Thursday, 30 September 2010

Arts & Music preview, October 2010 (Part One)

Now Then’s early October forecast

Yup, means pretty much everything is going on again now the students are back. SO now we’re safely in our twenties we’ve only got the energy to go until the middle of the month. And no I don’t want to swag more energy off one of those guido Monster N-R-Gay drinks monster trucks shitting out Pendulum all during freshers’ week.

Thursday 30th Sept – holy crewcut, three mega exhibition previews all in one night, let’s get on our hipstermobiles down to Spear Street for the Papergirl no.4 Manchester launch. Papergirl started off in Berlin distributing beautiful rolled-up prints/art from their two-wheels to unsuspecting Germans on the sidewalk, and now it’s here. Check the art out at Soup Kitchen before it gets chucked about. Here’s a nice video. Then Chris Drury splats Common’s walls with another layer of sickness called All My Friends Are Undead – must be Hallowe’en soon? And head down to Easa before it gets literally demolished for 36exp, which does what it says on the roll, showcasing 36 experimental photographers including Eleanor Marechal each given a solitary roll of film to play with. Later kick down to NoiseLab where the Hear No Evil, See No Evil magazine and CD launch party from Mind On Fire and Onefiveeight includes Paper Tigers and the MOF band. Also Trof Corner is hosting the opening of The Toy Shop on Friday 1st which is generally all very nice and lo-fi.

Hold up, what’s this, a Now Then event at the magnificent Un-Convention Salford 2010? That’s right, the great antithesis to In The Chitty is letting us host a whole load of should-see music at the Rovers Return, from Veí’s opening, via Paul Green and Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six, to King Capisce ending it all on Saturday 2nd. There’s even performance poetry as well courtesy of Joe Kriss and caro snatch.

Tabloid headline of the week: Twisted queer horror shocker on Sunday 3rd at the Cornerhouse, a special Peaches Christ retrospective.

WotGodForgot have two giant nights at the Ruby Lounge in a row. Wednesday 6th is Scotch Egg’s mental Atari shitstorm Drum Eyes, and, I don’t ever remember Mice Parade being this cheesy (forget it – I don’t even like puns), but it’s definitely still worth going down on Thursday 7th to check out the lush fidgety Adam Pierce play his just-out-now LP What It Means To Be Left-Handed.

Talking of left-handed, there’s no better time than just after the Labour Party Conference here, that saw Ed Miliband try to reclaim the filthy proletariat back to the left, than to go on a Marx and Engels tour of Manchester to see just why those bourgeois bulldozers loved this sodden city so much. The tour starts at The Cornerhouse on Saturday 2nd at 11am and Tuesday 5th at 3pm, of which the latter has the added bonus of a visit to Cheetham’s Library where the two studied. There could be a rather lovely juxtaposition to listening to a load of Chorltonites piling Marx up their arses and regurgitating out of their mouths at the Manchester Anarchist Bookfair at the Dancehouse on Saturday 2nd.

For a fix of alt-indie-post-folk-whatever theatrics, marvel at Pineapple Folk’s capture of Of Montreal on Tuesday 5th.

Friday 8th is Hot Milk’s 5th Birthday Splash at The Roadhouse with Deadly Dragon Sound System.

As I type my mac’s having a haemorrhoid at the thought that Binary New Year is coming on 10/10/10. Not sure how it works for a Binary Party at Arcadia on Saturday 9th spinning 4/4 beats on the ones and twos but does end up being a new year twice in nine minutes. PS it’s not mathrock.

It’s been coming for ages, but if you’re a Doom fan you are probably a stoner graphic novel and AdultSwim fan with a Yankees cap so you need a million reminders like this to buy your billet to see the legend you’ve been waiting to see since you were 16 and a stoner comic book and MTV fan with a Yankees cap. I know it’s hard to spend £20+ on a fraudster when you could get 3.5 instead, but hey, word has it WHP have written into his contract that he’s got to show ID just before he gets on stage. Yes it’s actually Metal Face in his first ever UK gig outside London. Doomsday is Wednesday 13th with ridiculous support from Hudson Mohawke, Illum Sphere and Dels.

