking at The Mark Addy, you'll know just what to expect. Inventive uses of black pudding? Check. Offal? Check. Local producers namechecked on menu? Check. Old school puddings? Check. It's crowd-pleasing stuff.

I was impressed by The Eagle and Child, just a short walk up the hill from Ramsbottom centre in the village of Shuttleworth. It's got all the earmarks of a great local, a comfortable but not fussy interior with nice views over the valley and fireplaces for chilly days, and a family-friendly atmosphere. Impressively, they've worked with the Incredible Edible Ramsbottom group to create an edible beer garden behind the pub which will grow food for the kitchens, and there is an innovative apprenticeship programme in place.

The food was very good, with generous portions served in a pleasantly relaxed fashion. My starter, a salad of new peas, broad beans, nuts and goats cheese in a light, sweet dressing was fresh-tasting and moreish. The perfect foil to my burger, a toothsome mouthful on a foccacia bun. It was a traditional British approach to the burger (season the beef and cook it through) rather than the American one I prefer, but pretty good for all that. The Lancashire cheese and tomato relish in there was a nice touch. Extra points for near-perfect onion rings.

My friend's fish pie tasted amazing but proved tricky to eat as it was so liquid it threatened to cross the border into souptown. For dessert, we demolished a plant pot full of tiramisu. With a few leaves stuck in the top layer of chocolate biscuit crumbs it was almost too adorable to eat, but not quite.We left full and happy.

Just down the hill near the banks of the Irwell is Hearth of the Ram. This pub has a different feel about it. It's more of an adult atmosphere, and I wouldn't be in a hurry to take kids here. I really like the interior, which is warm and stylish but a few shades more salvage-chic fashionable than the Eagle. When we went to celebrate a friend's birthday on a Friday night it was absolutely rammed, but some of the congestion should ease when a dining room opens upstairs. I was told it has the latest license in Ramsbottom (2:30 am, night owls) and definitely had an after hours vibe going on with some good James Brown on the stereo and lots of people drinking cocktails out of jam jars.

As you'd expect from the higher spec interior, the food is a more cheffily ambitious version of what we had at the Eagle, with microgreens, reductions and purple vegetables entering into proceedings. I ate from the a la carte menu. They offer another, lighter menu with burgers and the like at other times, but we weren't allowed to order from this menu, which seemed odd (and unfortunately prevented me from doing a burger-to-burger taste test). But I didn't really mind, as my pork cheeks were full of flavour and beautifully matched up with butternut squash and potato terrine, and the very large glass of Pinot Noir was excellent, though pretty expensive at £8. I stole a few bites of a friend's tasty rabbit and black pudding sausages, which I'll order next time. A dessert of berry baked Alaska was good but not great. The service was good, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much we ended up lingering over drinks into the wee hours. I'm really looking forward to my next visit.

A small rant: Weirdly, neither of these restaurants has prices on their menus online. It's just ridiculous not to give people some idea what they can expect to pay, especially when you're charging quite a bit more than the previous tenants for food. This is especially true at Hearth, where everything was priced just a couple of pounds higher than I thought it really needed to be. I understand they are trying to do a more ambitious thing with the food, and quality costs. But sadly, the price point means this will probably be a place I save for special occasions. The Eagle might see us more often. Nevertheless, both are extremely welcome additions to Rammy's dining scene. And with the similarly reinvented Shoulder of Mutton up Holcombe Hill apparently serving up cracking food too (though I haven't made it there yet to see for myself) this place is fast turning into gastro-pub heaven. Something the army of walkers, day trippers and steam train aficionados who descend on the town every weekend will surely appreciate.

Images: Hearth of the Ram, top, by Robert Wade via Flickr. All other images courtesy of The Eagle and Child.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Manchester Blogmeet August 28

It's been a while since our last blogmeet. So I've organised one. Hurrah! This one will be happening on Tuesday 28 August, from 6:30-8:30 pm at Common on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter.

Our sponsor this time will be quirky jewellery store Hannah Makes Things, which operates a shop just down the road in Afflecks and also sells online. Hannah Nuttall, designer and creator of Hannah Makes Things, will be on hand to show off some of her latest goodies, talk about how she started her own jewellery company and share the inspiration behind her handmade statement necklaces and  unique designs. I've been admiring her work online for a while now; it's just amazingly original. These are real conversation pieces.

