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

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

David Byrne: A Consumer’s Retort

On 11th October, David Byrne penned a comment piece for The Guardian in which he argued that online music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora are in danger of “sucking all creative content out of the world”.

The former Talking Heads singer made some interesting points in the article, mainly that the increasing trend of music consumption via these platforms has led to a severe downturn in profit for the artists creating it due to the miniscule amounts per stream paid out by the music services. As Byrne sees it, if the financial rewards for making music and art in general continue to diminish at the current rate, it won’t be long before creativity itself is all but redundant.

It’s difficult not to feel at least a little bit of sympathy for the plight of the modern artist from Byrne’s prophecy of doom, but he rather unwittingly stops making sense of it all in the third paragraph when he says: “For many music listeners, the choice is obvious – why would you ever buy a CD or pay for a download when you can stream your favourite albums and artists either for free, or for a nominal monthly charge?”

Because therein lies the problem. The music industry is one which relies on its consumer base like any other and if those consumers are able to get their goods cheaper, or even for free, from an alternative source, then how can you really blame them for doing so?

As someone who has been an ardent subscriber to Spotify Premium for several years, I am certainly the sort of person Byrne’s article seems intent on guilt-tripping into reverting to the old fashioned methods of music consumption for the greater good. Before Spotify came along I found music fandom an expensive hobby and regularly spent more than I could afford on the pursuit of new and interesting sounds. When I found a product which offered to not only vastly expand my music collection, but also make it completely portable for a meagre £9.99 a month, it was something of a no-brainer.

Byrne rather ludicrously suggests that streaming services are just legalised versions of file-sharing sites like Napster and Pirate Bay, which is akin to comparing buying alcohol from an off-licence because it’s cheaper than the pub to shoplifting.

But if I agree with Byrne on one thing, it’s that there are too many people out there who have no qualms about shoplifting, at least in the figurative sense. Users of file-sharing sites typically argue that they wouldn’t download music illegally if it wasn’t so expensive to purchase via the official channels but you could be forgiven for being sceptical about the sincerity of such a claim. What people on both sides of the debate must understand is that there’s a gulf of middle ground between expecting something for nothing and feeling as though you’re the one being fleeced.

Perhaps the most profound question posed by Byrne’s article relates more to whether a monetary value should be placed on true art in the first place. The tragic case study presented in support of Byrne’s argument is that of Daft Punk, whose feel-good-hit-of-the-summer, ‘Get Lucky’, has been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify alone. Despite this, the French electro duo is expected to pocket a mere $13,000 each, whereas under the old system record sales of that magnitude would’ve easily netted them a figure in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

When you put it like that it’s easy to make it sound like the artists are getting an extremely raw deal, but $26,000 is still a more than adequate reward for what was a fairly insignificant piece of work in the grand scheme of things, and is undoubtedly not Daft Punk’s only source of income this year.

An extremely cynical onlooker might go as far as to suggest that an artist more concerned about making money than making art is no artist at all, and I’d be inclined to agree. What Byrne perceives to be the beginning of the end of creation could actually be the next golden age of artistic freedom in disguise if more people are forced into creating art for the love of simply doing so rather than as a way of quitting their day jobs.

It could even be suggested that historically there’s nothing abnormal about artists being scantily compensated for their work, and the model of the last 40 or 50 years in which the likes of David Byrne have lived comfortable and prosperous lives as a result of their art has actually been a spike on the graph. Byrne presents his argument in a way which suggests he’s more concerned for the future generation of artists than himself, which is fair enough, but as someone rightly pointed out in the comments below the article, the future generation will know no different than a world in which a song played 100 million times will make $26,000. Whether you’d class that as misfortune or not really seems to depend on whether you’re more interested in making art or making money.

It is to be hoped that some sort of equilibrium can be struck between artists feeling like they aren’t being paid enough for what they do, and consumers feeling like they’re being made to pay too much for it. The suggestion that creativity will die without financial gain is an inconceivable notion, however, because there will always be people dedicated to producing art regardless of whether or not they can afford to buy a beautiful house or a beautiful car when they’re done. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Words: Dan Burke.
Image 1: Fred von Lohmann.
Image 2: Sorosh.
Image 3: deejayres.
Image 4: Johan Larsson.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Johnny Marr @ Manchester Academy, 12.10.13

If you aren't tired of hearing the words ‘Smiths reunion’ by now then you probably should be, and if the revelations in Morrissey's autobiography (released last week) are as explosive as expected there's every chance you won't be hearing them for much longer anyway.