If you ever wanted an incisive, balanced, gripping and entertaining – even just good will do – debate about the American healthcare system, don’t watch Sicko. What you will need to do is get your sorry ass down to listen to the genuinely great author, academic, journalist and activist that is Lionel Shriver. Town Hall; Thursday 14th.

One69a and RAG are running screenprinting and appliqué workshops from Friday 15th at Islington Mill to design, print and create your own tees. This is your chance to run buckwild with ironic statements or actually do something amazing if you’re talented. Souper.

All this and we’re only halfway through the month. When you’re ready for more, October Part Two will be duly directed into your bandwidth.

Abandon Normal Devices
Manchester Literature Festival
Free For Arts Festival

Words: Sam Bass

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Black Mountain @ Academy 3, Wednesday 15th September

What do you call something that hangs around with musicians?

No, I don’t mean the one about the drummer. For a start Josh Wells’ thumping time-keeping merits not one iota of derision.

Instead I’m talking about the classic set-staller that is: ‘technical difficulties’. Fortunately Canadian quintet Black Mountain aren’t stricken too badly by Matt Camirand’s bass amp malfunction and, after a few mutterings about it having been a long year, we’re away.

Straight into a couple from the third record, including title track ‘Wilderness Heart’, and the immediate wonder is how a band whose sophomore effort In The Future was a 2008 Polaris Music Prize finalist, behind Caribou's Andorra, are only attracting enough punters to mostly fill the Academy 3 venue.

It is that second album that dominates a typically cohesive set. ‘Angels’ and ‘Wucan’ welcome a smattering of nodding heads, before ‘Tyrants’ fully brings to light Jeremy Schmidt, who bears a passing resemblance to his contemporary keys controller in fellow drone rock merchants Dungen, and his Moogs. They shimmer and soothe in cosmic layers as a bass addled synchronicity is supplemented by persistent guitar noodlings, courtesy of Stephen McBean, who would surely be a contender for the proposed Beards of Manchester charity calendar, if he were a resident.

The instrumental break also sees singer Amber Webber adopting the moody musician look – borderline disinterested, or perhaps just zoning out of the real world; her mind on a similar sonic excursion to the audience’s; remaining inanimate as her bandmates act as tour guides in a psychedelic trip.

An oft-conjured image is one of euphoric escape down an ongoing dusty highway; plains either side until you reach a steep cliff-face. You know, the Butch Cassidy type of scene. But, after taking a mellow country fried turn akin to Jefferson Airplane and then finishing with the psyche-tinged classic rock of ‘Stormy High’ and ‘Don’t Run Our Hearts Around’, the encore shapes up as more of a sci-fi soundtrack. The quarter of an hour long ‘Bright Lights’ constructs, to my mind, an intergalactic exploration: anticipation, lift-off, touchdown, standoff encounter, then eye-opening discovery.

However you envisage it, this is music to take you to another place.

Words & Pictures: Ian Pennington

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A walk around Victoria Baths

Prior to last weekend’s local history fair, volunteers at Victoria Baths received the portrait of one of Longsight’s most famous sons – an Olympic swimmer who learnt his strokes in the Edwardian pools. Michael Pooler went along for viewing and took a tour around a building steeped in local history and sociological significance.

Last wednesday saw the arrival – or rather the long-awaited return – of Rob Derbyshire to Victoria Baths, in the form of a portrait painted in 1948. Rob was the son of the first ever superintendent of the baths and won an Olympic gold medal as part of the GB water polo team in 1900, as well as later on taking them to the 1936 Games as trainer. Depicted proudly in a swimming suit bearing the insignia of Great Britain the portrait is a fitting tribute to a man who was once a feted star in this part of Manchester.

My volunteer tour guide, Barry Johnson, tells me that the seated balconies which encircle the principal pool would be teeming full of supporters at water polo matches – back then a hugely popular sport.

“In those days Rob Derbyshire would have been a local hero, like Premier League stars today.”

The first part of the tour consists of visiting the basement archives which house hundreds of documents and objects related to the baths such as trophies, swimming costumes and minute-books of association meetings. It also boasts a large audiovisual collection with interviews from older local residents recounting their memories of the baths. Much of the archives relate to ordinary peoples’ experiences and Barry is keen to impress the importance of this aspect of social history, with particular emphasis on maintaining the oral tradition of passing history from one generation to another by spoken word.

