I spent the bank holiday weekend mostly in Manchester with my brother and a couple of friends, mostly to see Nine Inch Nails perform, but also to enjoy the pleasures of the city.
We arrived on the Sunday and after checking in headed out to get some food. I'd booked us a table at the historic Marble Arch - the pub which gives its name to the parent company Marble Beers - and produce my most favourite ales. Whenever a Marble beer ends up as a guest at one of the Newcastle real ale pubs a friend of mine (who is much more on top of this stuff than I am) lets me know and we stop off for a few. Invariably there's a crowd of a dozen or so Manchester expats in bar when we do. I reserved our table over twitter, which is a bit of a novelty for me. My two friends are ale skeptics but - due to lack of choice - we all ended up sampling the Chocolate Marble and the Ginger 5.1, which went down a storm. They are possibly converts now. There was an Earl Grey IPA too, which was nice but a bit on the strong side for sessioning.
The gig was great - I prefer club gigs to arena gigs but the sound techs for NIN know what they are doing and the mix was great. The visuals were stunning too. Highlights for me were "The Great Destroyer" - in particular the extended, improvised 5 minute glitch-meltdown coda; the slow build of "Eraser" and "The Day The World Went Away" - played faithfully to the CD mix rather than the traditional extended live arrangement. I miss the former live arrangement, which includes a drawn out drum-backed finish, but this arrangement had a lot of force, with all four of the band bashing guitars into a pummelling wall of sound. I've heard that at least one person has taped the show and it turns out recordings have just recently surfaced for the two club gigs my brother and I attended back in 2005 and 2007 - meaning there are now widely available, high quality ROIO copies for every NIN gig I've ever been to.
Afterwards we tried to find a decent club. Manchester is a lot larger than my native city and there's plenty of places to go, if you know where they are. We had originally planned to visit The Factory on Charles Street, but we didn't believe it was open on the Sunday. The Factory is Peter Hook's (formerly of Joy Division/New Order) club - occupying the former office spaces of Factory records. I've chanced in there once before as it's right across the road from the Lass O' Gowrie pub, which is the haunt of choice for HE/tech people whenever we're in Manchester for conferences.
Instead we gravitated towards Dry Bar on Oldham street. By coincidence this place also has historic ties to Factory Records. However the doormen wouldn't let us in! Finally we landed at a place which had one name on the door and a different name on the inside (Jack's). Like the aformentioned Lass O' Gowrie and perhaps half of all pubs and clubs in Manchester, the place is decked out as a shrine to the former musical giants of the City, with framed pictures of Mark E Smith, the Haçienda again, the Stone Roses in their boy-band-looks hay day, John Peel (champion of many of them) and of course Tony Wilson. I can't help but wonder whether people who live here get royally sick of that.
This place served some delicious albeit cliché-titled Cocktails and played a pretty good set - the obligatory Madchester throwback interlude was followed by a chunk of Northern Soul and a couple of early Rap classics. Setlist wise it was pretty much identical to that of Foundation in Newcastle, 12 years ago, no doubt because Foundation was cribbing heavily from the Haçienda in the first place.
Monday was dedicated to exploring and shopping. Top of my list of places to go was my pilgrimage venue Vinyl Exchange. Whilst waiting for it to open we rolled around in Affleck's Palace, which turned out to have a small record stall within. After Vinyl Exchange we chanced across another record store right across the road - Picadilly Records - which happens to be larger and focuses more on new releases. It didn't take long before we found another small, DIY record shop, then another. We tried out the Fopp branch here - more Vinyl; then Urban Outfitters - more; then an Oxfam branch - even more. I actually got Vinyl snow blind at this point. I've been controlling myself admirably and only picked up a couple of bits and pieces. My best find was Fad Gadget's sophmore album "Incontinent".