However, Johnny Marr's hometown show at Manchester Academy earlier this month was enough to make even the strongest objector begin to wonder whether one of the unlikeliest of mooted pop reformations perhaps wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

It's not that Marr and his band performed badly on the night (they were actually very good) or that he isn’t still capable of electrifying a room with his trademark brand of technical brilliance, but there was something about the event that just didn't quite add up.

The bulk of the set-list was comprised of tracks from last year's well-received debut solo album, The Messenger, and was at its best with the likes of romping, stomping, indie-rock cliché ‘The Right Thing Right’, set-opener ‘Upstarts’ and 'New Town Velocity', the album's highlight, characterised wonderfully by its promotional video in which Marr strides confidently along Wythenshawe's colourless concrete corridors (an act of extreme courage in itself).

But Johnny Marr is a smart man and knows full well that the vast majority of his audience bought tickets to see Johnny Marr of The Smiths as opposed to Johnny Marr of The Messenger (and definitely not Johnny Marr of The Healers). This was sadly, but perhaps best, exemplified by the distinct lull in the room's general energy during Marr's solo efforts, immediately and dramatically bursting back into life the moment the opening bars of any of the several Smiths songs performed on the night filled the air.

It may sound harsh, but it almost feels appropriate to refer to Marr's Smiths renditions as cover versions, such is their immediate and obvious detachment from the original songs. When the man responsible for writing the lyrics and singing the songs decides to do so with a different backing band (as Morrissey often does) he gets away with it, but when the guitarist does the same – no matter how instrumental he may have been in the creation of the source material – it suddenly feels watered down.

Marr's cause isn't aided by the fact he isn't a great singer (though, some would argue, neither is Morrissey) and, despite his best efforts, isn't much of a frontman either. He’s a deft exponent of every rock'n'roll posture there is to know, has bucket loads of that abstract concept some call ‘cool’ and still looks pretty much the same as he did in 1985 (thanks, in no small part you suspect, to the good people at Just For Men) but being lead singer simply isn't his forté and probably never was.

Johnny Marr is undoubtedly one of the finest guitarists and arrangers this country has ever produced and the song writing partnership he and Morrissey formed all those years ago was as good as any. Neither man’s solo work in the intervening period has hit anywhere near the heights of the music they once created together and perhaps now is as good a time as any to finally repair that most severed of alliances and write off the last 25 years as a bad mistake.

After all, if they’re going to give us Johnny Marr from The Smiths and Morrissey from The Smiths, they might as well just go ahead and give us The Smiths.

Words: Dan Burke.
Photo 1: Lindsey Wilson.
Photo 2: Pamela Schofield.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review: Gentleman’s Dub Club – FOURtyFOUR (Ranking Records)

After another summer playing some of Europe’s more adventurous festivals, Gentleman’s Dub Club have polished and released their debut LP, FOURtyFOUR.

From the start, GDC’s gigs always brought an energy and vitality that demonstrated not only gifted ability but also a true enjoyment for performing to lively crowds. Two well-received EPs later, the debut LP shows a confidence and swagger that, when combined with slicker production, has delivered a fine piece of work to back up an outstanding live repertoire.

Opening track ‘Give It Away’ will feel familiar to those who have seen the nine-piece ska-fuelled, dub-driven band before. This is upbeat dub brought bang up to date. Showing variety, ‘More Than Words’ explores some different tempos and delicate vocals that calm before the storm of heavyweight dub tracks ‘Forward’ and the epic ‘Riot’. The dark moodiness of ‘Please Don’t Wait’ adds atmosphere and flirts with techy, house beats.

‘Riot’ not only offers an excellent dub track but also has a well worked visual accompaniment, with videos shot for the track by director Paul Bryan. The same goes for ‘Give It Away’, another video collaboration that adds to the enjoyment of a track, again by the same clearly gifted director.

This is a debut studio album on the back of years of live touring that have laid solid foundations. The raw swagger of earlier material remains and as a unit they continue to mature as connoisseurs and masters of their art. Although this is definitely an album to enjoy and savour, the band’s live shows are still the driving force, so do not miss them.