“Whereas most organisations involved in the preservation of sports facilities focus only on the records and achievements of celebrated sportsmen and women, we are interested in ordinary people and their experiences.”

“In this respect the baths are fascinating as they are rich in social and political history.”

Upon walking through the main entrance of the baths you are struck immediately by its magnificence: brilliant emerald green tiles fired in Salford adorn the walls; floors covered by mosaic patterns; and luxurious fully ceramic banisters lead upstairs. It is little wonder that the building is Grade II listed. So it remains a matter of some mystery why to this day it has only been partially restored. Built in 1906 by the Council, it was the main swimming pool in Manchester for 86 years until its closure in 1993 when it was considered too expensive to keep running. Since then a dedicated group of volunteers – the Friends of Victoria Baths – have worked towards its restoration.

As we talk about the origins of the baths, my guide puts to rest oft-repeated myths which portray Public Baths as a benevolent gift from philanthropists of the period. While this was a factor in their creation, there was also a degree of self-interest – namely, concerns of public health and hygiene.

“In Manchester at the turn of the 20th Century the working and middle classes lived in greater proximity to one another. The wealthy were worried about diseases spreading from the lower class areas to their own and so the baths were built as part of a public health programme.”

The baths originally consisted of three pools: men’s first class, men’s second class and the ladies’ pool. While it is easy to attribute the gender separation to prevailing social cultural norms of the era, the distinction of quality – based upon the ability to pay – is revealing of social attitudes and how class played a defining role in society.

For even the engineering of the swimming pools tells uneasy truths about social stratification of the day and sheds light on the treatment of lower social classes – especially women. The pools were fed with water for many years by a nearby Artesian well, dug deep into the ground. Water would be pumped into the first class pool and, on entering its filtration system, would then be recycled first into the men’s second class and finally the ladies’. What this meant was men who could not afford the most expensive tariff would swim in increasingly dirty water while women were effectively treated as sub-citizens, permitted only to bathe in the muck of others. This is echoed in the decoration: while the first class entrance is one of breathtaking Edwardian elegance, the others are far less ornate and more functional.

Such an arrangement would of course be unthinkable nowadays in our society where equality and eliminating discrimination are sacrosanct. But it requires no more than a quick examination of private member gyms’ facilities compared with decrepit public leisure centres to see how new forms of social division manifest and justify themselves.

From this perspective the building is a case study in how the manipulation of public spaces has a subtle – but extremely powerful – effect of social control and segregation. The easing of gender segregation began a gradual process from 1914 onwards, however my guide tells me of how there is a growing demand for women only swims nowadays in particular from the Muslim community.

The bathing habits of users is another factor indicative of prevailing living conditions of the early 20th century Manchester. On the day before the weekly change of the water, so-called 'Dirty Day' due to the rank state of the water, entrance was cheaper. These days were far busier, highlighting the paucity of disposable income of Mancunians and where priorities lay. Before the introduction of chlorine in water for reasons of hygiene, breakouts of infectious diseases caused the baths to be closed for reasons of public health.

Equally, the existence of slum houses without basic wash facilities across Manchester accounts for the continuing use of individual cubicles with bathtubs until the early 1970s. Barry tells me an anecdote of a young man from the west coast of Ireland, a region marked by indigence, who had come to work as a labourer in England. He was thrilled by the facilities, commenting “you get your own bathtub; there’s a towel and everything!”

This aptly illustrates how the two-fold nature of the function of the baths was played out along socio-economic lines. While the middle and upper classes – who largely had access to baths at home – used the baths as a source of leisure and recreation, for many families during industrial times it was a necessary amenity for hygiene.

That the baths hosted a broad spectrum of Manchester society from working class families to the upper echelons of business and even the criminal fraternity is symbolised by the once-lavish Turkish baths. Local legend has it that well-known gangsters would seal their deals in the hot dry heat, reserved for those who could afford the expense.

