Levenshulme is rising. To say it is gentrifying is perhaps too strong but it’s certainly becoming bohemian. The success of The Talleyrand, a bar with an art gallery and performance space, is evidence of that. It’s also next door to Trove, arguably the best artisan baker in Manchester, and just down from Oddfellows Barbers, a temple to exquisite male grooming presided over by the magnificently be-whiskered Andy.
With a bar at the front offering decent craft beers and intriguing gins, and a sizeable room at the rear that could have been turned into a dining room (but for the owners’ unfashionable commitment to local cultural enfranchisement rather than hard cash), The Talleyrand is a fascinating proposition.
“We aimed to create a warm and welcoming bar with a great arts programme, rather than an arts centre with a bar,” says Tom Hughes, an aspiring writer. “We like the thought of an inclusive place, outside the city centre, open to all walks of life. Something warm and welcoming to every member of the local community.”
While working together at Manchester’s arts centre HOME, Hughes and film-maker Dean Brocklehurst shared curatorial ambitions for a more local, accessible, community space. HOME might say that it shares that ambition, but it is in the nature of palaces of culture that they exclude the culturally dispossessed. The Talleyrand is anything but a palace. The Victorian site used to be a sign-writer’s shop.
And that’s what they’ve got. The name comes from Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, one of the most cunning diplomats in history who, in 1793, came to Levenshulme to escape beheading – as you do – and stayed for a couple of years before going back to work for Napoleon. The Talleyrand became the name for the area of Levenshulme where he lived.
Like Talleyrand, Hughes and Brocklehurst are men of ambition, as Hughes admits. “We’d like to make history. We’d like to show things that might not get an outing anywhere else, and be on the gig and theatre circuit and have a strong rep as a small repertory cinema showing a kind of cult cinema that’s difficult to find. We are strong believers in the communal act of watching a film with strangers and the atmosphere it engenders that can really draw people together. It’s something people experience less now due to the shift to the Netflix paradigm.”
He adds: “We’re showing a cinéma vérité film called And This Is Free, a documentary about the largest street market in America, in Chicago. Chicago blues owed a lot to the Maxwell Street market where artists would play for free, and we’re going to have free live blues afterwards to keep you in the liminal zone created by the movie.”
This kind of joined-up thinking is at the root of their programming, as Hughes explains. “After that, for the next month, the back space will be in use for a large-scale gallery exhibition, a solo show by John Powell Jones called Work Drinks, an exploration of performative workaholism, deception and corruption. It’s part of our collaboration with STOCK, a programme of high-end contemporary art curated by Kieran Healy. We do one show around this length every few months.”
In case you’re wondering, performative workaholism, which I hadn’t heard of before, refers to a new trend in young people to boast about how many hours they put in at work (#hustle #thankgoditsmonday #riseandgrind).
There’s other stuff too. “On June 6, we’ve got the fourth instalment of our regular scratch night, Tally-Ho, curated and compered by George Miaris. It consists of short plays, sketches, stand-up comedy, poetry and music. Then, on June 13, we host a life-drawing event with a proper model and instructor and everything. We’ve also got something special planned on June 16 to celebrate Bloomsday, which we can’t announce yet, and there’ll be plenty of live music across June. Bands are booked regularly throughout each month.”
I feel exhausted just hearing about it. So, in the context of performative workaholism, how does Hughes think it’s going? “We’re really happy with what we’re doing. It’s hard but meaningful work so we are enjoying ourselves and that’s what’s important. We keep ticket prices low to maximise inclusivity. Most of our plays and gigs are £5 -to £7 and our film screenings are always free. Low price, high art. We feel that if we can make everything else work and create a wonderful scene, and get really good at what we do in terms of events, the rest will follow.”
And in five years’ time?
“We’d like to still be open and doing what we’re doing now, maybe with a bit more exposure. Levenshulme is changing rapidly and we hope that The Talleyrand will be at the centre of a cultural scene that will spread out in ripples from us and create a circuit of venues, cultural stuff and festivals.”
Cultural stuff. I like that. In a world of climate change when our addiction to physical stuff will be challenged to extinction, cultural stuff in small local doses may be the thing that helps us keep it all together.
By Chris Wallis
Main image: Dean Brocklehurst and Tom Hughes, The Talleyrand. Credit: Paul Moore.