Thursday, 27 February 2014

Competition: Win tickets to Band On The Wall

Now Then have teamed up with the revered leftfield venue Band On The Wall to offer the prize of a pair of tickets to one of two upcoming events on their hallowed stage. You can choose between Apollo Brown on Thursday 6 March and Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba on Tuesday 11 March.

The Detroit hip hop beatsmith Apollo Brown makes his Manchester debut on Thursday 6 March with his Ugly Heroes crew. Having worked with the likes of Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson and Ghostface, Apollo Brown is one of the leading lights in a new breed of US hip hop producers. He released Ugly Heroes’ eponymous LP with fellow members Red Pill and Verbal Kent in May 2013 on the Mello Music Group imprint.

Support comes from Union Blak and Manchester's very own Jonny Dub from the Hoya:Hoya family.

Then on Tuesday 11 March, the esteemed Malian Bassekou Kouyate will visit Band On The Wall with his backing band, Ngoni ba. He has been described as a visionary for reinventing the Ngoni, an ancient West African stringed instrument, and popularising its sound with a contemporary audience. After a debut album, Segu Blue, in 2007 via Out Here Records, Kouyate received a pair of awards at the BBC3 Awards for World Music.

His third and most recent album, Jama ko, was recorded during the 2012 coup d’état in Mali, which ushered in a period of uncertainty for the country’s musicians. But, even if performing in their home nation is more precarious, Kouyate and his band continue to perform to large audiences across the globe.

For your chance to win a pair of tickets to either show, just like and share the Facebook photo at the other end of this link, remembering also to leave a comment underneath the original photo stating your preferred show.

For the Apollo Brown show, we’ll draw a winner out of the hat on Wednesday 5 March, so make sure you enter the competition by midnight on Tuesday 4 March if that’s your choice of gig.

Then, for the Bassekou Kouyate show, we’ll draw a winner out of that hat on Monday 10 March, so make sure you enter the competition by midnight on Sunday 9 March.

Good luck!

Hand Over Fist @ The King's Arms, 25.02.2014

Playing the old when you are young can be a risky business. There is always the temptation to ham it up and make a mockery of age, or else play it straight with safe stereotypes that can only open a very small window on the soul. How enjoyable, then, to see Fresh Loaf Productions take that risk and get the payoff with their wonderful staging of Hand Over Fist by Dave Florez. Hand Over Fist is a one-woman show that sees Emily (Helena Davies) tell the tale of an important meeting with a man in a bar. At first everything seems normal, but as the story flows along it suddenly escapes, like water in a river studded with sinkholes. Emily, you see, has dementia, and so nothing is quite as it should be. Infinite significance is butted up against meaningless nothingness, causality vanishes and, in Emily’s own words, ideas and objects are, “Empty...yet atomic.” This mixture of lucidity and lunacy feels very real, and while it is humorous it is also rather sad.

The performance of Helena Davies as Emily was balanced and moving, a credit to both actor and director; sustaining the ups and downs, high flights and sudden stops for over an hour in a one-woman show takes serious endurance. As already alluded to, the portrayal of an elderly person by someone young can be difficult, and so further praise must go to the team for carrying it off. Mellor used music to good effect, softening the harsher edges of Emily's anguish, and the lighting changes made it seem as though the fractals of her personality were shining through her cracked ego.

Losing someone in the fog of mental breakdown, be it through age or illness, is one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen in life. It is hard to deal with, hard to explain...and so to see it depicted on stage with such clarity was rather a contradictory and strange experience. This is the second Fresh Load production I have seen, and while completely different from the first it had some similar qualities. It felt thorough and professional, without feeling safe, and once again the performance felt very real and not quite as raw as your usual fringe fair. My one quibble is that some of the language felt too modern for an elderly lady, even one suffering from dementia. However, even if that is the case it should take nothing from writer Florez, whose script achieved a crazed stitching together of story threads without leaving any unwelcome loose ends. Another strong production from Fresh Loaf, and I am already looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Review: LVLS - Teenager EP (Self-released)

Manchester-based indie five-piece band LVLS (pronounced Loveless) have just released their new EP, Teenager, featuring the three tracks ‘Echoes’, ‘Suzie Shoes’ and ‘Young & Cruel’. The new songs continue in the same vein as those previously released, with the deep, rousing vocals of lead singer Jay Gibb complemented with refreshingly sincere female backing vocals.

