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.

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


5-stars

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.

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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Before & After Manchester Volume 1 – Video slide show documenting change in Manchester

This is the first in a series of video slide show presentations on the theme of ‘Before & After’. From my archive, I have selected photographs of buildings and locations in Manchester and photographed how the same scene looked a few years later. The changes are the result of demolition, restoration, new construction.

Locations featured in this slide show include the Hacienda night club on Whitworth Street, the Rochdale Canal, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Piccadilly Basin and the Whitworth Art gallery.

I’ve tried to match up the viewpoint as closely as I can, but it’s not always possible.

‘Then and now’ is one of my central themes as someone who is interested in the local area and how it is changing. I’ve done the ‘now’ photos for several ‘Then and Now’ books, including Manchester and Liverpool.

I have taken a large number of photographs since 1996 and what I find visually fascinating is how places change, often in unexpected ways. In some cases, locations become worse, not better. I have campaigned to save buildings under threat and prevent bad construction, with mixed success.

I have written subtitles in both English and German. This is because my main activity is now language trainer and I want to provide clear German language material for my students based locally, as well as English material for people in Germany and beyond. I often give local tours to people from other parts of Europe, including Germany.

Please comment via my @AidanEyewitness Twitter account.

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Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

www.theportico.org.uk

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

www.manchester.gov.uk/centrallibrary

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.

Review of the Strawberry Studios exhibition at Stockport Museum

Stockport Market Hall and St Mary's Church What’s Stockport famous for? It’s the last stop on the West Coast line from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, it’s seven miles south east of the city centre and it’s my home town! But what else is it famous for? Oh yes, it’s the home of a groundbreaking recording studio that existed from 1967 to 1993, Strawberry Studios.

So what made Strawberry Studios different? The first thing is that it wasn’t in London. The music industry has been mostly based in London – it still is. But in the mid-sixties, a visionary group of people wanted to set up a studio in the north.

The driving force was Peter Tattersall and Eric Stewart. It was named after Eric’s favourite song, Strawberry Field, which was released in 1967.

It originally started in another location but moved to an industrial building on Waterloo Road in 1968. Incidentally this is just by the location of the Stockport air disaster of 1967.

They wanted to provide a recording facility to match those in London, but close to Manchester. They offered cheaper rates at night so that local bands could afford to record there. They made full use of the latest recording technology.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

The band 10cc were closely involved in the studios and they recorded many classic songs there, the most famous of which is “I’m Not In Love”, which featured groundbreaking use of tape loops to create rich layered vocals. It was a number one UK hit in 1975 and reached number two in the US. Many other artists recorded at Strawberry, including Paul McCartney, Neil Sedaka, the Bay City Rollers and most notably, Joy Division.

Despite the success of I’m Not In Love, 10cc split in 1976, continuing as two separate entities. The studio sadly closed in 1993, but the name survives both as a legend of music and as the name of the building.

In the seventies I lived just 10 minutes from Strawberry Studios and though I was active in music in the eighties, I never had any involvement there. The achievements of 10cc and Strawberry Studios are a source of local pride in Stockport and so in the year of the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the studio, it was natural that there should be a commemoration and exhibition.

It opened on 27 January, 2017 and though I couldn’t make the opening, I attended in late February. It’s housed in Staircase House in Stockport’s historic Market Place. The house contains exhibits about the history of Stockport on five levels and I can highly recommend it.

For me, the high point of my visit was entering the 10cc exhibition in the basement exhibition area. The two adjoining rooms are packed with many fascinating objects, musical instruments, photographs, videos and audio recordings.

Strawberry Studios exhibition Eric Stewart's Semi acoustic guitar

Eric Stewart’s Gibson ES 335 semi-acoustic guitar is proudly placed in a display cabinet. The guitar was used on all four 10cc albums.

The exhibition is packed with lots more artifacts, including 45 rpm discs, badges, amplifiers, music cassettes, brochures, post cards and the original sound equipment used by producer Martin Hannett.

Strawberry Studios exhibition

I was intrigued to see an original Marshall Time Modulator, and another piece of equipment which had the name ‘Martin Hannett’ inside the case. There was also an example of the ‘gizmo’ a device invented by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. An electronic copy of the studio bookings diary from 1980 to 1981 contains many famous names.

I was overwhelmed by just how many fascinating items of memorabilia have been crammed into such a relatively small space. I found it all fascinating and absorbing.

I was lucky enough to meet the curator of the exhibition, music historian Peter Wadsworth. He told me that the exhibition was an extension of his PhD thesis, which is on the subject of Strawberry Studios.

For anyone who is interested in the history of music in the Manchester area, this exhibition is a must-see. And if like me, you lived through the Strawberry Studios era, and remember the artists and songs of that time, it will bring back many happy musical memories.

