Work has been so stupidly busy of late that the really busy June/July time has run on into August. Usually, by the start of the Manchester Jazz Festival, the bulk is done and all I have to do is some dotting of ‘i’s and crossing of ‘t’s leaving me the flexibility to visit the Jazz Festival. This time, it’s almost over and we still haven’t finished and I can see it running into my little road trip down south in less than a fortnight.

So yesterday I went in work early, got what needed to be done done, and drove over to my good bud, Andy, to pick him up, and listen to some jazz and have a catch up. Andy updating his status to ‘chilling at a jazz festival’ by the way…

The jazz takes place in venues all over the city but the festival hub is in Albert Square. There’s usually a pop up jazz club in the form of one of those big marquees. But for this year’s they have really gone to town and hired the most wonderful structure for the musicians to play in.

It’s called the Salon Perdu (French for lost room I believe) and had been brought over from The Netherlands where a company specialises in these most beautiful of tents called, in Dutch, Speigeltenten, which means mirrored tents. It’s actually quite old. Outside it has an Art Deco vibe going on. Inside it is all oak, mirrors, stained glass and draped red velvet. You can sit in the middle, as we did, or sit in booths around the circular structure, where you can be served drinks from the bar while you listen to the music. The Salon Perdu spends its summer doing festivals in Europe but likes to winter in warmer places like Australia. Before coming to the jazz festival it was in Las Vegas at an event. It’s a beautiful place to be and the acoustics are wonderful.

In the Salon Perdu we listened to two local virtuoso jazz musicians, Iain Dixon and Les Chisnall who played cool traditional jazz on piano and clarinet. And very fine it was too.

We had 15 minutes to get ourselves down to St Ann’s Church for the second concert we had booked for. St Ann’s is a great supporter of the jazz festival and always has some of the best events in a beautiful setting.

One of the people who usually takes the religious services in the church welcomed us.

And the guy who seems to be in charge of the Manchester Jazz Festival introduced the band. I must find out who he is and what he does with the rest of his year.

I was intrigued by the idea of the concert in St Ann’s Square. It was by three guys, Medbøe, Eriksen and Halle, from Norway. Not a country you readily associate with jazz of course. They played piano, trumpet and guitar but the sounds that they conjured out of their instruments were like nothing I’d ever heard. You could see the jazz influence and hear the landscapes and seascapes of that stunning country. ‘Other-worldly’ was the description in the programme of concerts. The sounds and the acoustics of the church worked well together.

We went for lunch. We decided, well I did, on Mr Thomas’s Chop House in its tall thin Dutch inspired building on Cross Street. It’s behind the church and on sunny days people like to eat on the terrace that spills into the churchyard. We could have sat outside but when I’m there I like to eat in the Victorian, tiled dining room. You can imagine Victorian gentleman sitting there having lunch.

Andy studying the menu…

He had Shepherds’ Pie, made of minced lamb and topped with mashed potato. There was some pickled red cabbage that he didn’t touch…

I had Cheese and Onion Pie with heritage carrots (different colours) and Hollandaise Sauce. We shared some fat cut chips…

For pudding Andy has Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream. It’s a classic British pudding that people think has been around for ages. Actually it was only invented in the 1960s possibly at a very nice hotel on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District. Other restaurants disagree…

I had Eton Mess, a much older pudding made of crushed meringue, whipped cream and strawberries, invented at Eton College, the famed public school near Windsor to the west of London. Traditionally it was served at the annual Eton v Harrow cricket match. Originally it was served differently but one year someone had an accident and the pudding was dropped and destroyed. Too late to make a new one , the scraped up the remains, stirred it a bit more and served it as a ‘mess’. However it came about it’s a good combination of tastes and textures…

Andy hadn’t been into some places in the city before. He’d never been in Central Library so I took him there to see the reading room. Then we went to the John Rylands Library to see that. It looks like a set for Hogwarts. We had a quick look around. I’d forgotten we were in the middle of the summer holidays and the library was packed with visiting tourists. We may not have reached the saturation point for tourists like Venice or Barcelona but we are getting there.

We headed for the N4 to visit some of the record stores that sell vinyl records. Apparently it’s having a revival and Manchester is a good place to visit as we have the largest concentration of such stores in the UK. But it was getting hot and the stores were busy and sticky so we went for a drink. I’d spotted a sign on a bar, TERRACE, on Thomas Street asking us to visit their roof top garden. It would have been rude not to. The roof top garden turned out to be something of a secret garden in a well surrounded by buildings. I’d imagined views but it was still a nice spot with makeshift garden furniture and apple trees growing out of old beer barrels. It was also busy. We found a spot sharing with a couple.

Back in the bar I’d chosen a glass of Titanic Plum Porter. A porter is something of a heavy, old fashioned, dark beer, this one flavoured with plums. You could really taste it. Titanic is an artisan brewery in Stoke on Trent, a city about 30 miles south of Manchester, famous for its pottery. 

The guy in the blue checked shirt at the next table spotted it and asked how it was. He ended up having a sip. The guy at our table was interested as well so he had some too. It was all very convivial and we were soon chatting and checking out phone pictures and the like.

We went home after this. But I returned the following day to do one or two things. I ended up in Albert Square again which was crowded with people enjoying the jazz, some of it free. I’d enjoyed both the concerts we saw on the Friday but would have cheerfully paid a lot to see the guys I saw for free in the square on Saturday.

There is a tradition of brass bands in the north of England. Almost every coal mine and small industrial town would have one made up of the men who worked there coming together to make music. The industries and the coal mines have gone but the bands remain. Anyone on TV or a movie wanting to give the audience a feel of the north uses a brass band. A bit of a stereotype but what can you do? Called Back Chat Brass, these seven guys have reconfigured the brass band idea. Using jazz and brass band ideas they rework pop music. Have you ever heard Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ done by a brass band? Justin Bieber? Well I did yesterday afternoon and it was pretty, damn good. They played, they sang, they danced and so did we all. It was joyful.

Enjoy Back Chat Brass doing ‘Stacy’s Mom’…

And for all you Belibers out there…

 

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