Words: Danny Doyle.

Gentleman’s Dub Club will perform at Mint Lounge on Monday 21st October.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Tin Ring @ The Lowry, 15.10.13

“You become someone you didn’t know you were,” says Zdenka Fantlova at the start of The Tin Ring. That is what she felt when the Nazis denuded her of clothes, family and friends, violating her body, dignity and love. All that was human in her was killed, until she was barely a person at all. What remained was a shred of hope, embodied in a tin ring on a string around her neck.

The Tin Ring tells the story of holocaust survivor Fantlova, who wrote a book of the same name on which this one-person show is based. Narrated by Jane Arnfield (who adapted the book along with director Mike Alfreds), the play is split into three distinct passages, with her imprisonment in concentration camps, her love life and her post-war recuperation all addressed. Switching between first and third person narration, holding conversations with herself, Arnfield gives a performance becoming of the text: she is assured and dignified, with just a hint of a twinkle in her eye. Being in the audience took me back to infant school, where we would gather around the legs of our teacher’s chair to hear her tell stories. Fantlova’s words have that same power of wisdom from someone infinitely more experienced in life than yourself.

It is a story that requires little ornament for the telling, one where words conjure up images that you’re glad your eyes don’t have to see. That is not to say that Arnfield is static; her and director Alfreds make excellent use of her physical presence as she strides proudly, crawls abjectly and lays wearily. The single chair on which she sits becomes a door that is being kicked in by the Nazis, a machine at which she labours and a bed for her aching body, the nakedness of the prop emphasising the power of the actions. One scene in particular, where Fantlova is reunited with her lover, filled the theatre with passion and tension as Arnfield simulated their long-awaited embrace.

As the applause died away many remained in their seats; it seemed odd to be pulling on jumpers, talking to friends and getting ready to go home. It was jarring to return to a world of comfort, having heard the words of one so impoverished. In the end, The Tin Ring does not leave you feeling uplifted because Fantlova survived the holocaust, just very sad that it ever happened at all.

Words: Andrew Anderson.
Photos: Courtesy of The Lowry.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


Issue 7 has now been distributed across the city in the usual independent retailers, bars, venues, libraries, galleries, opticians, doctors and so on. The artist this time, Kris Kuksi, has a finely tuned eye for the intricate, producing assemblages of stunning detail of all shapes and sizes. Elsewhere, there are articles on home brewing, wasted plastics and local publishing houses, plenty of reviews, and interviews with poet Hollie McNish, director Ian Townsend and electronic musicians The Orb.

We'd like to thank all our supporters for this issue (in page order):

Ken Foster's Cycle Logic. (10% off see magazine advert for info.)
Manchester MULE.
Kagyu Ling Buddhist Centre.

Battery Park Juice Bar.
The Eighth Day Shop & Cafe.
Proof Chorlton.
Épicerie Ludo.
Pokusevski's Deli.

Outstanding Beers.
Marble Beers.
Mary And Archie.
First Chop Brewing Arm.

The Lowry.

The Deaf Institute.

Manchester Academy.

The Spoon Inn.
Night & Day Cafe.
House of Cards Presents.
Fat Out Til You Pass Out.
Carefully Planned Festival.
Chapel St Studios / The Black Lion.
Jazz at the Lescar.

Opera North at The Lowry.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Johnny Bramwell @ Manchester Food & Drink Festival's Pavilion Tent, 06.10.13

“My set list has just turned into a wet list,” announces Johnny Bramwell, whose pint has spilled over said list. With a mischievous smile he continues: “Luckily I have another pint.”

Before he walks on, Hot Vestry take to the stage. Having supported the likes of New Order at Jodrell Bank earlier this year, the band appear comfortable in front of a crowd that is rapidly filling the tent. Mind you, I doubt if they will have been impressed with the changing area which leaves them in full view of passers-by. Once dressed in their paisley print shirts, the Macclesfield based four-piece plug in and play.

Numbers can veer from the 60s-type layered psychedelia to the attractively intense end of shiny aggression. The focus is on the resultant sound, with the addition of lyrics seemingly the more difficult part of their song construction.

