Salford Lads Club Blue Plaque Exhibition

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

The red brick arched doorway and facade of Salford Lads Club has been seen countless times in a set of black and white photographs of the Smiths taken outside the club by Stephen Wright in the mid-80s.

Since then thousands of fans have flocked to the location to have their photo taken at the same spot. But what many don’t realise is that you can visit Salford Lads Club. In fact many visitors who go there to have their photo taken are invited by volunteers to come inside and have a look around.

As you enter, the tiles, brickwork and window frames seem to exude an atmosphere of the past. The Smiths room contains memorabilia and the signatures of ‘pilgrims’ who have come here.

There is a room with snooker tables and photos on the walls showing young club members on field trips going back decades.

Upstairs the pristine green snooker tables are the orginal ones that have been used for over 100 years. In the boxing rooms I could imagine myself in a scene from the film ‘Rocky’.

But it’s important to remember this is not a museum, it’s a working club for young people, today providing activities for both girls and boys.

The building has undergone extensive renovation. Practically every room has been restored as closely as possible to how it was over 100 years ago.

Salford Lads Club is one of the most surprising and special places in the Manchester area, and wherever you’re from from you’ll receive a special Salford welcome and perhaps a personal guided tour.

To coincide with the Manchester International Festival 2017, Salford Lads Club put on an exhibition with tongue-in-cheek blue plaques. Project Manager Leslie Holmes told me he had been to London and seen them everywhere and decided to create a humorous exhibition on this theme. The plaques will put on display again at other events. I include just a selection here. To see them all you’ll need to go and visit Salford Lads Club.

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Aidan’s review of Cotton Panic by Jane Horrocks – Why mainstream reviewers got it wrong

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic


As I understand it, one of the aims of the MIF is to stretch artistic boundaries, to encourage people, both performers and audiences, to move out of their comfort zone, to experiment, take risks and try out new things.

That’s certainly true of Cotton Panic, a unique combination of theatre, music, on-screen projections and sound effects, narrated and performed by Jane Horrocks, created by Jane Horrocks, Nick Vivian and the electronic band Wrangler. The show was fittingly held inside the decaying Upper Campfield Market hall on Deansgate.

I looked at a few reviews in mainstream newspapers and as usual I found them unhelpful, as they didn’t understand the concept and contained petty criticisms.

I decided to write a review myself to give proper credit to this very powerful and inspiring musical-theatrical creation.

In fact, I was so impressed with Cotton Panic I went to see it twice.

So what was it about the show that grabbed me? There are many reasons, many aspects overlooked and ignored by the reviewers.

One of the most striking things is it is self-contradictory, a merging of opposites. It combines modern electronic music and imagery to tell a story that takes place in the mid-19th century. Folk songs are combined with contemporary techno, produced on stage by the three musicians working behind the semi-transparent screen. It was exciting to see an old computer with glowing lights on the left, and a reel to reel tape recorder on the right. What would the people of 1862 have made of these instruments?

A couple of the reviews describe it as ‘gig-theatre’, a term I find condescending. It’s a mixture of music, drama, dance, on-screen imagery presented on a stage in front of a standing audience.

This is a story that’s an important part of the history of Manchester. It’s our history and it’s still relevant today. The cotton famine came about due to the American Civil War. Southern American ports were blockaded by the north. The supply of cotton was stopped, causing the Lancashire cotton industry to grind to a halt. This caused huge poverty. But the workers of Lancashire remained in solidarity with the American president due to his opposition to slavery. This fact is documented in Manchester’s Abraham Lincoln statue, which appears on screen.

The story is told by Jane Horrocks, sometimes singing in her very high voice, sometimes narrating, and occasionally shrieking, against the loud, techno musical backdrop,

The three huge screens, one behind the performers and two on either side, show images projected by industrial size digital projectors. Cotton dust like a snow storm is a constant feature as well as a ghostly female figure that could be called ‘Queen Cotton’.

At other times, we see quotations by authors describing the events of the time and the terrible poverty. We see a gigantic face of Glenda Jackson, reading a dignified description of terrible poverty that’s still shocking after a century and a half.

