One of the greatest things we share is a love and passion for music. All sorts of music. Neither of us follow any genre and (hip) hop around between classical and rock, rap and pop, we even dabbled with jazz last year and thanks to the fantastic Hackney Colliery Band found it maybe wasn’t so bad after all.
That’s not to say we don’t have favourites and certain groups/singers who we would put some effort into seeing. Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters hold the record for the group we have seen the most - taking our kids to see them at a very early age and continuing that through the last 20 years!
We actively seek out new musical experiences from attending the world premiere of the Hacienda Classical when no one knew what on earth would happen (Happy Monday’s Bez was there – always unpredictable), to the combined skills of McBusted! We even enjoy the occasional ‘fake’ band – ticket prices are much cheaper to watch Fake That or the Tom Jones impersonator who morphed into Neil Sedaka during the interval (maybe one we won’t be revisiting!).
So when we heard on the grapevine that a brand new group – Manchester Baroque – would be holding their inaugural performance in Manchester – tickets just £10 and a night when we were already going to be in the city. Hardly difficult to make that decision!
Manchester Baroque have a catchy slogan ‘Old Instruments, New Ideas’. They are led by Dr Pauline Nobes, who specialises in historical performance and they aim to recreate some of the famous baroque concerts held in Manchester in the 18th century. (That meant nothing to us either!) One of us was quite familiar with baroque music and the other was secretly hoping it was actually some new style of rock music ‘ba-rock’! (time to get the black studded ankle boots out?!)
The debut concert took place in St Ann’s Church in the city centre to a sell out audience. The church was obviously picked for its historical connections and beauty, but maybe not for the view from the seats! Luckily, before the second half someone left early due to a fidgety toddler, so we quickly shuffled into their centre stage view (don’t think anyone noticed!) and it was time to get the cameras out (you should know by now we go nowhere without them!).
The concert consisted of 6 concertos and an introduction to the group and their aims. Not noticed by us until Dr Nobes pointed it out, was that the instruments were definitely ‘old’ (even older than us!), either genuine 18thcentury instruments or recreations. The Violins had pigs gut strings and the cello had no stand and was held by the musician between her knees– can’t imagine how uncomfortable that was! Most surprising was the flute which looked just like the recorder I used to play (very poorly!) at primary school.
We both really enjoyed the evening – the concertos were short and lively and played with great passion. Learning about the history of Baroque and the aim of the group's project was fascinating. This music would have been the ‘rock’ music of the 18th century I have no doubt! Don’t you imagine Mozart to be the Bowie of his day? The Aladdin Sane of the 18th century?
Whilst queuing for the interval toilet break (second issue with a church just 3 toilets!) several members of the very knowledgeable audience stated that Manchester has had a huge gap with a lack of Baroque musicians (not noticed that either!). Maybe Manchester Baroque have just filled that.
Visit their website to sign up for updates on their upcoming projects.
"No one knew what they was gonna do
But Tchaikovsky had the news
He said ...Let there be sound, and there was sound
Let there be light, and there was light
Let there be drums, and there was drums
Let there be guitar, and there was guitar
Let there be rock"
Not much drops through your letterbox anymore - not even bills. The daily post delivery (if you get one) generally consists of unwanted adverts, Domino’s pizza offers (is anything ever full price there?), begging letters from charities and the occasional letter from the tax man. But if you're very lucky, once in a while something very special will drop through your door. 2018 saw our postman deliver two such letters.
Our first, which was a complete surprise was a letter from ERNIE – master of the premium bonds - advising of a £25 win on my bond! As I am the owner of just £2 worth of premium bonds, won in a local newspaper colouring competition over 46 years ago (?!), it was a great surprise when they won a prize! It might not have been the jackpot and it didn’t take long to spend but it was a very enjoyable win!
Secondly, not so much a surprise but even more special to both of us, was the letter which arrived with a Buckingham Palace postmark confirming our attendance at a Royal Garden Party to be hosted by the Queen, after both being nominated through Chris' work for services to business in Manchester.
