Thursday, 18 September 2014

COMPETITION: Fear of Men @ The Castle Hotel

Brighton trio Fear of Men make the trip up to Manchester's Oldham Street on Sunday 28 September on a wave of melodic indie pop.

With debut album Loom still hot off the press earlier this year, this show finds them in the intimate climes of the Castle Hotel's back room. Following a spate of 7" singles and EPs, the band now has a body of recorded repertoire fitting with their headlining billing and subsequent European tour.

We’ve teamed up with Northern Noise to give away a pair of tickets to their show at The Castle Hotel on Sunday 28 September. All you need to do to enter is like and share the image at the other end of this link (making sure it’s set to ‘public’ so we can see that you’ve entered).

We'll announce the winner on Friday 26 September.

Good luck!

COMPETITION: Silverclub EP Launch gig

Manchester electronic band Silverclub may have slipped from the radar of sonic adventures lately, but their next recorded output is imminent, in the form of an EP and launch show this month.

The lead single, 'Back to the Start' is a chugging train of minimalism indicating their wheels are firmly back on the tracks, while sating your deepest desire for more cow bell with your synths.

We’ve teamed up with Deaf Institute to give away a pair of tickets to their EP launch show on Friday 26 September. All you need to do to enter is like and share the image at the other end of this link (making sure it’s set to ‘public’ so we can see that you’ve entered).

We'll announce the winner on Wednesday 24 September.

Good luck!

Pride Fringe 2014

The first sign that Pride is on the horizon is usually the fancy dress shops. Gone are the ubiquitous paper masks of Harry Styles, replaced by feather boas and stripy rainbow hats. In one auspicious corner of the Arndale Centre, a woman stands decked out like a gaudy Pearly Queen, occasionally dropping handfuls of colourful wigs and hats on the ground. “Get your Pride merchandise! Pride this weekend!” she exclaims uninterestedly. I suddenly feel slightly underdressed when I arrive at the station on the way to work, as hundreds of ticket holders mill around waiting for friends. I am not one of them.

It’s not like I’ve never been to a Pride event. Over the past decade, I've lined the streets of central Sydney with thousands of others to cheer on the processors, joined the after parties in Bristol and ridden the rickety old rides in Brighton. Just not in Manchester. Well, there was the once, but I drank too much in preparation and passed out behind a kebab van somewhere near the Village. I swore this year would be different.

My mini Pride Fringe adventure began the Thursday before the fences were put round the main area. I was to be taking part in an LGBTQ art trail around the Village to showcase art made by members of the community and to socialise and have a drink. It turns out that art suits the Village. Seeing paintings hanging in your regular watering holes gives them a whole new edge. In particular, Via Fossa felt like an established gallery with its wooden walkways and hidden nooks and crannies. It was a resounding success. I could feel the kebab van moving steadily away.

The main weekend arrived and I stayed away from the city centre in case I was tempted by the bright lights or hypnotised by Anastacia’s wailing siren call. Sunday was to be the second part of my toe dipping into the fringes of Pride. I stepped out into the bustling city centre, narrowly avoiding an inebriated group of Pride-goers running away from a Princess Street Chinese restaurant without paying. One member was pulled back sharply by her glow-stick wristbands as I reached Bangkok Bar and my night’s entertainment.

I should take this moment to say that I had friends on the inside: wristband holders who had spent the weekend taking in all Pride has to offer. I waited for them as the soaring voice of Conchita Wurst rose majestically out of the car park behind Portland Street and told us all that her heart will go on. A small amount of envy at the crowd’s cheers was quickly dissipated when I closed my eyes and saw the kebab van backing up. Back to reality, my friends and I spent an entertaining evening making ‘Queer Art’ (the Tate won’t be calling anytime soon) and listening to bands performing. Simple, yet effective. Talk of all the other Pride alternatives (Drunk at Vogue, Homoelectric) remained just talk, as we threw shapes on the dance floor. Next time. It may have been a paddle in the shallow pool rather than full immersion in the Pride Fringe, but it was a start and set the ball rolling for future years of exploring what the weekend has to offer. Sadly, however, I still had a kebab on the way home.