The set contains the energy and enthusiasm of a group of teenagers who, despite a career to date of 150+ gigs, are still savouring the gigging experience and have developed into a taut, strident unit.

Guitarist, vocalist and sometimes bassist Harry Ward attempts to engage with the audience, even feeling in control of the situation enough to take his guitar out amongst the crowd – as far as his guitar lead will extend – before departing the stage and returning to the cobbled streets.

The set-up of long benches and tables with people sat forming orderly rows is more reminiscent of an army barracks than a gig venue but it’s a relaxed atmosphere nevertheless. By the time Johnny finally has the sound to his liking, all the spaces around the stage have been filled by people standing.

The comfort zone is quickly breached with Bramwell’s opener, ‘Twist’ – a tale of love, lust and death. Still, it beats staying in for Dancing on Ice. His voice is clear and cutting, both tonally and lyrically. ‘Storm Warning’ is followed by ‘86 TVs’ as his listeners take advantage of this free acoustic performance a week before I Am Kloot appear at the nearby Apollo venue.

Bramwell is one for whom the lyrics are the cornerstone of his songs, setting the mood and then allowing the musical atmosphere to follow. Judging by the warmth generated in the applause, there’s a lot here who want to savour that effect.

Words and photos: Ged Camera.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Last orders at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival.

Well, since my last blog – Give us our Daily Local Bread – my intention to visit the Festival Hub in Albert Square nearly every night was somewhat thrown off course by a cycling accident which resulted in a visit to A&E and a 3-hour operation to reset my arm. Anyway, as part of my occupational therapy sessions I'm now catching up on a few more gems that are worth seeking out even when the festival is over.

First, I was really taken by the unashamedly Gallic, retro Citroën van, apparently called ‘Rowlie’, that is the mobile cooking space for two guys cooking wood-fired pizzas. I think we've all become a bit blasé about this icon of Italian cuisine that has, at both ends of the market, become either overdone with too many gourmet aspirations or, at the fast food end, become a slippery mess of cheap tomato purée and mozzarella.

So hallelujah to these guys at Pizza Peddlers who produce five simple variations in wood-fired ovens in their fantastic Citroën van and, in doing so, serve a light and very appealing pizza using fresh ingredients and a light dough base.

Eating their ham pizza reminded me of some home-cured bacon I bought half an hour earlier back in St Ann's Square from husband and wife team Ashley and Sean from Savin Hill Farm. Ashley and Sean are yet another example of local food producers who own the business and the whole process – apart from the abattoir element, which is the only element sub-contracted to local outsiders near their farm in the Lyth Valley, south Lakes.

What you realise when talking to Ashley is that she loves what they make, along with their whole approach to creating a product that is authentic, highly quality and intrinsically local. Having bought some home-cured bacon made from their herd of Gloucester Old Spot pigs, she drew my attention to their range of sausages with damsons, a fruit that defines the character of the Lyth Valley and puts a very local stamp in their produce.

A few stalls down, I also stopped to check out a specialist provider of a food that I was brought up on as a child, then fell out of love with (too much, too often) but now enjoy more than ever, especially on brown toast: the incredible wonder food that is honey. Lili Porter, a native Bulgarian now living in the North West, has some of the most incredible honey I have ever tasted, with a provenance that is truly remarkable – taken from valleys in Bulgaria where bees pollinate from a mix of flowers and trees.

Mass-produced honey, which is bland and often over sweet, is nothing compared to these truly delightful, fragrant and floral offerings which are light golden yellow in hue and each distinctively unique in its character. They're not cheap but top quality food always comes at a price and these are worth every penny. Enjoyable just-off-the-spoon and perfect for a high teatime treat with decent bread. This really is the food from the gods. Contact her here.

Words and photos: Tom Warman.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Shauna Mackin, Chris Young and Lauren Housley @ Dulcimer, 19.09.13.

Lauren Housley stands on one side of the stage while her accompanying guitarist sits across to her right. They haven’t had a fight – someone will in a few minutes – but perhaps the distance is to allow them both to demonstrate their abilities without each other’s shadow. Lauren shows off the rich, deep fullness of her voice, flitting through her catalogue that varies from the aggressive up-tempo type of number through to the more subtle, hushed variety. Thomas Dibb, on guitar, plucks though the blues-tinged, lively numbers, skipping across to a reggae-tinged element that even caught Lauren by surprise.