We RSVP'd and dutifully headed to ‘google’ for help and advice!
Now the beautiful invitations – something we will treasure for ever – came with a plethora of helpful advice and tips for the day but somehow, we needed more!
Our first job was to sort out our transport for the day. We are lucky to live on the West Coast Main Line so getting down to London from Wigan is a relatively smooth job thanks to Virgin trains. Book early enough and you can even manage to get first class travel at a bargain price. Thankfully this time we were lucky and managed to get first class tickets on our train of choice for under £20.
Now the clothes. Dress codes are a nightmare. Not so much for men as it is just a choice of suit style and colour but what do these ‘dress code’ terms really mean? Day dress? My ‘day dress’ usually involved my black or blue trousers with a selection of tops from Fat Face, White Stuff, Wallis and Next. I was quite sure at this point that none of those would be acceptable! Dresses are completely absent from my wardrobe, so my first job was seeking one out. Not being a natural ‘dresser up’ this was actually a really tricky choice coupled with the ‘should I wear tights’ and the eternal ‘will my high heels be comfortable?’. Thankfully there were blogs aplenty showing outfits people had chosen ranging from cocktail dresses to trouser suits and to my relief lots of fellow ‘non dresser ups’ (are these even words!?) wearing lovely ordinary dresses. I have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole experience; racked by indecision and a total lack of confidence in my ability to choose appropriate clothes (if you know me you will understand..ripped jeans and scarves dominate my wardrobe!) I was finally dragged into Debenhams by my 80 year old Mum who declared we were not leaving until I chose something! Surprisingly of the two dresses I thought might do, I actually liked one of them enough to think I could wear it helped by the fact that there was a lovely blush jacket waiting in my wardrobe to go with it. So navy blue dress with a tropical print, blush jacket, a beautiful blush scarf (which I have loved ever since!) and some nude wedge heels – following the ‘no heels’ advice! Thanks to a good friend Angie I had a lovely feathery fascinator – blush again - and was ready to go. Not sure I was fully confident in my choices but basically, I ran out of time! At this point I’ll just mention that Chris chose his favourite blue suit and a white shirt which I dutifully ironed. So much easier for men….
The day dawned, bright and sunny. An early hair appointment with friend and hairdresser Lisa who transformed my hair then set it like concrete! Half an hour of deciding what to do about shoes – eventually we all decided that comfort should rule so out came some comfy (frumpy) blue wedge sandals (managed to get my ankle chain on though!) and the blush heels remained in their box for another time. The lovely Lisa dropped us at the station and we were ready to go.
In the lead up to the party I had done extensive research on umbrellas and coats and what actually happened if the ‘heavens opened’. I knew (thanks again bloggers) what umbrellas were acceptable and what would happen if it did indeed rain. Now I don’t know if you remember last year but something very extraordinary happened and we had a long period of hot and sunny weather. Coping with the heat I had not researched and not long after our arrival in London we were carrying jackets and searching shops for sunglasses!
You may know we love to walk, so travelled down to the palace on foot – thank goodness for the comfy shoes! It was almost like following the Pied Piper as at every turn someone else joined the walk – knowingly smiling at each other as the outfits gave away our destination.
As we arrived at the entrance to Green Park, we were met by volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the different entrances. There were substantial queues at all of them, so we decided to go around to the rear of the palace and join the queue there. This saved us no time as that was also a substantial queue, but it was extremely well organised, moved along quickly and you were surrounded by thousands of excited people. The sun was shining, it was very hot, and the crowds were friendly. It was at this point that we began to notice groups of tourists photographing us! You almost felt like shouting ‘we’re no one special!’ – what they imagined was taking place I have no idea!
As the line progressed you were greeted by friendly smiling police officers – heavily armed – but there to keep you safe and guide you in. Tickets checked and we were in. Actually, inside Buckingham Palace gardens. That feeling is so hard to describe. I am sure no one imagines that ever happening to them. We certainly didn’t.
