Category: Art


If you cross the river from Manchester Cathedral you find Greengate Square. Turn left out of there and it takes you into Chapel Street which runs west into Salford and eventually becomes Salford Crescent before turning into the East Lancs Road, the old, wide road to Liverpool before the M62 was built. I’ve heard rumours that, with all the redevelopment of Manchester jumping the river onto the Salford side, it was becoming the new Northern Quarter as the old one has found itself firmly on the tourist trail and the N4 Hipsters have found themselves tourist attractions. We have a lot of this going on in the city at the moment. The Heatons are the new Didsbury. Monton/Prestwich/Levenshulme (you choose) is the new Chorlton.

I went to have a look. Do not be deceived. The new N4 it is NOT. It may have the odd independent café but hipsters were thin on the ground when I went. Chapel Street can be very busy with traffic which isn’t what you want to sit by while you are drinking your small batch, artisan gin and tonic or your locally brewed craft beer while eating crushed avacado on sour dough toast. And as you get further along Chapel Street you get uncomfortably close to bits of the city where bad things happen to Mobikes and nice boys from the suburbs with Fossil bags full of desirable technology if they are not careful.

But it does have its moments and, as estate agents say, it has potential. I liked especially the bit between Salford Cathedral of St. John (the Roman Catholic one, the one I usually post is the Protestant Church of England one) and the glorious St. Philip’s Church.

St. Philip’s Church is one of the most beautiful in the city. It’s a real stunner and if it was a few 100m to the east in the city centre, fashionable weddings and jazz concerts would be queueing up to use it. It was built between 1822 and 1824 which makes it Regency I think. In those days this part of the city was the home of the rich and the church reflects that wealth. An almost identical church was built in London atnthe same time. The rich have moved on but the handsome church remains. I’ve never been inside, it’s never been open when I’ve been there. I may have to go some Sunday morning.

Between the cathedral and the church they have built some streets of modern, but rather elegant town houses in grey brick that echo some of the grand Regency, red brick houses that still exist in the area. It’s called Timekeeper’s Sqaure. Why? No idea! The wrought iron, sycamore seed sculpture was put up in a previous, but failed attempt, to revive the area. It looks good in its new surroundings. The people’s cars, if you have to have one so close to the city centre, are behind the houses leaving this rather nice space in front for people to enjoy.

Celebrated local artist, L.S.Lowry was a fan of the church and painted it. Here’s a drawing he did of the area. The corner of St Phillips is on the right and we are looking at Salford Cathedral.

And here’s one of his paintings of St. Phillips Church with the street in front thronged with his trademark ‘matchstick’ people.

There was this memorial to Lowry is the paving. His very simple style was loved by people but derided by the, mostly London, critics who called him a ‘Sunday painter.’ He said ‘If people call me a Sunday painter I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week.’ He’s now regarded as one of the greatest painters in our art history and the most famous painter to come from Manchester. His deceptively simple pictures sell for £millions. The huge art gallery/theatre complex in Salford Quays houses the best collection of his work in the world and is named after him. The words from his quote are carved into the paving stones of the street in this attractive new development as you walk through it, a word on a stone every so often for you to find.

In places, where they remain, the red brick, Regency town houses have been refurbished and, in places, joined to the modern, grey brick ones. I think it works well. The older houses would not look out of place in Bath or York. They would make fabulous, family homes.

Just beyond the church, a huge development of apartment blocks is going up along the river. Another testament to Manchester’s resurgence as a city. 

And if Chapel Street isn’t the new Northern Quarter, where is? Well my money is on Ancoats…

Manchester has a new sculpture. Brought to the city by Turner prize nominated artist, Phil Collins (not that one), it’s a statue of Frederick Engels. It’s been a controversial statue to say the least.

