Sunday, October 27, 2013

Which is mostly full of blogs

I am just emerging from a long period of work-related insanity to rediscover this blog. Well, howdy Manchizzle! Hello five remaining doughty readers. I've been busy working on the Manchester Literature Festival, where I have been doing digital marketing things this year, and also running the 2013 Blog North Awards. Since both of these roles involve reading, writing, thinking and talking about blogs and blogging so much, writing a post here wasn't high on the to-do list. But this hectic time was, as always, hugely fun and inspiring. The 2013 Literature Festival was definitely the best one to date, and you can revisit it over at the new MLF Blog Chapter & Verse, where our festival blogger team has reported on the festival in a series of thoughtful and entertaining reviews.

The Blog North Awards was a great event this year, with Chris Killen's commissioned story/film A Short Guide to The Future (above) the highlight for me. It managed to be funny, disturbing and moving all at the same time, and was most entertainingly read by the author wrapped in tinfoil. But the shortlisted bloggers were rightfully the stars of the evening, and you can read the full list of winning and shortlisted blogs over here at the BNA site. Definitely expect to hear more from these talented people.

So, I have two blogging workshops to tell you about. The first one is called Blogging for Artists. It's a short intro to blogging and social media marketing for the independent creative practitioner. I'm doing it at Castlefield Gallery in Manchester on 5 November at 6:30pm as part of their excellent CG Associates scheme, though it is open to non-members too. I think there are a few slots left; booking and info here.

On Friday 22 November I'll be teaching a daylong blogging workshop in lovely Cardigan as part of the Do Lectures. I'm really happy to be working with this always interesting, well-curated and inspirational series. Called simply How to Blog? it's a hands-on introduction intended to give you all the tools you need to start blogging. Booking and full details here at The Do Lectures site.

I've stopped organising blogmeets myself,  but I'm happy to report that that other folks have started running them around Manchester. Rachel from Well Worn Whisk is organising one at Parlour, Chorlton on 7 November; for details get in touch with her via Twitter.

Image: Katie Moffat

Friday, September 06, 2013

Ramsbottom Festival 2013 preview

And just like that, the summer's over. The tan is fading and the weather has turned cold and clammy. Which means only one thing: wrapping up warm for a few days of cracking music, great beer and all-around funtimes at Ramsbottom Cricket Club for Ramsbottom Festival. With The Bridgewater Hall joining Bury Met as a partner this year, the lineup looks stronger than ever, and they've expanded the range of family performances and activities too. Here's a little taster of what we can expect musically:

Friday is raging rock and roll night for all the young folk who still have the joints and livers for it.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light... and pray for good weather.

The Futureheads:  Catchy jingly-jangly guitar indie that makes you jump around. I have much love for their famous cover of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.


Public Service Broadcasting: Interesting band with a penchant for building songs around sound archive samples. Elegaic, epically British stuff.

Twisted Wheel: Manc indie outfit widely hailed as the natural heirs of Oasis (god help 'em)

Saturday is a mixed bag: acts spanning folk rock, pop, indie, world and probably quite a lot of time in the Silent Disco tent, wearing a hole in the grass. It can get pretty crowded in there when it rains though. Pray for good weather.

Richard Hawley: The Sheffield blues troubadour plays the kind of music that makes you think he hops freight trains and smokes 40 Marlboro Reds a day. I have no idea if he actually does, but it works for me.


The Beat: The legendary 1980s Two Tone ska band. When I first encountered them we called them The English Beat and yes, I owned this on vinyl. Sigh.


Junip: Dreamy, understated pop folk from the Jose Gonzalez-fronted Swedish trio

Sunday things chill down for a grand folkfest. Which is fortunate, as by now many of us are a little shaky and liable to start at sudden loud noises. But seriously, if you're into folk, Ramsbottom is the place to be on Sunday. It's fantastic to see such a strong (and female-dominated) lineup this year. Pray for good weather, though.

Sinead O' Connor: People tut at the supposedly scandalous things she says and does, but when you get down to it Sinead is just a great musician with a voice that will freeze the balls off you at forty paces. And that's honestly all I care about. She does make me laugh though.

Eliza Carthy, Bella Hardy and Kate Young : You want trad folk? You can't go wrong with this festival-circuit special trio.

The Unthanks: Dark, uncanny folk with Northeast roots from the critically-acclaimed Unthank sisters, who are pretty much single-handedly reviving interest in this kind of music.

Chasing Owls: An Edinburgh-based band who make music of the amiable indie-folk persuasion. (Violin solos and handclaps) Quite sweet.