Words: Andrew Collier

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Preview: Stone Flowers @ Manchester Food & Drink Festival

As part of this year's International Peace Day on 21 September, Stone Flowers will be performing two sets at Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

Formed via working with the Musicians Without Borders and Freedom From Torture charities, the open collective of torture survivors has been raising awareness and fundraising to support other survivors, who often endure difficulties even after the experiences. Following loss of home, culture or family, they are then mistreated even in a place of refuge, such as the UK, where they can experience social isolation, threat of removal and mental health problems.

Stone Flowers raises awareness about refugees and asylum seekers and the violation of human rights," says Frank, member of the band. “It enables the world to hear us and learn about us. It’s the only way to take out the pain inside us.

For Stone Flowers music is not an exclusive club: you don’t have to be a virtuoso to join and many members never tried performing before they started. Through an organic creative process, which draws on diverse cultural influences, members are encouraged to express themselves through the languages and rhythms of their home countries, which include Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. The act of expression is cathartic, and by being empowered to voice what they have been through, Stone Flowers members are the architects of their own recovery. Members take ownership of the creative process, making positive connections with audiences, leading the way in speaking out against war and torture.

Last month, supported by Manchester charities Freedom from Torture and Musicians without Borders, Stone Flowers started a fundraising appeal, asking the public to support a professional recording and album release of their original music. They well on the way to the £7,000 needed, been featured on Radio 1’s ‘War Children’, and even received a mention from the legendary label Ninja Tune.

Words: Anastasia Connor

Their appeal runs until the end of September. Click here for information on how to donate.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our Day Out: The Musical @ Oldham Coliseum, 09.09.14

Under the excellent direction of Kevin Shaw, Oldham Coliseum bring you a rip-roaring adventure with a class of kids from Fairbottom High as they venture into a place quite unlike what they are used to in Our Day Out. Containing a cast of nearly 40, the show is fun, funny and moving at the same time, revealing the antics of a motley crew of characters who are brought together by fate. We meet the fantastic teacher, the teacher we all wish we had, Mrs Kay (Claire Storey), who adores this class that she has taken under her wing. The class is maligned by other students and teachers at Fairbottom High, due to it being a special “Progress” class for sometimes bullied students with a range of issues labelled variously as “psychos, schizos, OCDs” or “dyslexic, fat, anorexic”.

The Progress kids are exuberant, excited (well, apart from the “boring duo”) and excitable. And Mrs Kay gets them. Mrs Kay has the psychology needed to work with these kids. But Mr Briggs (Russell Richardson) has gatecrashed this gig, and taken them on a detour. Instead of going to a theme park, as the kids expected, he takes them somewhere he thinks they will benefit educationally, much to the Progress students’ annoyance. Will Mrs Kay save the day? Will Mr Briggs succumb to her psychological strategies, like the students do, and like the bus driver did?

The cast as a collective are impressive, and when they have solo scenes or one to one interactions, they are equally memorable. The characters are larger than life: Old Les, the non-politically correct lollipop man (Kieran Cunningham) with his cataracts. The bus driver, Ronny (also played by Kieran Cunningham) is the boss of the bus! Some of the students show the audience what it means to be young and troubled: Amy (Emily Fitton) is enamoured by the seagulls, loves the escape from reality, and really does not want to go back home. There are touching moments in the hilarity and chaos that give us glimmers of heartache that these Progress students endure.

The show reminds us of the humanity needed when working with young people, schools are not simply sites of teaching and learning the academic curriculum. Teachers earn the privilege of knowing the troubles and tests faced by these students in their everyday lives, and Mrs Kay has full knowledge of this, whilst Mr Briggs is on a learning curve. Willy Russell wrote the play in 1977, yet it is still apt today. Willy Russell was a teacher, and this shines through in the dialogue and characterisation, for he surely met such wonderful characters in his teaching years.

Our Day Out has brilliantly entertaining song and dance numbers performed by talented young people, with extremely high levels of energy and enthusiasm. The band, Sam Fluskey on Bass and James Newton on Drums, perfectly accompany the mood of the play. Sometimes hilarious, other times the production is concerned with poignantly reminding us of the dreams, hopes and pains of young people. It is a must watch for students who study Willy Russell writings in school, as well as anybody – young or adult – who wants a jolly night out witnessing the Day Out.

