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Special feature – The Factory, Manchester, UK

There are plenty of reviews to do right now but I’m taking a short break to write about a new venue for the performing arts that will open in Manchester next year and which may be of interest to Nordic region artists and assorted movers and shakers in the music industry there.

The Factory, currently under construction on the old site of Granada TV Studios (where they made ‘Coronation Street’, the world’s longest-running TV soap opera, for decades), and set to open in June 2023, will be the new permanent home of the biennial Manchester International Festival.

The MIF itself is the world’s only arts festival dedicated solely to new work and commissions, so The Factory’s pedigree is assured from Day 1.

I had a look around it today and, to use the common (Coronation Street) vernacular in these parts, I were gobsmacked. The building, which has managed to squeeze GB£100 million out of the government towards funding a non-London project (and that takes some doing) is huge (13,350 square metres), and especially so in terms of height (30 metres), so that it could handle just about any variety of multi-media performance. One London-based journalist described it as being like the Tate Gallery and the Turbine Hall there being rammed into one, and then some.

It is based on ultra-flexible spaces that can be instantly reconfigured on demand and thus enabling “large-scale artistic work of invention and ambition that isn’t made anywhere else in the world.” It is anticipated there will be over 80 music gigs a year, alone.

The level of acoustic control is such that two bands can be playing either side of the movable dividing walls at the same time, at 100 Db each, and the audience wouldn’t know that there was another performance going on at the same time.

What’s more, it will produce and premiere major new work in many fields of the arts before it travels globally.

I won’t go on about it in detail because you can easily read about it online here – https://factoryinternational.org/about/ – and I have a point to make.

Before I do, I’ll add that the Factory will supplement an already enormous list of venues in and around the city that are world-beating, including the AO Arena and the Co-op Arena, which opens in November 2023. Those two arenas alone will be the first and third biggest in Europe. In one city. Add to that facilities at Home (a smaller scale version of The Factory) and the Lowry in Salford (Manchester’s ‘twin city’) and more smaller venues per capita than anywhere else in the UK despite Covid and Manchester is absolutely buzzing with places to play.

Of course a very large building like The Factory isn’t appropriate to artists and bands that are starting out and as far as I know smaller ‘break-out’ type performance spaces haven’t been incorporated in the design. It is more appropriate to multimedia specialists in particular. Björk for example instantly comes to mind and I’m sure it won’t be long before she turns up there.

But experience tells me that buildings like this, especially when they are located in a new, fast-developing part of a city, quickly spawn venues nearby that would be attractive to artists on the lower rungs of the performance ladder.

And that belatedly brings me to my point; one I’ve been intending to make for a while but hung on for the right moment.

The twin impacts of Covid and of transport administrative demands and charges occasioned by Brexit have limited the number of Nordic musical artists coming to the UK to play here. Brexit I can do nothing about but I do believe the issues are solvable, and will be before too long.

What concerns me even more is the number of artists who are still coming here and who claim to do a ‘tour’ of the UK which amounts to one show, in London. This is a country of 68 million people, the vast majority of whom do not live in or around London and in most cases anywhere near it. In other words, in order to see you they’d be paying for a ticket, a rail fare or vehicle fuel that might be liquid gold, an exorbitant hotel bill and sustenance. Not much change out of GB£250, at a time of rapidly increasing austerity.

But they want to hear your music.

Of course you can’t play everywhere and no-one would expect you to. But venues beyond London need to be on your radar and there are a handful of cities which are ‘must-do’s’ of which Manchester is one.

See you soon.

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