Daniel Carpenter and David Hartley at Show and Tell

Photo credit: Phil Benbow

Photo credit: Phil Benbow

What better way to spend an evening than in one of your favourite pubs; perhaps having a pint of ale? The icing on the cake might be that you get some free entertainment thrown in.

First Draft is a cabaret night, held in the back room of The Castle Hotel on Oldham Street. (For what it’s worth, one of the best boozers in this fair city of ours). An evening dedicated to sharing new work, be it spoken word, comedy, drama, music or anything else you can shake a dictionary at.

Last night, I exited The Castle, into the kind of rain at which Manchester excels, thinking ‘I’ve had a bloody lovely night!’ A GP had touched me with her fictional Mrs Rafferty – a lady at the end of life, a physics teacher made me laugh with a comic tale of why biology is an all round inferior choice of science, and I got to see a digital communications hotshot take her clothes off (well almost…) in a short scene about what we might tell our younger selves. All artists in their own right, regardless of what else they do.

As my friend pointed out, not one bit of it made you blush or squirm in your seat, the way I have at many a comedy night. Not only because it was all pretty good, but because the atmosphere and the expectation was a little like sharing something you’ve been up to with your friends in your living room. There was a camaraderie that even as a voyeur it was lovely to bask in.

So if you’d like to brighten up a rainy Manchester Monday, and you like the thrill of the new, look in on this low-key night out and perhaps at some point you’ll consider dusting off your notebook and joining in.

Keep up to date by following the First Draft Manchester Blog. The next one is 21 April 2014.

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I’m back at it! And I thought, instead of pretending to be doing this over a year, it can just be a nice ongoing thing. Just tick tocking away in the corner, and occasionally needing a good kicking to set it going again.

To help me on the way, I thought it might be nice, every few months, to highlight a couple of things coming up that look interesting.

Gigs

There’s already a number of gig tickets in my tickets box (yes, I have one of those). Phoenix, Temples and J5 are safely stashed away and I’m still waiting the arrival of the Elbow tickets. The Elbow gig will be particularly special as my brother is coming along. It will be his first ever gig. He’s 43.

I’m sad to be missing The National  at the BBC 6 Music festival, which sold out in minutes last week. I’m already at another gig, they’re one of those bands I think I’m destined not to see. I’d also have loved to see John Grant in London but I’ve missed the boat on that one. Probably the gig I’m most looking forward to is Bonobo at Albert Hall (Sold out). Seeing a band with a 12 piece ensemble in that venue should be something special.

Theatre

There’s lots on at Contact this season that I fancy. I’m thrilled to be going to see Kate Tempest and Battersea Arts Centre on tour with Brand New Ancients. I wanted to see this at The Royal Court when I was in London but it was sold out. I’ve heard great things.

I’m also planning to see Junk Ensemble, The Falling Song. I’m intrigued by Kalider: You with Me, a story played out on the streets of Manchester via your mobile phone – it’s part of Flying Solo, a festival celebrating solo performance.

Galleries

You have another few days to see Grayson Perry’s technicolor tapestries at Manchester Art Gallery. It finishes on 6th Feb and is worth a 1st, 2nd or 3rd visit! After that I will be spending a lunch time, or perhaps trying out a Thursday late visit to Joana Vasconcelos’, Time Machine – her most ambitious UK exhibition to date. Look at the image of the pink feather sculpture – it looks worth a visit for that alone. Plus it starts after Valentines – a perfect cultural date.

Dance

Another one I’ll miss, because I’m already doing something, Hofesh Shechter’s Sun at The Lowry looks beautiful and haunting.

Other stuff

In an effort to be more ‘off the beaten track’ I’ll be heading to First Draft at The Castle on Monday 17th Feb. An evening of work in progress and polished in the back room of a rather fine boozer. Perfect.

I’d love to hear any recommendations you might have in the comments below.

My photo’s are almost always a bit drunken; as in I can never take a straight one or something is always sneaking into the frame. That said it is an arty thing I love to do.  I particularly like trying to capture lanscapes (although I’m always disappointed when I haven’t managed to recreate what I see with my own eyes!).  So I thought I’d share a few images from my year that I love. They will win no competitions, but they please me none the less.

In no particular order….

Tomatoes at Borough Market, London

Tomatoes at Borough Market, London

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From the top of Snowdon

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Porthole on the ferry to Chiloe, Chile

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British Museum, London

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Volcano in Chile

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Salt Pan in Chile

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Sunset in the Desert

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Dramatic desert

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Abandoned farm on Chiloe

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The Pacific Coast, Chiloe

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Paris

Paris Bistro

Paris Bistro

Ockhams Razor are an aerial theatre company, combining aspects of circus, visual and physical theatre and movement. They’re known for their work outdoors but Not Until We Are Lost was in The Lowry’s smaller, flexible theatre space.  I’d had a frisson of excitement about the piece since buying the tickets; “you know it’s standing only”.

