Wednesday, 31 July 2013

All Our Friends Are Dead @ 3MT, 27.07.13

There’s nothing funny about happiness: it’s just annoying. Sorrow, sadness and suffering, however, are side-splitting, so comedy couple Norris and Parker’s Edinburgh preview of All Our Friends Are Dead sounded promising. Having already performed a show called Comedy Wake they had form on their side, and with a set of promotional posters designed to cause goth boys to wet themselves with more than just wee it almost felt like a dead cert.

As with their other shows, All Our Friends Are Dead is loosely based around making the show itself. Opening with a delightful number about the joys of being a twat that set the tone for the rest of the evening (lots of music, lots of them being twats), they then romped through an hour’s worth of material covering murder with a tin opener, the art of improvisation and ills of society at large.

Sketches also broke down the 4th wall, with Norris and Parker regularly chiding their long-suffering manager Amanda Clapham (who appears on stage with them) about her lack of acting ability, her poor planning for their upcoming Edinburgh shows and her choice of clothing (described as “peasant whore”). This cruelty is part of their persona – few of their characters come across as likeable, and they opt instead to play people trapped in relationships that are mutually malefic.

The strongest asset that Norris and Parker have is the naturalness of their performance: it doesn’t seem like a performance at all (that could be an insult, but in this case it isn’t). That said, an area where they could do with improving is in their stage-craft itself, as some jokes were spoken over the audience’s laughter. A couple of sketches were recycled from their last show and, while still funny, the new material has taken a step forward, and so these older bits are now not quite as sharp. But these are minor quibbles about a very funny performance, and I’m sure they’ll do well in Edinburgh. All of their friends might be dead, but with material like this Norris & Parker should have no problem making new ones.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Photography: Sam Edge.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

No Soft Option @ 3MT, 25.07.13

Crime doesn’t pay, but does it play? The evidence, your honour, suggests that it does – the justice system is a repeat offender as a setting for drama. Whether this is catching the criminals in Lewis, sentencing them with Judge Judy or watching them behind bars in Bad Girls, we’re used to seeing the law laid down for our amusement. But one facet that doesn’t get covered is community service. The words ‘community’ and ‘service’ don’t exactly set the pulse racing, but actually it’s a great setup: it throws together people with different personalities from all sides of the social spectrum, united in a common task that they don’t want to do. It is this maelstrom into which No Soft Option takes us, written by Brian Marchbank and showing at 3MT as part of the 24:7 theatre festival.

Under the supervision of newbie social worker Emma (played by Katie McArdle), a ragtag bunch assemble to carry out a seemingly simple task: painting a room in a community centre. How hard could that be? As the story unfolds, with personalities clashing, managers ranting and tools being downed, it seems the answer is: very hard indeed. There are some strong characters on display, particularly the neurotic Karen (Jane Allighan), who reveals her man isn’t actually her man but just a neighbour she is secretly filming, and Abby (Kimberly Hart-Simpson) who has recently had some not-so-successful anger management training. The relationship between Emma and her manager Viv (Penny McDonald) is also good value, with Viv providing an outward pressure on the whole group.

However, a problem for No Soft Option is believability – it is hard to imagine it all really happening, even in exaggerated form. Some of the writing comes across as slightly too stereotyped, especially for the two younger protagonists and the oldest member of the group, Malcolm (Leo Atkin). The evolving of the various relationships comes across as a touch forced, with unexpected reconciliations undermining what had gone before. Laughs come at regular intervals, with lots of good one-liners, but perhaps fewer jokes would have meant bigger laughs, and also given more space for the emotional side of the story to develop.

The above does not detract from the performances of the actors, who worked well together and added some nice touches, such as Abby’s dead-eyed stare and Karen’s ‘talk to the hand’ blocking of anything she didn’t want to hear. Jeff Butler’s directing was clear and uncomplicated, which suited the production, and keeping manager Viv as a constant menacing presence at the front of the stage added tension. The verdict? While not perfect, No Soft Option was entertaining, with lots of good jokes, and by the end I had definitely been won over. Watching paint dry might be considered boring, but seeing it not painted at all is actually quite fun.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Images: courtesy of 24:7.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Away From Home @ New Century House, 23.07.13

Football and homosexuality are like City and United fans: the two don't mix. Insulting players from the stands with gay epithets is still common, the first openly gay professional footballer in the modern era hung himself and the 2022 World Cup is being held in a country where homosexuality is illegal. With this in mind, how would a drama about a young man in a relationship with a closeted Premiership footballer fare? The answer is that Away From Home in one of the best written, performed and directed dramas I have seen. Normally I take notes during a play I am reviewing, but by the end I realised I hadn't written anything beyond the first five minutes; I’d been too caught up in it.