‘Echoes’, the first song on Teenager, inventively and effectively combines layers of sound laced with the effortlessly chantable lyric, “There’s no way out of here”. ‘Suzie Shoes’ is the surprise track of this release, standing out due to its a cappella influenced harmonies which carry the track, and proves that LVLS are about more than standard indie rock. This is in fact what sets the band apart – their ability to begin songs such as final track ‘Young & Cruel’ with unexpected harmonies, then launch into energetic anthems that will have even crowds who are unfamiliar with the band easily and enthusiastically joining in.

Words: Ruby Hoffman

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Seagull @ The Lowry, 23.02.2014

If you love Russian literature then you must catch the fantastic Library Theatre production of The Seagull, directed by Chris Honer, a contemporary adaptation by Anya Reiss that appeals to modern audiences but also stays faithful to Anton Chekhov’s original play. If tales of unrequited love and emotional existential angst are your thing, especially ones that aren’t too abstract, then this is for you.

The play explores the creative nature of theatre, writing and acting through characters who are madly passionate about their artistic vocations and efforts; we get real insight into what it means to be a writer and an actor. These artistic types are not happy though, and early on in the play we learn about their discontented auras, as well as their romantic souls and dramatic personalities.

Soon we are introduced to a play within a play put on by Konstantin (Ben Allen) and the object of his unrequited love Nina (Sophie Robinson). Allen plays the conflicted and tortured artist brilliantly, whilst Robinson shines in her role as the naïve, earnest, star-struck aspiring actress. The play within a play is hilariously portrayed as innovative and experimental in contrast to more traditional notions of theatre.

Before we even meet her we learn about Konstantin’s difficult relationship with his mother, as we witness in his rant about her being “a psychological marvel” who is “talented and compassionate to everyone” but him. He dismisses her angrily because he sees her as having high and mighty thoughts about the nature of art, as though she deems herself a “guardian of culture and humanity!” Konstantin especially resents the arrival of his mother’s famous writer boyfriend Trigorin (Graeme Hawley). Trigorin may be no Tolstoy but still he is popular, especially with the wide-eyed and easily impressed Nina, much to Konstantin’s fury.

The designer, Judith Croft, has created a wonderful backdrop of pale water against the island, with signs of a storm brewing. The stage transitions to show indoors and outdoors, as well as the changes over four years, are conducted in smooth perfection thanks to the shrewd direction of Honer.

The play is essentially about middle-class artistic types, who are rather unhappy in themselves, seeking success, love and validation. A wonderful way for Chris Honer to bow out as Artistic Director, the Seagull is a great adaptation of a classic play and well worth watching.

Words: Sadia Habib

Images: Jonathan Keenan

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Review: Khufu – K I N G S (Self-released)

The K I N G S EP by Leeds natives Khufu invokes atmosphere from the moment its backwards guitars give way to the driving piano on ‘Links’. These poignant pianos are accompanied by minimalist percussion, seemingly giving a nod to the likes of SBTRKT and Mount Kimbie. Khufu push just how much can be achieved with so little as ‘Links’ builds on the sparse piano and beats with non-lyric, almost whale song vocals and reverb drenched guitars that promise an interesting listen throughout the EP.

It’s followed by ‘Untitled Pt.1’, which produces Khufu’s most luscious moments with scattered dub drumming is smothered by manipulated guitars that swell and swoon around that full-bodied piano of which Khufu make us so fond.

We are then introduced to the first live drumming on the record, filtered into the title track. What we witness here is a more R’n’B sound, invoking themes similar to Frank Ocean or the end of Outkast’s The Love Below. It again features Khufu’s fondness for piano but here it is not met with sparse reverb based guitars but a guttural strumming. Which, backed by high-flying strings, produces a larger, fuller sound that breaks the tradition Khufu have created, yet shows the dexterity of the group to marvellous effect.

‘Klangers’ is possibly named so due to a faint hoot stirring memories of the TV show Clangers. Thankfully the comparison ends there, leaving upbeat hi-hats motivated by jazz piano phrases that give way to a lifting melody that wouldn’t be out of place in the clubs where this EP takes its influence.

The production of the whole album deserves praise, for it explores different themes and genres whilst maintaining a strong narrative and cohesion.

All that is left is to ask a question: when can we hear more?

