When the UK began to wake up in summer 2020, weary denizens gained a new lease of life; eagerly debating what they’d do, where they’d go, and who’d they’d see first when ‘this was all over’.
‘What have you missed most?’ seemed to be the question we were all most keen to ask and answer.
But then, just as we started to get all our favourite things back, they were taken away again. And this time, it was much, much tougher.
The onset of Lockdown Three was the bleakest possible way to begin 2021 – ushering the public back indoors for a long, gloomy winter.
During January and February, Manchester still looked like the city we knew and loved, but it felt like another world. It was the strangest thing. We were all at home, yet painfully homesick.
Permitted activities were mostly limited to freezing-cold strolls in the rain, and the notion of ‘what we’ve missed most’ wasn’t just a throwaway remark anymore. It had taken on a deeper, almost existential meaning.
Local photographer Len Grant found himself mulling this very question during Lockdown Three and was unable to find a single answer. He missed it all.
He looked back over the images he’d captured from the seat of a saddle during his teeth-chattering bike rides, and every picture made him realise just how much he was aching for his city to return to life.
Like the rest of us, Len had nowhere to go and nothing to do during one of the most miserable winters on record – so he retreated to his loft and started sketching artworks of his beloved city to pass the time.
This week, those images came to life.
Len’s 12 artworks have been proudly hung aloft as part of a spectacular outdoor artwork series celebrating the return of Manchester called I’ve Missed You, Too.
Appearing at Escape to Freight Island by Piccadilly and on Redhill Street in Ancoats, the images will also soon appear as ground floor window vinyls at the upcoming QBic Hotel (which will open on the corner of John Dalton Street and Deansgate in May).
“They were short days, dark evenings, awful weather,” Len says, remembering the early part of Lockdown Three.
“I found being stuck inside really difficult. So, I began reworking some of my old sketches – and bought a big drawing board to create them at A2 size.
“Starting the series kept me on an even keel and supported my mental health. But what I realised I was doing was creating sketches of these places I was missing so much. Not just the physical places, but the activities we do there – going to the pubs, museums, art galleries, cafes.
“We’ve missed the impact and benefit all these places have had on us. We took them for granted, really. When they were taken away we not only missed them, we realised how these things help us interact as people.”
A homage to Mancunia, the artworks have been created using a range of different techniques including analogue and digital – hand-drawn at A2, painted in watercolour, and then dotted with colours and textures in Photoshop.
Each of the images feature familiar streets and faces – carrying a warm, dreamlike quality and even a few recurring characters.
“Some of the people in these artworks are based on individuals who have been in the environments I’ve photographed before,” Len explains.
“One example is the woman walking past with a tote bag which says ‘2 metres’ – which is kind of appropriate to the era. Some of [the characters] come from my imagination. I draw figures in a notebook and sometimes, if I like those, they appear.
“I realised some people were appearing again and again. I quite liked that idea that you see somebody in one place and you might see them again somewhere else.
“For example, there’s a guy walking his dog in Cutting Room Square, and in the sketch of New Islington the dog appears again. There’s also a little boy chasing a pigeon in two different parts of Manchester.
“Hopefully as people look at them they’ll be able to see the little humorous things.”
Introducing the artwork is a short love letter to the city containing some of Len’s favourite pastimes – from tucking into Rice & Three at This & That Cafe to cutting through Royal Exchange Theatre to duck away from Manchester drizzle.
It’s been a gruelling few months, but Len’s beloved city is back in action. And he wonders whether it’ll be different this time round.
“I’m intrigued to know how the cities will change,” Len muses.
“There’s already talk about big companies not using much office space or inviting people to work from home more often. I wonder whether that’s sustainable… and if over a period of time people will want to start working with others.
“I think we’ll get back to where we were. We’re all kind of Zoom-ed out, now. When I get a face-to-face meeting these days, I’m so excited. It’s novel at the moment.
“I think any nervousness of going back will be short-lived.”
Len has left his mark on the city with many major photography projects over the years – including the magnificent ‘Regeneration Manchester’ – which shows Manchester transforming over three decades.