Words: Sadia Habib

Image: Courtesy of Oldham Coliseum

Monday, 8 September 2014

Preview: Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby @ The Lowry, 23/09/14 - 27/09/14

Lisa Dwan’s critically-acclaimed star performances at the Royal Court Theatre in London were successfully sold-out, and now we have the privilege of watching her in this Beckett trilogy at the Lowry in September in Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby under the direction of Walter Asmus.

Asmus knows Beckett better than anyone in the profession as he actually worked with Beckett in theatre and television, as his assistant, and later they collaborated on many productions until his death in 1989. Thus, we can look forward to these pieces showing us intense insight into how Beckett would have wanted his writings to be presented to us, as well as how Lisa Dwan undertakes the great challenge as Mouth in Not I.

Not I was originally performed by Jessica Tandy in 1970s New York and Billie Whitelaw in 1970s London. According to Professor James Knowlson, a friend and biographer of Beckett, Not I should work at speed on the nerves of the audience, rather than their intellect. Billie Whitelaw has also coached Lisa Dwan in how to perform Beckett’s characters, adding a further direct connection to Beckett.

Footfalls, which also originally starred Billie Whitelaw (as did Rockaby), focuses on the middle-aged May’s conversation with her sick mother. Rockaby, one of Beckett’s last works, explores the theme of loneliness and finality through the character of a prematurely old woman with unkempt grey hair sitting on a rocking chair.

The tour is visiting the Lowry Theatre in Salford from 23 to 27 September and will go onto tour internationally.

Words: Sadia Habib

Images: Courtesy of The Lowry

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rochdale Feel Good Festival, 30.08.14

What have Andrew Nutter, Scouting for Girls and the M6 Theatre Group got in common? The answer is not immediately obvious, but one answer is that they all appeared at this year’s Rochdale Feel Good Festival.

Such a diverse collective is an essential part of this free, public spectacle, which is designed to appeal to all people. So there were smiling mums queuing up to get a picture taken with Ainsley Harriott after his cooking lessons, whilst the younger element of the demographic could be found shouting enthusiastically for the headline act, Scouting for Girls.

Those with more of an adventurous attitude to life could be seen abseiling down the clock tower at the town hall, some with eyes closed and others enjoying the view over the fairground rides.

When the rain came it was torrential at times, but did lead to one group of youngsters spotting a marketing opportunity by selling ponchos at £2 a time. The rain also drove a number of the crowd away from the enjoyable pop of the Lottery Winners, into the welcoming recesses of the Flying Horse where local bands delivered their versions of heavy rock numbers.

Bird to Beast, a band that has evolved from the core members of the husband and wife team of Hannah and Sam Hird to a full band line-up, were playing their second gig of the day, so it was a welcome delight to hear that their voices were still in fine fettle.

Thankfully the rain eased up enough to allow the square outside to fill again to celebrate all things ska rude boy courtesy of Pauline Black’s Selecter. With Pauline and Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson leading from the front, it was difficult to believe that some of these rich, vibrant sounds were over 30 years old.

Not many people left the event without a smile on their face, so let’s look forward to next year’s event.

Words & photos: Ged Camera

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Snowangels @ The King's Arms, Salford, 16.08.14

Snowangels, the latest play from Fresh Loaf Productions, is a two hander from writer Joe McKie that, rather like an English summer, swings from sunny spells to stormy skies in a very short space of time. We follow the lives of Daniel (Charlie Ryan) and Mia (Keeley Fitzgerald), childhood friends who’ve become a couple and are now dealing with the difficulties of adulthood. Old emotions from youth like jealousy, guilt and shame keep coming back, making it hard to move on and grow up. These forces take a heavy toll on their relationship as well as their individual well-being, drawing them into very dark places.

