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Review: Insane Animals

It’s true to say that I didn’t always know what I was watching last night.

But I know that I liked it.

Like the camp space landing that it depicted (are there any other kind?), the show launched itself on stage through plumes of smoke and a cacophony of noise, and with the arrival of ‘cult cabaret duo’, Bourgeois & Maurice.

Directed by Phillip McMahon, the premise of the show (you’re best not to question, just accept) is two glam aliens arrive from a faraway galaxy to rescue present-day earth from impending political, environmental and social doom.

Now, of course this show was written, created, conceived of before we all entered the realms of (brace yourself for the c-word) Coronavirus. Yet, I can’t have been the only one in that audience more than aware of the …well not so much irony, more literal coincidence, of the statements delivered to the audience along the lines of ‘we’ve come to save you, you’re all doomed,’. They raised more than a little nervous laughter as we coughed into our elbows, having performed hand-washing duration top trumps with fellow theatre-goers in the toilets beforehand.

Being accidentally reminded of world-wide health crisis aside, the show was a riot, a pure joy.

The best thing with shows such as Insane Animals, is not to attempt to explain it (and with that, she was off the hook), but just to feel it, absorb it, embrace it and really, really enjoy it.

The satirical double-act were joined by 6 other actors and musicians (and self-described misfits) as they sang, played, danced, gyrated, wrestled, gurned and glitter-bombed their way through a story of time-travel and mortality (oh yes, they weren’t messing about).

The songs were catchy (I’m not the biggest embracer of musicals but i was all over this one) and the costumes as extra as the country’s current penchant for stockpiling loo-roll.

At the time of writing, there are four more chances to bear witness to this ‘queer unravelling of past and present, fact and fiction’. Just watch yourself on that front row…

For more details and to book tickets, visit https://homemcr.org/production/bourgeois-maurices-insane-animals/.

Pic credits: Drew Forsyth.

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Preview: NQ Jazz – 21.10.2019 – Sue Rynhart & Huw Warren

NQ Jazz is one of my favourites things.

Yes we have Matt and Phred’s and I give thanks to the gods of live jazz that we do.

But Manchester needs even more and NQ Jazz gives us that more in a gloriously dark, underground befitting location that is The Whiskey Jar.

The rather marvellous Richard Isles Trio at The Whiskey Jar

To speak in New York terms (because, of course), if Matt and Phred’s is Birdland, The Whiskey Jar is Smalls (I’m basically using this opportunity to show off about the fact that I’ve been to both).

This Monday 21st October sees Dublin singer and composer, Sue Rynhart, take to the atmospheric Whiskey Jar basement bar, with pianist (and composer) Huw Warren.

Sue previously visited our fair city with a performance at the Manchester Jazz Festival and brings sounds which are an edgy blend of modern jazz mixed with contemporary sounds.

Credit: Karl Burke

Welsh pianist Huw, a BBC Jazz award winner, carries with him an international reputation for innovative music making.

Fresh from the release of their new single We Are On Time (Flower Seeds), join them (and me!) this Monday 21 October and kick start the week with a little NQ Jazz therapy.

For more details, visit https://nqjazz.com/

To hear Sue and Huw’s new single, visit Spotify – We Are On Time (Flower Seeds)

NQ Jazz is every Monday at the Whiskey Jar, 14 Tariff Street, Manchester.

Entry £5 (£4 students with ID), doors at 8pm, live music from 8.30pm…

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Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer

Those who have already discovered this award-winning arts festival will be thrilled to hear that Refract is back for its third edition in and around Sale, this July.

Those who haven’t yet discovered Refract – you’re in for a treat.

Running from Thursday 18 July to Saturday 27 July, this unconventional 10 day festival, curated by Waterside Arts, promises the best in live comedy, music, dance, experiential performance and theatre, with something for everyone.