In Away From Home, Kyle (played by co-writer and lone actor Rob Ward) talks an un-seen partner through his relationship with a professional footballer who plays for his club’s rivals (referred to as “the scum” throughout). But this is no ordinary relationship, as the footballer is in the closet and no one can know. Oh, and they meet as John and rent boy, not as equals. Add to that the pressures being brought on Kyle by his family and catastrophe never seems far away. But, such is the heart of this play, nor does hope.

Littered with great one-liners, such as describing a girl as so clever that “she's re-taking her first year of uni” and telling the crossbar to “fuck off” during a game, the play is funny as well as thoughtful, dealing with difficult relationships while also poking fun at them. The directing (by co-writer Martin Jameson) sees Kyle move smoothly around the stage, with each re-enactment running seamlessly into the next – a scene set in hospital was particularly striking for its simple brilliance.

There is a lot you can take away from this play: the power of friendships, the difficulties that families go through, the pressure of keeping a secret. But most of all I think it is that we are all capable of growing as people, so long as we keep our self-respect, and there is always hope that conflicts can be resolved. Well, most conflicts: I’m still not sure that City and United fans will be hugging come match day anytime soon.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Image: Courtesy of 24:7 Festival.

Away From Home's run concludes on Thursday 25th July, while the 24:7 Festival continues until this Friday, 26th July.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Daniel Bachman @ The Castle Hotel, 19.06.13

A good example of the appeal of this all-seater affair at The Castle Hotel is when, during headliner Daniel Bachman’s set, attendees without chairs were filling in all the nooks and crannies by crouching, kneeling, reclining and resting behind and betwixt the furniture and in the aisle.

It was a busy, yet attentive, one from the start, as a pair of Manchester’s most active musicians, Tom Settle and Dan Bridgewood-Hill – aka dbh – set the scene in the Oldham Street alehouse’s back room. The former, a soft spoken finger picking guitarist whose strings collection extends tonight to a mandolin, compiles a collection comprising his own work and Jefferson Airplane’s ‘My Best Friend’, evoking the spirit of that 60s psyche band’s ballad by inviting the latter to join him to perform a rendition of Shirley Collins and Davy Graham’s ‘Hares on the Mountain’. Underneath the spotlights of a web of fairy lights that dangles overhead, dbh carries the appearance of an Eisenberg-Cera hybrid, with the pair’s gently strummed songs resembling Juno’s final scene.

When he takes centre stage, dbh can be seen in better light, showing the Eisenberg-Cera fusion to be no more than whimsical myopia on my part. His set is more forceful, with each note immaculately considered despite being short-lived amidst the fluid arpeggios of flamenco and Americanised acid-folk. While often searching and introspective, his closing tune, ‘Fix’, hits the major notes to offer a happy ending.

The main attraction – the touring American Daniel Bachman – sits just as the other two before him: quietly and politely in voice, but the most intensively of the three in sonic terms. This time launching in with his lapsteel guitar and a bottleneck slide before reverting to type with an acoustic guitar, whose open low-E string shudders in discord with other elegantly selected notes, the whole set is turned up a notch on the speedometer.

Between songs, he re-tunes, red-faced in concentration.

Then liftoff, again, with a style that isn’t quite strumming, and is far from finger picking; notes that often seem to be merged, yet are audibly separate. The catch, if there is one, is in the divergence from the core technique; beyond the opening bottleneck slider, there’s little to differentiate his songs, and a set continuing any longer would merit another direction the break up his favoured style. His chord shapes are no more inventive than anyone else’s, but with a playing technique so vigorous there’s enough to mesmerise the gathered audience.

Words & photos: Ian Pennington.
Poster design: Fliss Horrocks.