The establishment was also pioneering in the domain of hydrotherapy, being the first municipal baths in Britain to have installed an ‘Aerotone’ in 1952. This device, consisting of a steel tank sunk into the floor in which springs of hot water were pumped, is similar to a modern-day Jacuzzi. It was used to rehabilitate and treat injuries; among its users at one point were the players and physio staff of football clubs Manchester United and Manchester City, many years before the explosion of revenues in football meant they could afford their own facilities.

The ultimate goal of the Friends of the Baths is to restore the building to its former functional glory. A massive step was taken in this direction when it became the first project to win the BBC2 Restoration series which saw funding to the tune of £3.5m in 2003. It currently receives support from the Lottery, English Heritage and Manchester City Council.

Nowadays the building is home to various activities: from exhibitions of up and coming artists, a performance space for secondary school amateur dramatics and the local history fair to being used as a scene for shooting of TV drama Life on Mars.

So what does the future hold? As of today there is still no national swimming museum in Britain and the grandeur and history of the baths justifies its consideration as a potential site. But the existence of other, more modern swimming pools and the increasing popularity of private membership gyms pose an obstacle to funding.

“We are working with the Council to decide on a future use for the Baths, as well as improving access for the community. It is a fantastic building, rich in history, that deserves to be preserved and restored,” says Neil Bonner, the project manager.

Until then, volunteers will continue to service a grand building which offers a penetrating and stirring snap-shot of Mancunian society across a broad time-span.

Words: Michael Pooler
Images: Courtesy of Friends of Victoria Baths

Friday, 10 September 2010

Silver Apples @ Deaf Institute, Wednesday 28th July

It’s a shame that this Now Wave / WOTGODFORGOT show falls during the sleepy summer gig months. The crowd is healthy enough and Silver Apples co-founder Simeon Coxe (often known simply as Simeon) is clearly appreciative of all the plaudits he receives, but, as innovators so ahead of their time in the late '60s, Silver Apples perhaps deserve greater recognition than from the fanatical few.

The journey begins, though, with a musician more than capable of filling Simeon’s sonic shoes, Denis Jones. Although the gathered few are sparse for his set, Denis enraptures attentions towards a blend of cacophonous crescendos through forthcoming album Red+Yellow=’s ‘Rage’, ‘Clap Hands’ and ‘Sometimes’, while the old favourite, debut album closer ‘Beginning’ is greeted by a knowing hush of anticipation; immaculately uplifting.

The short film, Play Twice Before Listening, sets the scene. Silver Apples originally recorded music in the late 1960s and disappeared for years due to the demise of the record label, KAPP, that had released their first two records. KAPP's sale and eventual absorption into MCA Records was shepherded along following an attempt to defend itself in a legal wrangling against major airline Pan Am, who took offence to the Apples’ second album cover and its depiction of a flight crash scene.

If that image was to prove prescient, it also symbolised the relevance of Silver Apples in an era defined by social change, political protest, technological advancement and, most importantly, the purported moon landing. Looking back, Simeon’s adaptation of vintage 1940s oscillating electricity machines into a primitive dance music arsenal renders a fitting soundtrack to such a phenomenon.

This is not a pension tour, though. The rekindling of the flame in the mid-1990s must have felt more like unfinished business. Although short-lived in one respect, with original drummer Danny Taylor passing away soon after in 1998, his death also led to the rediscovery of undamaged recordings for the third album, entitled The Garden, which was proposed for 1970 but waited nearly 30 years for release.

So, when Simeon, alone, takes the stage at Deaf Institute it feels like the continuation of something that has not yet reached completion. Kicking into a canned boom-chk undercurrent to cosmic wobbles, the fedora-clad innovator is noticeably grateful for his second chance.

Not bogged down by reliance upon too many hits in the back catalogue, Simeon is free to experiment; swooshing, floating, warping through many a musical galaxy; orbiting the SONAR-esque ‘I Don’t Know’ and the almost poppy ‘I Don’t Care What The People Say’.

Following the spiralling sonic lure of ‘Oscillations’, Simeon doffs his hat to salute raucous applause; ahead of its time in the '60s and still unique enough to merit recognition.

Words & Pictures: Ian Pennington