Highlights at Refract:19 include:

  • Japanese rope art from Lumo Theatre in Wiredo

  • A preview of one-man show First Time, as Nathaniel Hall drops in on the way to Edinburgh Fringe (ironically, the second time Nathaniel has brought his show to Sale – read my preview here)

 And, of course, so so much more…

Competition!

To celebrate the return of this wonderfully different and exciting festival to our very own Greater Manchester, I’m running a competition to win a pair of tickets to see Frisky and Mannish in their Poplab – bringing their wildly popular brand of musical infotainment right from BBC Radio 1, BBC2, BBC3 and ITV3, straight to the streets of Sale (well not strictly the streets – just one – Waterside Plaza.

With two pairs up for grabs, for your chance to to see the Pop PhDs themselves on Saturday 20 July, click the link below and follow the instructions (oh it’s nothing sinister, I promise):

The great Refract:19 giveaway!

Entries close Sunday 7 July and winners will be selected at random.

For the full rundown,dates, tickets and to essentially plan your cultural journey into all that is right in the wonderful world of artistic endeavour, visit the Waterside Arts Refract:19 website now.

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cinema Culture Events Manchester News Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Head HOME for Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and so on and so forth.

In fact, let us not mess around.

Let’s just go straight to Chris Rea. Ish.

Because this year, Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc…

I’m going HOME this Christmas…

Why, you ask? Well I can’t wait to see those faces.

Whose, you ask?

Well everyone who frontline works there from Box Office to Bar. But of equal measure, I can’t wait to see some of the films and theatre productions that HOME Mcr are treating us to this yuletide season. Because, frankly readers? We’ve all been very good and have swerved the naughty list.

First up, At Home in the 80s.

I love three things (I mean I love more but for the purposes of the here and now, I love three):

  • Being at HOME
  • Christmas
  • The 80s

And so those clever people combine all three with their season of films inspired by this devastatingly brilliant decade.

Image courtesy of Park Circus/Disney

We all live for nostalgia at Christmas and these films deliver it in spades:

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?;
  • An American Werewolf in London;
  • This is Spinal Tap (watch out for more on this on sister blog What the Projectionist Saw;
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark;
  • Bill and  Ted’s Excellent  Adventure; and
  • Heathers.

Image courtesy of Park Circus/StudioCanal

We love the 80s and this is the only decade to bring us significant films.

Hey, who said that? HOME and I beg to differ. What about the era of slapstick?

Guess what, reader, HOME are bringing this to us as well with a season of Slapstick featuring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Marx Brothers in:

  • A Night at the Opera;
  • One Week/Sherlock Jr – a Buster  Keaton double bill accompanied by live musicians HarmonieBand; and
  • Modern Times – again, watch out for feature on film blog What the Projectionist Saw, coming to a screen near you…

For full film listings head to www.homemcr.org/cinema

I love slapstick and I love HOME. But is there a second cultural medium bringing the two concepts together? I hear you ask (you’re saying a great deal today, reader).

Why yes! HOME may be inviting you into their intimate grown up cinemas this Christmas, but they haven’t shut up shop at their theatre spaces.

For older children (and adults), the Dutch musical explosion that is Slapstick (anyone know how to do an umlaut on a laptop – anyway there should be two dots of the ‘a’), hits HOME, with an ode to the timeless comedy of Messrs Chaplin, Keaton, Marx, Laurel and Hardy, with five world class performers combining musicianship, mayhem and physical comedy to bring a show that will mesmerise from start to finish. Running from 13-22 Dec.

For the little Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc, (let’s say between the ages of 2-4)there is the delightful White, a fully immersive show where the little ones sit on bean bags in a magical white tent and hear the story of two friends in a magical white world whose job it is to watch over the birds and their precious eggs. Sarah Jessica Parker described the show as

One of the greatest experiences of a lifetime and the best 40 minutes of my life.

and you can’t argue with SJP. Running from 13-23 Dec.

And so we have it, for all details of dates, tickets and the venue itself, head to www.homemcr.org

For Christmas, there’s no place like HOME (I know it’s twee, but it works so…)

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Culture Events Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre Review – Now or Never by Circa Tsuica – aka what did I just see?