Frederick Engles was the son of a wealthy German family who sent him to Manchester in 1842 to work in a cotton thread mill that the family had here. He was a bit of a revolutionary figure who wasn’t happy with the capitalist system that provided his family with their comfortable living. While in the city he befriended Karl Marx. They would meet up in the little reading room at Chetham’s Library where they talked about all things socialist and wrote The Communist Manifesto. This document was taken on board by the Soviet revolutionaries who used it as a basis for their system of government . I’ve always thought it ironic that the world’s first ‘red in tooth and claw’  capitalist city also gave birth to the doctrine of Communism. For a while Communism was a powerful force in the world and, those chats around the library table in Chets (still there if you visit) almost brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on a few occasions in the last century. 

Engles stayed in the city for twenty years. He saw at first hand the appalling conditions that the people working in the mills had to endure to provide the fabulous wealth sloshing about the city in those days. That his stay in the city, as an important figure in history, should be acknowledge is not disputed. It’s the manner in which it has been done that has caused problems. There is the matter of us commemorating a man whose thoughts lead to the death of 100,000,000 people for a start. Hitler, by comparison, saw off a mere 17,000,000.

What Phil Collins (again, not the one you think) has done has gone to some obscure town in the depths of the Ukraine and found an old Soviet era statue of him. During the Communist era, Eastern Europe was bestatued with ‘heroes’ of the Communist ideology. When those countries got freedom from their masters in Moscow, one of the first things they did was to tear them down. They were left to moulder in out of the way places. Mostly concrete, that takes a while. Phil found this one, acquired it, put it on a flat back truck and crossed Europe to Manchester. He filmed the progress as he went, choirs singing to it in the Ukraine, a visit to Berlin and then onto Barmen where he was born.

It was erected in Tony Wilson Place, outside Home, as part of the closing ceremony of the Manchester International Festival last weekend. Manchester has a large Ukrainian population (or people descended from Ukrainians). Many came to Manchester to escape the oppression they experienced in their home country because of the ideology devised by Engels in Manchester all those years ago. That a piece of art that glorifies that oppression has been erected in the city hasn’t gone down well at all.

If you look carefully you can see blue and yellow paint on the statue. That’s part of the history as well. When the Ukraine fought from freedom from Moscow, the statues was daubed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. And, although it’s gone a bit quiet, relations between Kiev and Moscow are far from cordial.

Interesting that Mr Engels has been put where he can keep an eye on the new offices of the Russian energy giant, Gazprom, nearing completion across the square.

I’m not good with my Russian or the Cyrillic alphabet but I think this says Engels.

I’m well ahead of what I should do for the next target day on Monday and my team, mostly, are on track. I got up early and did my daily allocation. It’s good to finish early and it means I can concentrate before all the banging and vehicle moving starts on the building project next door. It was sold to us as a little extension but it is huge and the garden looks like a scene from the Battle of the Somme. They assure us that it’ll all be over and done with by mid September. We will see.

So work finished, I’ve been able to come into the city for a bit of a mooch and I don’t need to feel guilty about it as work for the day is all done and dusted. 

The Manchester International Festival is drawing to a close. It’s the final weekend then it’s all packed away until 2019. Sad, but the Manchester Jazz Festival is waiting in the wings, starting at the end of the month. And I won’t be so snowed under with work so I can actually enjoy it. My good bud, Andy, and I are planning an entire day at it with lunch and beer.

In St. Ann’s Square there was another of the MIF music installations happening, Music for a Busy City. It was new music but had a bit of a classical vibe to it, rather than the ethereal, New Age music I’d heard outside Selfridges a few days ago. People were stood about just enjoying it.

I went for a beer on the roof of the pop up bar at the festival hub in Albert Square. It will, sadly, be my last chance to do so until 2019. 

It’s cool to sit among the tree tops and see the architecture on the Town Hall at close hand. The Town Hall, which is Grade 1 listed and one of the most important buildings in the country, behind the magnificent façade, is feeling its age. They are about to start a restoration project to sort out the mess and bring in 21st century technology without changing a thing visually. It’s going to be a seven year project and will cost £350,000,000. And then some I’d imagine. The Houses of Parliament in London which is a similar age, is also going to have a massive restoration. They’re wondering where the government will be housed while it goes on. Answers on a postcard please….

