An Escape to Freight Island for Headstock opener

It feels like there’s precious little to look forward to or enjoy at the moment (yes Debbie Downer at your service), but much of what we have had to look forward to in Greater Manchester has been courtesy of the brilliant platform United We Stream.

And so, this Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 October, Headstock Weekender storms into our lives with a two day programme, marking World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10 October).

The event will feature two days of live music, including the likes of UK chart-topping rock band Nothing But Thieves along-side some of Greater Manchester’s most exciting bands including Larkins and The Slow Readers Club.

There are also exclusive talks, and immersive wellbeing experiences. Anyone can access the event for free, with donations encouraged to raise much needed funds for Headstock’s charity partners Help Musicians and Manchester Mind, as well as raising awareness for text support service Shout 85258.

Additionally a cracking night of comedy will be streamed, curated by Nodding Dog Comedy, as recorded at Escape to Freight Island on Tuesday night, which is where I found myself – and readers, never has a night out felt more escapey.

Escape to Freight Island near Manchester Piccadilly, is Manchester’s brand new open air entertainment space at Mayfield Depot. Due to its alfresco set-up, the venue is certainly as near perfect for socialising as dammit. Cue being able to see two friends outside (as permitted) not only safely, but comfortably. And happily!

Out in the open air, there’s a myriad of different seating areas and bars; picnic benches, booths, all canopied and covered where one can happily recline and watch the torrential rain come down from our wonderful Manchester skies. Masks adorned once you leave your seat, there is sanitiser aplenty, a one way system for the many loos and basins, and what I deem to be one of the few good things to come out of this whole sorry mess – an app ordering system for food and drink.

Speaking of which, behold the largest pizza known to mankind from Voodoo Ray’s (and bloody good to boot). We really are blessed with great pizza in this fair city we call Manchester.

An old freight depot, the place has a real festival feel (again – in a non-crowded non-covidy way) and along with the theatrical lighting around the venue, non-moreso than the showstopper installation in the middle, there’s a sense that you’re not only there for the food and drink, but a real event of which hopefully will become realised sooner rather than later as live performance fully returns.

There’s still much to open up at Escape to Freight Island but for now, this, the first stage (called Platform 15 – get it?) shows a little light at the end of the tunnel for somewhere to relax, meet friends (groups of 6 people, groups of 6) and remember what it was like to feel a little normal.

And to Tuesday night, and the jokes, ‘lols’ and ‘bantz’ were free-flowing, sharp, witty and top drawer. And that was just our booth (oh how you laugh).

Nodding Dog Comedy brought us two hours of stand up comedy from the likes of Brennan Reece (Live at the Apollo), Mike Newall (BGT – no not the acclaimed 90s Blackburn Rovers player, you sillies – don’t tell anyone but he was my favourite. The comedian, not the footballer. Maybe both), Bexie Archer, Isma Almas and Vince Atta. Freddy Quinne, Lindsey Davies, Phil Chapman, Matt Stellingwerf and Hayley Ellis.

There’s always that fear that you’re going to be ridiculed, picked on, flogged, hung drawn and quartered when you attend a live comedy gig. Well, you lucky people, as you’ll get to see this two hours of comedy online this Saturday night from the comfort of your own homes, you’re safe from the spotlight.

Freddie Quinne

In fact from my well positioned booth at the back at ‘Island (yes, this is what we’re calling it now, deal), I too was safe from torture to listen and laugh along as I negotiated a pizza box that was too big for the table.

For the full programme of events during the Headstock Weekender which culminates Sunday night with a four-hour party from seminal night club series The Warehouse Project, click here.

Viewers can tune in to the event for free on United We Stream HERE.

Festivalgoers are encouraged to buy a virtual ticket for the event or donate an amount they can afford HERE.  Alternatively viewers can donate £5 by texting HEADSTOCKLIVE to 70085. All proceeds from the event will go to Headstock’s charity partners Help Musicians and Manchester Mind.

Donations will help support vital emotional and practical services for young people and musicians.

HOME Comforts – live performance returns on 13 October

It’s been a cruel cruel spring and summer for us all but you don’t need my take on all that’s going on, (if you do, I’ll create a bespoke ‘my take’ just for you – brace yourself…).

I’ve missed the arts, the thrill of live theatre, music, performance, just life in general playing out without constant (but necessary) mention of the C word (the one I don’t have a closeted fondness for).

But as we all mask up and get ready for the winter ahead, there are occasional rays of sunshine breaking through and things that remind us of a life currently on pause but will and even is beginning to exist again.

And so to HOME Mcr who are welcoming their first live event to the theatre since March.

