Saturday, 21 December 2013

Glenn Jones @ Islington Mill, Salford, 15.11.13

If you want to talk all that talk about due-paying, then Cul De Sac have been experimenting since the 70s and are a kind of indie Grateful Dead because of that. Glenn Jones has done time, inside Cul De Sac and out. He sat at the feet of John Fahey and worked with him, somewhat frustratingly. Fahey also did serious time, and played Manchester before he died, in lovely red football socks, shorts and a Harold Shipman beard. The 'tunes' matched the dress connotations. Fahey's last tour was conducted by ex-psychiatric worker Paul Kelly and apparently ended in some appropriately RD Laing / Felix Guattari-style 'therapy'.

Fahey's most beautiful records had a dark undercurrent, which seduced and dragged you down into the clay mud with the sediment of a thousand years of struggle, pain and beauty. They're exhumations, what Herr Hegel described as 'sublation' – all previous epochs dragged forth in the now – this is what happened in Fahey's music. The then-recent import of eastern raga added to country blues, ragtime, jazz and all other American musics. Fahey could destroy entire civilisations with the casual opening twang of an open low e-string, before picking among its smoking ruins for bright artefacts to make the rest of the album with.

The support act, Directorsound, is essentially Nicholas Palmer, a man now signed to Domino, who presented some interesting passages of music. Palmer is on the way to something interesting, but his journey there is all over the place – formally and literally – his one man band approach didn't have an organising principle. The kind of Paris busker accordion he played had heavy connotations, in Eastern European, war-torn landscapes for instance, and that he tried to interrupt them was intriguing, but the interruptions were throwaway, none of it was properly worked out, or couched in any kind of conscious strategy: Directorsound is a few steps away yet.

Jones treads traditional water, thus this is Takoma records karaoke to an extent. He recalls such great Fahey albums as The Dance of Death and Other Plantation Favourites and Days Have Gone By, but what he does tonight is what Fahey always did: pull some really heavy histories back through the strings of a simple acoustic guitar or banjo.

Jones talks between songs engagingly, about Jack Rose of Pelt, about Meg Baird of Espers and how Bruce Springsteen irritates him. But this is not the main event. When Jones plays, he provides a map to the past, rich in detail, a necessary guide for anyone packing a rucksack, intending to move along that road, back to the future. Directorsound's Nicholas Palmer could take a lesson from what Jones does with American music, before applying it to his own practice. There is a way to play that means when you bend the strings, you bend space and time.

Words & photos: Steve Hanson.

Friday, 20 December 2013


Issue 8 of Now Then's Manchester edition hit the streets earlier this month weighing a little more than the previous seven issues - this time we've increased to 52 pages, allowing room for plenty more citizen journalism, art, comment and review.

Among the pages this time we have interviews with musicians Sam Amidon and Akkord, actor Rob Ward and this issue's featured artist Robbie Porter. Manchester Mule's investigation into the PFI schemes devised around the regeneration of Miles Platting make for interesting reading, as does Huw Wahl's rallying cry for collaboration in art, echoing the voice of the anarchist Herbert Read. As ever, there's plenty more besides, so click below for the online version.

Here are our supporters for this issue (in page order). Be independent, buy independent.

Battery Park Juice Bar.
The Eighth Day Shop & Cafe.
Proof Chorlton.
Morley Cheek's.

The Challenge Network.
Now Then Manchester Sales Position.

Alt Studio.(Special offer for all Now Then readers - FREE photo shoot! Just text 07901776892 with your name and 'NOW THEN VINTAGE' and a voucher will be sent to you.)

Ken Foster's Cycle Logic. (Special Xmas discount for Now Then readers - 15% off! See magazine advert for info.)
Kagyu Ling Buddhist Centre.

Outstanding Beers.
Marble Beers.
The Hope Inn / Fool Hardy Ales.
First Chop Brewing Arm.

Manchester Academy.

Opus Distro.

Wanted! Robin Hood @ The Lowry, 14.12.13

Who didn’t grow up watching Robin Hood movies? Well, if you did, you will love the current offering of Robin Hood directed by Amy Leach and produced by the Library Theatre Manchester. And if you didn’t, go already and watch this fantastic action-packed stage production. Schools are out. Holidays are in. If you have children, nieces or nephews they will be thrilled by the antics of the Merry Men led by Robin (Ciaran Kellgren). But don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just for children; adults will love this lively play too.