Got your tickets? Adult weekend tickets from £65 and day tickets from £23 available at the Ramsbottom Festival website along with full info on everything else. See you there.

Blog North Awards (& blogging opportunties)

The Blog North Awards, which I've been running in one incarnation or another since 2006, is currently accepting entries for its 2013 competition. It's super easy (and free) to enter via our nifty online form and you can enter your own blog or someone else's. Or many someone elses'. Go crazy!

This year we're scanning the northern internets for blogging excellence in the following categories: Best Young Blogger, Best Writing, Best Personal Blog, Best Arts and Culture Blog, Best City or Neighbourhood Blog, and Best Food & Drink Blog. We don't care how many hits you get or how many advertisers you have or how many  shares you rack up.What we're looking for is great original content, plain and simple.

The entry deadline is this coming Sunday, 8 September, at midnight, so get on it if you haven't entered yet. Then later this month we announce a shortlist (which the public can vote on, along with our magnificent judges) and we'll reveal the winners at the Blog North Awards event on 16 October at Gorilla in Manchester. This year's event will feature author Chris Killen performing a specially commissioned piece, A Short Guide to The Future, and the literary/musical stylings of Les Malheureux, along with readings from some of the shortlisted bloggers which are always fantastic. If this sounds like the kind of thing you'd be into, you can find out more about the event and book tickets over here at the Manchester Literature Festival website.

In other blogging matters, it's just been arranged that I'll be running a blogging workshop at Castlefield Gallery as part of its excellent CG Associates programme. It's happening on the evening of November 5 (sparklers optional.) I'll post a link here and tweet about this when booking is live via the Castlefield Gallery website, but just wanted to give you advance warning as there's been a lot of interest in these.

And if you're looking for a more substantial introduction to the wonders of blogging and digital media, Cornerhouse are recruiting again for their Digital Reporter scheme. It takes place in the evenings over several months, and it's a wonderful way to brush up on digital skills like using multimedia content, audio and video blogging, and mastering all manner of social media while enjoying some marvelous cultural activites. All the info's here on the Cornerhouse website, closing date September 13.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manchester restaurants: Solita review

I’ve been sceptical about Solita, the restaurant in the Northern Quarter. First they were an upscale seafood restaurant, Sole, then re-branded last year as Solita with an Americanised casual menu big on the ribs and dirty burgers etc. that UK foodies were going apeshit for around that time, which could be interpreted as a cynical move. Also, I get suspicious if restaurants are too good at social media, because in my experience social media prowess and quality of food are inversely proportional. Solita is very good at social media. They seem to emit a constant stream of blogger tasting sessions, pictures of burgers in progress and lots of tweeting with the Manc fooderati. They're unusually hip to cultural trends. James Gandolfini's passing was honoured with a special Tony Soprano burger; a recent Breaking Bad-themed dinner sold out in record time. They get buzz. I just wasn’t sure how much of it was justified.

Also, it’s a little expensive. I’ve done a couple of drive-bys but the fact that most starters weigh in at £6 and it’s hard to find a main for under a tenner put me off, especially when they’re serving up this kind of food. I don’t care how good it is, I’d feel like an asshole paying £10.90 for a hot dog. So when they contacted me to see if I wanted to come down to sample their summer menu (at their expense, you dig) I wasn't sure. It was possible I’d been avoiding a real gem for silly reasons. I mean, everybody in Manchester seems to love the place so much, and you know all those food bloggers weren’t just high on all the food, drink and cameraderie, right?

So anyway, I went. 

The evening’s drink special, an herby and cool sloe gin fizz, was a very auspicious beginning to our dinner. My friend and I were sat upstairs in the fairly spartan dining room where we admired the gigantic red neon sign that says SOUL, the Modesty Blaise frames decorating the wall, the classic R&B soundtrack and the unusually friendly and self-assured service. Downstairs lurks a darker, cosier dining space.

A starter of beer boiled shrimp tasted good – the Old Bay butter brought back happy memories of Maryland crab feasts – but they were small, and when you have to shuck ‘em yourself you want more reward for the labour. The "Lucky 7"; a Tex-Mex seven-layer dip, was a surprise. It’s the kind of thing you find at PTA dinners and barbeques across the states; my mom made it all the time. Seeing it on a menu in Manchester is slightly surreal. Solita's version is standard, with beans, salsa, sour cream, guac and cheese etc. served with the tasty blue corn chips that are tough to find over here. In a similarly nostalgic vein, they're currently serving up a blooming onion, a deep-fried artery-blocking staple of county fairs. Fried dough (doused with butter, powdered sugar and cinnamon) can surely not be far behind. God help us all.

