Review: A Home for Grief – Contact

A sound walk around Manchester. I’ve done what might be referred to as sound walks before. These were the kind set in museums, art galleries, places of interest. My last was interestingly (or not) in San Francisco, at Alcatraz. I have a love/hate relationship with them. Mostly hate as I prefer to read and view without what feels like often a distraction from the voice coming through my headphones.

Plus to be honest I can’t follow instructions and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time being told information about something I can’t find. And it’s only a matter of time before I trip up trying to concentrate on two things at once.

A Home for Grief is very different.

For over four years artist Fabiola Santana has been collecting stories of grief from women in the North West, as a way of reaching out to others and asking:

‘How do you do it? Can we sit together a moment and share our stories? Can we find ways to witness each other? And heal together?’

A Home for Grief is an experience for one person at a time. It begins with a sound-walk through the cityscape surrounding Contact on Oxford Road. For those familiar with that end of town (if only for the gigger’s paradise pairing of Kro and The Academy), it’s the building that looks like it’s upside down.

How to describe this experience. In practical terms, solo visitors are provided with instructions for how to use the app, and follow the trail, with audio along the way. There is a relationship between where you’re taken and what you hear, but not in the traditional sense. Here’s where I leave the practicalities if you will.

For the first hour, Fabiola takes you on both a geographical and emotional journey. I heard women tell their tales of grief, loss and bereavement. I sat under a willow tree, walked along a residential road, through Whitworth Park, by a sculpture, in a uni courtyard, all the while taken elsewhere by experiences both akin and alien to those of my own.

Note snap happy as I am, I took only one image during this experience at the very start. Practically it wouldn’t have worked and as I went further into the experience, it didn’t feel quite right.

author’s own

As I listened to a lady tell of her confusion that nobody asked of or mentioned her passed loved one for fear of upset, I instantly paired this with a memory of my own, that taught me to do otherwise.

I was encouraged to consider and indeed confront thoughts about last words to a loved one, what they might be, what they have been in the past (evoking a memory of regret and one of relief).

I had to smile when during a particularly emotive part of the walk where I was encouraged to write the initials of lost loved ones in chalk on the pebbles below, I was interrupted by a well-meaning cleaner who shouted to me across the courtyard thinking I was lost, and giving directions. The smile saved me from my tears as I commemorated one loss with a simple star drawing.

Taken to a particular bench as I listened to more memories from those visited by bereavement, I was mentally transported to a time as a child when seated on another bench and told of a passing that was the first where I really became aware of the process of losing somebody.

After the walk, the first part of A Home for Grief, I visited an installation in Contact’s brand new Space 0, with a collection of audio visual pieces, featuring 5 quilted maps that ‘chart the different landscapes of grief we find inside ourselves’.

as supplied by the artist

With more personal experiences shared from the artist of her grandmother, the installation and this part of the experience was no less immersive than the first.

As I visualised, wrote, and indeed rocked (oh in a rocking chair I should reassure) I was taken to a place that I thought was familiar to me, but made me realise that there were many more doors to open.

And so I’ll bring matters back to earth before I lose myself in the thoughts and rabbit hole that I’ve been going down since experience A Home for Grief on Thursday afternoon. Which is the point of art. It’s a partnership between the artist and the ‘viewer’. It’s what the artist brings to the table, and what the viewer contributes and takes away.

I also want to recognise and credit Contact and the artist for acknowledging the triggers that such a piece could cause and having Health and Science Producer, Chloe Courtney available to speak to on the day, if needed.

This one will resonate with me for a while and for that I thank Fabiola, the women who openly shared their experiences, Contact and indeed that wonderful arts scene that Manchester hosts which allows us to explore our passions and interests.

Oh, and I didn’t get lost and end up on the ring road so well done me.


Look alive (pun intended), there are still some spaces available for today’s walks.