When I set up this blog seven years ago, its’ birthday was July 1st, I did it as a way of organising my photographs. I’d been given a digital camera and the pictures were piling up on memory cards and on my computer where no one could see them. Even I had to make an effort to view them. The blog also gave me an opportunity to do some, not work, writing. I like to write but the opportunities just to do it for pleasure are few and far between. I thought a few family and friends might be interested in looking at the blog but, once you’re on the Internet, it’s open to all. Seven years later and millions of hits, it’s still going strong.

I had an idea that it would be a travel blog but it turned into something that chronicled the goings on and development of my home town of Manchester which has gone through some staggering changes in the last seven years. And it’s got me involved in all kinds of things in the city that I wouldn’t even know existed. I’m honoured when this happens.

My latest invitation is to write a review of a theatrical production that is part of the Manchester Fringe Festival. It will be interesting. I’m not sure what sort of critic I will be. I do know that I have been to some performances that critics have raved about, usually those dark and worthy things, that I have been bored with. On the other hand some critics have loathed things that I have thoroughly enjoyed. I seem to remember that Les Misérables was panned by the critics when it opened but the public loved it. I think this says more about critics than the productions they review.

So I approach my first ever attempt at being a critic with an open mind.

The Marriage of Kim K is a modern, one act opera for millennials by local theatre duo, leoe&hyde and featuring a talented young cast. It’s being performed in the old Bauer Millet car showroom in the arches by Deansgate Castlefield Station renamed 53two and repurposed as an intimate performance space.

Taking centre stage are a millennial couple, she a competent lawyer, he a struggling song writer whose music seems at odds with what the publishers want. Their relationship has hit a rocky patch and the problems are manifested around the control of the remote control. She wants to Keep Up with the Kardashians while he wants to watch The Marriage of Figaro.

To their left are Kim Kardashian herself and her former husband, basketball star, Kris Humphries. For those of you, like myself, who haven’t been keeping up with the Kardashians, Kim married Kris (does everyone in Kardashian world have to have a name beginning with ‘K’?) in Las Vegas after a whirlwind romance and filed for divorce seventy two days later. Kim hasn’t be the first to do something in Las Vegas they lived to regret and she won’t be the last. I’m looking at you, Prince Harry! Over the performance we follow the marriage of Kim and Kris from  ‘love’s young dream’ to nasty divorce.

To the right of Millennial couple we have another couple in crisis, this time the Count and Countess Almaviva from the Mozart opera. We switch from one couple to the other as their relationships become increasingly fractious and acrimonious.

So we have three different couples with three stories and three different styles of music interwoven with craft. The libretto, by Leo Mercer, is witty and clever, funny in places, poignant in others. The music, by Stephen Hyde, is masterly and controlled, styles slipping from one couple to the other with ease. There was a little help from Mozart in places of course. I don’t want to spoil the end but the final part brings both words and music and all the cast together into a piece that would not have been out of place in a Stephen Sondheim musical and you can’t get much better than that.

The orchestra moved from one style to the other with consummate ease. And, while it’s hard to choose between the talented cast, I did enjoy the soprano voice of Emily Burnett as Countess Almaviva.

This reviewer, and the rest of the audience, enjoyed themselves immensely. It’s all gone off to Buxton for a couple of days but will be back in Manchester again for more performances at the Greater Manchester Fringe this July. If you haven’t got a ticket yet (sold out last night) you would be well rewarded to secure one.

Mojo…

After what might be described as a ‘difficult’ few weeks for Manchester, we seem to be getting our mojo back. Friday saw the last, I think, funeral of the victims of the Manchester Arena attack. It was Manchester lad, Martyn Hett. He was a typical Manchester guy enjoying his life and recording it all on social media. He was good at it as well, having a huge number of followers. If fate hadn’t intervened she would be half way through a 2 month trip to the States now. He was due to fly out a couple of days after the Ariana Grande concert. 

