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Hey! Manchester

Saturday 15th October 2011

9.02 a.m. And so it begins, with the ringing of a phone alarm followed by toast, imitation Weetabix, and cups of tea. A look out the window suggests that earlier predictions of another citywide heatwave may not have been too far wide of the mark. Perfect weather for a stroll to Manchester Art Gallery, to catch the first part of Sounds Like A Gallery.

10.34 a.m. We arrive early, as it turns out; Black Jack Barnet won’t be starting until 12. Fortunately, that gives us the chance to enjoy the gallery’s fantastic permanent collection. The problem with living in a city for any number of years – and knowing that your immediate future lies within its boundaries – is that it’s easy to become complacent about the likes of the Manchester Art Gallery. A “we should drop in some time” mentality takes over, whereby you intend to visit but never get around to it. We’re delighted to have been prompted to do so, and make a note to come visit the Ford Madox Brown exhibition as soon as our pockets are a little heavier. We’d fully recommend you pay the place a visit, too.

12.36 p.m. Black Jack Barnet (pictured above, alongside William Etty’s The Sirens and Ulysses) turns out to be great: playing to a broad audience of kids and older folk, he uses “poetic license” to tell the stories behind six of the gallery’s most bold and impressive paintings. From song to song he shifts style dramatically, so that one moment he’s delivering gospel folk that calls to mind Seasick Steve, and the next he’s mining Jam On Bread twee indie territory, touring the first floor and picking up new followers at every stop. He mostly plays it for laughs and gets them, with the children in attendance every bit as delighted as the adults.

1.12 p.m. We recharge our batteries with a plate of fish and chips in a Norther Quarter caff, with a soundtrack of “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa” and “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” Next stop, the Manchester Craft and Design Centre…

1.45 p.m. …another place it is easy to forget about, but which deserves plenty more attention than it receives. Partly because the building is beautiful – with a high glass ceiling that lets the light stream into the artisan-filled shopping piazza bellow – and partly because it houses a handful of the city’s most talented artists and craftivists.

2.15 p.m. Within the venue, a makeshift stage has been set up to play host to a couple of hours of world music. First up is Jali Njonkoling Kuyateh, who you might have seen playing his African harp around Piccadilly Gardens. It really is a remarkable instrument; it doesn’t look like much, but the beautiful sound it emits is somewhere between a harp and guitar, and Jail’s voice sounds melodious and delightfully archaic at the same time.

2.41 p.m. The live performances are interspersed with sets from DJ Mayeve and a performance from San’at Mahmudova. We spend a pleasant hour exploring the centre and snacking on chocolate cake at the popular onsite cafe…

3.12 p.m. …after which we spend some time browsing the small jewellery boutiques. We’re interrupted by the first notes of singer/songwriter Luciano Gerber’s 20 minute set. The sounds of rich, nostalgic Brazillian folk reverberate around the bright airy space, which really does lend itself to live music.

3.40 p.m. EthniCITY concludes with an emotionally charged Flamenco set from Calaita (above), that combines powerful lyrics with Catalonian melodies, and underpinned by staccato percussion. It’s always nice to have your eyes opened to different cultures.

4:30 p.m. We retire to the nearby Cord for a couple of pints and reflect on what we’ve seen so far, then eventually head over to the Deaf Institute, grabbing a bite to eat along the way.

7.56 p.m. As we arrive at the Deaf Institute, we’re handed envelopes that contain 3D glasses. A nice touch that helps create the feeling that we’re going to see something special.

8.47 p.m. Support band Gladeyes quickly ensure that said feeling is justified. Indie rock that has its toes more in the rock ‘n’ roll pool than the indie pool, they absolutely command the stage, and deliver a killer performance that the audience clearly love. We hurry to pick up a free copy of their CD, the existence of which they mention between practically every song.

9.34 p.m. As Denis Jones and his musical companion take to the stage, the crowd roar their appreciation. As he begins his set, the sound from the bass and amps are so strong we can literally “feel” the waves of music being created on stage.

The songs are built up in layers; Jones pushes chords and melodies from his guitar through various electrical gizmos creating various effects. Samplers distort his vocals and add an electronic/techno feel to music that started out with distinctly country influences.