I haven’t been to the circus since 1985. Well that was true until a couple of weeks ago.

Circuses (circii?) are like buses etc etc.

People with a passion for reading about circus-based shows showing in Manchester in August by a local blogger, will be familiar with the anecdote told in my post Theatre review: Switch and Tipping Point, when my mum unwittingly became part of a circus show – a clown/basically thief stole her purse in the foyer, throwing her into a pre-show frenzy – only to have it presented to her from the ring in the opening minutes of the performance. Oh how she laughed.

Audience participation in circii (I’m going with it) and indeed most show genres reached whole new levels last night, at the Lowry Theatre with the show Now or Never by contemporary French outfit, Circa Tsuica.

I say at the Lowry, an enormous big top has been erected on the plaza in front until Saturday 1 September, showcasing this fusion of acrobatics and brass rhythms along with 20 young musicians from the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford.

Well what does that mean? It’s difficult to describe.

Try

…I hear you say, one reader.

Ok. Now when you read what I’m about to write, understand that this is what happened, this is what I saw, and is not the result of any fevered temperature or illegal substances.

Entering the big top to a cacophony of brass and woodwind, myself and my plus 1 of the husband nature, were greeted by…at this point I need to make a decision as to whether I call them clowns, musicians, acrobats, performers…I’m going to go with performer as the safe option. We were greeted by a performer who immediately embraced each of us with a European double cheeked kiss and a plastic tumbler.

In a kind of trance, we took our tumblers into the ring to have them filled with lemonade by a performer on a unicycle, before heading off to be served crepes at a stall. However, our journey to said stall was briefly interrupted by my husband getting a back massage from a performer with two drumsticks.

Still with me?

As the audience took their seats, crepes and lemonade in hand in a deeper trance, we were then taken through 90 minutes of music and circus, acrobatics and trick-cycling all to a soundtrack that felt like a New Orleans-esque, minor key funeral march.

I spent half the performance in open-mouthed wonderment at what can only be described as a spectacle, the other half terrified I was going to be extending my audience participation remit beyond being fed crepes or massaged with sticks, to slow dancing with a performer playing a trumpet or balancing on the back of a bike.

The last time I felt such tension was as a child at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, when worried I was going to be called on stage to make the animal noises in a raucous performance of Old McDonald Had a Farm (I couldn’t do pig noises).

I have to say this tense state was all on me as plenty of audience members, young and old, were less physically and socially contorted than myself and eager and happy to join in the goings-on before us. And I enjoyed these goings-on immensely.

The only concern I was left with is

‘how on earth do I describe what I’ve just witnessed?

Short of drawing on comparisons to Cirque de Clunes in Alan Partridge’s Knowing Me, Knowing You, I settled on the trippy, clumsy descriptions above, the photographs interspersed and this public information message:

If you want to bear witness to something unique, exciting, bizarre, unprecedented, exhilarating, funny, odd, bonkers and jaw-dropping – go and see Now or Never at the Lowry Theatre – on until Saturday 1 September.

Click here for times, details, tickets and a brave attempt to describe what you’re in for.

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Theatre review – The Last Ship at the Lowry

Billed as Sting’s personal, political and passionate musical, this was a ship that I wasn’t prepare to let sail by without an inquisitive look.

On a tour of UK and Ireland, The Last Ship sailed into the Quays last night, making its debut at The Lowry theatre.

I have already used two puns both based on the word ‘sail’ and we are but two sentences into this post. I do apologise.

Spoiler there’s a third towards the end.

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Inspired by Sting’s childhood experiences and featuring his Tony-nominated original score and lyrics, the show is set against a backdrop of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in the North East, and hones in on the story of childhood sweethearts and their personal journeys together and as individuals.

Be reassured that there is no schmaltz on stage – the story isn’t tied up with a red ribbon, no eyes will be rolled (I’m an eye-roller – they stayed unrolled), and the issues laid bare of the workers’ struggles during this time, by no means romanticised.