Filing into the Quay Theatre and we picked our spot among the scaffold and glass tower that dominated the space.  Encouraged to walk around, explore and use the odds and ends of seating, the audience milled around seemingly unsure of where to direct their attention.

The performance presented the audience with vignettes portraying ‘what it is to be lost’.  This was no dazzling circus, rather measured and gentle strength and displays of playfulness and exploration of the structures.  A choir interspersed among the audience provided a live soundtrack to the stories.  The performers and choir making their way among the audience allows you discover your own viewpoint and perspective on the tales. Your closeness to the performance seems to be relished by the performers, you see the beads of sweat form that they later playfully shake from their brow.

The tale I found turned out not to be about loss, but about long hot summers, between child and teen-hood, languidly draping on climbing frames, walking on walls and tentatively forming connections with the world around us.  Since seeing Ockham’s Razor Whenever I hear Elbow’s ‘Build A Rocket Boys’ the video that plays in my head will be two boys, cheering up a girl while negotiating a scaffold 8ft in the air.

If I found and loved the story and the visual image they created, my friend loved the dynamism, strength and general aerobatics’.  When she got home her husband found her trying to climb her way up the inside of the door frame.  Clearly, not until we are lost helps us find the child within again.

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On a sunny and warmish day in Paris – where you could almost hear the spring trying to sprung we hopped off the metro in Belleville and wandered to a small alley crammed full of graffiti. It reminded me of the crowded alleys and stairwells in Valpo, more tags than murals with the odd stencil or image emerging from the overwhelming letters and colours; A flower, a sandman, a space invader.

Other street art popped up as we wandered from Cafe to cafe, wine to cheese and rounded our culinary tour of the city off with steak frites. Often it was perched high on the jutting sides of buildings – some beautiful, some identikit, some just looking like fun to do.

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Work by Kate Sully

Work by Kate Sully

Press Night, previews and first looks.  It’s a fortunate place to work, the arts – especially when some of your nearest and dearest do it too. Usually I’m more likely to head there for the free wine and a chance to natter, but at the end of January (I’m so behind on the blog it’s unbelievable) I was thrilled to be visiting a friends work being exhibited at Cornerhouse. I was even more excited as her work had been selected by their young curators from an open competition.

The preview was packed and people were gathered by the bar (free wine!) to see a video installation.  I struggle with video work, so often finding it completely impenetrable and disengaging; so much so that I barely lingered and headed straight down to see Four.

Tristan Avers work, with intricate paintings of stocky pit bulls, neon tubes and stag heads would be at home in any Northern Quarter Bar.  Kate Sully’s work (the friend) clung to the walls in giant and colourful petri dishes, which exploded with wire with made and found materials.  Tempting to touch and we discovered, easy to catch on rogue bags, coats and arms – Kate had to hastily curl one of her wires back into shape on arrival.

Tristan's intricate paintings

Tristan’s intricate paintings

Tristan's work

Tristan’s work

Another piece was completely made from pebbles and looked like a giant caterpillar.  Every time I turned around to look at it, I expected it to have dropped through the floor, leaving a giant hole in its wake.

I loved the contemporary feel of the exhibition and that it was put together by a team of young curators.  It seemed a shame though that they didn’t meet the artists until the night of the preview.  It would have been lovely to bring together the two creative halves in the development of the final exhibition.

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http://www.cornerhouse.org/art/art-exhibitions/four

Tatton Biennial

Tatton Biennial

Ah. New Year. The time for sitting back and taking stock.  How was the last year? How long did I stick to my resolutions? (I can never remember mine, which generally means I crumbled by day five) What did I achieve?

So although I can’t remember my New Year’s Resolution for 2012, I have managed to stick to my birthday ambition – I’m still here and blogging five-and-a-bit months on. On one level, success! For once I’ve stuck at something, and I haven’t ended up in a pile of my own self-loathing having fallen off the wagon practically before it has left the barn. On the other hand – this is post is masquerading as arty thing #9 because well – I should be at about #18 now as I’m about half way through my thirty second year.

As it turns out, doing The Things is the easy part.  Writing about them, or at least wanting to is the bit that’s taking much more time and practice. I’ve found that I generally only want to blog about the things I genuinely found interesting and enjoyable, as well as thinking I have something to say about them. Perhaps it would make for more interesting reading if I blogged the negatives, but as I’m no art expert, I see no point in dwelling on stuff that wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s just not the way to spread the love is it?

Still there’s also been plenty I’ve done that I have enjoyed and still not had chance or felt like I’ve wanted to blog about. So mainly to highlight for myself that I’ve ticked off more than nine arty things so far, here’s the some of the ones that didn’t make it:

  • Tatton Biennial: Some stand out pieces, the helium balloons by the Japanese Garden especially.
  • Making & doing: Lovely evenings with friends making fascinators (facilitated by someone from the RSC costume department no less) and magnetic noticeboards for Christmas gifts)
  • Forced Entertainment, The Coming Storm at Contact Theatre, Manchester, my first time seeing them and in a venue whose programming I love.
  • Bat for Lashes at Manchester Cathedral, definitely meant to blog about this but didn’t quite get round to it.
  • The museums and galleries in Chile, from the strange Aztec and Mapuche snuff trays to the stranger Teatro Museo del Titere y El Payaso (The museum of puppet theatre and the clown).
  • The Jane & Louise Wilson Exhibition at The Art Gallery exploring the Chernobyl exclusion zone and alongside it Hockney to Hogarth: A Rakes Progress.  The high gloss images of abandoned buildings in the exclusion zone were eerie and fascinating.