And the distorting glasses, which allow the wearer to view the world in a distinctly glitzy haze, seem appropriate now that he’s in full swing. The visuals displayed behind him show sound scapes in primary colours, and against this background Jones casts a dramatic silhouette.

11.12 p.m. The sounds of Denis Jones are still reverberating around our head as we walk home, trying to put the effect into words. We decide that his music lies somewhere between folk, country, psych, and IDM, although the only word that does the set justice is “stunning.” We retire exhausted, but excited about what Sunday has in store for us.

Part two of a four part series in conjunction with All Points North, providing coverage of Manchester Weekender and other regional festivals.

The Roadhouse’s popularity may have diminished in the face of the Deaf Institute’s monopolistic hold on the Manchester music scene, but it still makes for a great live venue. On paper, the Tuesday immediately following a Bank Holiday Monday is not an ideal night to put on an event, but the way to counter that is to book a lineup too good to ignore. That’s the strategy promoters Underachievers Please Try Harder and Hey! Manchester went with, and as the place fills up a sense of anticipation starts to build amongst an audience who know that they’re about to see something special.

Opening band The ABC Club wear their influences on their sleeves just enough that you know where they’re coming from (which is New York City by way of Manchester), but not so much as to sound derivative. The guitar interplay hints at the Strokes, but the vocals are less Julian Casablanca’s affected nonchalance and more Debbie Harry’s restrained passion without the overtly pop trappings, unhurried yet still urgent and full of soul. The scattershot energy of the drumming complements the songs perfectly, and the overall effect is immensely impressive. Clearly, this is a band with enough in their repertoire to release a great debut album in the not-too-distant future.

Help Stamp Out Loneliness (pictured above) have already done that; their fantastic first record inevitably drew comparisons to Belle and Sebastian, but they’re a very different proposition live. Their songs feel more charged, more powerful, like Beat Happening without the rough edges.  D. Lucille Campbell’s vocals shine in this setting, too; the lyrics switch effortlessly from withering putdowns to genuine heartbreak, and the delivery of every line is flawless. Enough of their indie pop insticts shine through to get the audience shuffling along to the music, and everything about them suggests that there is still a hell of a lot more to come.

The evening’s main attraction more than live up to the high standards set by the support bands. Comet Gain (pictured first) are purveyors of a very British brand of indie: that means earnest lyrics married to infectious melodies, guitars competing against slightly shouted vocals, and a confidence that may well be entirely bravado. Once they launch into their set, there’s energy enough in the music to evoke the spirit of ’77 (the Undertones, rather than the Pistols), and the atmosphere is almost celebratory, as though the band are fully aware that they’ve just put out their best album to date. Indeed, the songs from the justly lauded Howl Of The Lonely Crowd stand out, and the crowd is on board from the start. More nuanced than first impressions suggest, there is an understated beauty that underpins their very best tracks, and they turn in the type of performance that suggests their status as future indie rock royalty is guaranteed.

Upon leaving, anticipation has given way to certainty: we have just seen something special. An outstanding lineup means nothing if the bands don’t deliver on the night, yet all three acts easily exceeded expectations. That two of them hail from Manchester makes it all the sweeter.

If you’re anything like us, you’re always on the lookout for events that are in some way outside of the ordinary. Which is why, as soon as it was announced, Hey! After Hours was something we were looking forward to. Designed as a response to Projections: Works from The Artangel Collection, Hey! Manchester and Whitworth Art Gallery clearly put a lot of thought into the composition of the night’s proceedings. The result was an illuminating evening, very much of the “once in a lifetime” ilk.

Upon arrival, the Royal Northern College of Music’s Prism Quartet were spread throughout the building, with each individual performing seemingly disparate pieces that, once you reach certain points, come together to form a highly impressive whole. As far as classical music is concerned, it is always the string section that sets our pulses racing, and the Phillip Glass pieces Prism Quartet perform are particularly impressive examples of the art form. Sometimes taut and dramatic, sometimes quiet and restrained, the players provide the perfect backdrop for the evening.

As far as the Artangel pieces are concerned, Atom Egoyan’s Steenbeckett immediately stands out. 2000 feet of film is spread around a darkened room, constantly in motion, and the sound it makes is somewhere between rainfall and the quiet nighttime hum of a refrigerator; the overall effect is mesmerising. The technology-obsessed drawings and paitings of Tony Oursler capture our attention, and Catherine Yass’s High Wires – through which the artist explored the practically dystopian 20th century phenomenon of thirty-storey blocks of flats being envisaged as the future of housing provision – is also striking, with four large screens being used to depict high wire walker Didier Pasquette’s ultimately failed journey between two wind-beaten towers. It’s definitely worth making a special journey to the Whitworth to check out this exhibit.

