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!).
Brought up on the legends of Bury market and black pudding, coupled with the total disbelief when people pronounce it wrong (its Bury as in 'Berry' to us!) I was born just outside the town over 50 years ago and spent the first two years of my life living in the leafy suburbs of Whitefield. Unbelievably, apart from a couple of trips with the kids to the East Lancs Railway to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and more excitingly the real Santa (it was the real one wasn't it?), neither I, nor the rest of my family, have ever been back. My Dad's job involved us all moving around northern towns during my early years and it would appear as a family we just moved on and forgot all about places. One of our current photography obsessions involves taking the cameras out to highlight the great North West where we live and work, so it was time for a trip back 'home'.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about visiting Bury, I genuinely expected a town which had seen better days (in line with several other of our great northern towns) but I was looking forward very much to finding my first home and where I had spent the first years of my life.
From the moment we arrived I was taken aback by the modern, lively town that greeted us. From the town centre apartments over the bustling outdoor shopping centre to the stylish restaurants and cafes on every corner (there was even a Tim Hortons!) the town had a real 'buzz' to it. It benefits from having its own Metrolink terminus and at times it almost felt like we were in city centre Manchester (on a slightly smaller scale).
We paid a visit to the world famous market - packed full of stalls and shoppers and as a sewer how wonderful it was to see real fabric stalls. Fabric shopping online is cheap and easy, but so often I am disappointed with how the fabric looks and feels when it arrives - I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to rummage through rolls of fabric and the off cuts basket!
Queues at the black pudding stalls, freshly baked goods everywhere (being good Wigan people we bought delicious pies for lunch!), cheap and cheerful trendy clothes and lots of people actually shopping and buying. How rare is this now? Often the shops are full, but the counters are not. Look in the shop then buy cheaper on the internet - probably the biggest problem our high street has to deal with right now and one we are also guilty of. All I could think is why have our other Northern towns let their markets fade away? Town planners need to pay a visit to Bury on market day and see what we are missing out on! If the high street is lacking in footfall follow their example and attract the coaches in -people will visit the restaurants and cafes and other shops and give our towns that special 'buzz'.
We took a tourist trip round the town walking as far as Clarence Park and Chesham Woods (past my Dad's first young man's 'digs') and then called in at the Transport Museum and the East Lanc's Railway en route back to the town centre.
Helped by clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the town was clean and well kept and was a genuine pleasure to visit (and photograph!)- look at the queues of cars waiting for the car parks and you'll realise how popular a town it appears to be.
The journey home took a slight detour to our old family home, which was surprisingly poignant. It was hard not to imagine my now eighty year old parents starting their married life off in this house, producing two children and just being young. It was a stark reminder to both of us how quickly time moves on and how you really need to try and make the most of every minute.
The famous British Bank Holiday - what does it make you think of? Rain? Traffic jams? Old films on the TV? Who remembers when Disneytime was the bank holiday treat and the only time you saw Disney film clips outside of a cinema! How times have changed.
No matter what the weather, Bank Holidays are such a treat. No Monday morning get up (hands up who forgot to cancel their work alarm!) and a four day working week to follow. Time to spend with your family and friends, barbecues to eat, gardens to dig, scarecrow festivals to visit and no end of weird and wonderful UK traditions.
The 2018 early May Bank Holiday followed the strange weather pattern of the rest of this year producing the hottest temperatures for that day for more than 40 years, cue queues at the beaches and garden centres, the sound of lawns being mowed, people digging and planting, the smells of sausages being massacred on barbecues and badly sunburnt people visiting Boots for some after Sun! Sound familiar?
We retreated into the cool, peaceful surroundings of Manchester Cathedral - strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. We love to take the cameras inside the building and when the sun shines through the stained glass it becomes a photographers dream. Imagine our delight when we realised a young harpist @elfair89 (better known as Elfair Grug Dyer!) was setting up to rehearse for a concert later that day. After asking her permission, we then spent at least twenty minutes photographing her and the harp whilst listening to the most beautiful music which was so in keeping with the surroundings of the cathedral.