Later we see a facial close-up of an African-British actor – I’ve not managed to find out his name – delivering more powerful quotations.

It’s always very interesting when new connections and juxtapositions are made. The deafening roar of the factory machines is echoed in the industrial beats of the electronic music. Could it be that Manchester’s electro sound was inspired by its industrial heritage? Maybe. A woman in factory overalls does a traditional clog dance to a contemporary beat. The clogs looked like they are very good quality, I wonder where they were made.

There were many transatlantic echoes. In the early part of the show, the Lancashire cotton towns are read out in time with the music, and later, towns in the southern US states. Jane Horrocks waves a mid-19th century US flag. Later there are contemporary media images of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, interspersed with glimpses of mayhem on the streets, Donald Trump and Brexit.

Jane Horrocks is the lynchpin of the performance, holding it all together from beginning to end. She is a unique actor, a talented singer and a powerful narrator, her voice often amplified with a megaphone. She can transform herself from an angry agitator into a helpless child beggar, emphasised by her very high voice.

In one section, she wanders into the audience, repeating the words ‘Can you help me a bit?’, over and over again, and then then she is lifted up on the shoulders of fellow performers. It was moving – you could see it in the reactions of audience members.

In the reviews I gather that commentators found this and other sections a bit long and perhaps self-indulgent. I totally reject this criticism. The long sections emphasise drudgery and repetitiveness, whether of a 10-hour working day in a cotton mill, or a long day spent begging in the streets for a few pennies. The architecture of the piece is spread out and not curtailed in order to pander to a short attention span.

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market before its conversion for ‘Cotton Panic’

I’ve heard people complain films are too long, like 2001 ‘Oh, it was too long’. No, that’s wrong! Its length is the whole point! It’s like complaining that The Cruel Sea has too much sea in it, or Lawrence of Arabia has too much desert. Cotton Panic has long, repetitive sections that help to tell the story. If they are longer than the three second sound bite editing culture of today, so be it.

What other interesting juxtapositions are there? I loved the use of Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones in connection to the rhythm of the cotton spinning machines. In the latter stages of the story, the cotton workers decide to go for a meeting at the Free Trade Hall, which is just around the corner from the venue. She sings the words ‘Anger is an energy’ from the song by Johnny Rotten, co-founder of The Sex Pistols, who performed at an infamous gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.

I was astonished at the statistics and learned a lot. Whilst there was much poverty, some cotton Lancashire workers earned very high wages, the highest in the country. Seeing Cotton Famine has encouraged me to find out more about this forgotten period in Manchester’s history.

I saw the performance twice – on Thursday 14th and again on Saturday 16th and both times I was captivated. The second time I stood near the front, close to the stage and watched as Jane Horrocks came out into the audience just a few feet away. On both occasions I saw it, it was absorbing and the time flew.

It’s a shame the reviewers failed to appreciate these qualities. I often think that reviews should be mostly written by people who know how to appreciate a piece of music or theatre, rather than those who don’t, or perhaps they were asleep, or thinking about going to the pub afterwards.

This was a show about our city, Manchester, our history, our region, presented using the medium of the music that came out of our city – techno / electronic, presented by artists from around here. It has a clear and simple concept. It was very powerful musically, theatrically and historically and was perfectly in the spirit of the Manchester International Festival. I unreservedly give it a five star rating.


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2017 redesign for Bootle Street (St Michaels) – My initial reactions

Hodder Architects model St Michaels

Model of Bootle St / St Michaels proposal. On the right: Architect Stephen Hodder MBE chatting with a member of the public.

In 2016, plans for the Bootle Street site (St Michaels) were unveiled and I was horrified, along with many others. My reactions are in this article.

On Wednesday 12 July 2017, a new vision for the site was presented at Manchester Central Library. Manchester-based Hodder architects have taken over the project and they have started again from scratch. I was relieved and encouraged by what I saw, but I still have some reservations.

The police station façade and pub are to be retained, though the syagogue will be demolished. The interaction with the streets on both sides is much improved and the two dark towers have been replaced with a single glass skyscraper that has been moved further away from the town hall and rotated by ninety degrees.

This change is intended to reduce the impact on the surrounding area, but there is still an impact!

