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 shared love of music over 30 years ago was pivotal in bringing two 20 year old bank clerks together – we bonded over the misery and angst of Morrissey and The Smiths, sang along to the love songs of Shane McGowan and the Pogues and even danced together to the catchy songs of the, maybe not world famous, Macc Lads (parental warnings definitely needed at this point do not let anyone under the age of 18 listen to their songs!). We share a love of Billy Joel and the Foo Fighters and have watched everyone from Justin Timberlake to the Darkness, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Barry Manilow. Eclectic is our music choice and shows not signs of altering as we ‘grow up’!
Attending a live music event is one of our great passions or has been but increasingly the prices of these concerts are being priced out of the reach of the average hardworking family. £140 to watch ELO, £200 to watch U2? Is anyone worth that amount of money? It’s almost the cost of a short holiday now to get two decent tickets for any performer of note.
Thankfully classical music has not yet adopted the high pricing of other music events (not round here anyway!). We love to attend the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and have our own favourite seats at the side of the stage (limited view as stated on the tickets!) which do indeed give you a very odd view of the stage, but at orchestral concerts you feel as though you almost a member of the orchestra and you get to watch the strange behaviour of some of the conductors! These tickets cost approx. £17-£20 for most performances which in the current climate is a bargain! The restricted view has its drawbacks, particularly at the Christmas concert when we couldn’t see one of the choirs at all and a more central view of the fabulous Marc Almond might have been nice, but it gives you a couple of hours of musical bliss, reasonably cheaply in comfy seats!
At a recent Spanish night with the Halle Orchestra, my mind began to wander (in a particularly heavy section after the interval). The first half of the concert had seen excerpts from Carmen and a wondrous performance by the amazing guitarist Craig Ogden. (Again a more central view of just exactly what he was doing with his hands might have been nice! ) The second half I found very heavy going. As my mind wandered I wondered if I did actually like classical music, did I enjoy listening to an orchestra, had I got any maltesers in my bag… As I pondered these deep questions the Halle struck up the opening beats of Ravel’s Bolero and it was suddenly crystal clear to me. I am a classical-lite fan! I need to recognise the tune to enjoy it and as I am still a big MTV fan these probably tend to be film or advert music! The concert finished with Bolero which was wonderful – Torvill and Dean dancing round in my head -nothing compares to hearing a piece of music played live.
Fellow classical-lite fans can be reassured that we are well catered for by a wide range of concerts put on by the orchestras– Sci Fi themes, fake Las Vegas entertainers, music of the musicals…once again there is nothing to compare to the Star Wars theme played live by an orchestra and if you are lucky there might even be some stormtroopers.
Special mention must go to my favourite orchestra, Manchester Camerata, exciting and adventurous and proud of their northern heritage. We were there the very first night they performed Hacienda Classical complete with Bez and Shaun from the Happy Mondays, Peter Hook from New Order and the silky voiced Rowetta, all watched over from the decks by DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering. What a night and what a combination – a live orchestra 20 song non-stop DJ set. I have never seen the Bridgewater Hall bars so full – and definitely never a queue!
Imagine our excitement when a Classical Smiths night was announced with a collaboration from three of the original Smiths and Manchester Camerata – imagine our disappointment the day after when it turned out to be some elaborate case of misunderstanding and misinformation! Ah well – quite sure it will reappear at some point with a probably hefty price tag!
We like to think of us as having a wide range of music and performers that we like.
We’re just as at home listening to Debussey as we are with Dr Dre. All through our married lives and before, music has played a huge part in a lot of things we do. As we’ve got older we‘ve started making up for performers or groups we missed “first time around”. Some like The Smiths have probably gone forever – though we did go watching Morrissey a few years ago before it seemed he fell out with Manchester?
Last year we attended one of the best gigs we’d ever been to – Jeff Lynn’s ELO at the Arena and next year we’ve booked to see Billy Joel at Old Trafford. A couple of weeks ago we went to see Marc Almond at the Bridgewater Hall as he toured on the back of his latest album Shadows and Reflections.
Anyone of our age will always associate Marc Almond with Soft Cell but if you don’t know him in any other connection you really are missing out on a musical genius and an absolutely top class live performer. After a bit of a hesitant first few songs – it turned out he was late arriving – the second half of the concert was a masterclass in live musical performance as he commanded the place with a range of songs form the sublime to the absolute crowd pleasers such as Torch and a Northern Soul inspired sequence containing Tainted Love.
There was though a major downside. As the concert was a bit late starting we had to leave early to get our train home and missed our absolute favourite Say Hello Wave Goodbye.
We were big fans going in to the concert – we came out of it as absolute converts. And if you think Marc Almond is just about Soft Cell and a few other hits and done nothing in between just have a look at his Discography you may be in for a surprise – and a treat too!
The week has been uneventful due to the abundance of germs but was brightened considerably by the announcement of Billy Joel performing in the city next June and very conveniently just before my birthday! This was closely followed by The Foo Fighters declaring they would also be coming to celebrate my birthday - performing at the Etihad the same week. how kind but two concerts in one week – are we up to that? We will try!
Despite being poles apart Dave Grohl and Billy Joel are very similar in their approach to live music – obviously, both being extremely talented helps but their interaction with the crowds and the ‘show’ they put on makes their concerts unmissable. We are a family of eclectic music lovers – we love the music not any specific genre and watching performers live is the ultimate treat. Time to enter the stressful world of purchasing tickets.
The first time I saw Billy Joel I was aged 18 or 19 and had to travel to Birmingham NEC – I successfully did that on a work night – probably wouldn’t even consider it now! Back then you had to telephone for tickets or even more shocking go to the venue or a ticker seller to purchase! Who remembers Piccadilly Records and the giant sheet of paper they would pull out with the available seats on! Once you had purchased your seats they coloured them in! How times have changed. Now you sit nervously at your device watching the clock tick down to on sale time. If the website doesn’t crash on release then you pick your seats trying to work out what sort of a view that will be - If you don’t like the tickets they offer you go to the back of the queue – only 5 minutes to complete this section – what’s the password for my card verification…. hard to believe we ever manage to get any!
Once had a holding page for the Royal Albert Hall which informed me I was 4638 in the queue! Two hours later and I managed to get us tickets so maybe don’t give up! Course the joy of managing to get some tickets is then slightly dissipated as you see £8 added on for admin followed by £2.95 for postage or even if you have then emailed. How can it possibly cost £2.95 to email tickets for you to print yourself? Still its pay up or give up so hopefully we will be successful and fingers crossed for a musical June.
Life and other