Words: R Miles Sayer (Twitter: @RMilesSayer)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Not A Summer Festival @ Gullivers and The Castle Hotel, 08.02.14

It sounds like one. It appears like one, so surely it must be one. Well, it is a festival but, as the headline states, it's not a summer festival which is technically true as we are being deluged with water in February. That does compare well with Glastonbury in June or July though.

The positive part is that the music, spread over the Castle Hotel and Gullivers, will go ahead regardless of how wet it is outside. With a diversely engrossing line-up of styles and attitude available, it’s good to see that the Castle is three quarters full at 3.30, with more people queuing to purchase wristbands.

Crywank. It's one thing to have a name that will stand out, court controversy and attention, but is the talent there to support it? On this performance, James Clayton, subtlety supported by Dan Watson, who has the packed crowd entranced, does have the magnetism to draw people around him. He might just be able to reach the escape velocity beyond merely being potential.

Meanwhile, a snippet of the closing number from The Ferals’ set is inviting enough to try to catch them from the start next time. A more precise, considered musical range is displayed by MyLyricalMind.

The simplicity in structure provides a useful counterpoint to the more upfront urgings of Waltz.

A lot to encounter for the first event but hopefully the promoters will be around again, passing out the cakes along the way.

Words & photos: Ged Camera.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Moderat @ Albert Hall, 07.02.14

Manchester’s latest nightlife venue comes in the form of a Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel unearthed after 40 years in disrepair and is the latest Trof project, the same personnel behind Gorilla and Deaf Institute. A former chapel restored to minimum health and safety regulation requirements, who would host an event in such a setting? None other than ramshackle entrepreneurs Warehouse Project, having relinquished their grip on the media frenzied Victoria Warehouse this season, turn their resourceful hands to Late Night Sessions.

Tonight’s headliners are Moderat, a conglomeration of Apparat and the duo known as Modeselektor, who first collaborated in 2002. The release of their second album, aptly named II, sees them tour the UK. To set the scene for those of you unfortunate enough to have not experienced Moderat, they were voted #1 Live Act by Resident Advisor in 2009 and are not strangers to showcasing innovative special effects. Tonight was no different. A cross setup of projection screens meant that a three dimensional experience was in store for those lucky enough to fit downstairs. Views from the balcony were still show-worthy, however the stage location meant the majority of the effects were lost on half the audience.

Highlights included giant hands clasped over an emanating bright white light. In the age where so many DJs play in front of a crowd with an obscured view of a pre-released video and the top of their head, it was certainly a breath of fresh air to be struck by such visuals. Playing a set of 90 minutes with a multi-track encore, they certainly give their fans their money’s worth. ‘Bad Kingdom’ featured amongst many of their new album tracks, all performed slightly differently to recorded versions in this live setting. Vocals from Sascha Ring (Apparat) could have been louder to contrast better with the tracks, but aside from that the trio played a flawless set.

Support came from countryman Anstam and Manchester’s own Illum Sphere. It would be unfair to comment on their performances as the extravagant Moderat set-up meant both were made to play on the balcony with limited volume and effects, not to mention the audience acted much like a flash mob for Moderat’s set.

With regards to Late Night Sessions’ aim to create a unique event experience, I believe they succeeded and then some. However I’m uncertain of the longevity of the project, as a decrepit Grade II listed chapel encompassed with minimal balcony balustrades may prove too much for Manchester’s carefree music-loving crowd.

Words: Charles Veys
Photos: Jody Hartley Photography

Monday, 10 February 2014

Hobson's Choice @ Bolton Octagon, 06.02.2014

I once watched a fantastic culturally-specific adaptation of Hobson’s Choice in London a few years ago, which was set in an Indian clothes shop and portrayed by an Asian cast. I didn’t think I would get to watch an equal or better version...and yet, last week in Bolton, I did.

In this Octagon version, as the audience are seating themselves, we see the lasses busy beavering away in the magnificent set of a traditional 1880s shoe shop with its mahogany counters and shoe displays. Soon we meet the forthright and assertive Maggie Hobson (Natalie Grady), the eldest daughter in the Hobson family. She is plain-speaking and no-nonsense as she derides the process of courting, comparing it to a fancy slipper: “all glitter and no use to nobody!”

Maxwell Hutcheon plays widower Henry Hobson (“British, middle-class and proud of it”), who needs his daughter Maggie’s help, but laments his other two daughters’ dress sense and the “gradual increase” in their “uppishness” since their mother died. Attempting to assert control over his daughters, Hobson tires of berating and battling, instead choosing to escape to The MoonRaker for respite – despite it being bad for his health. But will his daughters be able to escape him before it is too late?