His funeral was, like his life, spectacular. It filled Stockport Town Hall with screens outside for people who couldn’t get in. Roads were closed to cope with the numbers of people attending. The police were on hand to crowd manage. He was a great fan of Manchester based soap, Coronation Street, and actors took time off filming to attend. Stars of the music world attended and Maria Carey sent a video tribute. As one of his family said, ‘Martyn would have loved all this.’ This picture was on the order of service and encapsulates his approach to life. He was a fun guy and the city will be poorer without him.

But life moves on and as I said, Manchester is getting back its mojo.  The biannual Manchester International Festival has started. It’s the one where everything showcased has to a world premier. It started in 2007 and has become an important fixture of the city’s, and the art world’s, calendar. Sadly it always coincides with my really busy time so I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. It’s also spawned a healthy fringe festival and I’ve been invited to review one of the productions for that on Tuesday. Looking forward to that. 

Albert Square is converted into the festival hub. Many of the productions are in the big venues across the city but there’s a pop up theatre in Albert Square surrounded by pop up bars and restaurants. Weather permitting, we can dine and drink alfresco in the square while listening to live music in the outdoor theatre. Like we did on Saturday afternoon. 

The BBC have a pop up studio that they do daily programmes from, interviewing the people involved in the productions.

The iconic teepee is the central point of it all.

Inside the teepee…

I like the pop up bar that always appears. You can buy your drinks at ground level and then climb onto the roof and enjoy it surrounded by the tree tops. It’s a popular spot and I shared a sofa with a lady from Atlanta, Georgia. Her husband is over here working for a company in Spinningfields and she continues to work, remotely, for a law practice in Atlanta, all very third millennium. We had a good long chat with me pointing out some less well known places in the city they might like to visit while they are here. 

The universities have all gone down for the long summer break and the area around Oxford And Wilmslow Roads seems eerily quiet. Apart from an influx of international summer students it will seem comparatively deserted until the end of September. One of the last events of the academic year is the School of Art Degree Show. I always used to go to see it when I was at the university to support friends who had work on show. But, with each year that passes I seem to be further and further away from the students who have taken my peers and my place. And the new cohorts of students probably can’t relate to the guy in the business suit who used to be one of them.

I noticed the degree show was on so thought I’d give it a look. The School of Art occupies three buildings at All Saints. A rather nice Victorian building facing the park which is chaotic inside. There’s a 1960s block that has been refurbished and looks cool in its black cladding. And there’s the brand new wing which I like a lot. It looks like a modern version of Hogwarts with random staircases (I’m sure they move when you aren’t watching) that I’ve never quite figured out.

Some of the art was in the little park outside. 

The night before I went to the degree show, the park was the starting point of an event I’ve never seen myself but have always considered it might be fun to photograph. The evening before, fortunately warm and dry, was the annual Manchester chapter of the World Naked Bike Ride. About 400 cyclists rode through the streets of Manchester (and other world cities) to highlight the vulnerability of humans in the face of environmental degradation. The police say that it isn’t illegal to be out in public naked. It’s what you intend to do while naked that can be the problem. Cycling round the city naked is OK it seems. It’s certainly a popular event and, if you care to look, a bride and groom at a very classy wedding at the Town Hall that evening, have some amazing pictures for their wedding album. I found this one on Twitter. In case you’re not sure what the slogan means, we had a general election on Thursday, no one party won an overall victory so we have what is known as a ‘hung’ Parliament, apparently like the person in the picture.

Here are some pictures from the degree show. It was huge and I didn’t get to see most of it. If I have time before life gets busy I’ll go in again and explore further. I did like the glass especially.

As I ended up working most of last weekend I was able to get this Friday off. We caught the tram and went out for lunch. The new tramline runs through Exchange Square so we got off there and went to Wahaca in the Corn Exchange which is one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in the city. I especially like the Hibiscus Peppered Gin and Tonics which I recommend highly. And you won’t be disappointed by the food either. We did some shopping in Harvey Nicks and Selfridges, across the square, and had some tea and cake in Propertea, next door to the cathedral.

