PJ Harvey at the Victoria Warehouse

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On Thursday we went to see PJ Harvey performing at the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester. I was rather a latecomer to her music. I’d always liked some of her songs but it was the release of Let England Shake 5 years ago, with it’s socially aware and political lyrics about Britain’s role in war from Gallipoli to Afghanistan, and effects on people – combatants and civilians –  set to simple but imaginative music, that got me interested in her work and which led me to exploring her back catalogue more thoroughly. She continued the political theme in her release earlier this year The Hope Six Demolition Project, with songs inspired by visits to the Middle East and Washington DC.

The audience was made up of a real mix of ages, with quite a high proportion of “oldies” so I didn’t feel out of place.

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PJ was accompanied by a band of 9 accomplished musicians, including long time collaborator John Parrish and the show started with them marching in line onto stage beating drums and playing saxophones for the first song, Chain of Keys from Hope Six Demolition Project. This led into a theatrical performance comprising songs from the last two albums with a few older numbers. They moved from one song to another without pausing to introduce the numbers. They only stopped for Polly Jean to introduce the band members (a mix of nationalities – she’s not a Brexiter) towards the end of the set.

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The performance was dominated by Polly Jean, a tiny, incredibly skinny, figure dressed in black with long trailing sleeves.

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It was an excellent show which I thoroughly enjoyed, reinforcing my admiration for a talented artist.

Fortunately we arrived early. The venue, as the name implies is a former warehouse, a large open space, standing only. We were stood within 10 metres of the stage, close to the front, and had a decent view. However it wasn’t the same for everyone. There was a barrage of complaints from people who arrived later and were stuck at the back and whose view of the stage was blocked by other people. Some tweeted that they couldn’t even get inside the main room.

The venue have responded

“In response to suggestions that this event was ‘oversold’, we would like to clarify that ticket sales were within our licensed capacity and the promoter was working strictly to our guidelines in this area. The safety of our customers and staff is always our main concern. The issues that have been flagged up are operational ones.

“Although this was a very popular gig, there was in fact room for all ticket holders, with space available towards the middle and the front of the crowd. This has been confirmed by feedback from patrons situated in these areas. However, because there was no support act, there was little movement once people had found some space to wait in.

“The Victoria Warehouse loads from the rear, which meant that as more people arrived and the initial crowds remained static, there was a concertina effect that lead to a very busy area towards the rear bar. Those caught up in this have understandably interpreted it as ‘overselling’ of the event. We sent response teams into the crowd to try to move people forwards but with little success.

I don’t think that’s good enough. It is the venue’s responsibility to manage the crowd. By their own admission they clearly failed to do this and the result was that a lot of people were disappointed and their memories will be of these problems rather than an excellent performance.

I have to say I was not impressed by the venue management. I’d contacted them earlier in the week as I wanted to check on car parking near the venue. Once they realised I wasn’t enquiring about parking for the hotel on the site, they clearly weren’t interested and didn’t have the courtesy to respond. So the bad crowd management seems to confirm that the management are only interested in taking the money from their customers and once they have that customer service goes out of the window.

Idris Khan at the Whitworth

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A new exhibition of works by the Birmingham born artist Idris Khan has just opened in the at the Whitworth in Manchester. This is the second exhibition of works by the artist at the Gallery. In 2012 they showed The Devil’s Wall (2011) three large, black, cylindrical sculptures, along with a series of works on paper.

For the current exhibition, a new wall drawing has ben created which can be seen on the right in the picture at the top of this post. It was difficult to take a photograph which fully captures the impact of this work which is made up of lines of text in English and Arabic printed onto the wall using rubber stamps – here’s a close up

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Like some of his other works, to me, the wall painting resembled a stellar explosion.

Beginning or End (2013), a meditation on Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the cyclical nature of life and existence, was created using the same approach as the wall painting. However it’s painted on a dark background

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Eternal Movement (2011) was commissioned for Sadler’s Wells Dance House was inspired by Muslim religious texts.

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It’s meant to represent part of the Hajj pilgrimage where devotees walk back and forth seven times between two mountains near Mecca.

Death of Painting (2014), a series of five oil works on paper, are displayed on the wall directly opposite the wall painting.

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They were inspired by Kasimir Malevich’s iconic black square painting. Khan’s composed  black squares were created by writing a text with thick oil sticks over and over again on paper. Close up it could be seen that the squares were not “pure” black – traces of the writing could be seen.

The Rite of Spring (2013), created from layering photographs of Stravinsky’s score on top of each other.

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From a distance the work just looked like a textured black and white pattern. Close up, however, the notes and staff of the musical notation could be made out.

I’ve enjoyed all the exhibitions shown in this new gallery space, created when the Whitworth was renovated and enlarged. The gallery is bright and airy and suits the modern works that they’ve displayed here.

Salford Quays

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Despite being about 40 miles from the sea, at one time Manchester was the third buiest port in England. This was due to the Manchester ship canal, opened in 1894, which allowed ships to sail almost into the city centre. However, their heyday didn’t last long. With the move to containerisation in the 1970’s the Port of Manchester began to decline as larger vessels couldn’t get up the canal, and they finally closed in 1982.

The biggest docks on the ship canal were in actually in Salford, covering 120 acres of water and 1,000 acres of land.  After their closure a substantial proportion of the docks were purchased by Salford Council and redevelopment began in 1985 under the Salford Quays Development Plan. Improvements were made to infrastructure and water quality and the derelict docks were developed for leisure, cultural and commercial use.