Tuna tartare was fresh raw tuna chunked in a bowl, served with tiny bowls of toppings (minced avocado, tomato and radish; sesame seeds) and toasted bread slices. The overall effect was a little bland, with the ingredients failing to get a very interesting conversation going; I would have liked a stronger wasabi flavour from the oil, which fell through the toast holes and made an almighty mess.  After this, the prawns and the fondue, our table looked like the aftermath of a fantastic food fight.

They decided what to send us, which was how we ended up eating burger fondue, a gimmicky thing I’d be unlikely to order anytime but definitely not during a heatwave. The cheese fondue was good. The burger was small, probably for dipping purposes, served in a soft sesame-topped bun avec mustard et ketchup a la Mickey D’s. The meat was dark reddish pink inside, which was fine by me, but the texture was oddly smooth, and there was practically no char on the outside. It was all right in the context of fondue but if that’s the kind of burger they do generally I’d have problems with it. The pudding was a sticky toffee apple pie with fantastic Cabrelli's vanilla ice cream. I loved everything about the pie – flaky crust and the right ratio of apple to caramel topping. I would come back for this alone.

Overall, we ate well. You get the impression that Solita is trying hard to do something different, and I like the sense of fun about the place. So, for that I’ll forgive them for being too good at social media and for naming themselves after a trendy Manhattan neighbourhood. Heck, I'll even consider forgiving them for serving a £10.90 hot dog. I probably won’t eat there all the time, but I'd go back for a special occasion dinner. And I plan to investigate their lunch menu, which is a lot more wallet-friendly (mains at £5.95.) and includes good sounding-stuff like a pulled pork cheese toastie, a meatball sub and a grilled chicken caesar salad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Macbeth, Manchester International Festival

When I emigrated here a decade ago, I had some vague notion I’d always be swanning off to the RSC. Needless to say, this has not come to pass. Which is how I found myself last night in a deconsecrated church in Ancoats, sweaty and nervous, about to have my first live experience of High Church British Shakespeare courtesy of Manchester International Festival. I don’t know why I was so nervous, because of course Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford's Macbeth was great. Of course it was.

They somehow managed to fit Scotland into that little place, complete with rain, mud and peaty smells. The staging was in-your-face, with armies charging about in the muck and much brutal rutting and grappling inches from the audience. It was cleverly done: resourceful use of the natural lighting provided by the building, and a set that addressed the problems of this unusual venue (spoilers!). And the cast was pretty good overall. The Sainted Sir Ken was as good as you'd expect. Alex Kingston was a tremendous lady Macbeth, with other standout performances from Ray Fearon as a quietly imposing MacDuff and Daniel Ings as the porter, who provides the few laughs what is not a exactly a chucklefest of a play.

To commit murder for personal gain is to destroy your own faith in humanity, and any hope for peace you might ever have, because you truly understand the horrific lengths people will go to. This production was especially effective in showing us the progress of this revelation within the minds of Macbeth – once a good man worthy of trust – and Lady Macbeth, who couldn’t harden her own heart enough. When their stifled consciences caught up with them, erupting into feverish visions and waking nightmares, madness was the inevitable result. Followed swiftly by death, which felt like a blessed relief for everyone concerned. 

It was a relief for all of us in the audience too, because the seating was maddeningly uncomfortable and it was hot enough to fry an egg on Macduff’s shield. Yes, I know uncomfy seating is the price we pay for getting to see theatre in unusual spaces. In this case, it was a price worth paying, but if I had stayed any longer in there I might have started having a few hallucinations of my own. As good as it was, the moment of emerging outside in the evening air was pretty much the highlight of the festival for me so far. I'm not alone. In his review, fellow blogger David Hartley picked this out as an issue for him too. A plea to theatre/festival overlords: we know you can't control the weather, but the comfort of the audience is worth thinking pretty hard about.

I always hate reading rave reviews of things that have been sold out for months, and tickets for this went in nanoseconds, though it’s always worth checking for returns on the day of performance. But look! National Theatre Live is screening it in cinemas all over the country. Hey, maybe they'll even have air conditioning.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Review: The Old Woman, Manchester International Festival

In the course of writing the preview of Manchester International Festival's production of The Old Woman for Creative Tourist, I was genuinely baffled about how they’d adapt Daniil Kharms’ text, an absurdist fable where much of the action happens inside the paranoid narrator’s head (which you can read online here). But playwright Darryl Pinckney cleverly appropriated bits from his other, similarly surreal writings, which gave the production some more source material to play with. Uber-director Robert Wilson used this to create a kaleidoscopic sequence of short sketches and tableaux, expertly performed by two world-class professionals. Watching it was a joyful experience – and an exhausting one. This kind of theatre-of-the-abstract demands a lot from its audience, and by the end of 90 minutes I was ready for a break. 

