It was with some trepidation that I accepted Chris’ invite to the Manchester Jazz festival. We both love music – all sorts of music, but for some reason this does not include jazz – at all. I imagine jazz (as described by a close friend!) to be ‘stuffy’ and jazz festivals to be full of people in cardigans debating very important things (unlike our nights out which usually involve debating a million different solutions to the current Avengers problems!).
What we do both strongly believe though is in supporting local events and trying new things.
The Manchester Jazz Festival takes place annually and this year (in their own words!) had ‘over 500 musicians in 80 events spread over 7 venues, free gigs, music day and night indoors and out, regional jazz artists, new talent, innovation and contemporary jazz trying to break down musical boundaries’…phew. Exhausting just to write it all down!
How exciting you might think, but to me the most tempting reason to go to one of their concerts was the temporary venue they had on Albert Square – the ‘Salon Perdu’ - a 1920’s touring music venue (Spiegeltent), it is a structure of great beauty and one I was desperate to get inside! Added to very reasonable ticket prices it was time for one of us to do some ‘male research’ (is that a real thing? Its always quoted in our home!).
So, after studying the programme, it was decided that we would go to the final concert and watch ‘The Hackney Colliery Band’. ‘They’re great fun’ I was told – ‘you’ll love it!’. (I would insert here the emoji with its eyes raised – it is my favourite – but unfortunately not sure how to do it, so please just picture it in your head!)
Imagine my delight (insert eye raising emoji again!) when we arrived at the venue (which is truly the most wonderful place I have ever been to listen to music) to find there were not one but two jazz bands that night and all for just £18.50. Bargain!
First up - Zambian artist Namvula – at this point I was trying to work out how long this performance was going to last? Did I need another drink? Where were the toilets? Were these shoes going to hurt all night? Does anyone go for comfortable shoes when they go out? How many photos should I take of the lovely building? Shall we try a couple of selfies? Distracted? Yes, just slightly, but it didn’t last long. The music coming from the stage surprised me – unusual African beats with a great singing voice and so easy to listen and sway along to. I was even more surprised to find I was enjoying it despite my immediate neighbour debating whether this was indeed jazz or some unusual fusion. He wasn’t sure - I wasn’t bothered.
Why are people like this? Music is music it doesn’t need to be a genre. People can either sing, play and make good music or they can’t. You either love it or you don’t. It would be a boring world if we were all identical.
So - an hour soon passed, swaying in time with the audience to the music onstage and I had now begun to look forward to what was coming next and forgotten all about my shoes (still hurting).
Cue the arrival of the ten-piece Hackney Colliery Band – drums, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a very large sousaphone which looked like it was being played via a shower attachment (the old ones which excitingly used to turn your bath taps into a shower!)
They were loud, lively and looked like they were having a blast. I loved them from the minute they came on stage and played a mixture of their own compositions and unusual arrangements of some great rock songs! Three of my favourite songs from Nirvana, the Prodigy and Blackstreet (No Diggity was my ringtone for many years until it got me into trouble at a conference – long story!!) Once again, my neighbour expressed his displeasure that they hadn’t just stuck to covers as they were much better when they did! I strongly disagree their original music was fun and exciting and most importantly tuneful and great to dance to!
After weeks of complaining to anyone that would listen that I was having to go a jazz festival (insert emoji again – you know which one by now!) life once again proved that sometimes the things you aren’t keen on doing turn out to be the best experiences in your life. I’m not sure I’m now a jazz convert, but both acts we saw were excellent that night – proving that true talent always shines through.
So now I find myself stalking the internet to find where I can next see the Hackney Colliery Band, sending the videos to all my friends and family and generally taking a keen interest in seeing them again! I'd even go so far to say I am looking forward to next year’s Jazz festival (insert a whole row of laughing emojis!).
Halfway through a recent repeat of a 1980’s Top of the Pops I was hit by a bolt of reality. What a decade the 80’s had been for us – both still at high school as it started and newly married as it finished – ten years which saw us finish the education system, start jobs (not careers for either of us!) meet, fall in love and marry – booking our wedding reception after a lively night out with friends must have come as quite a shock for both our parents! Ten years which probably had the most lifestyle changes for the both of us against the backdrop of a very interesting decade of music!
