Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll be well aware that Manchester International Festival (MIF 2019) is in full swing. From theatre to internationally acclaimed musicians and original pieces, you can’t shake a MIF 2019 programme without bumping into an event.

Once again, the biennial international arts festival has transformed Manchester’s Albert Square, in front of the city’s historic town hall, into Festival Square – a space offering up a whole host of free stuff including live music, cabaret, DJs and special events. The square acts as a hub for the festival with plenty of knowledgeable volunteers milling about and a handy ticket office, and attracts a host of visitors from people-watchers soaking up the (sometimes) rays, to families making the most of the free events and street food. It’s also a spot for after-work drinks with mezzanine seating areas and a decent amount of booze on offer.

BBC Music Introducing Manchester, Manchester International Festival, Festival SquareFor me, Festival Square means one thing: live music and a few tipples. Recently, a pal and I headed to a special BBC Music Introducing takeover (via Piccolino for drinks, some tasty grub and a catch-up with the BBC Radio Manchester team behind the event) which saw a host of unsigned, undiscovered and under-the-radar UK talent take the stage. With such a long-list of international acts on the MIF bill, it was refreshing to see something with home-grown talent – all five acts have been supported by BBC Music Introducing in Manchester.

After having a bit of a mooch around the cobbled square – I was impressed by the overall look of the place this year, particularly the comfy looking deckchairs and a beautiful floral wall – we selected a gin and tonic from the impressive drinks list and headed to the stage (which is cleverly under cover should the heavens open) to watch the acts.

BBC Music Introducing Manchester, Manchester International Festival, Festival SquareAs we sip our drinks, through Manchester bee biodegradable straws if that’s your thing, we catch the tail end of Liam Frost‘s set. Hailing from Prestwich, the singer-songwriter plays beautiful acoustic tunes and we immediately regret not seeing his set in its entirety. Next up is English alternative hip-hop band led by the MC/Poet David Scott, Argh Kid. I’ve seen Argh Kid perform before and they are always crowd-pleasers with Scott’s distinctly Mancunian sound and eclectic approach to hip-hop. The vibe is distinctly joyful and we recognise the landscape, politics and everyday lives of the city through humour and pathos – falafel, hipsters and bad hangovers included.

Since the event is on a school night, and I’m three drinks in and no longer a spring chicken, we decide to stay for one more act before heading to catch the train. Female rapper from Manchester, OneDa, has recently started her musical journey as a solo artist, collaborating and performing with some of the most credible names in the industry. For me, her sound draws comparisons with the 90s female hip-hop groups and artists I adored during my teenage years (and still pepper my Spotify playlists) but with a relevant, modern edge.

BBC Music Introducing Manchester, Manchester International Festival, Festival SquareWhile some things should be firmly left in the 90s, like Buffalo platform trainers, zig-zag partings and The Spice Girls, OneDa’s sound is something my nostalgia can firmly get on board with.

So, if you’re looking for a great way to spend a weekday evening, I would certainly suggest checking out the stage at Festival Square and, in particular, the events from the team at BBC Introducing Manchester. You might discover a real gem.

By Emma Yates-Badley


To listen to Michelle Hussey and Natalie Eve-Williams live at the Manchester International Festival, click here