The script has many good lines and details, as when Daniel jokes in iambic pentameter or when Mia tenderly wraps a pain au chocolat up in a tissue like an infant in swaddling clothes. The dialogue, both between Daniel and Mia and also with the other unseen characters whom they address, feels authentic. However, the text was slightly heavy with similes, which had the effect of diluting the strength of the best ones. The storyline could also do with an edit, as the concept of time-travel (which both claim to experience) seemed unnecessary; the narrative works without it. Overall though this is a script with promise, a rough gem waiting to be cut and cleaned rather than a plain pebble that can be polished no further.

As to the acting, Ryan was charming and cruel as Daniel, doing justice to both sides of the character. However, it was Fitzgerald who was the revelation here. Portraying pain, need and suffering without playing too big, her performance left many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes. Her trembling hands, shaking shoulders and tear-streaked cheeks offered realism to the point of discomfort. This performance, brought out by the partnership of Fitzgerald and directors Joe Mellor & Ollie Kerswell, was exceptional.

As with previous Fresh Loaf productions this is an achievement beyond the norm, showing a sensitivity to difficult issues that belies the young age of the writer, performers and directors. The script could do with some tightening, and perhaps the level of abuse and pain portrayed was not quite explained by the character’s earlier development, but on the whole Snowangels is a promising play, difficult to watch but worth sticking with.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of Fresh Loaf Productions

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Luke Jackson @ Barista, 18.07.14

Luke Jackson has been creating waves for a while now. Emerging on the acoustic folk scene a couple of years back at the age of 18, but already with years of songwriting and performing behind him and further championed by established musicians such as Show Of Hands and Martyn Joseph, he’s a couple of albums into a career which is set to continue to soar.

While his impressive debut, More Than Boys, contained songs and stories about growing up and sounded very much like a young man finding his recording feet, his second effort was a different story. Fumes and Faith emerged earlier this year with a hail of marvellous reviews. With more of a blues feel to the songs, it proved quite a step in him rapidly becoming a confident and down to earth young man. To see him play in a tiny local venue – which sold out, naturally – was too good a chance to miss.

Whether he’s singing his own songs or covering the a cappella blues standard, ‘Grinning In Your Face’, the traditional ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’ or ‘Beeswing’ by the legendary Richard Thompson, the two halves of the set were quality personified.

The gig also saw a couple of new songs thrown in, which seem to have taken him away from the bluesy ambience of his last recording. ‘Heart Of Stone’ and a touching, delicate ‘Flowers’, written around his experience of losing a friend in his teenage years, both bode well for the next record. With just ‘More Than Boys’ and a superbly rearranged  ‘Last Train’ from his first album in the set, Luke is definitely moving at a pace, not only in his writing but also in his stunning playing, ranging from dramatically strong and forceful to delicate picking, mixed expertly for the small venue.

Together with his own very distinct identity, Luke is now set with a sound and an increasingly broad set of unequivocally mature and self-assured songs – phrases which seem to be bandied about whenever Luke Jackson is mentioned. The bluesy approach of his latest work gives the impression of him being an artist who has suddenly grown up – rather like one of the characters about whom he sings, Charlie in the big world – and fulfilling the promise of becoming a musician of considerable stature.

Words & photos: Mike Ainscoe

The show was the last in the season of Playing Out gigs promoted by Rick Stuart whose Roots & Fusion show plays on Stockport’s PureFM. Watch out for shows in the Stockport area soon.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Review: Young British Artists – A Change By Any Other Name (YBAs Records)

After two EPs and years of buzz, the Manchester-based band Young British Artists has finally released a full-length album, A Change By Any Other Name. The eleven track album showcases the band’s ability to understand the theatrical elements of performance.

Initial tracks exhibit a thrashing, surf rock sound and, while there is a shift to more understated tones in fourth track ‘Mirror Trail’, Leo Scott’s vocals always remain an adamant component. The second half of the album establishes a strong keyboard infusion that lingers throughout the remaining tracks, meshing with guitar and an orchestral build up and break down, as demonstrated in ‘Everything in Front of You’ when Scott aptly sings, “Everything has been laid out”.

The steady insistence of last track ‘Forget Your Past’ attests to a steadfastness throughout certain chaos and imparts a valid confidence that this band has bright days ahead.

Words: Ruby Hoffman