Top of the Pops, just in case you don’t remember it, was the music programme on television from the mid sixties to the mid 90’s. In a time of just three television channels (yes, that’s right, just three tv channels and no Netflix, YouTube or amazon!) it regularly attracted audiences of over 15 million people and was essential viewing on a Thursday night for lots of the population – teenagers for the music, dads for Pans People (go YouTube them you’ll see why!). Cancelled due to dwindling audiences the legend of Top of the Pops has never really died - you can still find repeats and compilations on several satellite channels. BBC4 show complete episodes each Friday night and twitter goes nuts with user after user tweeting along with the acts resulting in #totp being the top trending hashtag every week.
Living in Wigan, music is a big part of the life of the town from George Formby and his ukele to Kajagoogoo and Richard Ashcroft’s Verve (hardly compares to Manchester does it?). What the town is and always has been famous for is its nightlife. Even if you never visited I bet you have heard of Wigan Casino – home of Northern Soul with all nighters every week and its very own dance style - still remembered and celebrated to this day with regular events. King Street in the 80’s was rumoured to have the most number of nightclubs on one street which people travelled far and wide to visit. Home of the legendary Maximes – rock night Friday – and the one and only Wigan Pier where I spent most of my weekends making sure we arrived in time for happy hour then dancing the night away with friends and finishing the night in the chippy.
Sadly although King Street does still exist and there is still a nightlife, most of the clubs and pubs we spent the 80's in have fallen into disrepair or disappeared forever. Wigan Pier is long gone; the Turnkey Cellars, Officers Club, Chaplins and Maximes long forgotten by everyone but those of us who loved them.
Friday nights may no longer be dancing nights (certainly for us), but the power of a piece of music puts you right back there. Strange how I can’t remember what happened last week but still remember every word to every song from the gloriously fun Wham, to tragic Billy MacKenzie and the Associates, Madonna’s first appearance, Morrissey with his gladioli, new romantics, Adam and the Ants, punk, ska and of course the ever present dance group be that Pans People or Legs and Co!
Thank you #totp !
A slight change in the air this week as the World Cup excitement came to an abrupt stop followed by something currently very unfamiliar falling from the sky! Was this the end of this glorious summer? Thankfully, well I think thankfully (I would really, really like a good night’s sleep) the rain passed over rapidly (and heavily) and normal service was quickly resumed – blue skies, high temperatures and everyone out in their shorts!
We’ve been photographically blessed this year with spectacular sunsets every night and have spent many a recent evening sat on tops of hills or overlooking fields watching the sun go down behind purple, yellow and red clouds. Social media loves a sunset. Visit Twitter and you will find thousands of users who post nothing but sunset pictures. In fact, our most successful Tweets have all involved different elements of a setting sun across the country and if we were just focused on ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ we could probably post a different sunset every night and feel we were becoming ‘successful’.
For us though it is not all about the ‘likes’. We post the pictures we have taken, which we personally love. Not everyone else will love them all, but we want our accounts to have variety, accounts which reflect the way we live our lives and the things we like to do together. You will find the occasional sunset – after all they make truly beautiful photographs, but you’ll also find photos of pink feathers and barrels of whiskey, bison’s eyes and fairground horses, buildings, coastlines and lots of trees.
We try to keep our content recent and relevant so, as we felt we were slipping into sunset territory, it was time to take a trip to the city for some urban relief!
No matter how many times we visit Manchester there is always something new to photograph. Street art constantly changing in the Northern Quarter, routes you haven’t taken yet, festivals to visit and surprises around every corner. Its hard to believe in the past 50 years (Oh how old does that make me feel!) neither of us have ever been to the giant Vimto bottle, visited the roman ruins or found the Space Invaders painted on walls around the city.
Walking almost 10k around the city with three cameras and a very large battery pack for our mobiles (we really need a smaller one) in blistering hot temperatures was much more enjoyable than it sounds. It is a hobby we both love. It is very apparent how popular a hobby photography is becoming – cameras on every corner jostling for the best spot and the whole thing almost feeling like a ‘twitch’ (bird watching term – google it!). In a much-photographed place it is increasingly hard to find the shot that no one else has taken and watch out for your fellow photographers coming to see what you are taking!