Part of Black History Month, this one-off special event on October 13, will see acclaimed poetry and spoken word collective Young Identity launching their new book, Working from HOME (so many levels of aptness at play here), with an evening of emceeing, poetry and performance.

Young Identity

Having worked with the likes of Lemn Sissay, Saul Williams, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Kae Tempest, Young Identity are HOME‘s resident artists and the book showcases their creative responses to work performed at HOME across three of their artforms – theatre, film and visual arts.

Since reopening in September, HOME‘s 500-seat Theatre 1 has been reduced to a capacity of just 120 to allow for social distancing, but despite this, tickets will be priced at just £10 to ensure that as many as people as possible have the best opportunity to return to the theatre.

Director and CEO, Dave Moutrey said

Much has changed since we closed in March, but we must do all we can to bridge the potential growth in social inequality as a result to this pandemic.

Copies of Young Identity‘s book will also be on sale at the vent, and tickets which include the purchase price of the book will also be available.

For more information and to purchase tickets, head to

To read more about the Empty Seats campaign at HOME, here.

Music: Denise Johnson’s final gift with posthumous release of debut album, Where Does it Go

The world of music, in particular our own very special part of that world, here in Manchester, was recently rocked and hugely saddened by the news that hugely acclaimed, simply stunning, vocalist, Denise Johnson, had passed away.

Best known for the two albums she recorded and toured with Primal scream in the 90s, Screamadelica and Give Out But Don’t Give Up, Denise’s work with other greats such as New Order, Johnny Marr, The Charlatans, Michael Hutchence, 808 State, Electronic, Bernard Butler, Ian Brown, The Waterboys and A Certain Ratio, certainly ensures a legacy that will keep her in the hearts of music lovers both in Manchester and indeed the world.

However, Denise leaves one further gift with the bittersweet news that her debut album, Where Does it Go will be posthumously released on Friday 2 October.

Pic – Danny Bird

Featuring just Denise’s vocals accompanied by Manchester-based guitarist, Thomas ‘Twem’ Twemlow, the mostly acoustic album provides the perfect platform for listeners to experience once again her stunning voice.

Pic – Tony Woolliscroft

With the exception of lead track, Steal Me Easy, co-written by Denise and former collaborator, French guitarist Fabian Lefrancois, the recording of the album is completely live and untouched by studio tricks or computer wizadry.

Pic – Danny Bird

First meeting Denise in 2003 when she sang on a couple of his tracks, guitarist and, indeed, album producer Twem says,

Denise got back in touch a few years after we’d first worked together, asking if I’d play acoustic guitar for her. We set about doing our own version of her favourite songs from various Manchester acts. One of the first she asked me to play was True Faith: my first thought was ‘how the hell can I make an electronic track work on acoustic?’ But, to be honest, when you’ve got someone like Denise singing, you can make anything work.

Recorded in Ancoats at Hope Mill Recording Studios, one of the songs that Denise wanted to include on the album is her version of Ellie Greenwich’s Sunshine After the Rain, performed by Denise in her role as Mary, in the BBC’s incredible live staging of The Manchester Passion, back in 2006. Denise had cited this event as one of the highlights of her career, for the simple reason that she knew it had made her mother incredibly proud.

Tim Burgess will be featuring the album on Monday 5 October (9 pm UK time) on Tim’s Twitter Listening Party with producer Twem and you can find the full tracklisting below:

  • True Faith (New Order)
  • I’m Not In Love (10CC)
  • Nothing You Can Do (Denise Johnson)
  • Evangeline (Cherry Ghost)
  • Sunshine After The Rain (Ellie Greenwich)
  • Well I Wonder (The Smiths)
  • Steal Me Easy(Denise Johnson / Fabien Lefrançois)

In addition, Denise also features on the new A Certain Ratio album, which comes out a week before her own, on Friday 25 September.

Out Friday 2 October, Where Does it Go.

Thank you Denise Johnson.

Pic – Danny Bird

Physical formats: Limited vinyl & CD will only be available from Piccadilly Records:

Radio track WAV: Steal Me Easy

Digital/Streaming: on all platforms

Tim’s Twitter Listening Party: Tim Burgess is featuring the album on Monday 5 October (9 pm UK time)


  • True Faith (New Order)
  • I’m Not In Love (10CC)
  • Nothing You Can Do (Denise Johnson)
  • Evangeline (Cherry Ghost)
  • Sunshine After The Rain (Ellie Greenwich)
  • Well I Wonder (The Smiths)
  • Steal Me Easy (Denise Johnson / Fabien Lefrançois)