Dafoe and Baryshnikov were an inspired combination, utterly different actors but positive equals in their craft. Baryshnikov was a melancholy presence who moved about the stage with dazzling grace. Dafoe was a whirlwind – a demon gurning and glowering, then a daffy goof, then a maudlin Pierrot – with that blazing charisma that means you can’t take your eyes off him. The show moved us quickly across a variety of emotional landscapes, traversing jazzy slapstick, existential crises, tenderness, horror, and even straw hat vaudeville with the pair playing off each other like an absurdist Morecambe and Wise. But permeating the whole thing was that particularly Russian feeling – a blend of folk wisdom and gallows humour developed over centuries of hard labour, oppression, vodka and long winters. 

The topsy-turvy minimalist set was continually subjected to split second changes in lighting, timed to coincide with movements from the actors and sharp reports that sounded intermittently throughout the action, creating a jittery atmosphere like a giant clock ticking at irregular times. This production needed to be utterly precise to work, and with this crack team of course it was – but don’t try this at home, kids. The Old Woman is the theatre equivalent of jumping 13 Mack trucks on a motorcycle, and every bit as exhilarating to watch.

Image courtesy Manchester International Festival

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: Manchester Sound: The Massacre

Site specific, immersive new theatre by the usually excellent Library Theatre Company. Happening at a secret location in the Northern Quarter.  Unifying two diverse but interesting moments in Manchester’s history: The Peterloo Massacre and the heyday of Acid House. Manchester Sound: The Massacre was intriguing on many levels, and I sincerely wanted to love it. I trooped off to said secret location full of hope and goodwill. But the play just didn’t work for me.  

First, the good stuff. The staging was bold and effective, with the audience becoming active participants in the gathering, whether it was a rave or a public demonstration. It was alarming the way actors charged around the space, sometimes barrelling right through us, which lent proceedings the right kind of unsettled nervous energy. And the space itself is a real find. It’s full of atmosphere, and it has been used resourcefully. 

But these positives, along with a game cast who gave it their all, weren’t enough to salvage a play with a flawed central analogy. Comparing citizens massacred while peacefully protesting for the right to fully participate in society with raver kids half-assedly agitating for “the right to party” won’t wash, and it just can’t be cemented together with broad platitudes about standing up for what you believe in. It reminds me of the time they closed the smoking lounge at my high school and some kids took to wearing Stars of David cut from packs of Camels. The best thing you can call it is na├»ve. But you can’t build a strong production on such a shaky foundation.

I say this with affection, but for those of us out in the rest of the world (and even lots of us who were right here in 1989) the Hacienda just wasn’t that big of a deal. Yes, the music and the clothes were new, but anyone who believed Madchester was going to usher in a new era of peace, love and brotherhood was either too young to know better or pilled to the gills. The trouble is, most of 2013’s cultural gatekeepers came of age then, and their nostalgia for the time seems limitless. It’s like they’re all personally invested in the delusion that their cultural 15 minutes "changed the world forever" and seem determined to foist it on the rest of us.

Compounding the trouble was a confused script, full of flat dialogue and predictable laughs. (“Women can be politicians now?” “The Prime Minister’s a woman. She’s a bitch.”) The action happens in parallel to start, switching between 1989 and 1819, which worked fine. But the moment three Peterloo women inexplicably turned up in the loos at the rave and started exclaiming over the condom machine, I lost the narrative thread. It transpired that they were dead and had come back to haunt the apathetic ravers into giving a toss about current events. By the end of the play, I think I worked out that if they failed, the ghosts were doomed to repeat the events of Peterloo for eternity, but this is mostly speculation on my part. And to be honest, I had disengaged from the play by then.

During its theatre-less few years, The Library Theatre has gotten really good at putting on site specific theatre. But in Manchester Sound, a provocative analogy didn’t develop into anything truly meaningful. Kind of like those totally amazing conversations you have in a warehouse at 5am. Yes, I  know, it all seemed very deep at the time.

