Sunday, 13 April 2014

Much Ado About Nothing @ Royal Exchange, 07.04.14

Shakespeare’s well-known romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing comes to Manchester in this new production directed by Maria Aberg. There is much merriment and mirth to welcome Don Pedro (Jason Baughan) and his company to town and Leonata (Marty Cruickshank), the Governor of Messina, is a very accommodating and gracious host. The guests have much to celebrate as they have recently won a great war, so there is dancing and laughter at the masked ball party thrown by Leonata. One of the guests in Don Pedro’s party, the esteemed Claudio (Gerard Kearns of Shameless fame), falls in love with Leonata’s daughter Hero (Becci Gemmell).

This production does well to surprise us and subvert the original male role of Governor Leonato with an impressive female Governor Leonata, as well as appeal to us with a new setting and a new time period. This is post World War Two Italy where the stars of the show are Benedick (a noble soldier in the company of Don Pedro, played by Paul Ready) and Beatrice (Leonata’s niece, played by Ellie Piercy), both of whom are stubborn and strong-minded, and thus the audience revel in the quick-witted retorts between these two charming characters. To the glee of Don Pedro and his company as well as the ladies in the household of Leonata, Benedick and Beatrice indulge in a “skirmish of wit”. Benedick and Beatrice amuse us with the air of nonchalance they attempt to profess, and yet they are so easily tricked. Also to be applauded for their fantastic humorous skits, which lighten the atmosphere, are constable Dogberry (Sandy Foster) and her deputy Verges (Beverly Rudd), for the two policemen are hilarious as they attend to their duties with great sincerity and comedy.

Typical of Shakespeare there is villainy in the form of Don John (Mild Twomey), the recently reconciled brother of Don Pedro who is extremely jealous of “the young start-up” Claudio and will go to lengths to plot the ruin of his chance of happiness. Will Claudio fall for Don Pedro’s vicious traps? Will Benedick and Beatrice fall in love? Will we get a happy Shakespearean ending? You’ll have to go along and find out.

Words: Sadia Habib

Photos: Jonathan Keenan

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Hiker Meat and Rough Cut: The Art of Making a Film That Never Existed

How do you explain the unique eccentricity of Hiker Meat, Jamie Shovelin's latest creative enterprise which is currently showcasing at the Cornerhouse in the form of an exhibition and a film, the latter entitled Rough Cut?

Well, it goes a bit like this. Imagine the only cars you liked were luxury cars but rather than build a new one you wanted to create a luxury car that never existed. But you wouldn't create a completely new luxury car you'd just recreate the bits that fascinated you the most, perhaps a walnut and rosewood dashboard (Jaguar), the finest hand crafted Parthenon-styled radiator grille (Rolls Royce) or a hand stitched driver's seat upholstered in the softest calf skin imaginable (Bentley). It would be a master class exploring the craft behind some iconic elements of the best luxury cars ever.

Now transfer this creative process to the horror film genre and you get my drift. Jamie's fantastic creative conceit is to deconstruct some of the key elements of the best of low budget slasher celluloid horror and re-examine every aspect of their aesthetic by recreating them in his own vision.

Rough Cut, and its supporting exhibition, documents the development of the project and its entourage of actors, film crew, sound technicians and set builders, all of whom head en masse to Grizedale in the Lake District. Here, their mission is to recreate a film that never existed by happily drawing upon a plethora of references to over 1,500 film clips from a portfolio of exploitation films produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s that have established the horror genre as more than just a cult, but a filmic language all of its own.

My initial reaction to the whole enterprise was that perhaps this was all a bit self-indulgent, too considered and aware of itself. However, as the film unfolds you begin to realise that Shovelin's forensic approach to understanding the components that make this particular horror genre so compelling is a powerful journey of creative self discovery, and an invaluable resource for film goers and filmmakers alike. The power and the validity of the project come from its obsessive re-examination of the whole process.