The next Crowfoot Records gig is scheduled for tomorrow, 24th July, at Kro Bar on Oxford Road, and will feature L’Etrangleuse, McWatt, Irma Vep and David M Birchall.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Waiting Man / Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning @ Black Lion, 13.07.13

The standout pieces of Nowt Part Of Festival (on the second Saturday, at least) were two one-man shows written and performed by Josh Coates (Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning) and Jon Coleman (Waiting Man). The pieces share a common theme of being alone, of dealing with a void, and of waiting for something – or someone – to come along.

Waiting Man is an existentialist musing littered with hope, potential, loss, action, and inaction. Told in the third person by a bard-like narrator, the audience is not quite sure whether the story being told is true or not. However, the delivery, the investment in everything being said, and the incredibly effective and deceptive simplicity of the storytelling is so compelling that by the end we are visualising the trajectory of a character who never actually appears onstage, and with devastating results. This is a desperately cynical and yet strangely life-affirming piece of theatre which can lead the audience to think about the path that life could potentially take. On a stage covered with incomplete crossword puzzles, origami birds, clocks, empty food wrappers, and even juggling balls, the Waiting Man waits so that we don’t have to.

By contrast, Stevie Wonder’s Stern Warning is an immediate, first-person monologue depicting a man slowly unravelling whilst trying to hold together a comeback gig – a comeback gig where he is the only member who has turned up. Armed with a ukulele and a suitcase full of enthusiasm, Josh attempts to maintain a smile as he continues through the performance, making every effort to keep the audience buoyed up and happy as the dream of a reunion begins to fade and the realisation sets in that the end has actually already happened. As with Waiting Man, it is the immediate rapport with the audience, the eye-contact, the informality of the event and the complete ease with which Coates delivers the performance which enables the audience to relax and enjoy the ride. We wanted him to succeed, to get through it, to enjoy the gig, and to take us with him on his musical journey. The song ‘Macbeth’ was a wonderful opener, and it would have been great to have heard some more of the talent for lyric writing that this man obviously has.

Both Coates and Coleman made great use of the space, of the audience, of time, silence and sound. We could trust these guys to tell us their stories with great style, emotional intelligence, and honesty. They are definitely ones to watch for in the future.

Words: Claire Dean.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Massive Attack v Adam Curtis @ Mayfield Depot, 13.07.13

Billed and very heavily marketed as one of the leading events of Manchester International Festival, Massive Attack v Adam Curtis is described as neither a film nor a gig but rather, and this is the portmanteau of Adam Curtis himself, as a ‘Gilm’. It could equally well be described as a ‘Fig’ but I guess that was decided against as the word was already spoken for.

Massive Attack have long had a reputation as the masters of dark, brooding melancholy of post-industrial trip-hop so any collaboration between Robert del Naja and Adam Curtis, the film maker responsible for the highly acclaimed Power of Nightmares, is going to be met with a great deal of excited anticipation. The show promised to be a utilisation of film, music, ideas and imagery, and on this point it undoubtedly succeeds. What those ideas are though, I’m not quite sure.

Surrounded by three walls of giant screens which project images while Massive Attack play from behind one of them, the event begins with old film of a 1970s Siberian disco to the strains of ‘Rock The Boat’ and diving into a world of imagery that contrasts the ordinary people of Chernobyl as true revolutionary heroes to the concept of a managed world, controlled by banks and the powerful elite, and Jane Fonda exchanging principles of socialism for the high profit of body fascism. Veering between moments of Oh, that was interesting to Yeah, so what? the whole experience comes across as a bit of a sixth form politics student idea of how the world is and how we should see it set to a very expensive PowerPoint presentation. The music though, from Horace Andy singing ‘Sugar Sugar’ and the exquisite voice of Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins doing Burt Bacharach, through to Nirvana and yes, I’ll admit it, a cracking version of Sugababes’ ‘Push The Button’, is faultless.

Adam Curtis is the acceptable face of propagandist filmmaking. His talent for persuasion is beyond doubt and his use of montage to make a point is up there with the greatest of cinematic propagandists, such as Sergei Eisenstein and Leni Riefenstahl. I make the comparison not because I believe the three are ideological bedfellows but simply because of their undoubted power to persuade. Curtis differs from the other two because he is profoundly anti-establishment and on the face of it he carries no particular political allegiance although clearly he is anti-capitalism. Adam Curtis appears to be anti lots of things but like most polemicists he never gets round to saying quite what he is actually for.