Not only is Hobson smarting about his daughters’ “uppishness” but he is also concerned about his workman, Willie Mossop (Michael Shelford), getting “uppish” too when he is praised for his excellent workmanship. The stars of the show are Natalie Grady and Michael Shelford as we watch them slowly and steadily work towards success, and we grow to love the initially abrasive Maggie for her respectful sincerity.

David Thacker’s humorous direction of a splendid cast with their thick Lancashire accents and dialect, along with the references to Salford and Manchester, will resonate well with local audiences in the North West. The audience were highly amused (as evident by the raucous laughter throughout the play) by the witty banter between the characters as they attempt to realise their dreams whilst living out their daily lives. Will the Hobson daughters find the perfect men for perfect marriage? Will the cantankerous Henry Hobson soften in his attitude? That is the question posed at the beginning of the play, and we go along for the ride to see where they will arrive.

A brilliant production bringing Hobson’s Choice back to its original home. An olden times play with touching and timeless themes with which we can still relate.

Words: Sadia Habib


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Pangaea @ Manchester Academy, 25.01.14

This was the ninth occurrence of Europe’s largest student-run festival contained within the Manchester student empire between the two founded venues of Academy 1 and 2. A rather appropriate setting for the misty northwest metropolis was constructed overnight in the form of the Lost City, Atlantis.

More elaborate constructions by Mad Ferret Productions included a mechanised tortoise clad pavilion and submarine hub DJ booth. The student hand was still apparent throughout, however, with reams of tissue paper bunting and hybrid-umbrella jellyfish decorating the Club Academy.

Fortunate enough to be given a site tour alongside a previous General Secretary of the University, and founder of the festival itself, I was lectured about the original bohemian ideals of the event. Ones, which to much disappointment, have been lost “among professional production staff and undesirable clientele”. I can’t say I share any such sentiment, as my experience of the event has been somewhat constant throughout its bi-annual lifetime, despite the ever-cultivating set list.

Amongst said line-up was Clean Bandit. I say Clean Bandit, however only three of the quartet were present, not including the additional vocalists. Unfortunately the absent member was none other than master of all traits Jack Patterson, the bass/sax/deck/keyboard player, with whom the soul of the band and arguably their success hinges. Perhaps this is a Clean Bandit lite version available at a fraction of the cost. They certainly sounded like it.

Across in Academy 2, at the helm of an illuminated plywood submarine, emerged Kidnap Kid. A man not unknown to Now Then’s pages, and one who has celebrated a more than deserved run of form over the past year. He began with a timid intro, unfamiliar in the age of crowd pleasing egocentric DJs, inferring his character as a perfectionist and fine purveyor of upcoming music, perhaps too delicate for the 5,000 fervent students who had made it to 2am.

Manchester’s Madam X was a particular highlight in Rubadub’s Academy 3. Her talents as a DJ were complemented by an onstage entourage of MCs and what can only be described as a harem of bedroom dancers. Her hybrid take on the brash scenes of garage and grime come out as a surprising delight.

Hot Chip was the festival’s headliner. However they failed to instil too much awe in a relatively laboured DJ set that did not parallel live acts for which they are known.

Words: Charles Veys
Photos: Harry Readhead.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Review: Refusenik - Musikaliszer Pinkos (Slip Discs)

Lithuanian composer Arturas Bumšteinas, as Refusenik, inhabits the edge zone between installation art and experimental electronica. He is also a member of Quartet Twentytwentyone, Works & Days, Zarasai and Wolumen, and has spent over a decade in the european avant grade, culminating in last year's award of the Palma Ars Acoustica prize for radiophonic arts.

'Musikaliszer Pinkos' is his first recording for Slip Discs, and it collects a series of numbered pieces ('56th', '115th', et cetera) recorded on a flea market Polyvox synth. These pieces take in material from the Hebrew 'Musikaliszer Pinkos', a collection of religious hymns.

The expected tension between the folksy nature of the source material and what one might expect to be a 'futuristic' sound has been somewhat defused by 2014. The pieces are gorgeous though, and seem to inhabit a micro-history of new folk, which can be traced back to Mother Mallard and Yves Klein's Monotone Symphony: Brian Eno as Morris Man is maybe not such a strange proposition after all.

Words: Steve Hanson