Three hours together discussing all the things we never have time to say during busy working weeks, spending time outdoors in glorious weather and learning new things about a city we love, memory cards full of photos to stock our social media accounts and to finish off a visit to the Festa Italiana and our first try of Pizza Fritters! What a delight they were – freshly baked as you watch and delicious, San Pellegrino Limonata to drink and a traditional cannoli to finish all for under £18!
Can we get through a week without posting another sunset photograph? Let’s see…
You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @mwgu50 and @imageshop1803 if you want to have a look!
I’m not sure what has happened over the past 6 weeks but we actually seem to be in the midst of a “real” Summer! Every year (or so it seems) weather forecasters (who I believe just guess!) promise us a long hot summer – the best Summer since 1976 – and every year we seem to have a couple of nice days and then just return to our usual and mostly expected Summer of cloud and drizzle with occasional sunshine. Are we disappointed? Maybe not as it is something we have to come to expect. In fact the weather all year rarely changes and sometimes it is hard now to distinguish between seasons.
1976 has become this fabled long hot Summer when reservoirs ran dry, beaches were packed, the sun shone every day and people were genuinely more happy. It is hard not to notice the difference in everyone’s mood when the sun shines on us. We both lived through 1976 – aged 10 and much less mature than 10 years olds in 2018. 1976 for me was a long family holiday on the Isle of Wight basking in the sunshine and coming home with a “healthy” tan. There was no need for sun protection in those days we had no idea what damage we might have been doing. In fact the most popular sun products of the time offered no protection and instead worked as tan accelerators! If your purse didn’t stretch to that my friend Pamela knew the recipe to make your own! (which actually used to sizzle on your skin due to the high oil content!). Picnics with home made ‘butties’ and “corporation pop” (cant tell you the disappointment when I found out this was tap water), playing out with your friends ‘til at least 9 o’clock, fun in the blow up paddling pool and lots and lots of ice creams! I have no real recollection of drought conditions, hose pipe bans or uncomfortable sleeping conditions and, in Chris’ words, wasn’t every childhood Summer just like that?
The following 40+ years (that makes me feel so old) have had nice Summers with intermittent sunshine and even short bursts of extreme heat. Our daughter’s graduation in 2013 was a boiling hot day and how they managed to get everyone through it without a fainting incident was remarkable. We left shortly after for a family holiday to Paris where the temperature hit 42 degrees and leaving your air conditioned hotel each morning was like walking into an oven. In an altogether familiar pattern this was soon replaced by cooler, rainy weather but at least you could sleep each night and your grass stayed green!
It's hard to pinpoint when this year’s glorious Summer began. The Winter was cold and seemed to stretch for an eternity. We were lucky and avoided any snowfall, but the rest of the country suffered. Spring started with a record cold for early March, the Summer clothes remained firmly at the back of everyone’s wardrobes while we all remained in thick jumpers, boots and woolly socks (I have to say at this point I love my boots and would happily wear them all year). Shortly into April we began to have forecasters promising the hottest weather we had had in April for many, many years. Time to put the boots away? Maybe not, they do get forecasts wrong (a lot!) but right on cue along came temperatures almost in the 30’s and our first spell of unseasonably hot weather began.
Although it didn’t remain at that level of heat, that appears to have been the start of this long hot Summer. A trip to London (which we'll write about soon) that required some adult clothes (tights and suits – although not together) one of us sweated while the other perspired all the way there and all the way back – we even had to buy some more sunglasses as we were completely unprepared.
The May school holidays bought record temperatures again. We were staying in the highlands of Scotland so had sensibly packed our jumpers and waterproofs and couldn’t quite believe the weather we had. Long hot Summer days (all week!) with glorious sunsets – I even had to buy some shorts (might have been the first pair since 1976!).
Doesn’t it feel like that has now become our weather? Sunshine every day, temperatures in the high 20’s and even the low 30’s. Wimbledon without any cancelled matches, people barbecuing every night, strange white tan lines where watches and bracelets sit plus the age old question of should you wear your socks with your sandals! It even feels a bit odd when you see clouds.
The sunshine is beautiful, clear blue skies, long hot days and glorious sunsets - but oh how I wish it would cool down at night. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can't sleep uncovered (does this echo back to childhood days when you felt safest under a blanket?). My first attempt at growing my own sweet peas seems to be doomed to failure – ‘What does it mean Mum if they’ve gone all crispy?’ A 10k walk, which we frequently do at the weekend, leaves you drained and exhausted and where does your appetite for anything other than ice cream go?