In the midst of this setting, the ambient soundscapes of Jason Singh are quietly haunting, the sort of music that inhabits your headspace if you give it half a chance. It takes you over, takes you out of the room, and evokes moments or memories rescued from forgotten dreams: soundtrack music of the best possible kind.

Liz Green, pictured above, starts her set with just her bluesy holler and handclaps, although this introduction is something of a misnomer, as once she picks up her guitar it’s the folk influence that shines through most brightly. She seems comfortable playing in front of a room filled with fans and soon-to-be-devotees, cracking a Tom Waits-themed joke and introducing one song as “Homer’s Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope.” Her music suits the environment down to the ground, and it is quickly clear that her debut album – due out this November – is one to look forward to. If Green is able to live up to all her promise, it’ll be one to cherish, too.

We came away thoroughly satisfied with everything we’d seen, and that sensation hasn’t worn off yet. If only all art and entertainment were this affecting.

Whilst we’re probably not the only ones hoping for a quieter, more uneventful seven days, that doesn’t mean we won’t want to be out and about. This week’s highlights include a diverse range of free events, exhibitions, and film screenings, and Port Street Beer House celebrating the work of Manchester’s own Marble Brewery.

Monday 15th August to Sunday 21st August

Ernest Rutherford: Father of Nuclear Physics at the Museum of Science and Industry

Manchester has a long and storied history of being at the forefront of scientific and technological revolutions. This free entry exhibition celebrates Ernest Rutherford, whose work established the nuclear structure of the atom and the nature of radioactive decay, earning him global recognition in the process.

Monday 15th August to Saturday 20th August

Leo Fitzmaurice: Post Match at the Cube Gallery

With the football season now well and truly underway, this free entry exhibition is particularly timely. Over the course of ten years, Fitzmaurice has crafted around 800 miniature football kits using only discarded cigarette packets; the result is a vibrant, thought-provoking journey through the histories of two industries with particularly tarnished images.

Tuesday 16th August to Sunday 21st August

Manchester Week at Port Street Beer House

Port Street’s Manchester Week was planned in advance of last week, but given the events which unfolded, the timing of it couldn’t be much better. It’s largely being held as a tribute to Colin Stronge, the brewery production manager at the superlative Marble Brewery, with several other fantastic local brewers also represented.

Wednesday 17th August

Eyebrow Cinema at An Outlet

The free entry world and independent film club is screening Precious on Wednesday, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth checking out; it’s not quite as strong as some critics made it out to be, but it’s still a compelling piece of cinema.

Friday 20th August to Sunday 22nd August

Platform 4 Festival at Piccadilly Gardens, St Ann’s Square, and Castlefield Arena

A free event that spans across the city, incorporating aerial and circus shows, music, dance, and street theatre, Platform 4 Festival sounds both ambitious and unique. The acrobatics of the Spanish Atempo Circus at Castlefield Arena should be a particular highlight.

Friday 20th August

Hey! After Hours at Whitworth Art Gallery

Conceived as a response to current Whitworth Art Gallery exhibition Projections: Works From The Artangel Collection, Hey! After Hours promises an evening of highly cultured music, including the Prism Quartet performing Philip Glass, and a set from Liz Green ahead of the long-awaited release of her debut album.

Saturday 21st August to Sunday 22nd August

A Game of Consequence at Piccadilly Gardens

The Contact Young Actors Company bring an old-fasjoined medicine show to Piccadilly Gardens free of charge; however, as the name of the performance suggests, every choice has its consequence. It’s directed by Cheryl Martin, who has already made a number of lauded contributions to the Manchester theatre scene.

Saturday 21st August

Chad VanGaalen at the Deaf Institute

Diaper Island is one of the finest albums released this year, a definite leap forward from a guy who has been making great music under the radar for what seems like forever. The fact that support comes from New Hips (three-quarters of the sadly missed Deaf to Van Gogh’s Ear) is the sort of added bonus that means this is one we’re very much looking forward to.

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