It was a wet afternoon and our tram tickets, which I bought on my phone, allowed us the run about in the city centre. This new route is just too convenient on a wet day. Distances I would have walked a couple of weeks ago, I now use the tram for. At one point we did the short hop from Exchange Sqaure to St Peter’s Square to go to the art gallery, then back to Victoria to visit the cathedral.

They were having an exhibition of models of a new statue for Manchester. It will be a focal point of the new St. Peter’s Square, just outside the gallery. Apart from Queen Victoria, Manchester’s statues are, mostly, of dead Victorian male grandees. So, in an effort to redress the balance the new statue will be female. And it’s not just an attempt to be politically correct, it will honour a woman from Manchester who did, arguably, more to further the emancipation of women in the UK than any feminist activist since. It will be of Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who campaigned for and won the right for women to vote on equal terms with men. She is dead but she is a woman so at least she fits one of the criteria. They had a vote a while back as to which woman should be honoured. Emmeline Pankhurst won by a country mile. I voted for her.

We now get to have a say on which statue will be put up. Six models have been made and they are on show in the art gallery. You can vote online or at the exhibit. Here are five of them.

And this is the one we voted for. It shows Emmeline Parkhurst and two other women, possibly her daughters who worked with her, striding out, powerfully linked, with their ‘Votes For Women’ sashes across their chests. It’s a strong confident pose and I think it would look good in the square. Some of the others looked a little precious to be outdoors. This one fits in with the tradition of statues in the city. We voted for it and so did some visitors from America we got talking to. The pose reminds me of the pose in the statue of Boudicca, the ancient British Queen who burned Roman Colchester, London and St Albans after being treated badly by them, and her daughters by Westminster Bridge in London. I was able to do a history lesson.

Boudicca and her daughters statue for comparison. OK, there are no horses or chariots with blades sticking out of the wheels but there are the three women and there is a similar strength in the pose.

We also took in an exhibition of paintings by Manchester artist, Wynford Dewhurst. Born in Manchester he painted in France and, later on, back in England. I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of him. He painted in the Imprssionist style and they are calling him Manchester’s Monet. He did paint some of the same subjects as Monet in the Seine Valley where Monet painted. We liked them. This one, of the English countryside, was my favourite. You can practically smell the dampness of the autumn leaves on the ground and I loved how he got depth into the picture by the use of colour on the trees.

We also went into the cathedral. They are still ‘voicing’ the new organ and we were lucky enough to hear it yesterday. Not that you can hear it in these pictures of course. It sounded fine to me but someone with a trained ear might disagree. The original organ was destroyed in WWII during the Manchester blitz. Its restoration marks one of the final parts in the rebuilding of Manchester after that conflict, 70 years after it finished. We like to think about things in Manchester and get them right. It’s been paid for by an anonymous local doner. A very generous gift, these instruments are not cheap.

Another part of the bomb damage has also just been put right. We also found the new stained glass window, the Hope Window, that has been put in east end of the cathedral. The bombing that destroyed the organ, along with much of the cathedral, also destroyed all the Victorian stained glass. It has taken 70 years to put it all back, the last piece being the Hope Window. All the glass put back in is uncompromisingly modern and, I think, works well. There is 20th century glass in the medieval wing of the church and it looks great. I’ve never seen what the Victorian glass was like; probably like the glass you see in churches and cathedrals across the UK. All very worthy, beautiful but not exceptional. What you see in Manchester Cathedral is very special indeed.

 

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Local artist, Dave Draws (I’m suspecting that’s not his real name, apologies if it is) has been doing a massive mural on a wall by the Exchange Square entrance of the Arndale Centre. He has a very distinctive style and does maps showing off local landmarks and businesses in, mostly, black and white. He started with Manchester city centre and then moved on to suburbs like Chorlton and Didsbury and areas like the N4. He’s done a Manchester City map (with added sky blue) and a Manchester United one (with red). You can buy the maps or have them on coasters, mugs, cushions and the like. It’s proved popular and, as his fame has grown, he’s done the same for Leeds, Liverpool, Chester and so on. I’ve seen one of New York as well.