Image: Stephen Fewell (DJ Liberty) in Manchester Sound: The Massacre by Polly Wiseman, directed by Paul Jepson, presented by the Library Theatre Company (Saturday 8 June - Saturday 6 July 2013). Photo by Kevin Cummins.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sinead and Richard Hawley headline Ramsbottom Festival

I expected good things from Ramsbottom Festival this year, but Richard Hawley (aka the bard of Sheffield) and Sinead O'Connor as headliners is beyond exciting. And errrmmm I'm looking forward to seeing Futureheads too, even if I can't think of any of their songs besides that Hounds of Love cover just at this minute (hear that? That's the sound of whatever small amount of indie cred I still possessed vanishing in a puff of smoke)

But further down the lineup announced a few minutes ago there are gems aplenty: The Unthanks, the ace Junip, who my brother recently turned me on to, the really rather cool Public Service Broadcasting, and The (English) Beat. Full lineup and details here at the festival website. I'll be publishing a full preview closer to September, but in the meantime: YAY.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Blogging workshop at Castlefield Gallery 28 May

After teaching blogging workshops in London, Birmingham and Chester already this year I am finally running one in Manchester."Blog Better" is a two-hour session that will cover the basics of posting, using images, linking and developing your own writing style. We'll  talk about ways to approach your content editorially and avoid the 'I don't know what to write about' panic. And finally we'll discuss strategies for engaging your readers and building a wider audience via intelligent use of social media.

It's suitable for beginners with a reasonable understanding of how blogging works as well as more experienced bloggers who aren't feeling the love for their blog anymore and need inspiration (don't worry, we've all been there.) It's at Castlefield Gallery on 28 May at 6:30pm, tickets are £25, and at time of writing there are still some left. You can read more about the workshop and book tickets here.

Image by alexkerhead via Flickr

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stuff to do in May 2013: film, zines and art

Some interesting events for yer Manchester diaries, lovingly cut and pasted from press releases:

Anna Colin artist talk Wednesday 1st May (tomorrow) 6.30pm at Islington Mill. Free.

Post Tenebras Lux Manchester premiere at Moston's marvelous A Small Cinema. 2 May, 7:30pm. £3. This Mexican indie film has been making serious waves among some cinephiles of my acquaintance, who reckon director Carlos Reygadas is the best thing to come along in ages. Go decide for yourself.

Victoria Baths Zine Fair. May 5. £2.50 Who said print was dead? Zines galore, plus a musical tour of Victoria Baths by Manchester zinester David Carden, a film screening of Manchester DIY music film Helpyourself Manchester, talks by David Hartley and Karren Ablaze! and workshops.

Steven Severin and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at International Anthony Burgess Foundation, May 10, 8pm. £10. Siouxie and the Banshees' Steven Severin in a rare performance of his electronic score for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (above). Support is from the trio Ears In Excellent Condition, performing soundtracks for Cinderella (1922) and The Death-Feigning Chinaman (1928), two ten-minute silhouette animations by the German director Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981).

Monday, April 29, 2013

New Blogs: The post-blog blog edition

Are blogs dead? Perhaps political blogging isn't in the rudest of health, if this Eulogy for the Blog on The New Republic is to be believed. From my point of view, political blogging in Manchester was reasonably active back in, say, 2005, but has gone very quiet these days, apart from a few stalwarts like the excellent Norman Geras, on whose Normblog I actually read about this piece.  I think it's a reach to say that blogging in general is over because a few cash-strapped newspapers are consolidating their media portfolios. But there's no doubt that things are changing.

We are seeing less of the all-rounder personal blog than we once did. Nowadays most bloggers recognise that you have to focus strongly on a niche if you want to develop an audience. I think bloggers on the whole are becoming increasingly professional and serious, as blogging itself becomes commodified. And what we have, increasingly, is what Marc Tracy describes as the post-blog blog: a sophisticated group-written and edited website that publishes blog posts. A bit like our latest addition to Manchester Media and other stuff: Northern Soul. Former Times journalist Helen Nugent has marshalled a wide-ranging group of contributors including Ex-Guardian journalist Helen Carter, Manchester Salon organiser Simon Belt and theatre director Lucia Cox to cover Northern happenings, attractions and cultural events. It joins just-launched NW listings mag The Skinny; terrific to see our cultural press growing. And it's also good to see Nick Jaspan's NW media industry website Prolific North filling the gap left by the closure of How-Do.

Writing and Literature: Andrew Simpson is the author of a history of Chorlton, and maintains a blog packed with interesting history and photographs, mainly Manchester-related. There are also new blogs from Manchester-based writers Rosie Garland and Michelle Green.

Personal: A nice range of new ones this go-round:
Manchester Flick Chick
Bitten by the Dog
Richard Frosty

Music: Silent Radio is a well-organised music blog with a monthly Manchester gig guide. And tenuto sempre is a pleasingly eclectic music and found-sound blog with plenty of interesting audio files to listen to.

