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Tuesday 4 July 2023


Manchester International Festival opened on Friday night with a free performance by A Certain Ratio in a brand new outdoor space, Festival Square. The new arts centre, Factory International, has been under construction for several years (on the site of the old Granada TV studios) and has run wildly over budget. As a result they've had to go for naming rights sponsorship so what should have been Factory International is now The Aviva Factory International (and we could discuss whether Manchester needs to get over its constant referencing of the past, Factory Records, the black and yellow Hacienda stripes and all of that). As Tony Wilson probably never actually said, 'This is Manchester. We do things differently here'. Well, maybe... 

The outdoor space, Festival Square, sensibly has a roof, is open at both sides and overlooks the River Irwell to the left and into the new arts centre to the right (a vast building with a warehouse size space and auditorium and is currently hosting what looks like a fantastic installation by Yayoi Kusama). Festival Square looks and feels like a good space, the sound was good, it's small enough to feel fairly intimate and opened in the pouring rain on Friday night, the decision to build an outdoor gig venue with a roof paying off already. The free gigs at festival Square include The Orielles next Sunday which I also intend to go to. Dave Haslam is heavily involved in the festival and he asked ACR to play. 

ACR play a blinder, a band about to celebrate forty five years of making music, who have been re- energised in recent years with the signing of a deal with Mute, new albums and EPs and the recruitment of a new young singer Ellen Beth Abdi and new young bassist Viv Griffin. They take the stage at 9pm with Martin on drums, drummer Don on bass and Jez centre stage on vox and whistle. Don published the setlist on Twitter (below), the group playing a mix of old and new songs, the new ones firmly established along side the older songs. By the time they get to Flight, their 1980 single and post- punk classic, they're red hot and their back catalogue sounds like one continuous piece, a group with several signature sounds, ever moving forwards and better than ever. 

The final four songs are ACR at their best, the wayward jazz funk of Mickey Way, the Mancunian ecstasy pop of Won't Stop Loving You (dedicated to Denise), the punk- funk noir of Shack Up and their latin percussion and drumfest of Si Firmir O Grido, everyone banging something, whistles being blown and Don and Martin swapping places at the drum stool and then back again. The gig was being filmed, a cameraman bobbing about on stage- hopefully the footage will surface sooner or later. 

The Big E

Afterwards Dave Haslam took over on stage, a DJ set of dance music old and new, joined periodically by a pair of very glamourous dancers and an MC. Dave's set included Strings Of Life, a Manc classic going back to the Hacienda days. Dave built the tension, a breakdown and everyone waiting for the piano riff to come in like a dam bursting. Later on he played something much more modern, something I know I've got but can't remember exactly what it was now, stretching it out and extending the electronic pleasure. Somehow, a largish crowd of middle aged and younger people, dancing as the rain fell only a few feet away, with dancers in drag on the stage, seemed a typically, brilliantly Mancunian way to start a hometown festival. 

Strings Of Life (Piano Mix)

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