The first landmark building – the Lowry, which contains theatres and art galleries – opened on 28 April 2000 followed by the Imperial War Museum North, designed by Daniel Libeskind, in July 2002 (although that’s actually over the water in Trafford).

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Residential property has been constructed on the waterside

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and the most recent development is “Media City”, which spans both sides of the canal and it’s tenants include the BBC and ITV

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After we’d had a look round the Lowry we had a mooch around the quays, looking at the buildings and bridges and snapping some photos.

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Husbands and Sons at the Royal Exchange

They say it’s grim up north, but it’s miserable in the East Midlands, at least that’s the picture D H Lawrence paints in the three plays that were performed simultaneously in the latest production by the Royal Exchange in Manchester.
Lawrence is best known for his novels such as Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Lover set in the Nottinghamshire coalfields where he grew up. But he was also a playwright. The Royal Exchange have taken three of his plays, A Collier’s Friday Night, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd and The Daughter-in-Law, and combined them into a single production. All three are domestic dramas set in the homes of mining families, in communities similar to that in which Lawrence grew up.

The Royal Exchange is a “theatre in the round” where the audience is close to the action. For this production the set took us inside the homes of the three families with plans for their houses marked out on the floor. The three plays were, in effect played simultaneously with the action interwoven, flitting from one home to the other in turn. However, when the action was taking place in one household, the actors in the other parts of the set weren’t still. Movement and domestic actions continued in the background. Personally I found this somewhat distracting. And although the set was meant to portray neighbouring houses in a mining village, there was little attempt at interaction between the three families. The production still largely came across as three seperate plays stitched togethor somewhat unconvincingly. One of the defining characteristics of mining villages was their sense of community and this was missing here.

As usual with the Royal Exchange the acting was extremely good. Anne-Marie Duff, well known from TV, is featured in the advertisments for the production and plays the female lead in The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd gave a strong performance. Martin Marquez, as her husband, was a convincing drunkard. However, I was particularly impressed with Julia Ford who played the wife of a miner in A Collier’s Friday Night, who favoured her son over her daughter and husband. The son, like Lawrence, was a college boy and the play echoes the theme of Sons and Lovers. One quibble. I know quite a few people from the East Midlands and I have to say that the majority of the actors’ attempts at a Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire accent were far off the mark.

I’ve never been able to finish a D H Lawrence novel. I’ve tried, but I dislike his writing style and his themes. And these plays were not unlike his novels. Men are men and are hard, cruel and unsympathetic. His women are strong but badly treated by their men folk. Life is hard with little to smile about. Everyone is miserable. Lawrence’s work is about individuals who are doomed to a life of gloom and misery. There is no sense of the strong community and fellowship that was characteristic of mining areas. Little to suggest the determination to fight back. There is talk of a strike in The Daughter-in-Law, but the main emphasis is the domestic strife between the wife, her husband and her mother in law. No sign of the good things of life. It can’t be denied that life was hard in mining communities in the early 20th Century. However, there were little rays of sunshine that could bring joy and some happiness to the lives of the miners and their families. But not according to D H Lawrence.


So something of a “curate’s egg”. Largely unsympathetic characters and, for me, an unrealistic portrayal of traditional mining communities. But strong performances by an excellent cast.



Hondartza Fraga: The Sea Full Stop

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We were in Manchester on Saturday and called into the City Art Gallery. While looking around this small exhibition of works by Hondartza Fraga, a Spanish artist based in Leeds, caught our eye.

This display of drawings, animation and photography by artist Hondartza Fraga is a contemporary response to the seascapes in The Dutch at Sea exhibition. These imaginary sea views explore our understanding of the sea, and give the focus of a seascape back to the sea.

The artist grew up in northern Spain, near to the sea and moved to Britain to study

I moved from a large peninsula to a smaller island and yet I was further from the sea than ever before.

Unconsciously my work started to search for the sea again, as a way of coping with the distance. I was making work about the sea as view from webcams, from movies, from old postcards… I was collecting representations of the sea. Experiencing it through technology, literature and imagination. (Artist’s blog)

The works in the exhibition included drawings, photographs and video animations. I particularly liked her photograph from a series she has taken of old books about the sea angled and lit so they looked just like seascapes (see the photo at the top of this post taken from here). The photograph, like a number of the other works in the exhibition, were from a project she undertook as a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence,exploring the maritime archives of the Maritime Historical Studies Centre at the University of Hull.

Another couple of works I particularly liked  included Okeanos a drawing of the world ocean

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The artist explains on her website

Oceanus is a figure from Greek mythology (Okeanos in greek), personifying the great river encircling the world. Originally thought to represent just the bodies of salt water known to the ancient Greeks, but as geography became more accurate, Oceanus came to signify the stranger, more unknown waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The drawings present a map of the world’s oceans I have constructed based on maps of constant-scale and Myriahedral projection. I have omitted the land completely and drawn the coast as a continuous line. (Hondartza Fraga website)

and Lines to Sea (2012), a drawing based on a Portolan Chart.

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Portolan Charts often follow the ‘Rule of Marteloio”, the grid is drawn here removed from any references to land or sea, drawn as rope to evoke fishing nets or lace work.

The exhibitionalso included a couple of video animations. One based on original etchings found in a book about the voyages to explore the North-West Passage from the Hull Maritime Museum collection, found during her Leverhulme residency

Passages for the World from Hondartza Fraga on Vimeo.

The second animation was based on some of the Dutch seascapes in the adjacent gallery.

An interesting exhibition which made me want to find out more about her work.