Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What's on that's good; or, Art, violence and the North

It seemed like hardly any of the usual crowd headed to Glastonbury this year so instead we reclaimed the weekend and took off for the Yorkshire Dales for cakes and ale and swing ball and lovely Scandinavian-style lodges to stay in. I shouldn’t admit it as a Lancashire boy, but the Dales has some of the loveliest countryside I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend Natural Retreats in Richmond, and the little town of Richmond itself. We visited Aysgarth Falls too, where Robin Hood and Little John have their fight in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and took in a lovely pub lunch at Skipton on the way back to Manchester. Put that in your chemical toilet and flush it, Glasto.

It was down to earth (Manchester), with a cruel bump on Sunday as I hit the shadowy streets of Ancoats for the late night closing performance of ANU ProductionsAngel Meadow, the first production brought to the city by HOME. I am new to immersive theatre, having always enjoyed my traditional place in the audience, safely behind a fourth wall and preferably mid-row in case of audience participation. I’d only been inside the dilapidated shell of the old Edinburgh Castle pub for a few moments before a screaming, bloodied girl dragged me downstairs and onto the street where a tough-looking Irishman was waiting to walk me slowly around the block in the dark, boasting into my face of having killed a man and asking why I’d trusted a stranger enough to follow him into the night (good question)...

Needless to say my heart was in my mouth and stayed there for the gruelling hour that followed. Separated from my friends, it seemed like the bottom of my psyche had been scraped as one by one some of my oldest fears manifested – extreme poverty, specifically Irish poverty, aggressively sexual women, men with loud voices, rooms and people that stink, football hooligans, abattoirs. It was horrible, and also horribly sad – at one point I am in a gent’s toilet putting make-up on a drunk and abandoned woman who tells her sad tales through a fug of wine –  and very, very frightening. The panic responses of my body paired with my constant self-reminders that I wasn’t going to come to harm caused a dissonance I had no precedent for. And yet if you want to find out where your comfort zone is, how will you know if nobody ever takes you there? Would I recommend it? No.  Am I glad I went? Absolutely yes. HOME have set the bar good and high with this debut staging for Manchester and I may never forgive them. See you at Romeo and Juliet in September.

Luckily, Tune-Yards the following night at Gorilla injected some sorely-needed positivity back into me with seriously uplifting and tribal and powerful music, the new album is immense and she is such a warm and beautiful character and supremely talented. ‘I love Glastonbury,’ she tells us, but Manchester is just better.’ Cheers Merrill, I needed that.

Tonight (Wednesday 2 July) is the launch of a major new Ryan Gander exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. It’s a touring exhibition but one which has a specifically attuned set-up for its Manchester stay. Intriguing. The exhibition is free and runs until mid-September. After the launch is the all-important after-party at Gorilla where I am DJing the opening slot from 8pm, followed by PINS, Lulu Le Vay, Mike Joyce from The Smiths and Miranda Sawyer. It’s a free event and runs till midnight. Art, wine and music. And I get to meet Mike Joyce!

Tomorrow I am off to lovely Liverpool for the Biennial press junket, checking out art previews and of course stopping by at The Black-E where Islington Mill are currently in residence, celebrating and mulling over their terrific funding outcome. As well as my writer-in-residence duties for the Mill I have two exciting Liverpool assignments which I might have time to start researching. I love Liverpool, I’m very excited and grateful that this stuff now counts as work.

Back in Manchester, on Friday 4 July – Independence Day fittingly enough – James Travis and his cohorts from Dots and Loops celebrate eight years in the business of off-kilter clubbing, playing kraut, psychedelic, electronica, shoegaze, and other unclassifiable weirdness. It’s a special line-up of course featuring Dead Sea Apes, The Oscillation, and the one and only Bob Stanley of the magical St Etienne who will be DJing from around midnight. Tickets are available here.

I should try and engineer a day off, or maybe just an afternoon, before we go on holiday next week or else I am going to spend five days sleeping. Come on, keep up….

Friday, 27 June 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #30 James

'It's crazy how a small city like this can have so many promoters and artists out there putting on their own stuff and making a really good go of it, and there's a real togetherness between most of them too...'

What’s your name?

James Victor Travis, or JVT... Or just James if you prefer. Never Jamie or J, though.

What do you do?

I work in Social Media for a popular hotel booking site in the centre of the city, it's a pretty good day job to be honest. I'm also the chap behind the Dots & Loops club and gigs, and sometimes DJ elsewhere when people will have me. Other than that, I'll probably be at home listening to Leonard Cohen.

Where do you live?