Despite the image I’ve chosen to use below.

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The cast is impressive and stellar, featuring Richard Fleeshman (Gideon Fletcher), Charlie Hardwick (Peggy White), Joe McGann (Jackie White) and Frances McNamee (Meg Dawson).

It should be noted that last night, Peggy White was played by Penelope Woodman who I have to say was, indeed, one of the stars of the show with her rousing vocals and passionate movements.

But how to separate one member from the others, really.

The Last Ship is an energetic, heartfelt, literal foot-stamping/air punching musical from start to finish.

At the start of each half, the cast even break through the 4th wall – especially after the interval.

I won’t say how and why, other than to say, don’t worry if you’re having a chat in your seat and suddenly look up to see the cast assembled on stage looking and waving at you. You won’t be thrown out for flagrant abuse of theatre etiquette.

It’s fine

Not a natural lover of musicals myself, I hope my words hold some weight (if never before or ever again), when I say that the songs were catchy, moving and engaging at first ‘hear’. There was a fine balance of word and song, any musical interlude feeling natural and instrumental (pardon the pun) to moving the narrative forward.

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With Sting’s style literally written all over them, the songs and music took in sea-shanties, strings, acoustic guitar, piano and even electrica strains as the audience were also treated on brief occasion to Sting’s back catalogue. It’s no tall order to perform an established legend’s songs whilst said legend is in the building (yep, Sting was In.The.Building), but Richard Fleeshman owned every note and word.

Indeed, the music was equally matched by the rest of the vocals on stage, a mix of dialogue, song, impassioned shouts and humour (I particularly enjoyed the gritty and witty asides from Frances McNamee as Meg and Kevin Wathen (Davey Harrison)).

Equally breathtaking to the music and acting, was the set design.

With not a prop touched or moved, we were seamlessly taken from from ship yard, to a terraced house, to the local pub, to the docks, to a protest march to waves crashing; all with the clever use of screens, projections and sound and lighting effects.

With any piece of theatre which brings with it ‘political’ amongst its adjectives, there is a risk and a fear from the audience that they are about to encounter an angry rant and lecture (whichever way you lean). Fear no such thing.

And the Baroness in the royal blue suit is, I’m sure, based on nobody. Nobody at all.

This is an honest, non finger-wagging, moving yet entertaining piece of theatre which I enjoyed – and that was before Mr Sting appeared in all his unassuming glory (no scene-stealing, mic grabbing antics here) at curtain call.

Showing until Saturday 7 July, I urge you to give this show a go, and don’t let that ship sail. sorry.

Visit the The Lowry’s website for all details, including tickets.

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Celebrity Culture Events LGBT Manchester People Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre review – Diamond – HOME Mcr

I have two things in common with performance artist, David Hoyle; we’re now both Manchester based and we both grew up and spent our formative years on the Fylde Coast – he in Layton, me in Thornton-Cleveleys, both a pebble’s throw away from Blackpool.

Oh a third – we were both in Theatre 2 at Manchester’s HOMETheatre tonight at the show Diamond; he on stage, me mesmerised and enthralled in the audience.

Born in 1962, Hoyle David (I feel distinctly uncomfortable just using surnames – I know it’s standard practice in writing to do so, but I feel rude. Hopefully ‘David’ isn’t being too familiar although after being invited into his fascinating life this evening, I’m laying claim to knowing him somewhat)…

And so Ladies und Gentlemen

and those clever enough to transcend gender

(see show for details) I shall continue.

Born in 1962, David has been at the heart of the LGBT scene for decades and more than qualified to wear the crown of subject matter expert.

His one-man show, Diamond, takes the audience through a 60 year period (the last 60 years, incidentally), interweaving his own experiences, from gay adolescent in Blackpool to Divine David, the ‘anti-drag queen cult phenomena’ on Channel 4, with important and documented events in gay history such as the 1957 Wolfenden Report (recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality).

