Review: Manchester Collective ‘Heavy Metal’. The White Hotel, Salford

After what can only be described as a terrific year for the Manchester Collective people, they bring 2021 to a close with their ‘Heavy Metal’ tour – which through December has already received rave reviews in London, Leeds and Bristol.

The penultimate show in the run saw the Collective – and friends, deliver a culturally dynamic set at Salford’s greatest art space: The White Hotel, on Friday night.

Going along to the White Hotel always feels like you’re about to be involved in something incredibly exclusive, authentic and at the forefront of creative practice. This event certainly delivered with aplomb. Collective Director Adam Szabo noted that the group’s last live performance before Lockdown (Version 1), was with ‘Cries and Whispers’ at the Salford venue – and while we’ve all been on quite a journey since then – not many of us can say we’ve appeared at The Proms, begun to make our exquisite music available on beautiful vinyl (and other formats), or curated a ground-breaking arts initiative, encouraging northern creatives to re-interpret their work. Not surprisingly, Manchester Collective have done all the above – and much more besides.

Drawn into the uber-cool M3 7LW space by the hypnotic beats crafted by producer, musician songwriter and singer LoneLady (AKA Julie Campbell), it became immediately clear that this particular Friday night was going to be a winner. Recently back from a basement residency at Somerset House, from where she produced her 3rd studio album FORMER THINGS, LoneLady cast-out a vibe from her DJ booth that definitely warmed-up the parka-wearing congregation.

Szabo opened proceedings by talking about ‘Northern Voices’, the initiative launched earlier this year to celebrate the extraordinary artistic talent in our region. As a creative project, it had the potential on paper to be something quite special. The outcomes seen ‘in the flesh’ on Friday night were as exciting and diverse – as they were intelligent and meaningful.

The initiative has seen more than ten local artists, writers and creative freelancers respond imaginatively to Manchester Collective’s work. Their creations span different mediums – from film, music and photography to visual art and critical writing.

CURRENTMOODGIRL (Greta Carroll) has created ‘Skin Stretch’ a new electronic track taking the story from Schoenberg’s ‘Transfigured Night’ as her starting point. Carroll explained on Friday that In the 19th-century poem, the perspective is male-focussed and her new work has sought to reassert the fact that the subject is ultimately centred on the body of a woman.

Courtney ‘CourtsWrites’ Hayles was particularly eloquent and moving when asked to describe his work – and the journey involved to create it. The piece, entitled ‘Blink’ is film, spoken-word and photography and explores the turbulent journey creators experience when faced with a blank sheet of paper. ‘Company’ from Philip Glass, was Hayles inspiration.

Chris Alton’s ‘Words to Grieve, Part #1’, in collaboration with Emily Simpson, was exhibited by The White Hotel on Friday night. The artworks explore bereavement, grief and language and stem from conversations with a community of people with shared experiences, and the artists’ own reflections on society’s cultural distancing from death. The resulting six posters point towards the creation of new words and definitions – a starting point in the expansion of the vocabulary for grief.

And so to ‘Heavy Metal’. Billed as ‘A Noisy Show’ There was big percussion, live electronics, and amplified strings. A distortion pedal called the Ibanez Tube Screamer made an appearance.

Bryce Dessner’s ‘Aheym’ (which appropriately is Yiddish for ‘Homecoming’) opened the evening’s set and Rakhi Singh, along with Ruth Gibson, Stephanie Tress and Julian Azkoul, produced an intensity and fever through their strings that must have resonated across Salford.

British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s ‘Insight’ followed and is a composition for string trio. The piece has three inter-linking sections: reflective, lively and stretto – and they each washed over the very appreciative audience.

Ben Nobuto’s SERENITY 2.0 is a remarkable piece, written for strings, percussion and electronics. The composer was on-hand on Friday to explain the inspiration for his work and in doing so, transported the audience to a busy street in an unnamed Japanese city. SERENITY 2.0 is brand new and has been premiered by Manchester Collective as part of the ‘Heavy Metal’ programme.

Stephanie Tress, along with her Ibanez Tube Screamer, supplied a breath-taking solo cello performance of Michael Gordon’s ‘Industry’. An arrangement that had the boundary-pushing credentials of Manchester Collective stamped all-over-it – and received huge applause.

The final piece of the evening came courtesy of Sebastian Gainsborough (AKA VESSEL). With his second commission for Manchester Collective, Gainsborough has created a work that is mesmeric and challenging in equal measure. ‘Squint’ represents a further exploration by the composer of historical periods, subjects and emotions, that are then laid down as bedrock for some of the most contemporary music out there.

With a festive period of reflection richly deserved and hopefully ahead for The Collective, they return in February with ‘A Little Requiem’ – featuring work from Gorecki and Copeland – and I for one will be at Hallé St Peter’s to witness their next musical wonder.

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