Wanted! Robin Hood gives you great admiration for the multiple talents of the actors as they take on more than one role in the play. For instance, Peter Landi plays Friar Tuck, Sir Guy of Gisborne and a soldier throughout the production. The designer (Hayley Grindle) has totally wowed us with a most impressive stage: a grand castle replica where Walter Fitzwarren (Emilio Doorgasingh) resides, and where his betrothed Marion of York (Amelia Donkor) is confined. The numerous arched doorways and windows should provide a way out for Marion, but alas, she is still trapped.

The costumes are befitting the characters: the furs and skins from rabbits and deer sported by the men, and the uniforms and spears and helmets worn by the soldiers. Marion’s beautiful dresses, stunning red overcoat and red headgear all make for a gorgeous Marion (Amelia Donkor).

The action, adventure and witty banter are appreciated by the happy audience, who want to see how the play will unfold…will the wanted Robin be caught and hung by the wicked Fitzwarren (the Sherriff of Nottingham)? Will Marion of York be forced into a marriage to the same evil Sherriff? Will Matty and Robert who we meet in the beginning ever be reunited? A must-watch family show of adventurous and action-packed frolics in the forest. Get yourselves to The Lowry before the finish date.

Words: Sadia Habib

Photos: Courtesy of Jonathan Keenan

Friday, 13 December 2013

Now Then Manchester Sales Position

We have an exciting opportunity going at Now Then magazine and you might be just the person we're looking for.

The position is a part time sales role for a bi-monthly magazine, and will involve a combination of researching new potential clients, sales administration, and face to face sales meetings with clients.

Sales and marketing experience preferred, particularly within the media industry, but more important is a strong commitment to ethical business and independent trading. For us, how we operate is just as important as what we produce so we're looking for someone with a genuine and passionate commitment to independent trade, art and thought, as well as to Manchester itself.

The role will demand self-motivation and strong organisation skills for working independently and to agreed deadlines, but also the ability to work within a team and be able to listen to, suggest and develop ideas within the team.

We are not accepting CVs for this position - please fill in this enquiry form and we'll be in touch.

Applications will be open until Friday 27th December and interviews will be held at the start of January. [NB - this has been extended from 5th December deadline.]

The successful applicant will be paid for six days per month (40 hours), with bonuses available on a commission basis. If you are selected for an interview a full job description and salary details will be emailed to you.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: Tehbis – Luckdaw EP (Label Groovement)

Tristan Williams, known as Tehbis, may have come a considerable distance since his debut in the honourable four walls of the Boiler Room back in May 2012. Not to mention being launched into the forecourt via the beat-maker connoisseur Kutmah, as regards to the track ‘Higher’ on the 2012 Brownswood Compilation. The boy based currently in the Big City has now spread his musical wings by demonstrating his own particular taste and eccentricity in the finest musical fusions, in this short yet intensely sweet Luckdaw EP.

Trust in tracks brimming with ambient vocals, layered with discerning drum snaps and playful samples. His sound may lack in consistency and distinct structure at times, but Tehbis makes up for it in his unmistakable ability to blend sounds and cross genres in an ambitious manner.

Words: Emma Louise Milton.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Breathing Corpses @ Victoria Baths, 27.11.13

Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses, the latest play produced by Fresh Loaf Productions, follows several stories all connected by one commonality: death. For some, death puts life into perspective and offers a new start. For others, it does quite the opposite.

Staged in the dimly lit basement of the labyrinthine Victoria Baths, Breathing Corpses has a non-linear structure that encourages you to ask questions. A man is found dead in a hotel room – what drove him to suicide? A body is uncovered in a lockup – who killed them, and why? Slowly the pieces are put into place but, as with life itself, you’re left to decide exactly what it all means.

One of the most important things to do when staging a play is to create an atmosphere, which Victoria Baths has in spades: the echoing rooms and cold corridors are an ideal setting for a play dealing in death. The watery soundtrack was a perfect aural accompaniment, and added to the magic reality of Wade’s text.

Normally this would be the time to single out specific actors for acclaim (or admonishment), but what struck me was the ensemble’s consistency. No one stood out, but no one was meant to stand out – this was well observed realism. Wade is a master of understated dialogue, and the cast did it justice. The same goes for the directing of Joe Mellow, which was effective, unobtrusive, and coaxed good performances from all involved.