Come along and enjoy an after-work drink in the fine surroundings of The Kestrel Suite at Common and mingle with others of your ilk; all bloggers from Manchester and elsewhere are very welcome. But please don't come if you do not actually have a blog on the internets (otherwise, it's just embarassing for everyone.) We're a friendly bunch, so don't be shy. But it's best to be up front about the fact that we will make you wear a name tag with your name and blog's name on, unless you're one of those people who has your blog url tattooed on your forehead. See you there.

Friday, June 22, 2012

9 things I wish Manchester could steal from Philly

I recently went to Philadelphia. I wrote a piece about the trip for Creative Tourist that talks a lot about the art museums and the great things you can do there. But I was surprised how much I loved just spending time in the city. Part of it was probably nostalgia; I used to spend a lot of time there as a kid (my mom was from Philly.) Part of it was probably the summery weather we had. But it really is a good place to live. I came back thinking a lot about the different things there that I wish we could replicate in Manchester:

1. One Percent for Art: "In 1959, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (RDA) adopted the first "One Percent for Fine Arts" program in the United States, thus making the commissioning of new works of public art integral to the urban renewal process. For each project built on land acquired from and assembled by the RDA, the selected developer must budget no less than one percent of the total building construction cost toward commissioning original, site-specific works of public art." This is why there is so much good public art all over the city.

2. Living roof bus shelters: Why not?

(Actually, green roofs are all over the place in Philly.)

3. The Mural Arts program. Got a graffiti problem in the neighbourhood? Get the taggers and other community members involved in creating these large-scale street murals. Jane Golden started the work back in 1984. There are now more than 3,000 murals, and it's the largest public art program in the US. Spend some time appreciating them on the Mural Explorer.

4. Community gardens. You see these guys around NYC too. Just a nice way to use otherwise empty land. Some of them are so charming it's almost kind of annoying. Here's a picture of a community garden with a street mural above it, just off Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Cute overload.

5. Reading Terminal Market. The granddaddy of all food halls. Where I ate an impossible to re-create anywhere else meal of jambalaya (Beck's Cajun Cafe) with a chocolate egg cream (Hershel's East Side Deli), followed by an Amish apple dumpling (Dutch Eating Place). Then I went for a lie down. There was also a really cool place selling only cookbooks which I spent far too long wandering around.

6. Philly Beer Week - There's a fantastic beer community in this town, with lots of craft brewers and they all pull together for this highly popular event that takes over the bars and breweries of the city. Still angry about the fact that my jetlag meant I missed a rare chance to try gypsy brewer Mikkeller's beer. Ah well. Watch this video about Benjamin Franklin drinking beer.

7. Parks, parks and more parks. Seems like everywhere I went in that city I was bumping into a large, leafy park. Or a park with a huge art show happening in it. Or a park with a busking bluegrass band (who were really good). Or a nice playground. Man, the dogs even have their own parks. Ahem, Manchester.

8. The grid. City planning! It means there's a street grid, so you always know where you are. This is something we could never replicate, obviously, but I still covet it.

9. A riverside trail. People don't appreciate stuff like the city's beautiful trail along the Schuylkill River enough. And again, I know that pre-colonial cities have a few more limits on what can go where. But I wish our waterways in the city centre were more accessible or generally made more of, instead of being hidden away, paved over or fenced off. (Though hats off to CityCo and The Piccadilly Partnership and their efforts to green up the place, and for helping cool stuff like Atelier[zero] happen). Anyway, my family and I used to go here a lot. Here's a picture of me and my brother feeding some geese near Kelly Drive.

Images: (from top) Philadelphia skyline by B. Krist for Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation; green bus shelter roof courtesy Roofmeadow; Mural at 17th and South by Trishylicious via Flickr, all others me. Full disclosure: I travelled to Philly as the guest of GPTMC and the Sofitel, whose crispy breakfast bacon haunts my dreams. If you want to visit Philly too, all the info you need's here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Claire Massey, Prestwich Book Fest and Drinking in the Northern Quarter

Claire Massey is one of my favourite Manchester-area writers. Her stories are smooth and lean and pleasantly uncomfortable, modern fairy tales that make you feel a bit strange. So I was very happy to hear that Manchester's own Nightjar Press was publishing two of her stories as single story chapbooks. I love the idea of single story books, and Nightjar's are always carefully chosen and beautifully designed... just the thing for a commute or an after-dinner read. Massey's Into the Penny Arcade is a creepy tale of a girl who happens into a strange place on her way home from school, with a nicely ambiguous ending. There's nothing ambigious about the way Marionettes ends, but this story about a couple holidaying in Prague does that difficult thing of making magic seem inevitable and unquestionably real. I should also mention that the two predecessors in the Nightjar chapbook series are winners too; Christopher Kenworthy's Sullom Hill explores good and evil among children in Garstang, and anyone who's read Ga Pickin's beautifully written Remains won't be venturing out on the moors after dark anytime soon. Collect them all!