Through his films Curtis asks questions of the audience, makes his cinematic statements and representations and invites them to draw their own conclusions. That’s all well and good but, having said that, he does tend to punch you in the face with his cherry-picked moments from contemporary history and the overall narrative, while undoubtedly powerful, is often confusing. As a sensory spectacle and a piece of performance art it is unquestionably impressive. As a work of anything of intellectual substance it is as opaque as the screens that separate the band from the audience.

The use of the long abandoned Mayfield Depot as the location is another MIF masterstroke of venue specific choices for their key artistic events. Derelict since 1986, the interior evokes the death of industrialisation in the world’s first industrial city. At the end of the event the audience is led out through the cavernous depot, scanned by searchlight and watched over by guards with German Shepherds barking threateningly. The message is clear – you are being watched. You are being managed. Yet the future is unwritten and it is yours for the taking.

Well, yes, maybe it is. But for now, on this hot night in the middle of summer, everybody seems to be going onto somewhere else, unmanaged and in charge of their own future, to bars, clubs and parties.

We’ll start the revolution tomorrow. Maybe the day after. We’ll see.

Words: Robert Pegg.
Photography: James Medcraft.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Masque of Anarchy @ Albert Hall, 13.07.13

The tradition of Mancunian dissent is a long and noble one (see Now Then Manchester Issue 3). At the heart of that tradition are the events of 16 August 1819 when thousands gathered on a site that was once the Free Trade Hall – and is now the rather more prosaically and uninspiringly named Radisson Blu Hotel – to hear orator Henry Hunt speak in favour of parliamentary reform. The meeting was broken up on the orders of the local magistrates and following the unprovoked cavalry charge 15 lay dead and over 600 wounded. The red plaque on the front of the once proud building bears testament to this.

The semi-refurbished Albert Hall on Peter Street, yards away from the original site of what rapidly became known as The Peterloo Massacre, is an inspired choice of venue for a performance of Shelley’s brilliant polemical poem. It was originally written in the white heat of anger once news of the carnage reached him in Italy and is now being brought to life as one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival.

As you walk upstairs and into the faded baroque, gothic elegance of the old Methodist Hall, you wonder what John Wesley would have made of this, as founding father of temperate Methodism and a dissenter at heart and in whose name the upstairs chapel and public meeting place was built. Or Shelley, himself, permanently expelled from Oxford University eight years earlier for refusing to retract his essay ‘The Necessity of Atheism’. I think both would have been quietly proud of the meeting of the sacred and the profane for the performance of this secular masterpiece.

Maxine Peake takes the stage carrying a night light and places it in front of a thousand candles which form the main part of the stage lighting. Dressed in a plain white commoners’ dress, symbolic of the purity of the noble ideals of the day, she begins to address the audience. Part sermon and part call to arms, each perfectly enunciated word is delivered, intonation rising and falling with each verse. Even the oppressive heat and the fading light of a Friday evening in Manchester seen through the stained glass of the chapel play their part and as each verse is delivered a giant shadow is cast behind Peake, not just as the ghost of the 15 dead of Peterloo but as a glorious angel of protest watching over dissenters through the ages.

Everything about this event is perfect. The subject matter, the venue and location, the staging and lighting and above all the performance of Maxine Peake. If the oratory of Henry Hunt was to be this powerful and persuasive then it is no wonder the authorities of the day had reason to fear his influence.

The Masque of Anarchy. A love poem for the dispossessed.

Words: Robert Pegg.
Photography: Kevin Cummins.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Face Value @ John Cooper Clarke Theatre, Salford

It’s less about faces and more about values. At its heart, Face Value, written by James Antonio, produced by Twin Bird and claiming the honour of the inaugural performance at the new biennial Nowt Part Of festival, is an exploration and critique of the two paradigms by which social beings of the 21st century most ostensibly judge and are judged: beauty and capital.