Food and Drink: Enough with the food and drink blogs already, this is getting ridiculous. Honestly, they just keep coming. The latest batch, fresh from the oven:
Manchester Foodies
Where to Feed
Bacon on the beech

Here's another thing: The Manchizzle's Manchester Blogroll isn't the Manchester Blogroll anymore. Well, it mostly still is, but in my latest update I've sneakily added in a smattering of great blogs from the wider Northwest, Liverpool and possibly even as far away as (gasp) Leeds. This is an indirect result of the Manchester Blog Awards' expansion into the Blog North Awards last year. In the course of running the competition I've made the acquaintance of some Northwest blogs so good I can't bear not actually linking to them myself. I've also weeded out links to blogs that were not being regularly updated, exquisite corpses though they may be. Happy reading.

Image courtesy of newly Turner-Prize nominated (and Macclesfield-born) artist David Shrigley. Yeah!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Blog North's Food Glorious Food in Leeds

You know, food and drink bloggers aren't just greedy people. A certain enjoyment of the scran is required, but they're performing a service. Most of them do what they do out of passion for good food, are self-taught, do it in their spare time and don't expect any compensation. There are more of them every minute. Consider the stuffed-to-bursting food and drink section of that Manchester blogroll to your right: it's easily the fastest growing section of the Mancunian blogosphere. And what food bloggers say and think and eat and drink has never been more important.

Consider the lot of the restaurant owner/chef/producer/PR bod, working hard to get their restaurant or product some coverage. With the "national" food press fixated on London, and the regional food press shrinking, food bloggers and tweeters are becoming increasingly important. So what we have now is a culture of blogger tasting evenings and invited review meals where bloggers can meet chefs. Meanwhile, samples of artisan pies and bottles of beer and jars of jam are winging their way to bloggers around the country. And home cooks are letting dust gather on their cookbooks as they source interesting recipes from a blogs, often via Pinterest or Twitter.

The current culture of DIY food writing has sprouted practically overnight. And while professional restaurant critics or food writers may have their own codes of conduct, food bloggers don't (though this may not be a bad thing; asking bloggers to sign up to a code of anything is like herding cats, as this old Word of Mouth post and its comments ably demonstrate). So we all have to learn as we go: How do you build credibility with restaurants and readers? Is it okay to accept a sample of food and then not write about the product? How do you deal with producers/brands/restaurants who are unhappy with what you've written? Is it important that readers know you ate for free and the restaurant knew you were coming? If you're chummy with the chef and know she follows you on Twitter, are you really going to be comfortable writing an honest review of you less-than-awesome meal at her place? If you're posting your own recipes on your blog, how can you make sure no-one steals them? If a national newspaper asks to feature your recipe or writing, should you insist on a fee?

Fortunately Blog North Network's upcoming event, Food Glorious Food, will provide the time and space to get to grips with these issues. April 13 in Leeds is a full day of workshops, talks and schmoozing just for us. It's a chance to brush up on your food writing and photography with talented professionals, refresh your social media and marketing skills and hear inspiring stories of homegrown and independent foodie success. You'll meet lots of other people as greedy as you are food bloggers to swap stories, recipes and tips with. And there will be food and drink on offer. Of course there will be food and drink on offer. Booking and all the details are here. I'll see you there (I'm one of the organisers.) And if you see a surprisingly-shaped jelly, don't eat it. It might be art.

Image courtesy of the lovely Clandestine Cake Club, who will be taking part in the event.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Market Mystery: New shit has come to light

When I started working in the Northern Quarter a decade ago, The Market stood out. It had a personality of its own in a city where few restaurants did. There was never anything fashionable about the green and white place on the corner of Edge and High Streets, its name a tribute to the long-gone Smithfield produce market. It was just the quaint side of twee, the opposite of Modern British: Old Fashioned British, and vaguely continental in its drift. The menu was small, the service friendly, the food delicious. It was the site of my first happy encounters with an Omelette Arnold Bennett and a Kir Royal. I ate there maybe ten times over the years, never had a bad meal and recommended it to people all the time. Maybe half the time I'd hear back that they'd had a less than amazing meal or actually thought I was nuts for sending them there. But I also knew people who felt the way I did about it. The place seemed to inspire this sort of crazy devotion. The people who liked it really liked it.