But according to Len, there’s nothing quite like having your work exhibited outdoors.
“I absolutely love getting my work outside, people just stumble across it,” he says.
“You just get so many more people seeing it who wouldn’t ordinarily do so. I love that idea.
“I’m super excited by it, to be quite honest.”
As beaming families wander down Redhill Street and point at the artworks sizzling in the sunshine, it’s evident that Len isn’t the only one feeling this way.
Manchester is coming back.
You can catch the new series ‘I’ve Missed You, Too’ at Escape To Freight Island at Mayfield Depot.
The artwork is also proudly displayed on the fence of Urban Splash development Waulk Mill on Redhill Street in Ancoats.
All 12 images will be showcased at the QBic Hotel from May.
You can purchase the exhibition catalogue online here.
The Scottish-Indian restaurant selling haggis pakoras and deep-fried Mars bars
Over in Sale’s newly redeveloped Stanley Square, you’ll find an Indian fusion restaurant serving up Scottish ingredients in some decidedly un-Scottish ways.
We’re talking haggis pakoras, Irn Bru negronis, wee puris and seven spice Scotch eggs – all served street food style in traditional metal tiffin boxes.
Opened by Ryan Singh, who hails from Edinburgh, Roti combines the best bits of his Scottish and Indian heritage by putting a spicy twist on some of Scotland’s most sacred foodstuffs.
Think deep-fried Mars bars, ‘chip butties’ in authentic rotis stuffed with curried aloo and chickpeas in aromatic pickle, and an aromatic take on mince and tatties made by combining Roti spiced pork and chole potatoes.
Elsewhere, you’ll find a decidedly fresh spin on fish and chips combining fresh Panga fish in roti gram flour batter with fluffy masala potatoes on a bed of curried ‘mushy peas’ chickpeas, and a massive Highlander burger topped with a crunchy puri ball.
Haggis – a Scottish delicacy traditionally served on Burns night – features heavily on the menu here too.
A savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (a mix of minced heart, liver and lungs) with oatmeal, onion, spices, suet, salt and stock, it’s typically served alongside neeps (better known as parsnips) on special occassions.
Down at Roti, though, it takes some decidedly different forms: shaped into burger patties and topped with coleslaw and apple chutney, or lightly coated in a spiced gram flour and fried into pakoras.
Roti first opened on Chorlton’s Barlow Moor Road in 2019, but within a few months found itself forced to close its doors and switch to takeaway only as the country went into lockdown.
After building up a loyal following of takeaway customers, the restaurant – described as ‘not your average Indian joint’ – was inspired to expand and owners moved into the newly refurbished Sale shopping precinct in 2021.
Sadly, they closed the original restaurant earlier this month but you can still find all their brilliant dishes over in Sale alongside hospitality heavy hitters like Rudy’s, Greens and Sugo Pasta Kitchen.
The 1975 ‘At Their Very Best’ in Manchester — they certainly were
On Friday, The 1975 rocked their way back up to Manchester for the homecoming gig of their ‘At Their Very Best’ tour at the AO Arena and ‘my, my, my’ did they live up to the title of the show.
Returning for the first time since 2020, the band from Wilmslow were clearly committed to putting on a memorable show for the city they grew up in and which essentially put them on the map, with Matty Healy openly admitting: “I don’t need to tell you how big this gig for us”.
It certainly felt pretty momentous for the 20,000 or so of us watching.
The calm before the storm
While a mix of ambient and classic music played before they took the stage and opener Bonnie Kemplay delighted both her die-hards and won over plenty of new ears with her soft and soothing tones, it all felt like a calm before the storm as we knew the level of performance and pageantry that was in store.
We couldn’t have been more right, as despite having fallen ill overnight and being hopped up on Lemsip — he literally spent the first few songs sipping on a cold and flu drink — you couldn’t tell, as Healy’s energy levels looked just as electric as in the now-famed London show, if not even more so.
Not only did he grow into the gig as it went on, as typified by various costume changes (mostly just taking off his shirt), the trademark shaky knees dancing, swapping Lemsip for wine and cigs, as well as his general David Bryne-like eccentricities, but the whole show felt more like an ensemble performance.