Opening with a heavily symbolic scene in which a woman whose face is obscured by bandages sits alone reading Cosmopolitan, watched over by an ornately-framed mirror, Face Value tells the story of Cindy (Cinthya Verenice Quijano), a 23-year-old orphan who ran away to London to pursue a modelling career, abandoning her carer and uncle, Simon (Kristian Parsons), and best-friend, Gemma (Christine Hall). Years later Cindy returns, following the disastrous outcome of her latest plastic surgery, to find that Gemma and Simon are an item expecting their first-child, and that Gemma has won the lottery.

This ‘happy’ hospital reunion is darkened by the appearance of Gemma’s ex, John (Clay Whitter), who left Gemma for Cindy and followed her to London, before eventually too leaving Cindy as her expected modelling income failed to materialise. Desperate, homeless and pursued for gambling debts, John demands £50,000 of Gemma’s lottery winnings, holding Cindy and Simon to ransom with a petrol-bomb. Thus the play directs each of its characters to choose between money (and fame, in Cindy’s case) or family and friends.

While Face Value could’ve easily succumbed to a twisting and, at times, illogical plotline cut with an overly-clich├ęd central theme, the play is rescued by two things. The first is the high quality of acting on display. Each member of the cast gives a uniquely believable performance, none more so than the incomparable Clay Whitter, who flits seamlessly between a rogue, a childlike paranoiac and a menacing thug, truly terrifying when riled.

The second is Antonio’s clever and occasionally hilarious script. That the plot itself rightly borders on the absurd is exemplified by various revelations and backstories. It is later revealed, for example, that the ‘petrol-bomb’ John carries is in truth merely a bottle of (hopefully his own) urine. Cindy’s calamitous operation, we find out, is the result of a London surgeon who tried to make her look like his 40-year-old dead wife. And at the play’s denouement, where Simon tells Cindy the story of her parents, it transpires that they died while having sex in a brand-new sports car.

Such moments of silliness link the play’s critique of the beauty-industry and commercial capitalism as a whole. Face Value achieves its indictment by grotesquely parodying the desperation that money and the will-to-fame inspire. Both macabre and gratifying, Face Value is well worth its minimal entry fee and augurs well for Nowt Part Of’s future offerings.

Words: Mike Bowden.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Van der Graaf Generator @ RNCM, 28.06.13

Sturm und drang, crash and bang; Van der Graaf Generator collide with the RNCM in Manchester and fashion a nerve tingling victory. This trio of distinguished looking elder gents simply do not conform and on a weekend when the Stones slickly karaoke their way around a field in Somerset, it's a pleasure to see a band nearly of their vintage splinter and twist their catalogue into a new whole.

The band is now a trio of Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and drummer Guy Evans and they began their career at the University of Manchester in 1967. They have always embodied the shifting definition of art rock and have somehow managed the Tony Benn trick of getting more radical as they get older. This show has two poles: a version of the instrumental ‘Flight’ and a semi-improvised, semi-lunatic version of 'A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers' from their 1971 album Pawn Hearts, and between them there is much improvisational messing to enjoy.

The greatest joy for me and the capacity love-struck, middle-aged crowd is the interplay between the musicians. Evans has a drumming suppleness and casual swing that just doesn't seem right and his empathy with vocalist Hammill is a wonder to behold. Peter Hammill's singing is intriguing as he often seems to reach the limit of his range then push past it, and then push past it again. Special mention goes to Hugh Banton, a Cheshire based builder of organs who plays keyboards, triggers special effects and negotiates a bewildering range of bass pedals, while looking to all like a vicar in a BBC daytime drama.

Van der Graaf are simultaneously prog and punk, witty and frightening. Their leader wears the ‘shuffling to the paper shop’ uniform of tracksuit bottoms and smart shoes, whilst singing with a voice that sounds like Brian Ferry being prodded by hot pokers in hell, blasting forth from his tiny frame. Stunningly wonderful.

Words: John Wigley.
Live photograph: Monique Devic.
Press photo: courtesy of

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Old Woman @ Palace Theatre, 05.07.13

I don’t even pretend to know anything about absurdist theatre, least of all Russian absurdist theatre and to try to convince you that I do would be, well, absurd.

But I think I understand three things about absurdist theatre in general and Russian absurdist theatre in particular, and those three things are: one, I don’t understand it; two, I don’t think anybody else does and if they say they do, they’re probably lying; and three, neither of the first two things matter. Remember these three things and you may begin to make sense of The Old Woman. Or not. It doesn’t matter.