We’re days away from a hosepipe ban, local moorland fires are still causing problems for our hard working fire service and we are all exhausted from a lack of good sleep, but the whole country, sick of Brexit and politics, austerity and disruption (rail firms I mean you) have had their mood lifted by the sight of a big yellow ball in the sky sending down its warmth. Coupled with the completely unexpected progress of England in the World Cup, drinks outside with friends and families, no need to wear your coat (or boots!) and the general feeling of wellbeing - Summer 2018 is turning into one we will all remember and hopefully for all the right reasons! And maybe just maybe 2018 will become the "new" 1976?
We’ve never considered that we live in a high risk area for any natural disasters - big or small. There have on occasions been earthquakes – very, very small earthquakes reaching the dizzy heights of 2 or 3 on the Richter scale. I think I remember once that somewhere local had a tiny little tornado which knocked a few bins over, but on the whole we live in a relatively sheltered (by the Pennines) area which probably doesn’t feature highly on any emergency planning list. How strange it has been this week to find one of our local areas propelled to national stardom for what has been declared a ‘major’ incident.
Winter Hill, visible to most people around our end of Lancashire/Greater Manchester and instantly recognisable from the television mast which sits atop it. Popular with walkers, runners and cyclists – families out for day trips, horse riders, dog walkers and if it snows it’s the first place most people go with their sledge! Visit Rivington on any Sunday or bank holiday and you’ll find the car parks of the local barn full of motorbikes old and new. The view from the pike stretches for miles and on a clear day you will not only see the towns of Wigan, Bolton and Chorley but in the distance you will make out familiar landmarks of Manchester city centre, Liverpool, Blackpool and even the hills of Wales. Walk further up to the transmitters and the view is breathtaking, literally, as even on our clear day, it is almost always breezy! Indeed it’s only a couple of months since we ventured up to the masts for one of our Sunday strolls (see below).
2018 has already produced the longest heatwave most of us can remember. Glorious blue skies every day since late May, wall to wall sunshine, high temperatures (stuffy nights…) and as a result parched, dry grass and moorlands posing an ever increasing risk of fire.
During the last week of a June a moorland fire broke out on Saddleworth Moors – about 25 miles East of where we live - visible across most of Manchester and beyond creating a plume of smoke NASA could photograph from space. Before this was under control the already stretched fire services then had to contend with a second fire breaking out on Winter Hill just west of Bolton and which dominates the view from our bedroom window – about 8 miles away. Without any let up in the weather both fires soon grew out of control and both were declared major incidents with hundreds of firefighters and dozens of engines and helicopters involved.
The plumes of smoke from the fires have filled our skies morning and evening for almost a week now. Thankfully for us the wind has never blown the smoke towards us although at times the smell of burning has been overpowering and we have awoken most mornings coughing. And it has been a bit surreal to be able to watch a national news story live from the comfort of your bedroom!
We are at least 8 miles away from Winter Hill and can only imagine the impact the fires are having on the affected areas and particularly on the fire service supported by colleagues from across the country and members of our armed forces. They are working tirelessly to get the situation under control in appalling conditions.
Uncomfortably, the smoke has proven irresistible to photograph. Beautiful and hypnotising- stretching for miles and miles around our local area and when the sun begins to set behind the smoke clouds the colours of the sky are once again breathtaking – purples, reds, yellows and a bright pink sun. We have kept our distance and photographed with a long lens but in this world of people feeling it is their right to get the best shot it has not been surprising that the police have had to issue warnings to drone pilots hampering the helicopters and even had to rescue a member of the public who managed to get close to the fires (after ignoring the Police and Fire Service cordon) then collapsed with smoke inhalation problems!
As this is being written the smoke in our area has disappeared or at least decreased, so maybe the work of the fire crews is beginning to have an impact, but it will need a really good downpour to do the job properly as peat can stay burning under ground for a long time. So whilst we’ve got a proper summer this year I’m sure a lot of people won’t be too sorry to have some rain soon but until then lets be thankful we have dedicated professionals trying to contain the situation and leave them to do what needs to be done.
Life and other