After what can only be described as a terrific year for Manchester Collective, the music organisation brings 2021 to a close with its Heavy Metal tour which, throughout December, has received rave reviews in London, Leeds and Bristol.

The penultimate show in the run saw the Collective and friends deliver a culturally dynamic set at Salford’s greatest art space, The White Hotel.

Visiting The White Hotel always feels like you’re about to be involved in something incredibly exclusive, authentic and at the forefront of creative practice. This event certainly delivered with aplomb.

Collective director Adam Szabo noted that the group’s last live performance before lockdown (version one) was with Cries and Whispers at the Salford venue and, while we’ve all been on quite a journey since then, not many of us can say we’ve appeared at The Proms, begun to make our exquisite music available on beautiful vinyl (and other formats), or curated a groundbreaking arts initiative, encouraging northern creatives to re-interpret their work. Not surprisingly, Manchester Collective has done all of the above and much more besides.

Drawn into the uber-cool M3 7LW space by the hypnotic beats crafted by producer, musician songwriter and singer LoneLady (AKA Julie Campbell), it became immediately clear that this particular Friday night was going to be a winner. Recently back from a basement residency at Somerset House, from where she produced her third studio album FORMER THINGS, LoneLady cast out a vibe from her DJ booth that definitely warmed the parka-clad congregation.

Szabo opened proceedings by talking about Northern Voices, an initiative launched earlier this year to celebrate the extraordinary artistic talent in our region. On paper, this creative project had the potential to be something quite special. Witnessed in person, the outcomes are as exciting and diverse as they are intelligent and meaningful. The initiative has seen local artists, writers and creative freelancers respond imaginatively to Manchester Collective’s work. Their creations span different mediums from film, music and photography to visual art and critical writing.

The White Hotel by Colin PetchCURRENTMOODGIRL (Greta Carroll) has created Skin Stretch, a new electronic track taking the story from Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night as her starting point. Carroll explained that, in the 19th century poem, perspective is male-focused. Her new work has sought to reassert the fact that the subject is ultimately centred on the body of a woman.

Courtney ‘CourtsWrites’ Hayles was particularly eloquent and moving when asked to describe his work and the journey involved in creating it. The piece, entitled Blink, is film, spoken word and photography and explores the turbulent journey creators experience when faced with a blank sheet of paper. Company by Philip Glass was Hayles’ inspiration.

Chris Alton’s Words to Grieve, Part #1 in collaboration with Emily Simpson was also exhibited by The White Hotel. The artworks explore bereavement, grief and language and stem from conversations with a community of people with shared experiences as well as the artists’ own reflections on society’s cultural distancing from death. The resulting six posters point towards the creation of new words and definitions, a starting point in the expansion of the vocabulary for grief.

And so, to Heavy Metal. Billed as ‘a noisy show’, there was big percussion, live electronics and amplified strings. A distortion pedal called the Ibanez Tube Screamer also made an appearance.

Bryce Dessner’s Aheym, which, rather appropriately, is Yiddish for ‘homecoming’, opened the evening’s set and Rakhi Singh, along with Ruth Gibson, Stephanie Tress and Julian Azkoul, produced an intensity and fever through their strings that must have resonated across Salford.

Photo credit Brandina Chisambo.British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s Insight followed and is a composition for string trio. The piece has three interlinking sections: reflective, lively and stretto, and they each washed over an extremely appreciative audience.

Ben Nobuto’s SERENITY 2.0 is a remarkable piece, written for strings, percussion and electronics. The composer was on hand to explain the inspiration for his work and, in doing so, transported the audience to a busy street in an unnamed Japanese city. SERENITY 2.0 is brand new and has been premiered by Manchester Collective as part of the Heavy Metal programme.

Stephanie Tress, along with her Ibanez Tube Screamer, supplied a breathtaking solo cello performance of Michael Gordon’s Industry. The arrangement, which has the boundary-pushing credentials of Manchester Collective stamped all over it, received huge applause.

The final piece of the evening came courtesy of Sebastian Gainsborough (AKA VESSEL). With his second commission for Manchester Collective, Gainsborough has created a work that is mesmeric and challenging in equal measure. Squint represents a further exploration by the composer of historical periods, subjects and emotions that are then laid down as bedrock for some of the most contemporary music out there.

With a festive period of reflection richly deserved and, hopefully, ahead for The Collective, the organisation returns in February 2022 with A Little Requiem, featuring work from Gorecki and Copeland. I, for one, will be at Hallé St Peter’s to witness their next musical wonder.

By Colin Petch

Main image by Brandina Chisambo