Although we never get to see a complete film there is an outline framework of a plot which provides the context in which to explore a range of elements essential to a classic horror film such as location, sound effects, costume, plot development, camera angles, dialogues and the all-important primal scream.

In this instance the plot revolves around hitchhiking girls picked up by truck drivers who lead them to what seems like a utopian freethinking university summer camp (ripe with the possibilities of copious amounts of sex, drink and drugs) whereupon they become victim to man eating monsters. We're talking mid-1970s, hot pants and skimpy tops for the girls and college sweats, jeans and sneakers for the boys. We're also talking fun lovin' California, as re-imagined in the Lake District. Sounds implausible? Shovelin's artistry and filmic forensics make it truly convincing, softly anarchic and occasionally ironic.

What I really enjoyed were the various genre points of reference that helped give creative steer to the execution of each element under examination, not least the final scene where the two protagonists flee from an exploding house. The house in question is based on the iconic Bates Motel from Psycho, remodelled in a Lake District landscape and blown up by carefully controlled ballistics. Pan out from this scene to a 1970s Chevy heading down the desert highway with a menacing sense of foreboding and you have Hiker Meat as re-imagined by Shovelin and his team doing their craft 70 miles north of the Cornerhouse.

In the end, the plot is largely insignificant as we only ever see fragments of it and its promotional trailer. Nevertheless, what is so enjoyable is the way every detail of each component is scrutinised to the point of perfection. Which brings to mind two famous quotes by French director Jean-Luc Godard, who said “every story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”. He also wisely said that it wasn't the devil but “god” that was in the detail.

Audacious in concept and, yes, occasionally ironic and self-knowing, Rough Cut the film and Hiker Meat the exhibition are fine examples of adventurous and experimental art commissioning which, thanks to the vision of the Cornerhouse, enables the likes of Jamie Shovelin to help us revisit the niche genre of exploitation B-movies.

Take it as seriously as you want or, like Shovelin and his fictitious Italian film director Jesus Rinzoli, laugh at the madness of it all.

Words: Tom Warman
Images: courtesy of Cornerhouse

The exhibition continues until 21 April.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

COMPETITION: Werkha EP Launch @ Band On The Wall

We first encountered Werkha’s Tom Leah as one half of Bug & Leaf, an ambient electronic duo in the Mount Kimbie mould formed with his fellow University of Salford music student Rick Hartley, who now performs under the moniker of (murmur). But his first real taste of musical recognition arrived when Gilles Peterson picked up Cube & Puzzle, Leah's debut EP as Werkha, to play two of its exquisite tracks on his BBC Radio 6Music show towards the end of 2012.

Since then things have moved quickly for Werkha. Peterson asked him to feature a track on the tenth edition of the DJ’s Brownswood label compilation series, and on the live front he recently joined Bonobo on the mainland European legs of his tour as well as DJing at popular club nights such as Hit&Run and So Flute.

Now signed to the Brighton-based Tru Thoughts label – home of Quantic, Alice Russell and Hidden Orchestra – Werkha is set to perform at Band On The Wall on 17 April to mark the launch of his first EP on the imprint, named Beacons. On 5 May this will be available on wax, but for the time being we’d advise you to listen here and read the review in our latest magazine (online here if you haven't picked up your copy yet).

The video for 'Lapwing' by Werkha, taken from the Beacons EP.

At the Band On The Wall show, Leah will perform his compositions live with a cellist and vocalist – Alan Keary, who also performs with Shunya, and Bryony Jarman-Pinto respectively.

In support on the night will be Werkha’s label mate Harleighblu performing her soulful songs live, as well as Gonwana Records founder Matthew Halsall spinning jazzy numbers on the ones and twos. Further tune selections will be provided by Mind On Fire Collective and Tru Thoughts.