Not your usual fringe affair, it felt like a lot of time and effort (and possibly money) had gone into this production. While this meant it lacked the seat-of-your-pants charm that makes fringe so worthwhile, it did allow for a professional text (Wade has had much critical acclaim over the last decade) to receive the professional treatment it deserved. A great play, well performed in a brilliant will be interesting to see what Fresh Loaf do next.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Emma Rider

Monday, 2 December 2013

JB Shorts 10 @ Joshua Brooks, 26.11.13

A posing Mozart, a man playing Uncle Sam and a full-of-himself thespian all on one stage, on one night, can only mean one thing: JB Shorts is back.

First off the thespian in What A Performance, featuring a bickering bunch preparing for a meaningless matinee. The directing had some nice touches and the dialogue was fun, even if the story itself was going over well-worn ground. Following in its footsteps came Big Game, which touched on some interesting ideas concerning body image and gender, but felt more like an essay on the subject rather than a conversation two people might actually have. Relationship counselling conundrum Relate also dealt with interesting issues, this time concerning sexuality. However, it felt like once the plot twist was revealed it had nowhere else to go...

...which takes us into the interval. And, to mirror the night, let me take a few moments to have an interval of my own and say a couple of words on the series itself. JB Shorts is always entertaining, but sometimes it feels like you’re seeing the same actors performing scripts by the same writers covering similar subjects. There’s always one piece about the theatre, another about a one-night stand and usually something involving therapy. JB Shorts 10 was no different, which is a shame since the supportive audience and short format make it ideal for experimentation. Anyway, back to the plays...

...after the break came Icarus Descending, whose plot concerned a possible meeting between Mozart and Beethoven. While not a bad idea in itself it didn't quite work on this occasion, perhaps because the references were a touch predictable.

Then came the last two plays, which turned out to be by far the best. Penultimate performance A Special Relationship, written by James Quinn, was a humorous take on Anglo-American relations. Featuring a well concealed reveal, the script was full of funny one-liners and managed to be political without being preachy. Mention too should go to Rob Ward and Sarah McDonald Hughes, whose deliberately stereotyped characters (American and French respectively) were perfectly balanced on the border between satire and silliness.

Following this was a welcome return for never-been-kissed couple Angela (Susan McArdle) and Andrew (Will Travis), in Blind Date 2. Last time out (Blind Date was performed at JB Shorts 9) ended in disappointment, but in the intervening months absence has made the heart grow fonder. The acting was spot on, the writing funny and caring, while the directing kept it all moving along at just the write pace and with plenty of feeling. A great end to another fun night out at JB Shorts.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: JB Shorts

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Vessels @ Sound Control, 07.11.13

Overcoming the winter sickness that seems to have been enveloping the North West in recent months, From the Kites of San Quentin presented their trademark, harmonious yet unnerving juxtaposition of sounds. With their sub-bass rattling all fixtures and fittings of Sound Control, they fuse end of the world rave sirens with the delicately manipulated vocals of Alison Carney.

There is an undeniable humanism to their music and a ludicrous level of mechanical dexterity from their primary beat-maker Blood Boy. That said, there’s plenty of headroom for progression for a band that could perhaps progress their sound even further and benefit from stripping things back to their bare minimum. Following a few singles and EPs, From the Kites of San Quentin have a debut LP due out on the new Victoria Warehouse Records imprint next year, so we’ll find out what direction their sound takes for that.

Having previously become acquainted with the music of Vessels through their superb cover of Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky Was Pink’, their evolution from a synthesized post-rock ensemble to something resembling a live, contemporary techno sound was confirmed when faced with a back line resembling the deck of the Starship Enterprise, truly a synthesiser enthusiast’s wet dream. Shades of early Vitalic and Modeselektor were at times present, but Vessels really come into their own when they exceed all contemporary influences, like a house band on Mars riffing out alien love songs.

In a world where techno producers seem to spend more and more of their lives striving for the most organic, human principles of sound, Vessels have superbly embodied these elements of live bass, drums and shakers into their performance with ease and poise, and for this reason they remain as exciting a live prospect as you will come across, this year or next.

Words: Dan Coultas

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Love Letters and Other Pointless Scribbles @ 3MT, 21.11.13

What are we left with when a relationship is over? Memories of both good times and bad, feelings of fondness and regret...and then there’s the physical things, like love letters. But whereas letters can be put in a box and forgotten about, feelings and memories are not so easily expunged; sooner or later we have to face them. And, in a new one person show Love Letters and Other Pointless Scribbles, that’s just what writer and performer Stephanie Claire does, taking us on a journey from love found to love lost, getting off at every stop along the way, leaving no box unopened.