I'm living with my girlfriend in West Didsbury at the moment, just off Burton Road. The flat is kinda weird because it's above a house share that we have to pass through to get to it, but it's totally our own space. The other day we needed to get access to the basement below the house share to store some junk, and it turns out the basement is a disused recording studio. I mean, it isn't in operational order right now, but it's pretty damn cool down there. 

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

It's hard to elaborate on how I ended up somewhere I've always been. I was brought up in Rochdale and studied at Salford Uni for a couple of years and I never made the decision to move away anywhere else. I've often considered moving away, but it never came off for one reason or another... it's definitely likely in a few years or so, but I'm quite comfortable for the time being. 

What’s great about this city?

There's never a lack of good shows or events, and it's a really creative place with a good atmosphere. It's crazy how a small city like this can have so many promoters and artists out there putting on their own stuff and making a really good go of it, and there's a real togetherness between most of them too. The record stores, of course... People complain about the weather, but I quite like it these days.

What’s not so great?

The high street is pretty awful. People can say what they like about HMV, but to see that store close down and become a 3-storey bargain place is pretty depressing. It's just scaled down supermakets and mobile phone stores now. Piccadilly Gardens is a real mess too, and that big wheel hasn't done much for it. I really can't tolerate Spinningfields, but each to their own and all that. I'm not really a city centre kind of guy I suppose.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

The old fire station by Piccadilly train station, it's a really impressive building, absolutely stunning. It's a real shame that Britannia Hotels (who own the building) continue to neglect it. They came up with some nonsense about there being no demand for more hotels in the city, but then you see there's more and more hotels being proposed and approved every year. It's really hard for me to understand what they're trying to do there, very unusual. Hopefully there can be some kind of resolution soon, but it's been 20-something years as far as I'm aware, so I'll not hold my breath. It's not like a new hotel would be my preferred option for the place anyway, but it needs to be SOMETHING. The worst building? Has to be that premier inn. What a shocker.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

I don't really have a favourite Mancunian that comes to mind. I guess I'll be real nice and say my Papa. It certainly ain't Ian Brown, anyway! Mark E Smith is a funny guy, I like him. Don't reckon he'd like me much, mind...

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

This is real difficult, there's plenty of nice places! I suppose my favourite places would be Fuel and Kraak. Always a great atmosphere in both those places, and plenty of interesting stuff going on. Islington Mill is fantastic... The Castle is nice to pop in for a good drink and a sit down, and the venue space is pretty handy too. I generally like to stay in with a few records though, and burton road has a really great beer store now called The Epicurean. It isn't cheap, but it's good to be able to just pop into a place and pick up some drinks you're used to only being able to buy at trendy bars here and there.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

I think we were missing a good medium sized venue, but the Albert Hall  has that covered really well now. Burton Road really needs a grocery store, I'll say that. I don't think there's enough good outdoor areas in the centre of the city, nowhere to really sit down and relax in the middle of all the madness. That's maybe something they could work on, starting with Piccadilly Gardens.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Make the Metrolink free of charge. Hell, that ain't no kind of service to be charged for.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Kev Rolfe. He's got his own label going on now, and is always involved in other great stuff. He's off around America for a few months but you should grab him after that.

Dots& Loops 8th Birthday is on July 4th including a DJ set from special guest Bob Stanley (Saint Etienne) plus live sets from The Oscillation & Dead Sea Apes. Kraak. 9pm till 4am. £8 advance, £10 on the door. Event page here

Saturday, 21 June 2014


If you've noticed the police and charities tweeting a lot about domestic violence lately it's because they know from experience that this kind of violence escalates sharply during the world cup, especially if England loses. Of course they've lost and so comes the chilling consequence for lots of women. The artist Debbie Elvis Sharp is staging a hard hitting (literally) art flash mob across three cities to dramatise this horrendous state of affairs. Read the description of the event and if you can please attend, support, share or send to people who you think would like to take part. The cities are Manchester, Leeds and Bradford. Link here. Make some noise. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Don't miss your moment

I promised myself a blog post to take stock of the first six months of my freelancing adventure, and I can’t believe it’s already here. That means 2014 is half finished everyone. I’ve been self-employed since January, and after thirteen years of full-time office life, time seems to pass in a different way these days. I still get up early and try to keep at least half my weekends work-free to stay in sync with Oisín (who is, incidentally, eight months into his first office job), but I don’t miss the the nine to five one bit, and a week is a unit of time that no longer means much at all.