About Fabiola

Fabiola Santana is a dance artist exploring performance as a way to connect, exchange and transform. Researching grief using performance for 6 years, including residencies with arts organisations LADA and Dying Matters. Fabiola received a Lancaster Arts and Live ART UK Diverse Actions Commission 2018, where she researched and tested A Home for Grief as a 1 to 1 performance.

Review: The Patience of Trees at MiF – now available to stream

Only a few days earlier, I’d enjoyed the wonder that was the Damon Albarn gig, as part of the very special Manchester International Festival.

Friday it was back to GMEX (am I being tedious refusing to get upto date with this? Such a mouthful) and the space had been transformed into a very different place.

‘A whisper of melody, played by a lone violin, gradually grows and shapes into the stirring sweep of a full string section – echoing, perhaps, the resolute journey of a seed from the Earth towards the Heavens.’

The Patience of Trees, is a new concerto for violin, strings and percussion by acclaimed composer Dobrinka Tabakova, forming the centrepiece of an immersive concert at Manchester Central during MIF21.

Devised by violinist Hugo Ticciati and performed with Manchester Camerata, the programme also featured:

  • Steve Reich New York Counterpoint
  • Paul Saggers Vulpes Vulpes World premiere
  • Julieta Szewach Todo Era Vuelo en Nuestra Tierra World premiere
  • Dobrinka Tabakova Frozen River Flows

Notoriously clumsy, I only managed one spilt water, no falls, as I was guided in low light to what appeared to be a wigwam in the middle of the hall.

In the centre of this kind of …classical yurt was the stage, resembling the rings of the tree, iPads ready for the musicians. The natural world meets digital.

The Magic Faraway Tree had never felt so real. But I should be clear that the stage and structure was beautiful yet simple in design. And it fell to the music to take us on a powerful and mystical journey through nature.

And whilst oft-used, immersive was the word.

Started by a lone violinist, one by one the orchestra entered our midst from outside the circle, and we were enveloped, in every sense of the word (masks on) by sounds and music, as the musicians took their places in the round.

What followed was 75 minutes of bliss and something akin to (or actual, had I the courage to close my eyes for the duration) meditation.

Evocative, the performance triggered thoughts and feelings of the natural world, the evolving day, the changing elements…

Were we not in the midst of a humid heatwave, physical goosebumps and spine tingles would have been the order of the day. Let us say I had the emotional shivers.

At the risk of appearing lazy, you can often kill a performance with chatter and overanalysis.

You should have been there!

I could cry.

A futile and annoying statement,

you may retort.

Well not quite.

MiF are providing a second chance to experience this wonderful concert.

The performance is available to stream as Video on Demand until Saturday 16 October 2021.

So find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed, dim the lights and click here to book to watch online on a pay what you feel basis.

You can stream the entire concert on demand until 16 October 2021.

To read about this year’s rather wonderful Manchester International Festival, click here.

Review: Damon Albarn, Manchester International Festival 2021

A few firsts for a Monday night.

First day of leaving the house in 2 weeks after not quite managing to avoid COVID’s touch.

First time at a live music gig since Supergrass, February 2020, because, you know…

First time that Damon Albarn has played a gig in two years and he looked as insanely overjoyed as the socially distanced, seated crowd before him.

Not his first Manchester International Festival, of course, his past MIF appearances include the world premiere of his opera Monkey: Journey to the West, which opened the very first Festival back in 2007.

Given a pre-show warning not to ‘incite the crowd to stand’, Damon walking onto the stage was indeed the first challenge for us, the seated crowd. In fact we, the seated crowd, gave it our best effort not to stand, any incitement on the part of Mr Albarn purely incidental and unconscious.

Don’t tell anyone, but the temptation of giving the man a standing ovation was too much to ignore (all still in our socially distanced areas, and masked up of course). However, it could easily be explained as us all simultaneously standing as a prelude to leaving our seats. Whilst clapping and cheering with glee. Simultaneously.