Having seen her previous show ‘Confessions of a Waitress’ it is apparent that Claire has a certain stylistic approach. Her work is immersive, engaging each audience member in conversation as they enter the theatre and then subsequently throughout the performance. Props, particularly handmade ones, are used as marker points in her stories and also as an opportunity for further audience interaction. The stories themselves are a mix of conversation, confession and recollection, with the shifts between the two coming quite suddenly – one minute she might be remembering how her grandmother used to sing, the next she herself is inhabiting that role.

The best moments brought laughs of recognition , with the re-enactment of a drunken late night text sent from a club toilet a particular highlight. However, not every moment was quite as sharply realised, and it felt as though the input of another person – perhaps a director or writer – could have helped hone parts of the performance.

As a performer Claire is sincere and generous - not for one moment do you question her belief in what she is saying, and although dealing with the subject of heartbreak she is never vindictive in her assessment of the past. This approach is rather refreshing, especially in the world of artistic expression where a need to be impressive can put the squeeze on being nuanced and nice. Love Letters is definitely an enjoyable hour, with some interesting and humorous takes on what love is and how we cope with its departure.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photo: Stephanie Claire

Monday, 18 November 2013

Fundraising Event for St. Mary’s Hospital @ Ruby Lounge, 31.10.13

Ghoulish figures moved deftly across the floor of the Ruby Lounge on this Halloween night. That’s nothing to do with trick or treating for the kids, this is the real thing. People who haven’t been seen for years have gathered together for the fundraising event that’s hoping to contribute towards a scanner for St Mary’s baby unit, and is linked in with the initiative set up by Clint Boon and his family.

The live sets are short and sweet, allowing the likes of Cornelius Crane to show off the contents of their goodie bag with songs from the past, present and future.

It’s not laughs that the Chevy Chase impostors deliver, but beguiling and enchanting Americana tinged melodies. Supported by the clear soundsystem they draw the ever-increasing crowd closer to themselves, the listeners eager for more.

In between sets, the vast expanse of the musical field is criss-crossed by DJs whose knowledge of the respective scenes is displayed in their record bags. Mark Burgess strides onto the stage to take his place amongst the other musicians, including Yves Altana on guitar, ready to start.

His disgust that this sort of event is required in the first place is revealed before the band starts up. Despite shouts of “In Shreds”, Mark stays away from his Chameleons back catalogue apart from one relatively obscure and seldom played number.

His voice is in fine form as he delivers lines such as, “It’s a long time since I was this fucked out of my tree / It’s a long time since I swam this river.” Difficulties are dealt with as a matter of routine, so that when a drummer can’t make it, two others swap between songs. It seems that as long as the Burgess/Altana axis is there, everything else will flow sweetly around it.

Is it really 11 years since I last saw Dub Sex play, when everyone else is quoting 24? Ah well, the advantage of taking pictures proves I’m right and I caught them at the Roadhouse in 2002 playing at Alex’s birthday bash. Despite having seldom played or released new music in over 20 years, the band can still draw upon a fervent support to witness them. After that period of time, changes to the line-up are inevitable, and for this performance Mark Hoyle, Cathy Brooks, Chris Bridget and Mark’s son Stefan are all included in the line up.

‘Instead of Flowers’ begins proceedings and it’s clear that the intensity and passion is still present within Mark Hoyle. His face contorts whilst his upper body twists with the menace that can still generate fear. Even asking “Are you having the time of your life?” seems to be a threat.

The band has been practicing for a few weeks, still respectful of putting on a decent performance for those who have paid. ‘Swerve’ is last up and is met with cheers of recognition from friends and followers who think they can do no wrong. It’s only a six-song set, and with the possibility of more gigs to tie in with a forthcoming compilation release, there may be more dubious sexual pleasures to be had in the near future.

Words & photos: Ged Camera

Friday, 15 November 2013

Bo Burnham: What @ The Dancehouse, 12.11.13

When Bo Burnham was first uploaded into our consciousness as a teenage YouTube comedic sensation way back in 2006, you could be forgiven for assuming that what you were looking at was a flash in the pan.

But that was seven years ago and Burnham, now the ripe old age of 22, has undoubtedly fulfilled every inch of the potential displayed in those gawky early videos and matured into the outstanding comedy writer and performer we see before us today.