We’ve teamed up with Mind On Fire and Band On The Wall to secure a pair of tickets to give away to one lucky Now Then Manchester reader. All you have to do to enter the competition is like and share the image via this link (making sure it’s set to ‘public’ so we can see that you’ve entered).

We’ll notify the winner on Wednesday 16 April. Good luck!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Sessions Part Two: Denis Jones

Manchester MIDI School’s Sessions series is to stage its second ever workshop and has invited Manchester folkie-turned-electronic music experimenter Denis Jones to share his experiences and skills as an independent musician specialising in modern production and electronic music.

Denis Jones has released two critically acclaimed albums via the formerly Manchester-based independent label Humble Soul. Over the past couple of years, he has been collaborating with various musicians across Europe and has most recently recorded with Stockport DJ, artist and tea connoisseur Mr Scruff ahead of Scruff’s new album, Friendly Bacteria, due out via Ninja Tune on 18 May.

Central to Denis’s equipment throughout his development as a musician is the Boss RC-50 looping pedal, but since embracing electronic music, his gigging luggage has expanded to include enough blinking LEDs to resemble a miniature scale city. All this hardware is the antithesis of many modern electronic music producers, who are left scratching their heads and asking the question central to Sessions #2: ‘How can you perform electronic music without a laptop?’

The chance the learn about the performing and recording practices of someone so tuned into new and abstract production methods without the help of laptop software doesn’t arrive too often, but the MIDI School on Bexley Square is offering the opportunity for free.

Sessions returns after a successful debut last November, when the deep house producer and DJ Ben Pearce fronted a class and Q&A on his production techniques and life as an independent musician. The Sessions series at Manchester MIDI School aims to inspire, educate and encourage participants to pursue a career in the music industry, proving the relevant skills to follow this path.

As with the Ben Pearce Sessions workshop, places will be free. But they are also limited, so will be allocated via a competition. To join the Denis Jones Sessions event on Friday 18 April, just follow this link. The closing date for entry is 10 April.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Before Juliet @ 3MT, 18.03.14

Romeo & Juliet are the premier romantic paring in English Literature; we all know the story of the star-crossed lovers. But what about Rosaline, the girl who Romeo once romanced? It is her tale that the Manchester Shakespeare Company tell in Before Juliet, a modern day imagining of a love that was not quite enough.

The concept is a strong one, adding new narrative to a scenario we are all familiar with, and bringing it forward to the present day. In this imagining Rosaline is living with her mother and family friend Capulet, who is like a father to her. The family business – a car dealership – is thriving, emotional bonds are strong and life is going along just fine. Rosaline has her Romeo who, while a touch callous, will surely be won around to her affections. Nothing can go wrong...until Rosaline’s exotic cousin Juliet, the estranged daughter of Capulet, arrives in town...and then everything does.

Unfortunately it is at this point that the production loses its way. Rather than exploring one or two elements of the idea Before Juliet takes all roads at once, leading to an overly long and unfocussed effort. Each scene in a play should serve a purpose but this was not the case here, with dozens of changes creating a strobe-like effect of fractured fragments rather than a full story. Some characters, such as Rosaline’s demon, felt unnecessary and could have been cut. The main problem was that the production lasted almost 3 hours including intermission. This is simply too much for fringe, which is at its best when used as a trying ground for shorter pieces that can perhaps be expanded upon elsewhere.

There were positives: some of the dialogue was very funny, and the relationship between Romeo and his brother is one that worked well – it could have made for a good 10-15 minute piece in itself. The acting performances were about as strong as they could be given the sheer scope of the play, which must have put serious strains upon the cast.

Before Juliet has a kernel of something very interesting at its core: there is a good play here waiting to get out. With any luck writers Hannah Ellis and John Topliff will sit down, give it a good edit, and come back with a leaner version that does the idea justice.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Friday, 4 April 2014

This May Hurt A Bit @ Bolton Octagon, 01.04.14

The National Health Service, a subject close to many people’s hearts, is explored incisively in Stella Feehily’s powerful polemic play This May Hurt A Bit. From 1948 until the current day coalition-led “re-organisation” of the NHS, we are taken on a rollercoaster of a socio-historical journey, unexpectedly meeting significant political players who argue the case for the necessity of the NHS along the way.