The talent on the stage from all involved (not excluding the admirable work of the gentlemen dashing up and down to unravel Damon’s mic wire as his boundless energy took him from left to right, to centre stage and back and forth to organ and keyboards) was mindblowing.

With musicians including those from overlapping outfits Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad and The Queen, and a songbook spanning all of Albarn’s career (I can’t keep sounding like my 15 year old self calling him Damon), yes , including Blur, it was a 90 minute musical masterclass.

Growing up near Blackpool (hence my honorary status) but leaving over 20 years ago, I’m charmingly (even though I do say so myself) excited whenever I hear a nod to my almost hometown (I wasn’t born there either but I won’t digress). Within seconds of Albarn entering our midst, he’d remarked how similar the GMEX (yes, and we’ll never call it anything else) was to the North Pier theatre, just with a higher roof.

“Yes Damon, it really is!!”, I silently, yet still manically, concurred. I always appreciated the line

…Blackpool looks blue and red…

(and wonderfully I got to appreciate it live when the show finished on a high with This Is A Low), and the references continued with track The Great Fire (The Good, The Bad and The Queen) – ‘Starr Gate, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and even my old stomping ground, the neighbouring Preston station,’ surely Damon Albarn’s earned his honorary Blackpoolian title by now?

Importantly, Albarn introduced us to tracks from the upcoming release and new and second solo studio album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. The name taken from a John Clare poem, and originally intended to be an orchestral piece, the works were developed throughout lockdown and expanded to 11 tracks exploring the themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

First in the set, and before a single note was played, Albarn explained that the title song from the album was set before dawn and so it was very politely requested to an invisible being out there in the ether that the lights in GMEX (yes GMEX and it’s also still NYNEX whilst we’re on this), be turned right down – in scenes reminiscent of a certain Linton Travel Tavern, “bit more, bit more…”

A touch of theatre or not (I’m actually going with not), the tone was set and the hair on my arms (which you should know is sparse, barely visible and very ladylike) became raised as the lights were lowered. I also made a mental note of where on the floor I’d left my drink, given my predilection for spilling beverages in dark (and to be fair also non-dark) environments.

My anticipation was greatly rewarded. Followed by The Cormorant, Royal Morning Blue, the opening trio of pieces from this album delivered rousing and eclectic melodies, providing the goosebumps and joy that only live music can bring. And boy have we all missed that feeling.

Recently released single Polaris came storming through towards the end, audience participation encouraged to help him hit the first note.

I guess you had to be there to enjoy the accompanying Elton John anecdote, but here’s a thrown bone of a previously recorded performance of the song –

With a set list also delving into Albarn’s incredible back catalogue, we were gifted a journey through some of his finest works, including his work with the aforementioned outfits as well as Massive Attack and the great, late drummer and composer, Tony Allen, who Albarn paid emotional tribute to during the gig.

With an encore I’ve never quite witnessed before (Albarn politely explaining beforehand that the artists would be leaving the stage briefly, requesting permission to return in due course if that was ok and we hadn’t had enough), it could be have been my elation at leaving the house for the first time in a fortnight, or simply listening to music for the first time in 17 months where I hadn’t had to use an app or go through Alexa first.

Or it could simply have been the magic that Damon Albarn and his fellow musicians brought to Manchester last night, but as nights out go, this was a high.


The Nearer The Fountain
The Cormorant
Royal Morning Blue
Lonely Press Play
Good Song
Ghost Ship
Go Back
Saturday Come Slow
The Great Fire
The Tower of Montevideo
The Poison Tree
El Manana
Hong Kong
3 Changes
Darkness to Light
On Melancholy Hill
Out of Time
Nature Springs
This is a Low

Manchester International Festival runs until this Sunday 18 July. For more information on the full programme (most of which I missed due to bloody Covid), go to

Preorder the new album from Damon Albarn here. Release date: 12 November 2021.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows (album version)

Photo credits: Manchester International Festival and author’s own