What is Burnham's second fully realised show – following on from 2010's immensely successful Words, Words, Words – and debuted to widespread critical acclaim at this year's Edinburgh Fringe before being taken out on the road for an eleven-date UK run, stopping off in Manchester at The Dancehouse for the first of two performances in five days.

Presented as a mixture of musical comedy, stand-up, poetry and even the odd bit of dance, the show is an hilariously intriguing examination of comedy itself from an incredibly intelligent and perceptive young student of the art form with a strong inclination to surprise and subvert, gaining extra marks for showing his working along the way.

The key theme which runs throughout is the notion that ‘Art is a lie, nothing is real’, and Burnham litters the hour-long show with various examples of this, such as seemingly spontaneous errors which turn out be part of the choreography after all. On several occasions he makes a point of highlighting the awkward dip in the show's momentum while he has to travel between his keyboard and the centre stage microphone.

Like all of Burnham's material to date, the tone fluctuates between astoundingly articulate wordplay – a one-liner about the Kenyan marathon team's doctor whose “patients was running thin” garnered one of the bigger laughs of the night – and what might be perceived as juvenile humour or political incorrectness – songs about paedophile frogs or a poem called ‘I Fuck Sluts’, for example. Burnham barely breaks character all evening and his stage persona is a trademark portrayal of extreme arrogance laced with enough self-awareness and self-deprecation to provide comedic balance.

It's easy to forget when watching Burnham perform that it wasn't very long ago he was making YouTube videos from his bedroom in Massachusetts, nor that he is still a very young man in a traditionally older man's game. He is a unique specimen in that the generation to whom he appeals the most have never before watched a prodigious comedian mature before their very eyes in this way. Although many predicted he would fade into obscurity along with the sneezing baby panda and that 'Chocolate Rain' guy, Burnham has comfortably confounded expectation and will surely only get better with age.

Words: Dan Burke

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In Doggerland @ The Lowry, 07.11.13

Identity is a difficult thing to define; we are the sum of our physical and spiritual selves, existing in a continuum with the people we love and care for. We call our hand ‘my hand,’ using the possessive, or confess to ‘owning’ a short temper. When it comes to friends and family we do the same thing, saying ‘he’s got your eyes,’ or even ‘my heart belongs to her.’ So what happens when you lose part of that identity, say a hand to injury, or a loved one who dies? The new Box Of Tricks production In Doggerland by Tom Morton-Smith gets to grips with this complex question and tries to find some answers.

The storyline follows parallel problems. Twenty-something Marnie (Jennifer Tan) was born with a heart condition, one that meant she could die prematurely without a transplant. After years of waiting she finally got her new heart, but rather than relieved she now feels wretched, worrying that her spiritual centre has been lost forever. Meanwhile Kelly (Natalie Grady) has seen her twin sister killed in a car crash, and neither she nor her father (Clive Moore) are coping. As the play progresses the two stories become intertwined and each character must deal with loss, letting go and living on.

Complicated plots like this have to move nimbly, but the text of In Doggerland, although poetic, sometimes sounded cumbersome in the mouths of the actors, clashing with the realism of the staging and directing. Lines like, “death by a thousand cuts,” and, “I’m the prince of white lies,” are very pretty, but jar unless used sparingly; too often the dialogue felt rehearsed rather than conversational, slowing the pace of the play down.

The actors themselves gave good performances, with Benjamin Blyth charming as Marnie’s brother and Clive Moore pitching the guilt-ridden Dad just right. Director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder made efficient use of the stage, neatly transforming it into a flat, a street and a seaside cliff. This was possible because of the design of Rachel Wingate, who had done a lot with very little, making something that the actors and director could be believe in and be creative with.

The enigma of identity remains, but In Doggerland succeeds in stimulating thought on the subject, even if some elements were slightly flawed.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Devin Ainslie

Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Deadbear - Wabi Sabi (Art Is Hard Records)

A name like Deadbear would suggest we have ourselves a grubby garage band. This alongside the fact the EP is named Wabi Sabi, which means the acceptance of imperfection, and it’s all a little baffling. But take a listen and this is on the flip side. ‘All is Life’, featuring the corrupted vocals of Egyptian Hip Hop’s Alex Hewett, is four minutes of craftsmanship and unadulterated brilliance.

Tracks like ‘Uncanny Valley’, ‘JapanEatHotel’ and ‘Snow in Toyko’ all benefit from Deadbear’s ability to play around with hi-hats and structure samples so adequately. The results are fascinating. The title track is a clear winner, rough and irregular but with a subtle intimacy and euphoric charm. One man’s ingenuity and self expression could be another man’s mess, but music knows no boundaries and this EP is a perfect example of that.