Again, thanks to the research (thanks again bloggers!) we had a vague idea of where we needed to be and when, so we took the time to wander around the beautiful gardens. Happily taking photos for other couples and selfies by the bucket load! Being able to take your camera along was a very pleasant surprise. We chose to leave the Fuji’s at home and opted to go ‘mobile’ for the day. Cameras on mobile phones are of exceptional quality now and of course much more portable.
We reached the front of the palace (back entrance) still snapping happily away and met the crowds of people waiting for the arrival of the royal party. As you gaze across the immaculate lawns you realise the sheer number of people who are actually there with you – 8000 people are invited to each event with three parties across the summer months.
We joined the throng but had no real chance of seeing much through the lines of top hats! Bang on time out came the royal party onto the patio and made their way slowly across the garden to their tea tents; talking to what must have been pre-arranged guests. We got very close to Prince Edward at this point standing nonchalantly on the lawn chatting and resembling nothing more than a founding member of the Kingsman society! (geeky film reference sorry!)
We watched the Beefeaters march away, listened to the bands playing and then decided to go and sample the afternoon tea. Again (thanks bloggers!) thanks to the research done beforehand we knew exactly what to expect. Join one of the lines choose your drink and then select whichever sandwiches and cakes you want to fill your small plate. There was a large choice of drinks and we decided to sample one of each from the cakes and sandwiches. The queues looked long but the whole thing is extremely well organised and moves along quickly and efficiently. 27,000 cups of tea are served, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 cakes and every mouthful we tasted was exquisite. Not sure we have ever tasted such delicious sandwiches and cakes and despite your plate looking on the small side (we’re northern remember! Pies, pea and mash up here!) it perfectly fitted ‘one of each’. Now at this point I need to tell you that seating is not readily available. There were a lot of elderly guests and it was a very hot day. There are seats around and about the gardens but we, like many others, stood to eat our tea.
Due to the heat the next stop was the spotless toilet block to freshen up – sticky fingers! It was here that I realised my choice of the frumpy blue sandals was indeed the right choice as there were numerous ladies walking around barefoot carrying their stilettos in their hands (non heel wearers may not realise that once they are off and particularly on a hot day they are not going back on for the rest of that day!)
Not sure if this was a result of the heat or if this is a usual occurrence but there were plentiful bottles of water for you to have and even ice creams! We ate our ice creams leaning on the walls of Buckingham Palace (still can’t believe I am actually saying that!) and tried to take in what was going on around us. We met some very worthy attendees proudly telling their stories and introducing you to their families.
Words cannot describe what a good day we were having but it was at this stage that something quite magical happened. As we wandered around the lawns trying to catch a glimpse of the royal party in their tea tent, we saw the Beefeaters begin their walk back to protect the Queen. As we turned around to watch, a Beefeater stood directly in front of us and we realised they were forming a line for the Queen to walk back to the palace. Accidentally we found ourselves right at the front of this line and together with a lovely young couple from Ireland could not believe our luck! The royal party made their way through the line across the gardens towards the palace right in front of us. Time for some point and click photography hoping to get at least one good pic. Obviously well trained to smile for everyone we got some amazing photos of the party and several where they even appeared to be smiling just for us! Proudest moment when the Queen smiled for my photo – I’m definitely sure it was me she was smiling at!
Despite the retirement of the royal party there remained much to see and do – bands, music, the gardens and even selected areas inside the Palace (no photos allowed there!)
Sadly, as all great days come to an end it was time to leave to catch the train home. The exit was through the palace and the very famous doors you usually only see after weddings and visits of dignitaries. Time for some more snapping and then we went under the gates and out onto the front. Once again paparazzi style photography from hundreds of tourists, which by now I was used to and quite enjoying! I’d never see any of the photos so who cares what I look like!
Despite taxis everywhere we decided to walk back to Euston and once again the frumpy shoes were proven to be the right choice. First class ride home on the train (we were very tired!) and the end of a truly wonderful day. A day we will probably never ever repeat. I can’t imagine you would ever be asked twice, but what a huge honour to go just once.