During the show, whilst literally centre stage, David shares the spotlight with other significant gay figures and ‘happenings’, from Manchester’s own Alan Turing to Manchester’s own protest and demonstration against Section 28 – ‘Never Going Underground’.

ManGaychester- a chapter of the book and indeed show, (and the point at which I also want to pay tribute to the wonderful Lip Sinkers) gave us my favourite musical interlude and costume (not withstanding David’s fabulous charity shop ensemble midway through):

Nipple tassels swirling hypnotically to a distinctive Manchester beat.

How was your Monday?

With passion and humour blunt and biting, and nostalgia weaving between the gritty (the grim devastation of losing friends to AIDS in the 80s) and the affectionate (memories of working in a 70s BHS – staff meetings held round the coleslaw), light and shade runs throughout the 75 minute production.

As David says;

The show is a celebration of survival against overwhelming odds. We have a LGBT history we are proud of.

And so whether lesbian, gay, bi, transgender or indeed straight, I think we all left feeling a little more educated and a little better about ourselves this evening.

With only two more dates left (12/13 June), don’t miss your opportunity to bear witness to this wonderful journey.

For more details including tickets, please visit the HOME website.

ps To my fellow Fylde Coastian turned Honorary Manc, David…

I see your ‘going to watch the entire cast of Are Young Being Served in a Blackpool show’ and raise you ‘ going to see the entire cast of Hi-de-Hi on stage at the Winter Gardens’.

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The Northern Chamber Orchestra – Mozart and Elgar and Beethoven – Oh my!

My late father was a musician and, at 16, the youngest at that time to be accepted into the Royal College of Music in London.

We were blessed with many stories and anecdotes from my Dad’s life as a professional musician, over the years, but I remember two life tips he gave me in particular:

Never learn to drive – you’ll never stop paying out on cars

Done.

And

At some point in your life, move to London.

I have, thus far, not adhered to this. He’d clearly not spent enough time in Manchester ☺️

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary Season Finale at the beautiful Stoller Hall.

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Set up in 1967, the Orchestra not only presents an annual series of 8 concerts a year at the Heritage Centre in Macclesfield, it is also the ‘orchestra in residence’ at Buxton Festival, and of course now plays too at Manchester’s Stoller Hall – the scene of the aforementioned Finale.

A word on the Stoller Hall, I hang my head in ignorant shame and admit that not only had I not attended any concerts at this venue previously, I didn’t even know of its existence and had only attended classical music concerts in Manchester at the Bridgewater.

I could be forgiven slightly (oh go on, forgive me massively), when research tells me that the Hall only opened its doors last year in April.

Part of the School of Music that requires little introduction, Chetham’s, the Concert Hall can be found opposite the steps to another great musical concert institution, the Manchester Arena, and across from Victoria Station.

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Audiences take their seats below ground level, in a hall which is architecturally breathtaking and, I understand,  acoustically astounding.

I’m no acoustician (yes, it’s a word), but every stroke of the violin bow, every note of the woodwind, every percussionist’s ‘beat’, indeed didn’t feel as though it stopped at the listener’s ears but resonated throughout the body, immersing you in the music played before you.

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And so to the music played before me and my plus 1 that afternoon.

The pieces played were:

Overture Zauberflote – Mozart

Cello Concerto – Elgar

Symphony No. 5 – Beethoven

The highlight, it must be said, was the Cello Concerto, the centre of such being internationally renowned cellist and, indeed, the Orchestra’s President, Raphael Wallfisch.

A beautifully toned instrument alone, we were taken through a captivating and deeply expressive performance by Mr Wallfisch, the mood of the piece clearly felt throughout this wonderful musician, his body language and facial expressions anticipating and matching each strain.

Speaking of wonderful musicians, whilst the Cellist took literal centre stage, the rest of the Orchestra more than shared the limelight and reasons for myself and fellow concert-goers’ captivation and awe.