I am in Love – runs from 27th January 2017 until 29th January 2018. Stockport Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 11am-5pm. Entry to the exhibition is free. Stockport Museum is located at 30 Market Place, Stockport, SK1 1ES.  

Stockport Story / Stockport Museum

StoStrawberryExhib

Why the Bootle St plans (St Michael’s) must be rejected

Bootle St police station facade

Following criticisms of the 2016 proposals, a redesign was produced in mid-2017 by Hodder Architects. Read my initial reactions in this article.

After the police moved out of the 1930s Bootle St station, the property was purchased. Initially the impression was given that the old police building was to be converted into a hotel. In 2016 the present plans were announced. They are shocking in their scale, destructiveness and lack of respect for the surrounding area and must be rejected. Here are the reasons why.

1) The area doesn’t ‘urgently’ need redevelopment.
It’s said the site needs to be redeveloped. This is not true. The site is one of countless parts of the city centre where a building has been vacated. The urgency lies with the developers, who obviously are keen to see a financial return on their investment. It’s perfectly okay for the site to remain as it is for the time being. Better to wait a few years for a better development that suits the location than to rush ahead with an inappropriate one like this.

 

The Abercromby pub July 2015

2) The Abercromby pub will be destroyed
Pubs have a special status, especially when they are of historical significance. They are often the only buildings to survive from the earlier city. That’s certainly true of the Abercromby, which was first built in the early 1800s. It has connections to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, a key development in history. Not only that, it is a successful business and a well-loved watering hole in the city. 4152 names are on a petition to save the Abercromby. People come to Manchester for its uniqueness and historic character. That aspect will be degraded if the pub is destroyed. The developers have tried to downgrade the value of the pub by saying that some parts were built in the 20th century. That argument is not valid as other parts of the pub are original. It’s the name, significance and role in the history of Manchester that’s important. If the development goes ahead, people will never forget that a well-loved pub was destroyed to make way for it.

Manchester Central Synagogue

3) The Reform Synagogue will be demolished.
There’s an attitude among planners that dictates ‘If it’s in our way and not listed, demolish it.’ The result of this tendency is for scores of interesting buildings in the second and third category to be lost. It’s not just the highest grade of historic buildings that help to define the character of the city. Many less remarkable ones do as well, and they should be kept wherever possible. The Reform Synagogue may not be in the highest category as regards architectural merit, but it is still a place of worship and deserves respect. It was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Manchester city centre after the war (completed 1953). Just imagine the significance of a new synagogue in Manchester after what happened in Europe only 10 years previously. It must have encapsulated a sense of hope, rebirth and optimism. And now it is to be demolished. I’ve been aware of it for many years and have photographed it quite a few times. It has an austere elegance that’s far superior to the architecture the planners want to replace it with. They say a new place of worship will be provided – along the lines of Cross St Chapel – but a new facility can never replace the history and aura of the original. The building is certainly run down and in need of renovation, and so it should be renovated. And in passing, the developers have chosen the name “St Michael’s” as he is the patron saint of police officers, whose former building they are going to demolish. But co-incidentally St Michael is also protector of the Jewish religion.

ManPoliceStnSouthmill-F710

4) Bootle Street police station façade will be destroyed.
The police station was built in the 1930s and served the city through the war years and the decades that followed. It was in use for around seventy years. By the end of the period it had become unsuitable for a modern police force. It’s said it was like working on the set of Life on Mars. The police have moved out, but that should not be the end of the story for this building. I wouldn’t advocate keeping the brick built part, but the white stone eastern façade is a striking piece of architecture: stolid, traditional, neo-classical and not fashionable with today’s planners and architects. One of the superb aspects of the façade is how it fits in with the streetscape. Looking along Southmill Street, the Victorian brick-built façades alternate with the white stone facade, followed by 19th century façades leading to Albert Square. The interplay of styles, colours and materials is an essential aspect of the area. All that will all be lost if the planners get their wish and the façade is wrecked. And there’s another aspect to keep in mind. Now that the police have gone, the façade functions as a monument to their work over the decades. In this sense the façade functions as a memorial, and memorials should be kept. Some people criticise ‘façadism’ but there are many successful examples of it in Manchester.

5) Development is inappropriate in a ‘quiet zone’.
Cities don’t have to have to be ‘developed to death’. Cities should have light and shade. They should have busy parts, quiet parts and this is a quiet area. Bounded by two community assets: the synagogue and the pub. They are close to a historic concert hall façade – the Free Trade Hall – a superb piece of ‘façadism’, and the site of a memorable event in history – the Peterloo Massacre. It is already designated as a conservation area. The construction of a brash, destructive, materialistic commercial development like this is completely out of character with the area. The Friends Meeting House dates from the early 19th century and is a place of quiet contemplation. The new development with its towering blocks, bars and restaurants will just a few feet across the street from the rear of the Quakers meeting house.