The play, directed by Max Stafford-Clark, is deeply political, but at the same time highly entertaining with witty and sharp dialogue. The packed house roared with laughter at brilliantly realised patients, relatives and the NHS staff. We met doctors, paramedics, nursing staff and patients who are all trying to make sense of governmental policies, whilst making do with limited resources because of cuts and closures. Comparisons are made with the healthcare system of the United States, making us aware that this might be the way we are headed.
Iris (Stephanie Cole) is intelligent and humorous in dealing with Mariel, her oblivious Tory daughter, and Mariel’s obnoxious husband Hank (William Hope). The overworked struggling nurse Gina (Natalie Klamar) had dreamed all her life of working for the NHS, but the reality is a nightmare. Yet she does her best to tend to the sick patients, keep up their good spirits (as well as her own) and adhere to hospital protocol, rules and regulations.

The social conscience play is especially moving when we think on the state of the NHS today, and the ruthless management by the current and previous governments with their diabolical decisions to use Private Finance Initiative (PFI) that has created crippling debt. Arguments about austerity do not hold up when we think on how when the NHS was first established; the country was financially challenged, yet the welfare of the sick was given priority. We witness scathing criticism of the reforms and re-organisation that begin every time a new government arrives, yet there is no positive narrative behind their botched plans. Reorganisation is a diversion, not a solution.

Surreal and humorous moments in the play, with the unexpected appearance of famous figures, as well as personification of the NHS, are juxtaposed with the serious message we must all take home: The NHS has lost its way, and young and old must challenge the callous government to save it.

If you don’t catch it at Bolton Octagon, the play is touring, so go see it. Tour dates can be found on their website:

Words: Sadia Habib

Images: John Haynes

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Review: Miscellaneous Series Vol 1 - Chthonic Cities (Folklore Tapes)

This Folklore Tapes cassette was never going to sound like a slickly produced project and its collaborative effort oozes a purposefully unpolished peculiarity. A strange combination of repeated keyboard loops, clicky tech rhythms and distorted sound bites drift amongst an experimental mish mash of melodies and contributors.

With distorted allusions to underground tunnels (commissioned by a man on a mission to dig a labyrinth under Liverpool – apparently a true story) the sounds are largely wordless, wandering and eerily evocative. Sinking and rising in dreamlike peaks of suggestion, football chants sit alongside radio interview accounts of the North’s industrial past. The effect is a warped cultural collage.

The word ‘Chthonic’ is the syntactic root of HP Lovecraft’s sleeping monster Chthulu and literally means ‘subterranean’. This explains much, as Chthonic Cities sounds like the kind of thing you’d unearth in a muso’s tomb or stumble across in somebody’s attic a century from now.

Words: Stefanie Elrick

Friday, 28 March 2014

Competition: Project Mooncircle label showcase @ Soup Kitchen

The Project Mooncircle label has been making waves beyond its Berlin basecamp for a while now and has gained keen admirers in the shape of Manchester's Mind On Fire Collective, whose previous bookings include Shigeto, fLako, Fingathing and Mount Kimbie.

So, given the chance by FutureEverything festival to put on a show synchronous with its avant garde vision for music arts and technology, Mind On Fire wasted no time in contacting PMC label boss Gordon Gieseking to assemble some of the label's finest producers of deftly structured electronica and abstract hip hop.

Headlining the resulting show at Soup Kitchen is KRTS, whose knack for finding melodies in medleys of samples and minimally layered clicks, clacks and shimmers is no mean feat. His latest EP, The Foreigner, bridges tubular bells with percussive stoicism and synthesised ambient progressions to tell the conceptual story of a newly landed alien's view of earth.

