Manchester Weekender

Forty-eight hours of art, culture, music, film, food, festivals and more

By Lee Isherwood | 10 October 2011

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Forty-eight hours of art, culture, music, film, food, festivals, literature, walks, politics, poetry, photography, theatre and spectacle all wrapped up into a single weekend.

With six of the city’s festivals (including an art triennial) happening, the opening of high-profile art exhibitions and the start of the city’s music and theatre seasons, Manchester in October has always been culturally rich. To showcase this, the city’s ambitious festivals and cultural institutions collaborate on a full weekend’s worth of extra special events, resulting in three days of constant cultural celebration hand-picked by Creative Tourist. It’s all about engaging conversations, big questions, daring performances, secret places and cool spaces.

These are the highlights from a full programme of more than 70 events, ranging from exhibitions, talks, workshops, performances, walking tours, boat trips, cycle rides and screenings:

The Manchester Weekender 2011 launches with a decadent evening of cabaret and cocktails at the opening of Adolphe Valette: A Pioneer of Impressionism in Manchester at The Lowry with music from the divine Swing out Sister. Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell will serenade the city with a selection of songs from iconic Mancunian bands including Joy Division, The Smiths, and New Order, all performed with a glamorous French twist. Closing The Manchester Weekender this year is an in-conversation of epic proportions. Framed by the glorious backdrop of Manchester’s Great Hall and its stunning Ford Madox Brown murals, and marking the publication of a book of his song lyrics, Jarvis Cocker – one of the most iconic performers of the last twenty years – will discuss with Dave Haslam, DJ and writer, what it means to be a man-of-ideas-and-artistry, and a cultural-provocateur.

There’s a literature-music mash-up of the highest order with Manchester Literature Festival’s Portrait of Music and Words at the RNCM. Acclaimed poet Michael Symmons Roberts has been commissioned to write new poems responding to the evening’s Manchester Camerata programme which includes Mozart arias and his Symphony No 40 and Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations – hear both the poems and the music that inspired them live on the same evening. Finally, the ever-popular Whitworth After Hours has invited photographic collective BlackLab to respond to its Dark Matters exhibition. Watch as images collide and collude with film, soundscapes, slogans and texts.

This year’s Weekender offers a unique programme of performances in unusual spaces, such as The Portico, an historic library that’s something of a hidden gem. Instead of checking out books, visitors can check out the homespun folk and grassroots jazz performed by local chanteuse Liz Green (and enjoy retro high tea at the same time.) From the intimate and acoustic to the grander in scale: Manchester Cathedral will echo to the voices of cloistered nuns, as Sarah Dunant and early music group Musica Secreta present a semi-dramatised version of Dunant’s novel Sacred Hearts for Manchester Literature Festival. Set in the convent of Santa Caterina, it tells the story of two spirited young women who struggle to adapt to the rigid life of the nunnery, this is a uniquely atmospheric event that will transport the audience to 16th Century Italy. Be transported to a different place entirely with The Beating Wing Orchestra, a Manchester based international music collective that includes musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds. The group will stage a one-off performance within the unique surroundings of an alternative VISA application and training centre installed at Castlefield Gallery, part of an ambitious multi-platform exhibition by international artists Osman Bozkurt and Didem Özbek (PiST) for Asia Triennial Manchester.

On Saturday, cult theatre company and award-winning comedy duo LipService are guides on The Hysterical Historical Tour, a live promenade theatre piece commissioned for The Weekender. The redoubtable Audrey and Olivia, famous from the Bronte satire “Withering Looks”, will take to the streets in passionate tribute to Manchester women, from notorious gossip Elizabeth Gaskell to the Pankhursts – nothing is sacred! Elsewhere, Weekender walking tours are designed to show the city in a new light. Visitors can retrace the steps of painter Adolphe Valette, explore secret tunnels, revisit the literary past or get lost under Bridgewater Hall, where they just might hear an eerie musical performance. At Debenhams and the Royal Exchange, Primitive Streak will be shown, a provocative collection that tells the story of the first 1000 hours of human life. Blending art and science, this is a collaboration between developmental biologist Kate Storey and her sister, fashion designer Helen Storey, who will give a talk about the project during Manchester Science Festival. Or there’s a chance to drift lazily down the Irwell on A Taste of Modern History’s foodie boat cruises with local chef Robert Owen Brown, part of the Manchester Food & Drink Festival. There’s a family day cruise from the museums of Castlefield to The Quays, and an evening cruise with a three-course meal.

The Weekender has plenty on offer for kids, with family-friendly workshops, performances and readings galore. Children’s author Tom Palmer will be reading from his new novel Scrum! at MediaCityUK on Sunday, with support from Rugby League team Sale Sharks and the BBC Sports broadcasting team. There’s also a rugby-themed quiz and drop-kick contest. The Weekender has also teamed up with the Family Friendly Film Club for a special screening of Studio Ghibli’s anime classic Howl’s Moving Castle (Cert. U) in the spooky gothic surroundings of John Rylands Library. Kids can get busy with an animation workshop and special activities before the film. Meanwhile, under 7s can help search for missing stories and experiment with role-play and movement in the Royal Exhange’s Theatre Explorers workshop. And there’s something for all ages at the Manchester Museum’s Urban Harvest, part of Manchester Food & Drink Festival. Kids can get their hands dirty helping dig up veg from the museum’s allotment and enjoy performances from The Vegetable Nannies and a veggie-playing symphony orchestra; parents can discuss the ethics of food production and learn about urban foraging; and everyone can sample food prepared by local chefs.

Photographer and author Len Grant has been documenting Manchester and Salford’s regeneration for 20 years. There’s a chance to learn with him at An Exhibition in a Day, an amateur photographer’s workshop on Saturday in which participants will follow a professional brief to produce a pop-up exhibition screened on site in a surprise location. For a more analogue than digital experience, families can over learn how to develop images the old-fashioned way in pop-up darkroom Photography POD at Imperial War Museum North on Saturday. Or learn how to create art by mapping environmental data in a talk and workshop at Cornerhouse led by artist Daksha Patel, whose work is on show as part of Asia Triennial. People’s History Museum is inviting all craftivists to gear up for party conference season at Subversive Stitching, a mass stitch-in. Experienced crafters and enthusiastic beginners can make small banners with big messages using cross stitch and embroidery, while enjoying coffee, cake and conversation.

For a full schedule complete with booking information and ideas about where to eat, sleep and chill in Manchester, visit


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