6) Towers too high, too close to the town hall
One of the most damaging aspects of the plan is the imposition of two massive towers. They stand too close to the town hall. From the town hall balcony they will screen a significant part of the view to the south west. Viewed from the south west they will obscure the town hall clock tower. They will diminish and encroach upon the character and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian square. It would appear that the developers have had to resort to oversized towers in order to fully realise the commercial potential of this rather limited site. I’m a fan of tall buildings but not in a location like this. Make Architects already have a controversial development in their portfolio. 5 Broadgate in London was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. An article on BDOnline states: “Make’s building arrogantly ignores the existing urban context.” The same looks to be true of this proposal. The black shiny exterior gives them a high-tech quality, reminiscent of a science fiction film and totally out of character in the Victorian setting.

7) It adds nothing new to Manchester
The development just adds more bars, offices and apartments to the city. There is no new cultural offering, no new significant piece of architecture, no new community benefit. It offers more of what Manchester already has an abundance of. Just one block away, the Great Northern and Bar 38 have provided the same type of amenities since 2000. Spinningfields offers something very similar just across Deansgate.

Bar 38 20 July 2000 Bar 38 and the Great Northern Piazza 20 July 2000 about 200 yards from the proposed development.

If the plan is approved, it will send out a negative message, further eroding the already tarnished reputation of Manchester City Council as regards planning decisions. The popular voice will be very harsh on St Michael’s: ‘They knocked down three buildings to make way for that? How could they do that? What on earth is wrong with them?’

If the development were located on a different site, further out of the city centre, and without the need for demolition of heritage buildings, I would have no particular objection to it.

But in this location, the development is inappropriate and harmful. I believe most local citizens will agree with me and for this reason, planning permission must be refused.

PLEASE NOTE: Since I wrote this article in 2016, a revised proposal has been produced. Read my initial reaction to it here.

Photographing lightning – Video tutorial

On a visit to North Wales I unexpectedly witnessed a spectacular lightning storm. I had my camera and tripod with me as I had hoped to take some photos of the night sky from somewhere in Anglesey.

A cloudy sky got in the way of that idea, but later in the evening, I saw lightning flashes in the distance. At around 1.30 in the morning, I was standing on the waterfront in the town of Beaumaris, overlooking the Menai Straits with a view towards the mountains, which were shrouded in darkness of course. Every so often, purply-blue lightning flashes lit up the clouds, silhouetting the mountain tops, including Mount Snowdon over to the right.

I had to photograph this, so I set up the tripod and placed the camera in position.

I have rarely photographed lightning and I needed to think on my feet.

Perhaps if I did a long exposure – say 30 seconds – I would be able to catch one of the flashes. The trouble with that is that during the long exposure, the glare from the street lights becomes visible.

I decided to set the camera to a slower shutter speed and to fire the shutter repeatedly. Sooner or later a flash of lightning would occur while the shutter was open.

But what about aperture and ISO?

I referred back to my simple approach to using the camera in Manual mode. The principle is: first set the camera to f/5.6, 1/60 sec and 200 ISO and adjust the shutter speed until the exposure is right. In this case the shutter speed needed to be much longer in order to capture a flash of lightning, so I decided on one second. With the camera pointing towards the dark sky, I began to fire the shutter repeatedly. Most exposures were completely black, but then I caught the first flash of lightning and looked at it on the screen. It was too dark, so I increased the ISO from 200 to 1600, three stops above the standard 200, and I continued to press the shutter.

CmLightning-G828-IMG_3134

I was very excited to see the first successful image of the mountains and the clouds all lit up in that eerie purply light. I continued to press the shutter resulting in lots of black images on the camera LCD, but in amongst them, I caught some spectacular shots of the lightning. As the storm developed, the intensity of the lightning increased, making it brighter and brighter, and I had to put down the ISO down to 200.

Finally I saw thunderbolts jumping from the clouds to the mountaintops and managed to photograph a couple of them.

It was exciting, and a great example of how photography enables you to see things you can’t see with your eyes alone. The burst of lightning, lasting just a tiny split second, is preserved in the photograph and you can study the mountains, the clouds, the boats and the reflections on the water.

LIghtning over Snowdonia - 2

Soon, heavy rain started to pour down, I put the camera and tripod in the boot and sat in the driver’s seat as the raindrops pelted down onto the windscreen.

Knowing what to do in this situation depends on having a good knowledge of the basic principles of photography and how shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together.

It doesn’t matter what genre, knowing the simple basic principles are the key to taking successful photographs.

I teach these principles in my one-to-one photography courses and (planned) online courses.

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