If only we had been able to stay to her 11am coffee concert (all free of charge with donations for your coffee and cake!). Sadly we had duties elsewhere and after a quick recharge in the café at the Royal Exchange Theatre (my first glimpse of the original trading boards still hanging in the building - remnants of its previous life as a cotton exchange) we sadly left behind the crowds of people who were now enjoying al fresco dining and socialising in the by now glorious sunshine.
In line with probably half the country we gardened, visited the garden centre for some bark to hide the weeds and came away with some half price garden furniture. ( word of warning here delivery is later this week and we fully expect that to be the end of everyone’s summer - sorry!).
We walked 7k with daughter and the pup early in the morning before it got too hot, which happened surprisingly early! Then enjoyed the beautiful weather in our currently tidy garden listening to our neighbours digging their garden and playing darts! We took lunch al fresco and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
If only every Monday was as relaxing as this…now somebody bring me an ice cream?
Social media is full of people demonstrating their ‘wanderlust’ – 50 countries - 12 months, bucket lists of jaw dropping locations, I gave up my job to travel the world… We gaze at their photographs of visits to places most people can only dream of and envy their courage to ‘up sticks’ and travel the world.
Sadly, for most of us life is much more mundane consisting of mortgage repayments, a job that you’ve stayed in too long and of course (let’s not forget!) supporting your kids as they travel through life. Is it possible to achieve ‘wanderlust’ with all of this against you?
Long distance travel to experience different cultures and visit remarkable places is something most of us can only dream of doing, but how many people look at what their local area has to offer? Do you visit your local areas? Research your local history? Take the time to explore what is in and around where you live.
We constantly look for different places to photograph and despite living in and around this area for many, many years we have during the past 12 months discovered all sorts of hidden gems of places to visit – many of which can be visited for nothing!
Although the Parbold Bottle may not inspire you with the same level of excitement as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China - the view from the top of Parbold Hill is stunning stretching out to the Lancashire coastline across a remarkably flat landscape. The walk up to watch the sun go down should be on everyone’s bucket lists – if you are lucky you might even find an ice cream van there!
Despite Standish rapidly disappearing beneath new housing estates, there are still areas of outstanding natural beauty. The walk past the cricket club down to Elnup Woods gives you waterfalls, old buildings, bridges, benches (to rest for a while!) and even a spectacular ravine.
Worthington Lakes is another hidden gem – United Utilities reservoirs offering a 3km walk all the way round with birds and woodland and, if you feel like getting up early, amazing views of the sun rising above nearby Winter Hill.
Wigan itself is steeped in history from our world famous pier to Uncle Joe’s famous mintballs, unbelievable sportsmen and women and even a statue with a lucky foot! I wonder how many people just pass these wonderful places on their way to somewhere else.
So maybe we should all start our quest to achieve ‘wanderlust’ closer to home. Who knows where it may eventually lead?
Do you ever wake up and decide to go and see a bridge? It’s a normal occurrence in our house!
Sunday morning is one of the few mornings that we usually have a little bit of a spare time so we like to go out very early with our cameras and try to capture something different. A photowalk with a purpose.
Just beneath the M60 motorway close to the Chill Factore is a brand new road bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal to Barton and beyond – hopefully relieving some of the (what can be horrific) traffic around the Trafford Centre and Event City.
Parking at the Trafford Centre and walking to, and then across, the new bridge as far as the shared stadium of Salford Red Devils Rugby League and Sale Sharks Rugby Union gave us a 6k walk (tracked to ensure we keep up with our Us Against the Year Challenge on Map My Walk!) Perfect start to a winter Sunday morning with the added bonus of some exercise and umpteen photo opportunities. Our average pace is pretty rubbish – we stop too many times to take a photo!
A very impressive bridge well worth the trip. Fascinating structure and frightening when you see how they are held up. It was a perfect photowalk with urban opportunities everywhere – motorway bridge, the stadium, the new bridge enhanced by a surprisingly beautiful Manchester Ship Canal complete with reflections of trees and shimmering sunlight.
We finished the walk with a trip inside the Chill Factore – from urban Trafford to an alpine village in seconds! The slope is particularly impressive although I’m not sure I’ll ever be going down it! I’ll stick to taking photos of bridges!
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!
January is such a strange month - nothing much happening after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, no presents to buy, no food to plan for and probably for most people either a big credit card or no money in the bank account after the excesses of the previous month. Its a month of new starts - diets, exercise, savings - we all do it at least for a few weeks! It probably should be a restful month after the stress of the Christmas build up - a month of winter walks and holiday planning.