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His work has become popular and bars, cafés, hotels and offices across the city have commissioned him to do something on their premises.

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The Arndale Centre Mall has got him to do a map of Manchester featuring all the Olympians and Paralympians, who live or are based in the city, who have won medals in Rio over the summer. There are a satisfying large number. Across the map, among the landmarks, you can find little figures involved in a sport with their names next to them. Some of the athletes have already been in and have added their signatures to the artwork.

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The ones that haven’t signed yet may be able to do so on Monday. On that day there will be a big parade through the city to officially welcome back all the medal winning athletes. I’m not sure of all the details but some of it will be along Deansgate. They had one of these parades in London back in 2012 but this year the honour has fallen to Manchester. Having Manchester City and United in town we are good at, and used to, these things. It’s going to be in the afternoon, the schools are closing early so people can attend. I have the day off so I’ll go in and see if I can snap an Olympian or two. Greg Rutherford, with his red hair, might be easy to spot unless he’s busy getting his dance right for Strictly Come Dancing. Likewise Claudia Fragapane, the cute little gymnast. It’s going to get colder over the weekend, so anyone thinking they might be seeing Tom Daley in his speedos is probably going to be disappointed. We did win a lot of medals coming second in the rankings for both parts of the Olympics so it will be an impressive show. 

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I went on the search for some more of the works from the Cities of Hope street art festival from back in May. I’d heard that there were two pieces behind Cord Bar on Dorsey Street, just off Tib Street, in the Northern Quarter. And so it proved.

One was a homage to a local writer, Anthony Burgess. He was famous for writing ‘A Clockwork Orange’ which was turned into a movie so violent that it was banned for years. In spite of being a classic you still don’t see it turning up on TV even now. A quote for the book in included in the art work…

‘You can destroy what we have written but you cannot unwrite it’

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Next to it is a huge art work called ‘War Child’. A blindfolded boy holds a rifle. The rifle pulls his blindfold tighter so he can’t see at all. His shadow fills the rest of the wall. It’s a very powerful piece.

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I spotted this image of Alan Turing. The guy who decoded the Enigma Machine that shortened World WarII, then moved to Manchester to develop the world’s first working computer, Baby, here in the city laying the foundations of our modern world. He committed suicide when he lost access to his work through being discovered to be gay. Manchester and the U.K. have moved on since those days but, as we have seen in Orlando in the last 24 hours, a lot of the world has yet to make that leap.

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And I liked this satellite on the wall.

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On Tariff Street I found this one. It’s across the street from the huge ‘iceberg’ artwork on the side of Hilton House. I must have spent so much time looking at the one on Hilton House that I failed to notice this behind me. There’s another one by the same artist of an elderly couple kissing but I couldn’t find it on this wander.

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Back in 2013 there was a disasterous fire in the old Dobbins department store on Oldham Street. It destroyed a rundown, but attractive, Art Deco building. In its day back, in the 1930s, it was a must visit shopping experience when Oldham Street was one of the city’s premier shopping streets. World War II did it no good at all and new shopping developments, notably the Arndale Centre, caused Oldham Street to go into terminal decline. It’s now one the the main thoroughfares of the ubercool Northern Quarter and is lined with independent businesses. No doubt the Dobbins building would have an a renaissance but they think someone homeless got in and lit a fire that got out of control and the building went up and was beyond saving. Well that’s the story. At the moment it’s a surface car park but plans have just gone in for more apartments on the site. They look decent as well.

I’m not worried about losing a surface car park but I hope the plans take into account the  stunning new piece of street art that has been done on a wall overlooking it. It’s been executed by a local artist from Blackburn, a former cotton town north of the city. It’s of one of the natives of New Guinea in their full finery. I know Blackburn and the people don’t look like this. It’s another of the Cities of Hope Festival.

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Meanwhile, away on Hilton House, the huge piece of artwork has been finally completed. It’s about migration which is a thorny problem in Europe, and much of the world, at the moment.

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