I heard it had been sold a few years back to someone who liked it the way it was and visited for the last time not long after the handover and ate well. I heard mixed reviews about the place after that, so it wasn't an enormous surprise when I walked by last week and saw that it had been shuttered and painted tomato red. Some snooping around the neighbourhood revealed only that the new tenant had something to do with Kahlua and pigeons. Confusing. Then I read yesterday that its going to be the site of a pop-up Mexican Coffee House sponsored by Kahlua, involving the creative minds from Teacup and Cakes and The Liquorists. I'm still not sure how the pigeons got in there, but all will surely be revealed. It's also unclear whether The Market will be back afterwards, though the restaurant's twitter feed seems to indicate that it will.

Granted, I'm pretty much the walking target demographic of a place that serves Mexican food, screens The Big Lebowski and Duck Soup and slings drinks made with Kahlua, a heavenly liquor I have been eagerly consuming since the age of 16 when I used to haul a bottle and a gallon of milk to keg parties. But I'd be sad if the Market didn't return. There's a lot more choice and variety in the city's restaurant scene today than there was even ten years ago, and it's easy to see how the place fell out of step with its upwardly-trendy neighbourhood (the arrival of the sleek Northern Quarter Restaurant right across the street was probably the beginning of the end for the restaurant in its old incarnation.) Still, I can't help but feel that a Northern Quarter that doesn't have room for The Market is a smaller, less interesting place. After the four-week pop-up pops off, let's hope it comes back in top form.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Urban Sketching, Lovecraft flicks, photocopied art

I encountered this lovely drawing of New Islington (AKA Ancoats) by Simone Ridyard somewhere on the internets recently, and then somewhat serendipitously I got an invitation to this interesting KURIO event Manchester designers NoChintz are hosting next Thursday at the Bench store: a masterclass in urban sketching with Simone. It also turns out that Simone organises an urban sketching group in the city that gets together twice a month: you can see some of their work here  and if you're interested in getting involved, there's more info about them at their Facebook page. But even if you're not a sketcher yourself you might enjoy a trip to the Urban Sketchers website, a fascinating place to poke about for people who like cities. Which is basically all of us, right?

Also next week, those busy Grimm Up North folks are showing a double bill of two HP Lovecraft adaptations, The Whisper in Darkness and From Beyond, in the spectacularly retro surroundings of the Stockport Plaza, a gem of a movie theatre. Unlike From Beyond, The Whisper in Darkness is a new film shot to look like an RKO-era classic. "A series of floods in rural Vermont uncovers the bodies of grotesque creatures that seem to match descriptions given in certain local myths and legends." That's the second time recently I've encountered my home state used as the setting for a horror story. Maybe there is something inherently wild and spooky about the place. I guess that's part of the reason why we love it so.

Finally, next week marks the opening of Paper Gallery's new exhibition Copy, featuring works from 15 artists that explore the use of the humble photocopier in creating new artworks. Bring your own toner! (kidding, art people.) The private view is from 6-8 on 14 March at the space adjoining studios on Mirabel Street and shares the evening with a new show from neighbouring exhibition space PS Mirabel, MIX, which in turn focuses on the artistic uses of concrete.

Image copyright Simone Ridyard

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Manchester International Festival 2013 launches

You can't beat the Manchester International Festival launch for pure spectacle. Every two years it's like Christmas morning for Mancunian culturehounds as we all eagerly pull open the ribbons to see what's inside. The full  programme revealed today for this summer's festival is a more serious and arguably more highbrow affair than what we saw during its previous three incarnations (Shostakovich and  Stravinsky? Whoa nelly.) But there's plenty of fun and games to balance out the heavyweight stuff, and on the whole, I think it's pretty darn exciting. A few themes emerged:

Art in a dark time: The ever-awesome Maxine Peake explores protest and Manchester's radical history with a performance of Shelley's poem, The Masque of Anarchy, about the Peterloo Massacre, which was banned for 30 years after publication. Massive Attack collaborate with filmmaker Adam Curtis (of MIF 2009's It Felt Like a Kiss) to create a musical experience that explores "the power of the illusion and the illusion of power". Evan Davis hosts a debate about whether we're too apathetic or complicit to make protest meaningful today. Several references throughout the presentation to the difficult times we're living through, and moving closing remarks from director Alex Poots thanking Manchester City Council for standing up for (and footing the bill for) the arts. This will be the festival in which the art world formally responds to the financial crisis/austerity regime/corporate takeover of society/erosion of civil liberties... and about bloody time, too.