Words: Emma Louise Milton.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Review: Aka Hige - Opening (Self-released)

This is one of those projects that doesn’t hinge solely on recorded music – there are various creative outlets produced alongside the release – art and design prints, short stories by Bad Language and #FlashTag writers, illustrations and a launch night AV spectacle at an unused office space in Piccadilly Place.

The music itself flickers in the shadows, sometimes offering little more than a sub-bass heartbeat and the occasional twitch, and at other times shuffling along with relatively upbeat synth-led glee. Its mood swings are minimal, but its overall personality is certainly stabilised by the launch night setting. Within those bounds – walls covered with plastic lining, yet to be unwrapped – the music bounced menacingly, yet the fantastical always glimmered as vibrant colours hazily illuminated the darkness, shining a light on this journey across various realms of pensive electronica.

Words: Ian Pennington.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Un-Convention @ Manchester School of Art, 12.10.13

Free CDs. Free live music. Free discussions. What’s not to like about ‘free’? Once again the Un-Convention event has returned to Manchester and in their typical fashion of trying to keep things fresh it took place at the recently constructed, airy and naturally lit Manchester School of Art.

The events were free entry (via pre-booking) and attracted healthily sized crowds to hear three discussions, which were focused around Manchester and the North West. One reflected on the role Ringway (aka Manchester) Airport played in helping to set Manchester up as the next preferred social city outside of London, while another covered the essential social networking required to survive and flourish, exemplified by the Murkage Cartel.

With well-respected figures from the Manchester music environment such as the promoter Jay Taylor, Dave ‘Murkage’ who set up the Murkage club night events, City Life editor Luke Bainbridge, Mike Burgess (HeavyFeet) and band member Rick Boardman (Delphic), there was enough diversity and knowledge present to keep the audience entertained.

The pool of experience was broadened even further with the introduction of Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan who was involved with the development of graphene.

Never an event to talk down to its audience, crowd members included people involved with the burgeoning Antwerp Mansion community and young musicians seeking some crumbs of advice as they take their first tentative steps into a new career.

The music comprised a CD created and recorded on the day from artists including Walk, JP Cooper, Kirsty Almeida and Jo Dudderidge, who each contributed one or two tracks. When Dudderidge finished at about 5pm, the organisers’ promise was that the CD would be available with six songs by 6pm. And it was. Speed didn’t breed blandness though as each CD cover was individually crafted on the day – some by students at the School of Art, others by attendees.

It’s perhaps a pity that time pressures prevent any inclusion of music from the closing band, Hope and Social, who played a storming set. With a bit more time than the previous acts, they start with a stylish swagger and fulsome sound, quickly converting the discussion hall into a dancing venue with people getting up and jiving in the alcoves.

Simon Wainwright is an engaging frontman, chatting easily with the crowd between numbers as the musicians rotate instruments and positions. He makes inevitable comparisons between their native Leeds followers and those present: “If this was in Leeds, you’d have smuggled some beer in”.

It’s an onslaught of bright passionate music that may have been free for the audience, but is definitely valuable.

Words & photos: Ged Camera.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Best of BE Festival @ The Lowry, 06.11.13

If there was one thing you could recapture from childhood what would it be? I think I’d go for that feeling of play: chasing breathlessly after someone in tag, saying hello to a stranger without fear of embarrassment, experimenting with a world full of brand-new things. It is just this spirit that unified the three performances at The Best of BE Festival at The Lowry, resulting in a fascinating, thoughtful and fun evening of theatre.

The BE Festival (which stands for Birmingham European – when I first heard the title I thought it was a beekeepers convention) is an annual event that offers artists a chance to perform new half-hour works. The concept is that borders are there to be broken, be they between performer and audience, dance and theatre or the European nations themselves.

Opening group Betti Combo from France performed Al Cubo, a piece with a simple premise; the three performers had a dozen or so white plastic buckets, which they had to stack ceiling high. On the face of it that sounds quite boring – a sort of Poundland version of Brancusi’s endless column – but there was tension when the tower looked like toppling, awe at their ability to juggle buckets so artfully and laughter when it all went just a bit wrong (at one point this reviewer got hit in the head by a deflected paper pellet fired from a pea shooter).