From the way his various bandmates were introduced with opening credits as they walked through the various doors on the stage and fans screamed as each of their favourites switched on a light around the beautifully set design, to how they all gathered around the mics to nail the harmonies — it felt like everyone had their moment. And there were quite a few, to say the least…
Chucking on special guests, chewing raw meat and climbing through a TV
With fans having already seen footage of them bringing out Taylor Swift on the first night in the capital, those watching The 1975 ‘At Their Very Best’ in Manchester were understandably excited to see who might appear through the door towards the back of the stage. Oh, just Charli XCX, as you do.
Honestly, the noise that echoed around the AO Arena when she appeared was deafening and though perhaps not everyone in there would usually find themselves listening to her music, even with The 1975‘s own obvious and expertly attuned pop sensibilities, her energy was unparalleled and the crowd lapped it up.
It was a similar story when Carly Holt was brought on for ‘About You’ and they played old cult-favourite ‘Menswear’ from their self-titled debut album.
That being said, it was nothing compared to the slightly maniacal crescendo that closed out of the opening half of the show before she stepped out, as Matty punctuated the songs from Being Funny in a Foreign Language and the more easy-going tracks with a typically meta albeit bizarre interlude.
The frenetic frontman has always been self-referential but he was at self-indulgent best on Friday, as in one fell swoop he went from unbuttoning his shirt and sensually caressing his body whilst smoking on stage, to getting on his knees, eating a raw piece of steak and doing a bunch of press-ups. At one point you could literally see him mouth, “what the f*** am I doing!?”
We have absolutely no idea, Matty. We thought it was surreal enough when he started eating a sausage roll after a fan chucked it on stage, but that was nothing compared to him staring down a camera as he climbed through a TV and disappeared out the back of the set.
We assumed it had some kind of consumerist, fourth-wall-breaking message about being sucked in by media and whatnot, but who knows? It could just be the ever-artsy musician having a bit of mind-bending fun; it gave us trippy Trainspotting vibes and was unlike any other live gig we’d ever seen.
Doing what they do best: putting on a proper show
With the new album and the majority of surprises behind them, the band then kicked things into fifth gear and started playing countless bangers throughout their now more than decade-long studio discography as they steamed towards the final act of their 25-track epic.
Part of the reason this latest record has gone down so well with fans new and old is that it’s much more succinct and simpler than the previous two; back to basics sounds reductive but it was about stripping away a lot of the frills and just writing good songs — the second half of the show very much embodied that ethos.
Matty’s often unhinged, ‘dancing with abandon’ and intoxicated persona on stage is never going to go anywhere, but it didn’t look like he needed anything other than the audience to fuel the performance. They fed off him and he fed off them, as was perfectly epitomised when they dropped ‘The Sound’.
Closing the door and looking towards a new chapter
More poignantly, after the now infamous antics earlier in the show that have now become part of the narrative for this tour, there wasn’t any more self-indulgence. There were no speeches about politics or art, kissing people on stage or sucking thumbs. There was simply no need for it.
There was only pure crowd-pleasing, Matty showing his appreciation for his bandmates and celebrating everything that the band is about at this moment in time, even if that is partly playing the hits and things like doing the ‘don’t like methols’ meme.
I mean, he couldn’t not do it for us, could he?
Last but not least, the set dressing was typically creative from The 1975’s production team as a whole and played a key role throughout, but it was until the end of the show that it hit home how important it was to the whole performance.
The doors dotted all over the stage weren’t just a nice nod to the iconic box logo that the band is known for. After it was illuminated and Matty passed through it for the final time, shutting it behind him and the credits once again rolling for the band, the metaphor hit you like a train: it signified the end of an era.
By walking through it on his way off the stage, it symbolised the band closing the door on the Music For Cars era that has encapsulated their last five albums and more than 21 years of their life as a band, with the last action of Matty going to turn the stage lights as if to ram home that final moment of closure.
Who knows what the next chapter will hold for The 1975? All we know is that we have loved the journey so far and you can sign us up for as many of those gigs as they’re willing to give us.