Bookended by the overture to Mozart’s Magic Flute and the forceful, rousing Beethoven’s C minor Symphony, the concert and indeed 50th season came to a rapturous end, with the applause pushing the acoustics to their limits (I’m basically saying it was loud).

I’m sure my Father would agree that not all roads need lead to London, and that Manchester more than holds its own in all matters of culture, not least in the wealth of opportunities to hear such musicianship both in the City Centre and across the region.

Speaking of which, your next opportunity to experience the Northern Chamber Orchestra is on Friday 25 May, in West Didsbury – more details here.

And so, added to my list of why Manchester is Everything, is the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the Stoller Hall.

I’m still with my Dad on the not driving thing. I mean, where would I want to go?

www.ncorch.co.uk

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Culture Events Gigs Gigs news Manchester Music News Popular culture preview The Arts

Manchester Jazz Festival launches

I like to think of myself as a touch bohemian.

I’ve been to Matt and Phred’s more than 10 times, I’ll have you know. And not only when the free pizza offer is on.

To be fair, I’ve also gone international with my fondness for jazz and its clubs, for example paying a visit to New York’s famous Birdland club and last September seeing my birthday in, in a charming little jazz club in Paris, whilst sipping full bodied red and foot tapping and head shaking with the best of them. Get me.

Last night I attended the launch of this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival, and, whilst there, got talking to one of the lovely trustees about the common misconceptions of jazz and the sheer breadth of the genre.

I need no convincing, but understand that many perceive jazz in its most abstract extreme (I quite like that extreme), declaring, just like Johnny (once again betraying my age with an 80s popular culture reference), they…

hate jazz.

Although to be fair I hate heavy metal, but this declaration is based solely on my very narrow perception of it to be noisy and scary.

And so, should Manchester hold its own Heavy Metal festival, perhaps I should take my own advice and attend (please don’t, Manchester).

But for now be swayed by my own tastes and share my excitement for this year’s programme of events.

Gathering at Brasserie Abode last night, the said gathered were tantalised with tales of what is to come to our great city, 20 – 28 July 2018.

Manchester Jazz Festival, is indeed the city’s longest running music festival, bringing together contemporary jazz not only from the North West, but from across the UK and, indeed, abroad, including national premieres of original work and international debuts.

Typically more than 60,000 people in attendance, the festival is a mixture of both paid and free gigs, with the aim to be accessible to all, and funded and supported by Arts Council England, Manchester City Council, PRS for Music Foundation, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Irwin Mitchell.

Some of the finest talent in jazz will be showcased at an eclectic range of Manchester venues , including Salon Perdu and Festival Square, Night and Day Café, RNCM, The Midland Hotel, Matt and Phred’s Jazz Club, Band on the Wall and St Ann’s Church.

Highlights of this year’s programme will include:

  • Cross Currents Trio featuring Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter – three living legends of jazz, uniting in a rare UK performance fusing contemporary jazz and world music virtuosity.
  • The 2018 Irwin Mitchell mjforiginals commission – Esther Swift: Light Gatherer – Esther’s interest in poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s contribution to the arts, and especially the voice she gives to women, has inspired her to deconstruct Duffy’s works and create new texts using the same themes.

  • Hackney Colliery Band – inspired by New Orleans marching bands, Balkan beats, hip-hop, sizzling Latin brass and high-octane rock, with a few unexpected covers of the likes of Goldie, The Prodigy, Kanye West and even (my favourite) Toto, they bring the UK colliery brass band tradition bang up to date.

This is the tip of the jazzy iceberg (whatever that might be), and the full programme can be found on the Manchester Jazz Festival website here.

Kindly provided with a brochure of events by the festival organisers at last night’s launch, I have already set about it like any decent person would with their Christmas copy of the Radio Times, ringing and marking off multiple events coming this July.

With tickets going on sale today, 25 April 2018, at 9am, join me in securing my place at this summer’s hot event, the Manchester Jazz Festival.

It truly…

sounds fantastic.

For all the latest news, tickets and booking information, head to www.manchesterjazz.com