As the last number begins – one of Housley’s “favourites” – so does the disruption. Barely a verse is completed before a clearly drunken fellow who has little interest in the performers, is ‘advised’ to leave the premises. “But I wanted you to hear this,” murmurs Lauren as everyone’s attention is drawn away from the stage. With the idiot ejected, heads turn back to the stage for some deserved applause.

Chris Young announces himself as a “stage virgin” – this being his debut appearance. Not backward in coming forward, he commences to direct the soundman through the different requirements of his set, from being aware of the pedal that “really blasts out at the top end” to “lowering everything in the monitors”.

The set-list composition shows that he’s spent a great deal of time preparing for the show. Mixing a set of covers with his own material, the wide variety of conjured sounds mean this isn’t a just man and a guitar. For someone who doesn’t like much of Radiohead’s output (eg. me), his cover version of one of theirs is sufficiently reworked to make non-believers accept them. He can layer the sounds with his foot pedal to create rich patterns that roll gently around the room. One of his own songs is even dedicated to the previously ejected person. “This one is called ‘Substance Abuse’.”

The line-up, put together by Longevity Records, is completed with Shauna Mackin and three seated musicians. Pleased with the amount of airplay that her song, ‘Go Your Way’, has been achieving on the BBC Radio Introducing show, she is full of confidence and enthusiasm, even to the point of congratulating Lauren on how she dealt with the earlier disturbance. She keeps to what she knows, with one song about her granny – still going strong at 94 years of age. The trio supporting her, Jonny Lewis (guitar), James Hattersley (guitar) and Alex Hill (percussion), provide the lush, languid sounds allowing Mackin’s voice to glide.

Words & photos: Ged Camera.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

All My Sons @ The Royal Exchange, 01.10.13

Fans of 20th century American theatre should not miss this Talawa Theatre Company production of Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons at the Royal Exchange. Talawa Theatre is an award-winning black-led theatre company whose mission is to promote and create work informed by the diversity of the black experience for both actors and audiences. Director Michael Buffong’s version is true to the original text, but by using an all-black cast he allows us to see the universality of the play’s themes: love, family, money and war. The play hits home hard about how the different characters are affected by the demands and distresses of war – in this case, WWII.

The action throughout the play centres on the porch and yard of the Keller family home, where passing neighbours stop for a chat, and where the local doctor often comes to see his friend Chris Keller (Chike Okonkwo). The Kellers seem to be a popular and charming family. Joe Keller (Don Warrington) banters with the local children and gives off the air of a relaxed and highly successful businessman.

However, early on in the play we learn that the Keller’s son Larry is missing in action, and as the play progresses we see that his mother Kate Keller (Dona Croll) does not want to believe her son could possibly be dead. Last night’s wind has symbolically led to the falling of the apple tree that had been planted in memory of Larry, and Kate mourns how the tree was planted too early. In contrast, the sweetheart Larry left behind – Annie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) – wants to move on and accept the death of Larry. The developing tension between these characters and their ways of dealing with the loss of Larry highlights the strength of the two actors; Croll and Jacobs in their elegant dresses are beautiful, charming and lively, providing an emotional and physical centre to the play.

Ellen Cairns has designed a brilliantly authentic set, a perfect backdrop as the characters battle out their inner demons, skeletons come out of the closet and ghosts of the past return to haunt them. The set is a typical 1940s American middle-class yard and porch, with parsley pots, a swing, a rocking chair and white weathered wood. The lighting designer, Johanna Town, begins with a magnificently sunny day, but as the day goes on darkness descends on the Kellers. When the neighbours who often stop by are gone, and when first Annie and then George arrive, we learn of the darkness of that hangs over the Keller family, and we come to see the “fine hairline crack” amidst all the grand talk of going out for a night on the town to dine, dance and drink.

Words: Sadia Habib.
Images: Jonathan Keenan.

All My Sons continues at The Royal Exchange until 26th October.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

An Inspector Calls @ Bolton Octagon Theatre, 13.09.13

1912, England. A new ship sets sail to the Americas and, says Arthur Birling, it is unsinkable. We learn the ship is named The Titanic. War? No chance of war, Birling tells us with great certainty; the Germans do not want war. The dramatic ironies of Mr Birling’s predictions are not lost on the An Inspector Calls audience.