As for the work itself, I’m pretty sure it couldn’t have gone better if I’d been able to mastermind it all in advance. One of the good reasons I haven’t written here for a while is that my writing has been going elsewhere, and to some lovely places too. I contributed to the new Library Live site (and I can’t wait to put on an event there). I’ve been taken on as kind of writer in residence for the jewel in Salford’s crown, Islington Mill, which I’ve turned into a monthly column for one of my favourite sites, Creative Tourist. I’m hoping to get stuck into other cultural coverage for them soon. I haven’t let go of my old publishing skills just yet; I still produce book cover artwork from time to time and I’ve gotten heavily stuck into copyediting books too (ask me anything about the poet Charles Olson or Irish migration in the nineteenth century, ask me!). On top of that, I’ll soon be working on not one, not two, but three exciting art projects for three of Manchester’s finest cultural institutions, about which I am very excited and will reveal more soon.

Over in clubland, Off The Hook is going stronger than ever. Anthony Crank is back beside me on the decks and our new hostess Wan’gu Chafuwa is bringing life-giving performances, being divine, and generally spreading pizzazz wherever she goes. Our next party is tomorrow night (Saturday 21st), so come over and get down, it’s never less than brilliant fun. Here’s what we sound like, if you need persuading. Meanwhile at Drunk At Vogue we are gearing up for a Summer of Love, involving our annual boat party, annual Pride party, and our now-annual appearance at Festival No. 6 (okay, this will be our second in a row). I’ve had no time to hunt for other DJ gigs so I was extra glad to be invited to play at a bit of a star-studded do, namely the launch night party for artist Ryan Gander’s exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. The party is at Gorilla and the other DJs are Miranda Sawyer, PINS and Mike Joyce from The Smiths. Crazy.

The main pleasure I get out of this mixed bag is that there’s no such thing as a typical day and there’s no time to be bored. If I get too stir-crazy at my desk (it’s easy enough to do when your office is a quarter of your home) I can be cycling or jogging along the Mersey in two minutes. The other day I cycled for an hour in the sunshine and saw ducks, geese, rabbits, herons, squirrels, a lizard, some magnificent bird of prey and only three other human beings.

It all sounds exhausting I realise, but I actually feel more awake than ever. I have lists of ideas I want to pursue, things I want to write, events I want to host. There was one particular idea I’d been sitting on for several months and a couple of weeks ago I got fed up of seeing it on my ‘To Do’ list so I pitched it to someone, found a collaborator, who by chance had had a similar idea herself, and now we are hosting our first event in August (details to follow!). I’m awake to everything, and everything seems really inspiring so I’m drinking it all in, from Janet Mock’s book (I had a lovely Twitter exchange with her) and every Laverne Cox speech and interview, to Katie’s terrific input into my novel, the degree show at the MMU Art School, the new people I’m working with, new bands, old Beatles’ demos, Tom Moulton remixes, (sadly) Goffey and King songs and the great outdoors. Phew.

Watching Inside Llewyn Davis recently, which is beautiful and funny and still on my mind a week later, I felt the unique sadness and frustration of missing your moment. (Spoiler follows). As Llewyn climbs the nightclub stairs to receive a kicking in the alleyway out back, a young Bob Dylan is taking Llewyn’s place on the stage, about to become the new folk sensation that Llewyn will never be. It hits pretty hard. The moral of the story is: don’t miss your moment.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Book launch in Manchester

Not for my book alas, but I have been invited to read from The Shakespeare Girl in support of the lovely Emma Jane Unsworth's second novel, Animals, which is already garnering excellent reviews and lots of buzz. There are other writers too, and music, and wine. It's at Waterstones Deansgate, who claim that 'All of Manchester's finest writers will be here...' Who am I to argue!?

Waterstones Deansgate Cafe, Thursday 1 May, 7pm, arrive early, and let them know you're coming with an email to:

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #29 Julie

‘It sounds cheesy but I truly started to live my life when I moved to Manchester. It is strange in a way, as I am, and always will be, seen as ‘Frenchy’ in England, and ‘L’Anglaise/La Rosbif’ in France…’

What’s your name?

I have various nicknames, from Big Tasty to Shorty but my real name is Julie. I’ve also been called Fattesti, it’s quite funny I guess, given my family name…

What do you do?

I work as a manager in a language school in Salford, on a beautiful square just off Chapel Street. It’s next door to the New Oxford pub, which makes it very hard to concentrate past 12 o’clock on a Friday! The sound of beer kegs rolling on the floor and patrons getting drunk is usually my daily soundtrack. I’ve also put on a couple of gigs and still occasionally play music in bars with a good friend of mine: our night is called Paris is Burning, in Odd NQ.

Where do you live?