I believe that in Manchester’s Victorian inner area, the roofline should be respected and there should be no tall buildings. This is the policy in Paris and Dublin and I believe it is right for the inner part of Manchester city centre, around the town hall.

I accept the arguments against keeping the Reform Synagogue and I understand why its users would prefer to have a new facility. I hope it will be properly documented for the future before it is demolished.

The most encouraging thing for me as a long-time heritage campaigner is that they have listened and responded to peoples’ reactions and criticisms. There has been a dialogue and as a result, the plans have been changed. People have had an impact.

The input of Historic England has had a big influence on the project. Their advice has been extensively taken into account.

Manchester Shield are to be commended for their tireless campaigning, which has produced a result.

It’s a great feeling to know that the police station façade and the Abercromby will not now be lost. I look forward to seeing how both look as part of a new development.

Bootle St Police Station

Bootle St Police Station

I see the police station façade as a monument to the work of the police in past decades. To destroy it would have been to blot out their memory.

But the height and dimensions of the tower still give me cause for concern. On the city centre model, it’s by far the tallest structure in the central area.

The plans are going to be developed further and there will be another exhibition later in the year. I look forward to seeing it.

But there is one important point I would like to make. Drawings, photographs and models are not adequate to give a realistic impression of how the development will look when completed.

I would like to see the architecture presented as a 3D visualisation. At the next exhibition there should be a computer and a 3D VR headset for use by visitors.

I would like to be able to move around the development and view it from all angles. I’m a fan of virtual reality, we have the HTC Vive system at home. The technology is well developed and has an important use in projects like this one.

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Review of Kraftwerk live in Brighton, 07.06.2017

Kraftwerk live in Brighton 07.06.2017Kraftwerk are a contradiction. They use synthesisers and computers yet their music is full of expressiveness. They deal with complex themes of modernity and technology, yet their lyrics are often slogans or single words, often in multiple languages. On stage the four band members barely tap their feet to the music, and yet their electronic beat is so infectious, it has been the inspiration for dance genres including Hip-Hop, Techno and House.

I saw Kraftwerk at the Brighton Centre on 7 June, 2017. I travelled 260 miles from Manchester by Megabus and Southern Railway, and it was well worth the journey.

There were queues in front of the hall, which overlooks the sea, and after a long wait while the audience took their seats, the lights went down, the electronic beat started, four men walked onto the stage, each wearing a body suit stamped with a wireframe design. They stood behind four electronic musical instruments, futuristic  lecterns, lit up from inside.

On a huge screen behind them, shapes, patterns and words danced in 3D. We viewed them through stereoscopic glasses provided on entry. Each band member operated his electronic control centre – or was it a keyboard – gently tapping a foot or pressing a hand on a button or key.

The show progressed with dazzling and pulsating beats, patterns and slogans: “Eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht.” For people, like me, who understand German, it was great. Kraftwerk make German sound cool.

They performed many of their greatest hits, some instrumental, others with words, sung by co-founder Ralf Hütter, who stood on the left. It was clear that he was actually playing the keyboard and singing live. The versions were quite different from the records and had an improvised feel.

I loved their live version of Autobahn with its computer-generated images of a VW Beetle and classic Mercedes driving on an imagined motorway in Germany some time in the seventies.

Radioaktivität has gained new significance since the seventies. The place names flashed up on screen told their own story: “HIROSHIMA – HARRISBURG – TSCHERNOBYL – SELLAFIELD – FUKUSHIMA”.

Each song and its accompanying graphics was an exploration in sound and graphics. Tour de France, Trans Europe Express show Kraftwerk are not just a German but European phenomenon.

The time went quickly and sadly the curtains closed. But there was a surprise in store, I won’t say what it is because it would be a spoiler! Suffice to say it was intriguing, humorous and typically Kraftwerk!

They returned for an encore, and played long, mesmerising tracks with that infectious, groundbreaking electro beat. Abstract waveforms and patterns flashed hypnotically on the screen above. A few people got up and danced at the front enjoying a mini-rave.

Finally each member went off separately, taking the final bow. Ralf Hütter was the last to depart, and that was the end of the Kraftwerk concert, an experience I won’t forget for a long time.



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