Claire Massey will be reading at the first-ever Prestwich Book Festival, along with a host of other folk like Ben Judge, Aaron Gow, Sarah-Clare Conlon at the emerging writers night this Thursday the 17th May. And also, me! I'll be going all meta and reading an essay I wrote about a bar, in a bar (well, okay, a pub. The Church Inn, which I've never been to but have heard very encouraging things about.) The writerly action all kicks off at 8pm. And there's plenty else on; lots of good events helpfully spread out over several weeks rather than crammed into a few days. I'd especially like to get to Tony Walsh's Vocabaret on 14 June.

 And speaking of writing in bars: The Complete History of Drinking in the Northern Quarter is a fascinating transmedia arts project that uses collective storytelling and social history to get at what makes this place special to so many people. It's an endeavour that is pretty close to my heart. I still remember the first time I turned onto Tib Street in 2004 following promising reports on t'internet to the likes of Cord, Afflecks and the late, great Love Saves the Day and breathed a sigh of relief that there was a place with some art and soul in this strange city. The Northern Quarter quickly became my workplace and hanging out place and if anywhere feels like home to me in Manchester, this small network of streets and alleys is it. If you also have a history with this neighboorhood and its many fine drinking establishments, there are lots of different ways to get involved: you can record/submit a story with Audioboo (or the Complete History gang will come record you); you can share a written story, a video, photographs or memorabilia. They've got some very interesting things planned for the coming months, so keep up with them on Facebook and Twitter to stay in the loop.

Claire Massey photo Jonathan Bean.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A good burger in Manchester

Finally got down to Almost Famous burgers the other night. I've been watching from a distance for weeks as the growing Manchester foodbloggerati fell hard for this temporary burger joint from the folks behind Keku Moku, Home Sweet Home and Socio Rehab. Could it be that a decent burger had finally made its way to Manchester? Reports were promising.

I ignored the whole "no bloggers no blaggers no photos" thing as a clever marketing ploy; as a signless pop-up burger joint in what appear to be empty offices in the top floor of a building in the Northern Quarter they would have been screwed if nobody had blogged or tweeted about it. Of course that did not happen, and thank god it didn't, because we want these guys to come back with their good burgers SOON. ( As an aside, anyone interested in social media marketing should take a look at their twitter feed. I imagine it being written by a kind of meat-crazed Hunter S. Thompson).

But really, who gives a shit about their marketing when their burgers are this good. They are the real deal. And yes, I say this as a burger-chomping American known to bitch about how bad the burgers are here in England. Juicy and pink in the middle, they appear to be made with 100 percent beef unadulterated by bready filler, vegetables or weird spices. You can tell all the burger research time Almost Famous' Beau Myers spent in California was put to good use (tough gig, that). Nice brioche-style bun too that wasn't too thick but got out of the way and let the meat shine. And the inclusion of rib meat and cole slaw in their Triple Nom burger was a stroke of meaty genius.

I like the gauntlet thrown down by placing a fresh cylinder of kitchen roll on the table with your food. Like, you're going to need this. And you will. The fries were good, but not quite as amazing as the boigers. It might be a regional thing; up in New England where I'm from places like this do a brisk trade in dirty, just-pulled-out-of-the-ground, cooked-until-they're-mahogany fries. But definitely nice that they added sweet potatoes to the mix. A messy barbecueish special with roadkill in the name, some fearsome looking wings, and vodka cupcakes all appealed, but I was already stuffed.

A note about the drinks: These guys seem to have a winning strategy of keeping diners likkered up. I had only to enquire about the composition of a Jack & Smack before a free shot of this potent elixr was on the bar before me. (In fairness, though, I had tweeted that I was coming and am pretty easy to spot, so maybe they were especially forthcoming.) The cocktails are head-scrambling mixtures with punchy names like Bitch Juice. This combined with their opening hours (weekends only, late nights) and position sprawled in the lap of about a hundred NQ bars make the atmosphere boozy and convivial. This is a good thing. It's nice to have a place to eat good food where you can really kick back, but, you know, leave the kids at home.