Early on in the play we become acquainted with Birling’s seemingly happy family. They are wealthy, and we later learn they are members of the ruling class. The Birlings and family friend Gerald Croft (Kieran Hill) are in an excited and celebratory mood because Gerald has just got engaged to Sheila Birling (Rosie Jones). Eric Birling (Mawgan Gyles) is a little “squiffy”, and Arthur Birling (Brian Protheroe) is animated and keen to make a toast. Mr Birling comes across as a man whose love of his own voice is matched only by his love of business, and thus he is keen for his daughter’s engagement to bring him great business benefits. Protheroe plays the pompous, opinionated capitalist Arthur Birling with great gusto. Sheila is delighted by the stunning ring Gerald surprises her with. At first she seems quite naïve and shallow, but as the play progresses Jones develops the character of Sheila brilliantly, and we begin to feel warmth for her.

Along with the strong acting performances, the set and costume designer Ruari Murchison successfully emphasise their high status in Brumley society with an opulent setting: a chesterfield settee, dark mahogany tables, gold gilt cornice on the ceiling, a chandelier and other lovely lamps fill and frame the stage. The clothing too is formal: tailcoats for the men, and elegant dresses and skirts for the ladies.

So, among all this affluence Mr Birling is welcoming Gerald to the family. Mrs Birling, Sheila, Eric and Gerald are all quite jovial and joyous. They have an air of confidence and comfortable contentedness: all is right with the world.

And then an Inspector calls, and all their comfort and contentment comes crashing to the ground.

Many people will be familiar with An Inspector Calls as it is often studied in schools, and so will enjoy watching the events unfold with some memory of what will happen. In fact, there were many school students at The Octagon who are no doubt reading the play in their English lessons for their GCSE examination. However, David Thacker’s production is even more thrilling and gripping for those who do not know what happens once the Inspector calls.

A must-watch both for those new to the play and those familiar with the play.

Words: Sadia Habib.
Photos: Ian Tilton.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Give us our Daily Local Bread.

If location, location, location is the mantra of the property game then there's no doubt about what we're obsessed with when it comes to food – we like it local and we like to know exactly where local is.

The posh word of course is provenance, and the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, now in its 17th year, is a glorious celebration of food that is not just darn bloody good but can be sourced to producers who are passionate advocates for what they make, and how they make it. As I went from trader to trader, I heard incredible stories from people who don't just sell food but know every part of its process.

I actually started my exploration of the festival outside The Hub in Albert Square which, until midday, was off-limits as police stood in close ranks awaiting a major street protest to herald the start of another annual gathering (but arguably less enticing): the Tory Party conference.

So, walking round nearby St Ann's Square, killing my time until midday, I stumbled across Robinson's craft bakers – a sixth generation business which, since 1873, has been baking bread that has survived the onslaught of in-store bakeries in supermarkets and remains a champion of pure craft bakery. So much so that its Manchester Cob – a white, crusty, ball-shaped loaf with a cross hatch of square ridges – remains its best-seller after decades of adorning its shelves.

Speaking to Emma, a sixth generation Robinson, and clearly an infectious ambassador for her family's profession, she explained that the roots of the business lay in her ancestors learning their artisan craft at specialist bakery schools – none of which exist today. Picking up this loaf, which was as light as a feather, you come to realise that this is true craft bakery of the highest order.

Later at the Festival Hub, I checked out a relatively newer arrival on the baking scene – the eponymous Bakerie, whose wine, artisan bread and informal dining offering has attracted a loyal and rapidly growing following to their two sites right in the heart of the Northern Quarter. The Bakerie, which runs a varied programme of bakery classes, as well as an incredibly popular bistro style restaurant, is clearly tapping into the tidal wave of new interest in artisan craft bakery but with a broader continental perspective.

Broad is certainly the word for their expansive range of Foccacias on offer during the festival with a gutsy glass of red. £6 buys you a large chunky wedge of these breads (olive, cheese and onion, chorizo) and a gluggable glass of Voignoleur de la Montagne. Perfect for a warm autumn Sunday al fresco in Manchester in early October.

Words & photos: Tom Warman.

Manchester Food and Drink Festival continues until 7th October.