A darker, more serious tone was struck by Tao Te (performed by Hungarian artists Ferenc), which began with two men sat on the floor furtively eating bread, accompanied by the sound of spitting rain and fire. Suddenly their bodies came under the control of the noise, being snapped back and forth by a mixture of musical and machine-like tones. Over the next thirty minutes they scratched, scrabbled and strode across the stage, fighting and feeling for one another as they danced, drawing you into a world of mimicry and disturbing dreams.

The death of a neighbour who, ‘lives so close, but we don’t know each other at all,’ triggers Danish performer Ivan Hansen (Out of Balanz) to journey back through his life in the closing act of the evening titled Next Door. Mortality , friendship, the grip of the past, the pull of the future, the endless questions that everyday life throws up; all of these and more are covered in Ivan’s wide-eyed narrative, with the charming dramatic accompaniment of Pekka Räikkönen, whose nose-picking and sword-wielding was a treat to watch.

Although disappointing for any actual apiculturists (there were no bees to be seen) the evening had great merit; new artists were introduced from different cultures and countries, using different styles and approaches, and the whole thing had a wonderful child-like enthusiasm that was very refreshing. If the rest of the BE festival is anywhere near this good it must be something special to see.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Courtesy of BE Festival

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Manchester MIDI School: Live Sessions #1

Next week, Manchester MIDI School will welcome Ben Pearce to host the first of their Sessions series. The series will aim to educate, inspire and encourage participants by shining a helpful light on a variety of music industry roles and skills – including production, publicity, management and DJing. They will all be free entry, but places will be limited and allocated via a competition.

The first MMS Session, on Wednesday 13th November from 7pm to 9pm, will focus on production techniques, with Ben Pearce deconstructing tracks using Ableton Live. There will then be a chance to pose questions to him.

Pearce, who founded and manages the Purp & Soul Records label, is most famous for his 2012 track ‘What I Might Do’, which has reached #7 in the UK singles chart. His recent success story in the deep house genre is a great example of the DIY drive that the MIDI School can help to instil and nurture through their music courses.

The future MMS Sessions will take in a range of formats, skills and styles – ranging from workshops to mixes, always with an emphasis on discussion, participation and interaction.

Located next to the Deli Lama café-bar on Bexley Square in Salford, the MIDI School was established in 1996 to provide music production, audio engineering and DJing courses to students of all ages and abilities.

Words: Ian Pennington.

To register for a chance to be involved on 13th November, click here. The deadline is on 10th November.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Séance of Dickens @ The King's Arms, 29.10.13

It was a cold, forbidding night in the upstairs room of the King’s Arms. Rain lashed down on the roof tiles, and a fierce wind rattled up high in the rafters. What better location then for The Séance of Dickens, a play exploring the afterlife of some of Dickens’ most famous characters.

The concept behind the play is that Josiah Drood, played by Franklyn Jacks (who also wrote the piece), can channel spirits with the help of his spirit-guide Edwin. These spirits take the form of characters from the works of Charles Dickens, who through Drood express their regrets, reliefs and residual anger. Drood himself is an unstable man, and channelling the spirits takes a heavy toll on his mental and physical condition.

What a séance requires more than anything else is atmosphere, and TV programs like ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘6ixth Sense’ have shown how believable a simple setup can be. However, even with the assistance of the menacing weather outside, The Séance of Dickens was unable to conjure up a spirit of malevolent presence. The set felt sparse and distant rather than eerie and uncomfortable, and there was little use of sound or lighting dynamics. This is fringe theatre and budgets are understandably limited, but simple things like an underlying soundtrack and moodier lighting could have made a big difference.

The shortcomings of the staging left the performance of Jacks exposed, making the already difficult job of carrying a one-man show harder still. Having to play a psychic medium, an entertainer and half a dozen famous Dickens characters was simply too much for one actor to take on under these circumstances. While the calmer passages like the rendering of Bob Cratchit were done well, too much was played at a fever pitch. Although some of this is explained by a plot twist at the end of the play, it became grating after the first few characters.