'Found' spaces: The jaded Mancunian culturegoing public love nothing better than to feel like they're getting let in on a secret these days. Hidden, unusual or unexpected spaces are all the rage, and MIF have cleverly managed to find some pretty special city centre venues hidden in plain sight. This year's performances will be staged in Mayfield Depot, the Albert Hall, an as yet unnamed deconsecrated church in the city centre for Kenneth Branagh's take on The Scottish Play and a 60-capacity venue they're keeping schtum about for the xx (can there be any underground tunnels, shelters or bunkers we haven't yet raved in?) Google Maps will be getting a workout.

User-generated/participatory art: In several parts of the programme the line between artist and audience blurs in a way that feels just right for 2013. There's the opportunity for local cutting-edge comedians and musicians to get exposure via Jamal Edwards' YouTube sensation SB.TV live. And MAG's rework of seminal art instruction manual do it  at MAG promises to make going to an exhibition a participatory experience to remember.

Street food: Yes, MIF are once again perfectly on-trend with the choice of street food carts to provide food for the launch, a taster of what will be on offer at the festival pavillion (and we can report that the hot dogs will be pretty damn good.) With Grillstock coming in June this is shaping up to be a very tasty summer in Albert Square. Let's hope they get those Guerrilla Eats collective folks involved for some properly homegrown street food. And speaking of homegrown, MIF is now probably the first art festival in the world to be growing vegetables courtesy of the fantastic Biospheric project. Tasty.

Tickets on sale from 10am tomorrow, kids. Keyboards at the ready? (*flexes fingers*) See you there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Manchester Magazines: The Skinny cometh

Manchester has many things, but it doesn't have a listings magazine. Online, there are plenty of places to look to for cultural inspiration, including Creative Tourist, Manchester Wire, and enough good blogs to choke an eGoat (see sidebar). But since CityLife folded in 2005 and Time Out wussed out in 2007 we haven't had a proper listings magazine.

Well that's all going to change soon: we're getting one. Well, half of one. We have to share it with Liverpool. You know, that other city a scant 36 miles away. The conventional media wisdom (only reinforced by the failure of the Northwest Enquirer a few years back) goes that these two cities are so irrecconcilably different they must be kept apart at all costs, and will respond negatively to any attempts to lump them together. Kind of like Edinburgh and Glasgow. So who better to conquer this job than the publication that has successfully covered both those cities in one publication for seven years? Yes, The Skinny is setting up a Northwest edition. They've been flirting with the idea for the last couple of years, but now it's official: they're hiring a staff and will be publishing both online and (take a deep breath) in print starting in April.

They've lined up Lauren Strain to edit the magazine and are recruiting over here on The Skinny site, with a few positions up for grabs including a subeditor and section editors for books, visual art and comedy: some paid, some not. It will be run from offices on Tariff Street in the Northern Quarter, which will probably put some noses out of joint at the other end of the M62, but they were never going to please everybody with that one.

It seems like every week I get a email about a new website that will be covering Manchester (the latest is Wow247 which asked me to pick out some fun things to do in Manchester the other day). So I doff my fedora in The Skinny's general direction for taking a chance on print in this city. Now let's all try to read the thing, shall we? Or we won't be getting another one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Playing out in Manchester: new playground for city centre

Just a quick post to pass on the good news that Manchester city centre is soon to get its first playground thanks to the folks at CityCo. The lack of a dedicated outdoor play area in central Manchester (and the lack of green space generally) has long been a concern of mine; see previous rants here last year and here in 2010. Yes, expanding green space is a tough sell when city centre land is worth so much and everyone from the council on down is hard up for cash. But parks make this city a much more attractive place to live and work.

Navigating the city centre with small children can be a challenging proposition. In the part of Manchester where I live, just 25 minutes outside of the city centre by car, many of the parents I talk to rarely take their kids there, maybe a few times a year for a panto or a big shopping trip. We go a lot more often than that, but mostly our strategy is get in, do what we need to do and get out as quickly as possible. It's easy to understand why. Indoor play is mostly limited to galleries and museums (hats off to the amazing and free Experiment! at MOSI) and any special offerings are usually busy and often require planning ahead. And with  little outdoor space to roam about in, kids make the most of what there is, as a visit to the fountains of Piccadilly Gardens on a hot day will attest. Just having a place like this to go will be a big help.

I noticed the new playground when I was walking to Victoria Station this week. The new street-shaped park will be installed on the riverside in front of Manchester Cathedral, and will effectively create an extension of Cathedral Gardens. Really looking forward to taking my own kids for a play there this spring. Now we just have to keep people from wrecking the place. Hmmm. In the meantime, can we please have a Playful Leeds in Manchester? We like to have fun here too.

Image by Lucho Molina via Flickr.