If you're going you'll have to be quick (and prepared to queue; last Friday there was a line from around 5:30; so good news that they're opening around 1pm this Friday. For evening eats, arriving after 9 or 10 might be a better strategy). This weekend's their last before this incarnation of Almost Famous closes, but there are intimations that a more permanent venue might open at some point in the future. Hurry up, burger dudes. Manchester needs your patties.

Monster burger illustration by NOF artherapy.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Blog North launches

Bloggers of the world, meet Blog North, a project I've been working on with our own lovely Creative Tourist and Leeds' magnificent The Culture Vulture. It's a new network for culture bloggers in the North, and an accompanying series of tasty blogger events at art venues, festivals and cultural organisations. We kick things off on 12 May in Wakefield, home to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (home to the Miro image pictured above) and The Hepworth.

What's the idea here? Well, as bloggers, we're pretty much on our own. We often start writing on the side, for fun, in our spare time. Many of us begin without formal training in writing for the internets (or otherwise), and often, writing about arts and culture is something we are doing as art lovers writing from a place of unschooled enthusiasm rather than years of training as an artist, art historian or cultural critic. The thinking behind this series is to provide Northern bloggers with an arts journalist's level of access to exhibitions and cultural events (guided tours, artist/curator talks, etc.) alongside a series of workshops and masterclasses where they can hone their writing and critical skills.

But that's not all! There will be fun schmoozing-with-other-bloggers time and the opportunity to join our Blog North network (and get shiny badges for your blog.) For all the details and booking stuff, head over to the Blog North page. And please note that we are offering six free places for established bloggers who can make a good case for why they need to be there. See you in Wakefield...

Image courtesy of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NALD conference and blogging workshop

A couple of things to quickly tell you about:

With my Openstories hat on I'll be taking part in a panel discussion at the National Association of Literature Development conference, The Space Between Us, in London next week (still tickets if you hurry). Really looking forward to talking over the many changes happening in the field of literature development, and the evolution of blogging, online publishing and creative writing websites such as Rainy City Stories and The Real Story are right at the centre of these changes. But there's also the new forms of experimental literature happening on new platforms/devices, the self-publishing revolution, e-books and a host of other changes to talk about. It's an exciting time for readers and writers.

Also, I'm running another session on The Art of Blogging at Cornerhouse on 17 April at 6pm. This will be an informal, conversational session (rather than a lecture) so places are limited. We'll be sharing tips on developing a writing style and identity for your blog, finding the right platform, building an engaged community of readers and getting your posts to a bigger audience among other things, and looking at some particularly successful blogs in detail. It will be suitable for new and more experiened bloggers alike. Please note though that this will not be a hands-on "how to start a blog" session; Cornerhouse runs separate beginning to blog sessions that cover the nuts and bolts.

If you're interested, be aware that events in this series tend to book up very quickly.

Underwood illustration from the amazing Le Pen Quotidien.

Monday, March 12, 2012

New blogs: The secondhand edition

Hey. Been a while, hasn't it? And all that while I've been quietly collecting new Manchester blogs...

New blog Secondhand Safari is the brainchild of Suzy Prince (above) who used to run the excellent Nude Magazine. Suzy has set herself the task of buying no new items for a year (with some reasonable exemptions for food and the like.) It's a mission that I totally support, as a passionate lover of charity shops and buying things that come with their own mysterious history. Suzy's challenge starts on May Day, but there's plenty of good content on her blog already.

Bernadette Hyland is the woman behind Lipstick Socialist, where she writes about culture, women's issues, trade unions and grassroots campaigns.

Laura Moulden's personal blog is at laura em.

Nice to see a food blog focusing on the humble caffs and cafes of Manchester: Angie Harrison's Cafe Reviews. And journalist Louise Bolotin blogs about cooking for one at The Lone Gourmet.

Sheesh. How on earth did I forget to link to David Bailey's mindbendingly gonzo food blog Food Legend? A bit strange as it only won a blog award last year, and I have been telling people to go read it for months. Anyway, this has now been corrected.

Lots more food blog action this time around (finally Manchester wakes up to the food blogging revolution. Huzzah!) Get your teeth around Foods to try before you die, Hungry Hoss, Good Egg Foodie, Lady Nom, Good golly good gobble!, North/South Food, Mangechester and The Hungry Manc. Burp.