The show did have strong dialogue, imitating the style of Dickens effectively with nice turns of phrase like, “His steadfast fastidiousness.” Furthermore, the idea behind A Séance With Dickens strikes me a good one, and it is not hard to imagine this being reworked into something more manageable; hearing from the spirits of Dickens’ characters could make for great entertainment if played as a straight séance. As it stands though the play was attempting too much with too little, and made for difficult rather than Dickensian viewing.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Courtesy of Franklyn Jacks

Friday, 1 November 2013

Meanwhile @ Bolton Octagon, 14.09.13

Some contrasts just work: black is bolder with white, sour tastes sharper with sweet and the heat of the day is better when balanced by the cool of night. But other contrasts are not so positive, like the one at the core of Meanwhile, where the play of children clashes against the pain of conflict. Set in the 1980's at the height of the troubles, Meanwhile follows two concurrent tales. The primary plot concerns The Torpedoes, an all-girl Belfast football team preparing for their annual St Patrick's Day match. The girls have their ups, downs, fall outs and make ups, but when it comes down to it they're having fun. This playing is thrown into sharp relief by the secondary story, where Bobby Sands (Richard Patterson) reads extracts from his diary. Some are vitriolic, others filled with love, but most of all they speak to the horrors of which humans are capable as Sands collapses under the indecent treatment of his captors.

Marshalling these two storylines is no mean feat, but writer Colin Connor and director Nick Birchill achieve a balance between polemic and play, not getting bogged down in politics yet not trivialising the troubles. The changes between the two are handled sharply, making full use of a simple set that fluidly forms into a multitude of highly evocative locations. Movement is a strong suit in general, the highlight being a wonderfully frantic football match that sees the entire cast careering back and forth across the stage with a mixture of tableaux, slow motion and carefully choreographed chaos.

The step up from the tiny Lass O’Gowrie (where Meanwhile debuted) to the studio theatre space at The Bolton Octagon is admirably achieved, and proves there is life beyond the fringe for new writing. Second time around Meanwhile offers stronger production values, more creative blocking and tighter performances. The addition of a band on stage to soundtrack the show added a welcome emotive guide to the storytelling, complimenting the narrative beautifully.

The play requires that the cast be flexible and inventive. Both the basics – such as the Irish accents – and the difficulties of portraying sensitive subject matter were done well. The ensemble portray children despite all being adults, which can be problematic, but they managed to convey the exuberance of youth without making the politics of children feel insignificant.

Seeing the play of children concurrent with the story of Sands shows the meaningless of human conflict, and makes one despair for the misery we bring upon ourselves. But Meanwhile offers redemption too: as the girls show, we need never have such difficulties at all if we play the game in the right spirit.

Words: Andrew Anderson & Megan Griffith
Photos: Courtesy of Bolton Octagon

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Long Day's Journey Into Night @ Bolton Octagon, 26.10.13

All families are dysfunctional, but some are more dysfunctional than others. The great American playwright Eugene O’Neill insisted that his semi-autobiographical play Long Day’s Journey Into Night be published posthumously, and no wonder: it is a dark and intensely revealing look at an emotional family who are struggling to move on with their lives.

“In a real home, one is never lonely,” Mary Tyrone (Margot Leicester) tells us. The irony will not be lost on the audience; Mary is desperately seeking a sense of home, while her husband Edmund (Mawgan Gyles) is acquiring ever more property. We learn of her past spent on the road, and her exhaustion at having had to bring up her boys in “second-rate hotels.” We become intrigued as we see the family staring at Mary, expressing reluctance to leave her alone. Why are they walking on eggshells around her?

Mary comes across as neurotic and almost annoying, with a strong performance from Leicester. Yet we grow to understand Mary’s character as the night proceeds, becoming empathetic with both where she has come from and where she is coming from. In addition, the poetic, Nietzsche-reading, pale and sickly Edmund Tyrone (no doubt reflecting Eugene O’Neill himself) is brilliantly portrayed by Mawgan Gyles.

Though the play is fiercely sobering there are moments of humour from the cutting comments offered by Mary, and the comic relief of the maid Cathleen (Jessica Baglow), whose lively exuberance has the audience chuckling. The father and son battles show the strength of the male actors: James Tyrone Senior (Brian Protheroe) and his son Jamie Tyrone (Kieran Hill) are deeply disappointed with each other, and their bitter exchanges keep the audience gripped. It is rare that a play contains such consistently brilliant actors who are able to carry such a long play from beginning to end, as we accompany them on this sometimes difficult and often deeply revealing long day’s journey into the night.

Literary references abound, and are a real treat for lovers of literature. The stage designer has done well to reflect this with the many books on the set – Shakespeare, Zola, Wilde, Baudelaire and more. The symbolism of the miserly father and his concern with lining the pockets of the Electricity Board is perfectly achieved by lighting designer Mick Hughes.

All in all this is another successful play about family trouble and strife by Bolton Octagon, under the excellent direction of the talented David Thacker.

Words: Sadia Habib

Photos: Ian Tilton