It was about this time last year when we first received our invitation and began to plan. If you’ve just received yours congratulations and we hope you have a wonderful day! Maybe some of this might help you who knows! We came back from London with so many memories, new sunglasses, tights which didn’t ladder and a fascinator which thanks to Lisa stayed exactly where it should have done all day!
Our big 5 tips:
"Why am I here?
I wanna feel
I wanna see
I want to meet the queen..."
The hot, hot, very hot summer continues - doesn’t it feel like we went straight from snow to heatwave – bizarre!
Hands up if you’re too hot to sleep? Every plant in your garden dead? Washing basket piled up after multiple changes during every day…? But still there is nothing like sunshine to lift everyone’s mood, entice you outside and just make you feel better about everything.
The hottest day of the year so far (it just keeps changing!) saw the temperature reach a whopping 35C (90F) in London while Manchester basked in temperatures of 29/31C.
What a glorious day to spend two hours waiting for and eventually travelling on a train on a journey that should have taken 20 minutes. No drivers and a train stuck behind another which had broken down resulted in two cancellations and then a very slow journey missing out all the small stations which it should have stopped at (there was a genuine collective groan on the platform when that was announced). Finally, on arrival at Manchester Victoria, there were no available platforms, so another wait on the outskirts of the city in blistering heat. I love train travel, but the current unreliable service across the North West is becoming a massive problem. You almost feel like standing up somewhere high (Beetham Tower maybe?) and shouting down South – “Oi have you seen what is happening up North??”. What a ridiculous situation when a train cancels all its stops to get back on time. Shouldn’t the priority be to get people to their destinations?
Still, I arrived safely, and the sun was still shining, so all thoughts of the journey soon disappeared. We were lucky to have entrance to the VIP garden at the Jazz Festival so spent a lovely evening relaxing on deckchairs listening to the free music at the festival. We go nowhere without our cameras and that evening had promised the best ‘blood moon’ for decades and a lunar eclipse, but as so often happens in this country, despite the heat along came the clouds and the moon was nowhere to be seen. Never mind there is always something to photograph!
Excitingly, having seen ice cream rolls on many an Instagram video, we were delighted to find The Ice Alchemists serving the jazz festival audience. What a fascinating procedure to watch (and photograph – our cameras are always ready!) and they tasted good too. The urge to pick a ‘roll’ up and eat it as you would a wrap was irresistible, but believe me don’t try that yourselves it is very messy especially on a hot night!
As the sun presumably disappeared for the night – who knows there was so much cloud we couldn’t see! – we decided to go and try some night shooting. We don’t do this too often as we like to go to bed early – we are over 50!!
Manchester is currently ‘buzzing’ with a fantastic art sculpture trail from Wild in Art with 101 large bees designed by a variety of people - professional and amateur artists and even Liam Gallagher! (you can find his in the corn Exchange building).
Of course, we knew all about the Bee in the City event – in fact when the LGBTQ Queen Bee followed us on Instagram we were very excited - but I’m not sure either was us was prepared for just how amazing the bees are. Everyone different and the expressions are just a dream to photograph. We saw our first half a dozen late at night and got some amazing (well we thought so!) shots. The following day we saw more including some of the smaller ones designed by schools in the cathedral and the library. Every bee is surrounded by people patiently waiting to photograph them. You feel like you’re playing Pokémon Go collecting each one!
We’ve already been asked which is our favourite bee, that's a hard decision. We have so many more to see, but each one is wonderful. Our favourite shots this weekend were of the fantastic Bee-vina Mccall in Spinningfields. The bees are buzzing around until September – go and see them you won’t be disappointed! I’m sure there will be a further blog on the bees when we get around the other 80+ (even the sneaky ones outside of the city centre!)
So, our weekend was spent in the hot sunshine spending time with family, eating, listening to music, eating ice cream, moaning about trains, searching for bees and photographing (I’m sure this is not a surprise to you!)- imagine our surprise on Sunday morning when we woke to torrential rain – now where did I put my coat….
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!).
Life and other