In support, London-based beatsmith submerse brings his carefully crafted digital soundscapes up north, while Rain Dog returns to perform tracks from his new album Two Words, following a debut Manchester show at last year's Sounds From The Other City.

We have a pair of tickets to give away to one lucky Now Then Manchester reader. All you have to do is like and share the image via this link (making sure it's set to 'public' so that we can see that you've entered).

We'll notify the winner on Saturday 29 March. Good luck!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Bombay Bicycle Club @ Albert Hall, 20.03.14

Following the enormous hype from their new chart-topping album So Long, See You Tomorrow, Bombay Bicycle Club chose to end their tour in Manchester’s newly opened, Grade II-listed Albert Hall to an energetic and enthralled crowd, and they did not disappoint.

Easily woven together, the band played an excellent and well-considered set list that aptly highlighted the band’s popularity. A sincerely captivating array of euphorically playful and upbeat crescendos included opening number ‘Overdone’ and the Bollywood themed ‘Feel.’ The odd slower-paced song revealed the softer substratum of the album, such as ‘Eyes Off You’ – a song that lead vocalist Jack Steadman played effortlessly centre stage under a singular spotlight. Ironically, no eye in the room was looking elsewhere.

Following the evolution of the band, they seem to have cut loose. The desire to reinvent themselves with every album has worked in their favour. After a couple of years away from the scene, this album feels like a natural progression of their sound, safely forsaking their past influences for an energetic, world-heavy electronica and dance with an excitable ease and a definite confidence.

Rae Morris had earlier provided great support as the warm-up act and even joined them on stage for a dreamy collaboration of ‘Luna’ along with another vocalist, Liz Lawrence.

Venue-wise, Albert Hall provided the perfect backdrop to the gig, with Steadman professing his pleasure to be closing the tour at such a good venue, saying: “Let’s tear this beautiful, ornate building down”. The crowd responded in kind, with a floor-shaking and inevitable encore of the catchy ‘What If’ and the somewhat ravey first single of the new album, ‘Carry Me’.

For a band of 20-somethings, they’ve made a surprisingly brooding and impressive comeback with the once-shy Steadman taking an impressive lead and surpassing all expectations, making for a great live experience throughout.

Words and photos: Becki Clarke

Monday, 24 March 2014

Review: F.O.E.S - Ophir EP (Self-Released)

Liverpool's F.O.E.S have an excellent pedigree – drawn from bands like ConnectingFlight, In Casino Out and Always the Quiet Ones, among others, this new project, while projecting post-hardcore sensibilities live, takes a more atmospheric tack on record.

There are still the hints to bands such as At The Drive-In and Yourcodenameis:milo that were introduced with their first single 'Ruin Lies in the Bow & the Sword', but writ large on Ophir are the post-rock inflections of Oceansize and Aerogramme. 'The Writing On The Wall' and 'The Four Of Oxblood' alternate between a sharp dynamic shift from loud modern rock in the vein of shouty, jaggy early Biffy Clyro to almost a mainstream radio-friendly alt rock touch with earnest, self-assured vocals. When the band cuts loose during a middle eight or an outro, the effect is infectious. James Lorenzo's drum parts always claw the most they can out of every situation, and the quality of musicianship consistently shines.

Single 'Ningyo' starts off as a more meditative post-rock-lite ballad before exploding from the speakers when the chorus kicks in. Again, the rhythm section is tasked with keeping the energy levels up while the guitar heads off into more angular territory, but the effect is thrilling nonetheless. 'The First Rook To Flee As The Thunder Rolls In' combines all their competing sensibilities in a slow burning track that builds to a passage counterpointing screaming vocals with quieter, melodic guitars, before finally breaking loose and crashing to earth with an ending that really does deserve the 'epic' epithet.

With such a fully-formed release only running to EP length, the prospect of a full F.O.E.S album is an exciting one indeed.

Words: Alex Lynham