Daniil Kharms was born in St Petersburg in 1905 and came of age in the last days of revolutionary optimism before Bolshevik violence took a stranglehold on the arts. First arrested in 1931 when the avant garde was criminalised, he began to write children’s literature and buried himself in the absurd and the surreal. Arrested again for treason in 1941, he died a year later aged 36, probably of starvation in what was then Leningrad, with most of his work remaining unpublished until the Gorbachev era of Glasnost.

As part of Manchester International Festival, Darryl Pinckney’s adaptation of Kharms’ novella The Old Woman stars Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe as characters simply called A and B. It matters not which is which but it makes it much easier to understand once you realise they are one and the same person, or rather two aspects of the same imagination of the character, The Writer.

The old woman of the title exists only in the imagination of the writer, which is also important to remember.

She holds a clock that has no hands yet still she tells the writer the time. He goes home to work on a story and the old woman follows him, orders him around, sits in his chair and dies. The writer hates corpses; not as much as he hates children, but he hates them nonetheless. He goes to buy vodka and bread and all the time he is accompanied by himself, his friend and narrating to himself. The writer meets a young woman but he cannot take her home because of the dead old woman and when he finally returns he finds the old woman not dead but crawling around. He wants to kill her and has nightmares about her murder. He puts the old woman into a suitcase and gets on a train where the suitcase disappears. An old woman holds a clock that has no hands. The writer asks for the time. The old woman tells him the time.

Bringing this bizarre and captivating tale to life are Baryshnikov and Dafoe. To watch Baryshnikov move across any stage is worth the ticket price alone but to see him partnered, step for gentle step, in this surrealist danse macabre by Willem Dafoe is dual performance just too good to be missed. Complementing each other perfectly as essentially one and the same character, yet maintaining individuality, each exquisitely choreographed movement is executed with a precision that matches the snappy, camera shutter, blink-of-an-eye scene changes.

Vigorously directed by renowned avant garde director Robert Wilson, this extraordinary fable is played out in what appeared to me to be something reminiscent of German Expressionism by way of jazz age, vaudeville, pierrot slapstick and Waltzing Matilda.

To me, The Old Woman is about a writer struggling for an idea. Locked out of reality and into his stark and terrifying imagination where random thoughts wander off and take on a life of their own, repeating themselves over and over and over again. Nothing makes sense and the unconsciousness and schizophrenic mind, portrayed by Baryshnikov and Dafoe, is at once alarming, bleak, humorous and paranoid. To anyone else, it would probably be something entirely different and if absurdism has any kind of point at all then the point is that it can mean as much or as little as you want it to.

The Old Woman is the work of a darkly mad soul full of imagination, inventiveness, surreal energy, comedy and fantastic invention. None of it makes sense because nothing in it is real but once you accept that nothing is real, that life is meaningless and nothing matters, then you begin to get it and once you begin to get it and allow yourself to be drawn into the fragmented helplessness of the beautiful and tortured mind of Daniil Kharms, then prepare to be astonished.

Words: Robert Pegg
Images: Lucie Jansch, courtesy of MIF

The Old Woman is being performed as part of Manchester International Festival and continues at the Palace Theatre until 7 July.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Holy Esque @ Dulcimer, 13.06.13

“I heard them during the sound check and they blew me away,” says one of tonight’s promoters, Tru Luv, about Holy Esque. Preceding their show at Glastonbury this year, they prepared by making an appearance at Dulcimer in Chorlton.

The seemingly hermetically sealed, completely blacked out, compact room upstairs hardly seems to be an ideal preparation for a forthcoming gig in the large naturally aerated tent in a field but for those not at Glasto we can take solace in thinking this could be a more fitting venue to witness Holy Esque in.

Veladrome launch tonight’s proceedings. A couple of weeks ago they opened an all day event in Fallowfield and their vibrant, intense sounds were only witnessed by a handful of people.

Tonight, with the room approaching capacity, disaster struck. On that day in May, it was a fascinating contrast between the sharp, cutting, vocals of Lisa and the aggressive guitar and effects attack from Tom. With a barely perceptible, croaky, utterance, Lisa tries to confirm the all too obvious fact that her voice has ceased to function. The duo will give it a go though. First song, ‘Seeger (Part 1)’, is a deeply resonating, threatening instrumental affair, so it’s so far so good.