I live in a lovely house in Chorlton, near Beech Road, with another French girl, and two gentlemen, one from Italy and one from Nottingham. It’s a lovely area to live in, as you certainly all know, if you forget about the burglaries and fried chicken shops galore – mostly bad KFC rip-offs. I also spend a fair amount of time at my boyfriend’s place in Ancoats, which also is a great area to live. Both places are dangerously close to several amazing boozers.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

Long story short, I moved to England about three years ago from my native France to work for Islington Mill and the Sounds from the Other City festival. Within my first week here, I managed to stumble over the pavement and end up at A&E. I wasn’t even drunk! It wasn’t great and I wanted to go home at the time, but five stitches and several booster shots later, I gave Manchester another chance and started to really enjoy it. I met some wonderful people, discovered some amazing places, did some amazing things. Manchester, and England in general, became my home and my close friends became like a second family to me. It’s not always easy to be so far away from your close family and friends, but I truly feel like, and it’s going to sound mega cheesy, I truly started to live my life when I moved to Manchester. It is strange in a way, as I am, and always will be, seen as ‘Frenchy’ in England, and ‘L’Anglaise/La Rosbif’ in France.

What’s great about this city?

There is a really long list of things I like about living in Manchester, but to be honest, I think I really like people’s mentality in general here. I somehow feel like I’ve been ‘adopted’ by Manchester and feel now more comfortable here than when I go back to France, where I kind of feel like a visitor. I like the Northern mentality, I like to try and identify all the different Northern accents – ask my boyfriend, he’s probably quite bored of my questions: ‘Where do you think this guy’s from? Sounds Northern…’ It’s great because at the same time, I still see Manchester with the eyes of a foreigner. I was dreaming of moving here, and sometimes, I sit down and start thinking how happy and proud I am to be an adopted Mancunian. Life is good in Manchester, people are relaxed in general - if you forget about that lovely man who called me a ‘foreign bastard ‘ on the train for speaking French... Nevermind. But yeah, people are cool, you can basically do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. In France, people tend to judge you if you wear double denim or if you have a pint before 6pm…

What’s not so great?

There are a couple of things I’m not too happy about in Manchester. The city centre is really dirty, especially on weekends. Walk along the canals, and you’ll find a blow-up doll, cigarette butts, plenty of beer bottles and probably a dead body or two. The lack of a proper cycling infrastructure is a real shame as well. I really enjoy cycling and would love to commute by bike, but I’m terrified to do so in Manchester. And finally: have you seen the amount of takeaways and betting shops? It’s really depressing!

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

It might sound quite silly, but I love terraced houses and red brick buildings! Before moving here, it was exactly the image I was making for myself of Manchester, and the places I’ve lived in before were really colourful. These endless rows of terraced houses are what struck me the most when I first moved here, and these massive blocks of buildings in the Northern Quarter, around Turner Street for example, remind me a lot of the old New York. I simply like to wander around and admire the buildings around me, even the scruffiest ones. I love Manchester architecture: no fannying about!

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

That’s a tough one. I was trying to think of ‘famous people’ at first, since, like a lot a people, I came to Manchester because I was intrigued by its past. But frankly, my perspective changed really fast and Manchester quickly became my home and I sort of lost interest in the past because living here in the present is making me very happy. My favourite people are the ones around me, but none of them are actually from Manchester. My housemate is great, but she is French – she does all the house work in the house and doesn’t mind doing the washing up! My boyfriend is pretty awesome, but he’s a Scouser. I could tell you how he steals bottles of hot sauce from restaurants when he’s had a drink or two, but it would probably only reinforce the stereotype. My friend Camille is gorgeous but she’s French too. So yeah, these are probably my favourite people, they’re like my family away from home.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

This one is fairly easy: the Crown and Kettle on Great Ancoats Street, just opposite the Frog and Bucket. They have an amazing selection of ales and really friendly staff. I also like 2022NQ, their ‘Beats, Bats and Beers’ night is amazing, and they do Happy Hours! Carringtons in Chorlton is one of my favourite places to buy booze. They sell wine that was made in the vineyard two streets from where I was born!

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Nice parks in the city centre? Angel Meadow is quite nice but a little bit off-centre. There is also that patch of grass next to the New Islington tram stop but it’s nothing more than a patch of grass…

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

…completely rebuild Piccadilly Gardens. It looks like anything but Gardens, seriously, it drives me mad. It is ugly, grey and highly depressing. What were they thinking when they built that awful concrete wall? I’m sure it has its uses, but it does looks really ugly and it’s a shame as it is the busiest part of the city centre. I also wish it wasn’t so terrifying at night.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Funnier people than me? I’m really honoured and pleased I got to answer to this questionnaire but c’mon, it was probably not the most entertaining entry. [WRONG! – Ed.] Quite a few people I would have nominated have already answered this questionnaire, but I would be interested in seeing what Jackie Hall has to say. She is one of my friends and even though we are not that close, I’d simply be interested in what she has to say, because she is cool and humble.

On May 10th Julie will be moonlighting as DJ Eura-bitch at the you're a vision!: a eurovision party spectacular at Kraak, Stevenson Square from 7pm.