Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wet January

Of all the months to stop drinking, January must be the most stupid. After all, what else are you going to be doing? It rains every day, you're back at work, you've not seen half of your friends since that drunken Xmas do in mid December, and to top it all the cultural options are severely limited. Yes, by the third week, there's suddenly a surfeit of Oscar nominated films, but it can sometimes seem that we're expected to be accidental Puritans in January.

For my part I had a cold first week back at work, so I'd have missed anything going on if anything had been going on. By week 2 I was craving cultural experience. My friend Gareth Smith had a free show at the Whitworth Art Gallery with "The Winter Fly", a charming 30 minute animation with live score for piano and cello. It's also on in Liverpool next week and this Saturday in his home town of Hull. Suitable for all the family! I love things like this which are so unexpected - and it was great to see it in the Whitworth in front of an audience of close to 200.

Sunday before last was Delia Derbyshire Day, a quirky celebration of the late electronic music pioneer. Though her connection to Manchester isn't an obvious one, we now host her archive, and moreover, I think the city had adopted her as a kind of kindred spirit. Whereas most celebrated musicians are often blessed with an official history, Delia is intrigueing because of how mysterious both her life and work were. A BBC employee for many years, her most famous work was the arrangement of Ron Grainger's "Doctor Who" theme, her contribution to this iconic piece incalculable. As part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop she was a rare female pioneer in electronic music. Because her career after that - and until her death - was so apparently insubstantial, Delia is fascinating for both her own work, and the "what might have been." This year's Delia Derbyshire Day saw a sold out programme at Home, with two films for which she'd created the soundtrack, and then two artistic commissions that used her work - as a female electronic avant garde pioneer - as their starting point. In addition, a live "pop up" performance in the foyer of Home saw Janet Wolstenholme perform an eclectic soundtrack of improvisational sounds inspired by Delia.

The big draw of this year's day were the two films that included Delia's music. "One of these days" a Dutch film from 1973 sees the camera following a beautiful artist through her day, responding to the world around her, with Delia's music composed alongside the film maker's vision. Its a powerful piece of verite, half drama, half faction, and fascinating to see the Amsterdam and Rotterdam of the early seventies so vividly. It was great that the director, Madelon Hooykaas, was able to come along. The second film is more of interest for its historical anomaly - Delia's piano music accompanying a 1980 film "Two Houses", a time when it had been thought she was no longer creative. The film itself - arts council funded - is a curio, a slow rumination on regeneration, through two different stories of houses being renovated. The film uses still photography and voiceovers to tell its story. Perhaps we've seen too many house makeover shows now, but despite its careful aesthetic it seems mainly of historic interest.The other side of Delia day - alongside her own work - is commissioning artists who can take inspiration from it, and this can be about the music, or about her technique and persona. MMU's Mary Stark meticulously edited film collage played to a soundtrack of Delia's sounds, and in its frenetic editing reflected Derbyshire's own process. Though finished just days before, it echoed an aesthetic that seemed of that late sixties period of experimentation - reminding me a little of a short film from fellow School of Art alumni, John Latham, that was revived a few months ago at the Holden Gallery. An opposite approach was taken with the 2nd commission, by the Architects of Rosslyn who performed a live soundtrack to a series of short films by the excellent Di Mainstone. These films, short intense performance pieces, beautifully executed were accompanied by a mix of musical instruments - acoustic and electronic.

Manchester is quickly becoming the capital of the semi-improvised performance, I think, with a fluidity between musical collaborators that encourages the unexpected. At Poets and Players at the Whitworth, three poets, Zaffar Kunial, Maurice Riordan and Caitriona O’Reilly were joined by Kirsty McGee and Chris Davies. A quickly assembled tribute to Bowie by the musicians was a lovely version of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love", whilst McGee, whose music has been featured in a movie by Danny Boyle, also gave us her party piece of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" on a Jew's harp.
This was one of four literary events I managed in January - Melissa Lee Houghton at Manky Poets in Chorlton, Verbose last Monday in Fallowfield featuring tutors from the short story course at Edge Hill, and last night Leanne Bridgewater reading her new collection - a long fragmented piece called "Confessions of a Cyclist" - alongside James Byrne at Storm & Golden Sky in Liverpool..

I somehow also managed a couple of proper gigs - my first visit to Hebden Bridge Trades Club to see Lonelady supported by ex-Pipette, Welsh language electronicist Gwenno, both were excellent. Hebden has on the one hand made remarkable progress since the floods at Christmas, on the other, you realise that though the TV cameras have moved away, the devastation was massive, and sandbags, closed shops and cafes, and piles of discarded possessions indicate some of the awfulness people have been through. Finally, in this month of clearly not staying in much, I caught on Thursday, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright-Roche in a wonderfully intimate performance at Ruby Lounge. With a family dynasty that includes Loudon, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Rufus, and Suzy and Terri Roche, they played songs from their recent album written by most of them, with a great self-deprecating conversation with the audience in between tracks. A truly treasurable concert.

I'm probably a little too blogged-out to write up whats coming up in February, other than this week the art season kicks off again including the 30th anniversary of Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art on Thursday, and the latest show at HOME on Friday by experimental film makers AL and AL.  

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