Spancunian Andrea Perez Arduna writes Me, Myself & The UK about her experiences living in Manchester, and her partner Daniel writes Simply Sport.

Writer Ebba Brooks blogs at Jenny Wren and Bella Wilfer Her latest post is about Manchester novelist Alexandra Singer and her remarkable story.

Liz Postlethwaite writes the Organic Allotment blog, about monster truck-driving kittens. No, it's about gardening. Just messing with ya.

Jamie Alun Price blogs at The Etched Mirror, which documents the photographer's adventures in Manchester and elsewhere. He also took the photo of Suzy above.

SACStyle is a fashion blog.

Rochdale blogger Seamus Kelly writes a poetry blog Thinking Too Much and also a biking blog, It is so about the bike.

Melanie King writes art catalyst about her arty adventures in London and Manchester.

threadsandletters is about stitches, writings, DIY publishing and photocopies.

The Fiction Stroker
reviews books, comics, radio, TV and events.

Outtasound is a new music blog.

Pencil it in is a new culture/digital/design/food blog by Jen, a digital marketer living in Manchester. Like the design.

Curious Christina is a Manchester-based travel blogger.

Dry Goods wants to know what's in your cupboards.

Manchester travel and fiction writer Rhonda Carrier blogs about her journeys and traveling with kids at Rhonda's Travels.

Finally, Bury-based artist Coreen Cottam blogs at Cottamart. Happy readings everyone. And as always, if I've left you out, drop me a line and I'll fix it.

UPDATE: No sooner had I published this than a few people got in touch with additions...

Carolyn Hughes, or the blogger also known as Manchester is Ace has started a new blog about things to do in South Manchester with babies and toddlers, Little Dudes.

Didn'tsbury is "an unusual local photo blog which features photographs taken in Didsbury accompanied with surrealist short fiction. It aims to celebrate Didsbury alongside creative writing which will both bemuse *and* amuse the reader." Nice idea. Submissions welcome.

Finally, James follows the fortunes of Bury in Life, love and third division football.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Someday my print will come

Everyone in Manchester has started a literary magazine. You have too, haven't you? I thought so. This is good if you're a reader or a writer. This is not good if you hate literary magazines. If you hate literary magazines, run along now, this post will bore you.

I put this literary publishing frenzy down to the fact that it is so darn easy to publish an online magazine right now that a drunk kitten could probably manage it. Some of them are, essentially, group-written blogs, published on blogging platforms with a pared-down aesthetic. Others look just like proper print magazines, with design and illustration of a professional standard and are delivered via apps like issu, which aims to create a magazine-reading experience on your computer; turning pages instead of scrolling, for example. (It must be pointed out that some of these people are actually producing old-fashioned, hold-it-in-your-hands print mags and for this I salute them.)

Are they good? Some are fantastic, some aren't. But I like the fact that these writers are getting out there, messing about with words, and giving other writers a way to bring their work to a bigger audience. With some of these online projects the product isn't as important as the concept and the process. And it's interesting to think about how the publishing process itself is changing. When we can set up an online lit mag in an afternoon, and publish at the touch of a button are we losing time that in the days of print would be spent polishing, editing, perfecting? Is the fact that the finished product often isn't actually a product, in any but the most virtual sense, making us bolder (or less painstaking) editors? You can always go back and edit your post, right?

Anyway, enough of this. If you're a writer, you can send your stuff to:
Cutaway Magazine
Shoestring Magazine
Black & BLUE
There was nowhere to go but everywhere
Top Ten

By the way, if you're interested in places to read your work or hear people reading theirs, check out this list of live literature hotspots in Manchester I did for Creative Tourist earlier this month.

I don't know if you've noticed, but it's 2012 and we still don't have a Manchester listings magazine. Our last one, CityLife, closed in 2005. I was at a Christmas party with a newly arrived BBC staffer who wanted to know where we all found out what was on, and it was interesting to hear five or six Manchester folks who work in the arts share their own cobbled together collection of blogs, newspapers and websites. No easy answer there. Established listings magazine makers continue to snub Manchester, concluding that there is no money to be made from advertising here. And to be fair, they are probably right. But we are getting a new online listings site - Manchester Wire, set up by freelance writer Ruth Allan and my frequent collaborator Chris Horkan, with startup funds from Umbro Industries. I'll link to it here when it goes live.

Image by Leigh Jay Hicks (via Flickr).