As part of my January life-spring-clean I intend to blog hot on the heels of the experience, to help move things along. I might also tinge this with a touch of realism that the blog might just slip over into my thirty third year. It’ll still be an improvement.

Another serendipitous conversation in the pub, meant I found my way back at The First Cut exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery this Sunday. This time around I saw more of the pieces that were scattered in the other exhibition spaces. Scatterings of butterflies framing oil paintings, piles of paper feathers and dresses made from maps (which turned out to be one of my companion’s ideal wedding dress – she does love a map that girl). I also spotted a few things in the main exhibition space I hadn’t given my full attention first time around. Here’s some of the images to try to tempt you to see it before it finishes on 27th January 2013.

Susan Stockwell dress made from maps

Susan Stockwell dress made from maps.

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Wood nymphs and mushrooms

Wood nymphs and mushrooms

I loved Su Blackwell's book sculptures.

I loved Su Blackwell’s book sculptures.

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(The First Cut exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery)

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

I’d completely missed the marketing for this exhibition, well I’d seen it, but for some reason not looked at it twice. A chance conversation over wine in the pub is what meant I went on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I should have been Christmas shopping, especially as I’m woefully behind.

I’d been told it was about paper and paper cutting which immediately conjured up images of intricately twee Rob Ryan. I was assured that Rob was present and correct but that this was also something different and distinctly un-twee.

The exhibition spills out of the main space so that you are greeted by a sculpture of a skeleton wearing a diamond ring on the stairs in the foyer. So no. It’s not twee.

You also walk beneath a suspended icicle of paper which manages to look sharp and threatening whilst able to crumple at a moments notice at the same time.

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I found the main exhibition space astonishing in the variety of works on display and I also loved that there was so much work to see.

Rob Ryan might have been the recognisable name here but I found his imagery all too familiar from countless bookshop, gallery and museum gifts.  It was beautiful and intricate but not the star of the show for me. So what was…?

The suspended forest of giant paper leaves, wood and bamboo that swayed as you passed? The astoundingly intricate tree standing out from a discarded Burger King bag? The story told through paper cut and stop frame animation? The layered ‘books’ that resembled miniature stage sets? The birds made from maps? The gun made from money?

Delicate giant leaves

Delicate giant leaves

I have a good friend who loves to play a game after days out and holidays – it basically involves identifying your favourite things about the experience – less of a game, more of a way to really appreciate what you have just done. I just couldn’t have done that with this exhibition, there was so much I loved. It’s a good  job she didn’t come with me, I’d have been a frustrating player.

I loved the mix od techniques, that not all of this delicate work was shut away behind glass, that it moved and responded. I enjoyed pondering the patience of the artists and wondering at how many failed attempts had been discarded to get this perfect one (surely there must have been some). I loved that is was as likely to feature skulls as flowers, and not once did I think ‘craft’ as I walked around. I’m hoping to visit again for a second look and perhaps then I’ll be able to whittle down to my favourite.

Thanks heavens for ‘word of mouth’, or I might have missed this arty thing all together.

*Not suitable for work

I have to confess I think it was love at first sight when I went into The Royal Court. Outside Christmas lights were twinkling in Sloane Square contributing to my sense of anticipation for a night at the Theatre. From the iconic neon sign, to the busy basement bar/restaurant – full of warm words and cosy atmosphere – and then to the comfy leather seats in (what seemed to me) a perfectly formed auditorium. I just really liked the feel of the place. So, generally, I was well disposed to like what I was about to see from the start.

And I did like it. Set in the world of magazine media (think GQ v Cosmo) the play toys with the shallow and manipulative values of glossy publications, whilst examining what all this might mean for women, but also ultimately men.

The dialogue was deftly written, pacy and comic.  The neon lighting, flashing brightly between scenes heightened the sense that this was a slightly unreal, fast paced and high octane world we were in. If one thing did grate a little for me it was Mr. Bradshaw, an unemployed Northerner, who I just felt was ever so slightly layered in stereotypes; from his name to the blue carrier bag he carried on stage. But then I’m not sure if I was missing the point and it was all meant to be deliberate caricature. A Northerner, seen though Aiden’s London-media eyes.

Lucy Kirkwood has written a play that feels a little like a feature length episode of This Life, Party Animals or Teachers.  And at the end, for the first time in a long time at the theatre, I felt like I wanted to know what happens to Aiden, Charlotte and Sam next.  I wanted to skip to the next episode in the box set.

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