Our January hasn't turned out like that! For some reason both of our 'grown ups' decided to start 2018 with a big new start and are currently in the process of moving house/flat , which (as we all know) brings a whole new range of stress and worry to everyone involved!
Lucy and Simon finally move this weekend after selling their house back at the beginning of October - house sales take so long now! Adam is right at the start of his process but as it is a flat for flat rental swap it probably should be a quicker process - won't it? I really hope so! With lots of paperwork to sort and discussions needed we decided to take a trip to the brand new Salford-ish Tim Hortons. But did it live up to expectations?
A Christmas Eve Eve trip to the Lowry to watch the wonderful production of Elf. We had no idea what to expect of the show but it actually bought tears to my eyes with the most amazing ending - snow, starlight and Santa flying - magical and we're over 50!
Winter family walks, long lunches (afternoon naps!) and catching up with films and box sets all topped off with an almost perfect New Year's Eve spent in and around Manchester with our cameras . From Alan Turing in the morning, reflections in Canal Street, to a coffee stop and lots of photographing in the new amazing building that houses the Mackie Mayor food court (first of two places that day where I wish I had taken my camera into the toilets!) in Manchester's Northern Quarter (the best place for interesting photography in Manchester and one of several places where they filmed Captain America!). A brief stop to spend some Christmas money and then into the glorious Manchester Cathedral beautifully decorated for Christmas. Amazing views from a 10th floor room in the always excellent INNSIDE (most courteous and friendly staff followed by amazing breakfasts - chocolate yule log for breakfast on New Years Day though?!)
All we need now is a break from work to recover!
We started 2017 watching the fireworks from the 19th floor of the Hilton Deansgate in Manchester and ended it 12 months later in Albert Square with thousands of other New Year revellers at the last Manchester Town Hall fireworks for a considerable time. The Town Hall will close to the public from Sunday 14th January for restoration works which will continue until 2024.
The Town Hall provides a magnificent backdrop to the fireworks, all watched over by the world famous Manchester Santa, affectionately known locally as Zippy - make your own mind up!
This year's end of year celebration had an added poignancy and was fittingly marked with a musical tribute to the 22 people who lost their lives in the tragedy of the Manchester Arena bomb and the families who continue to be affected by the events of that night. We were personally touched by the events of May 22nd 2017 and count ourselves very lucky that our son returned home safely that night.
New Year is a strange night full of what if's and what might be's. Sadness when someone you love has been lost to you and great joy for those who have found love whether that be with a new partner, child or even a pet. We've had some difficult New Year's but also some of great joy - most memorably a skating expedition with good friends which involved one member of our party accidentally sitting on someone's tray of lunch! Cue exploding crisps and coffee and great hilarity from one half of the incident!
We celebrate New Year quietly now, which this year included a first time lunch at Wahaca's - lots of lovely Mexican street food and the chance to pay with their brand new app! Paying the waitress would have been much quicker, but maybe next time...
This was followed with a fabulous evening in 'Las Vegas' at the Bridgewater Hall with the always exciting Manchester Camerata, where it would appear Frank Sinatra is alive and well and pretty amazing!
The decision to watch the fireworks in the square was made very last minute as, as is often the case in Manchester, there had been some spectacular rain showers earlier. It turned out to be the best decision of the day - a moving, warm and convivial end to 2017 followed by a spectacular beginning to 2018. We've nothing but praise for the organisers of the event, Manchester City Council and the GM Police. The event was well policed and organised and felt very safe and friendly. It was also very exciting! Nothing like a good countdown.
So here's to 2018 and whatever it may bring us all. In the words of Tony Walsh aka Longfella Poet 'We choose LOVE'.
After a busy, and at times, stressful 2017, this year's Christmas break was a much needed time to rest and recharge. Thanks to some good weather almost every day, we took the time to take our cameras out around our local area and simply walk and talk and photograph. We had sunsets and frost, icy puddles and lots of mud! A new pair of walking boots is definitely needed - soggy socks are not pleasant!
We are so lucky to share the same hobby (although at different levels of skill and experience!) and thankfully neither of us are too competitive!
Life and other