• Manchester International Festival •

• Manchester International Festival •

A found piece on MIF.



A MAN IS walking fast through the streets of central Manchester, and he is lost. “Where is Peter Street?” he demands. One of his team, a dark-haired woman in her 30s, is talking with some agitation into her mobile, trying to keep up as her boss scoots along the pavement, head turning this way and that. “I think…” she begins. “Is it here?” the man says. “No it’s here. This way.”

What’s in his head right now is Albert Hall, a derelict Wesleyan temperance mission hidden above what used to be Brannigan’s nightclub. We’re heading there to meet a local property developer who has promised Poots he can get the space up and running in time to act as a venue for next year’s festival. We’re also meeting Guy Garvey, whose band Elbow were a hit at MIF09 when they played two nights live with the Hallé Orchestra—whom Garvey described as “the best Manchester band of all.” Poots has been working with Garvey on an idea for another piece. He hopes it will be a centrepiece of MIF13, and he wants to hold it in this hall.

At the venue—a magnificent, golden-bricked building with two-storey stained-glass windows up top and a series of black-painted hoardings below—the door is opened by a slight man with blackened fingers and filthy trousers. He has a sweet, gentle smile and looks mildly bewildered. That’s decent of them, I think, they’ve employed a homeless man to look after the place. “This is Joel,” says Poots. “He’s the developer.” Next to him is a bearish figure in an overcoat clutching a brown leather folio case. “And this is Guy.”

We inspect the building. Downstairs, where Brannigan’s used to be, there is a faint odour of ancient beer. Flyers for gigs are stuck on peeling walls beneath a ceiling of glorious coloured Edwardian tiling, and a tipsy, hand-painted sign points the way to “Ladies”. But it’s the floor above, up three flights of echoing stone stairs, which Poots is interested in: an abandoned wreck of a liturgical space, dominated by leaded skylights and an organ as big as a house. The floor is full of broken parquet, junk is piled against the walls. We clamber along seatless tiers in the balcony, picking our way over ropes of exposed electric cabling, thick with dust. “We’ll get 1,500 people up here,” says Joel, beatifically. “We can have cushions.”

Poots looks around, bright-eyed. “Great, great. The one thing that worries me, though. Will it be ready?” Everybody laughs. I’m not sure why.

“Oh yeh, yeh,” Joel nods, a buddha of optimism. “I’ve got a meeting tomorrow about dates and consultants, and… everything.”

Poots turns to Garvey. “See? D’you get it?” “It’s amazin’,” Garvey says, “Amazin”.


Tom Bloxham chairs M.I.F and is also founder of Urban Splash. Hand in glove.


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