For the second number, ‘Violent Deer’, Lisa gives the vocals a go. The musical mood lightens a touch with this song, but the strain is too much and it signals the inevitable conclusion to this brief yet warmly received set.

“Come closer. Let’s make this interesting,” utters Pat Hynes, vocalist and guitarist with aforementioned Holy Esque. Interesting for whom?

Hynes has a set of vocal chords designed for the type of powerhouse rock that the band generates. His, bruising, gritty, exhortations fill the nooks and crannies of the venue, before spilling out into the surrounding streets and bars. It can make you wonder if paying the entrance fee to be inside the venue is necessary at one of their gigs as the sound quality is still pretty respectable outside.

Helping construct the platform for Hynes’s performance are guitarist Keir Reid, drummer Ralph McClure and guitarist Hugo McGinley. Most bands that play loud, aggressive music and have a Glaswegian connection such as Holy Esque will inevitably be tagged as having been reared on a Jesus And Mary Chain diet. If so, then this quartet has melded on a muscular framework that sweeps out in front of them.

Hynes wants the crowd to enjoy the gig as much as the band appear to, repeatedly enticing the audience forward, which, in a slightly uncertain but knowingly enjoyable fashion, they do.

Well, now that I’ve seen them, perhaps Glastonbury was the ideal place after all.

Words & photography: Ged Camera.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hand Over Fist @ Town Hall Tavern, 02.07.13.

Emily has Alzheimer’s. Alone and in her declining years it is through this debilitating disease that she begins to relate the myriad, interconnecting stories of her life from her first sexual attraction and love both lost and found to the birth of her child. Struggling through barriers of memory, Emily recalls these events with a mixture of confusion, frustration, coarse humour and moments of absolute clarity until its profound and moving denouement.

Royal Court Young Writer Dave Florez's script premiered to great reviews and nominations in Edinburgh last year and there is no reason that this production – perfectly directed by Joe Mellor of award-winning Fresh Loaf Productions and wonderfully acted by Helena Davies – should not bring the same kind of plaudits.

In a quietly restrained and remarkable interpretation, the word-perfect Davies gently tiptoes between the delicate strands of Emily’s story. Weaving vague and disconnected memories and recollections into one stream-of-consciousness, word association narrative she makes every transfixed person in the room feel they are the only one listening. A performance of such lovely subtlety is in itself something quite rare and it is of great credit to director Joe Mellor that he has handled the work with such ingenuity and craft, finely tuning what is already an exceptional monologue with the gentle notes of Jack Evans’ accompanying piano.

Hand Over Fist is one of the opening pieces of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival and a piece that deserves to be seen. The bar has been set high. If the rest of the fringe is of this quality and professionalism then it can be a festival to be proud of.

Words: Robert Pegg.

Hand Over Fist continues nightly at Town Hall Tavern until 4th July. For more information on Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, browse their website.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Steve Howe @ Bury Met, 21.06.13

Prog rock: so often a bucket for music critics to fill with bile (even post-Muse) is really a genre where influences from all points clash and intertwine. Yes, for example, have over their 45 years been a broad enough church to welcome everything from icy Icelandic classical sounds to 80s disco rock and make the resulting hymns sound like nothing other than themselves.

It was intriguing to see Steve Howe filter that breadth back through the prism of his formative influences of jazz and particularly flamenco. Shorn of the current origin story/tribute act version of Yes, he did cut a slightly lonely figure on stage. In addition, his bold attempts to express the many, many layers of early Yes tunes through just a simple and unadorned acoustic guitar led to the odd fret buzz and timing issue. But there was a glory to it, occasionally ragged, but definitely glorious. His own tune 'Surface Tension' was especially lovely and the piece written for his wife – selling CDs like a charismatic market trader out in the foyer – had a sentiment and not sentimentality. He also somehow imparted something new to Mason Williams’ whiskery, brown flared corduroy 'Classical Gas'. The best moment was the excerpt from Tales from Topographic Oceans, so often a big stick used to beat his group. Here it was lovely and jazzy and on which Mr H displayed a model singing voice; a surprise to many, perhaps even him.

Words: John Wigley.