“We’re from North Manchester, we don’t normally get strings.”

“Can we just do it again? Big smiles. Give it 100% now. Then we’re going to get into our costumes and perform it to parents.”

Mad Theatre’s Creative Director Rob is firing encouragement at the nine young actors on the small stage in Manchester Communication Academy’s drama studio. Tomorrow is the big day. Now one final run through before tonight’s dress rehearsal.

Ten minutes later they all come off stage and I get the chance to ask Rob what it’s all about.

“We did some work with Seddons, the construction people, last year,” he explains. “We performed a piece about Manchester’s industrial past at some swanky do at the People’s History Museum in town.

“We must have done all right because they asked us to come back and do it again this year. This time to work with the Manchester Camerata and perform a piece about the city’s cultural history.

Rob tells me this year’s do is in the Whispering Room at Manchester’s Central Library. Mad Theatre will perform their tribute to ‘Madchester’ music accompanied by a string quartet, keyboard player and a percussionist.

Specially-printed T shirts, trainers and Stone Roses-inspired ‘bucket hats’ are handed out and the performers disappear to get changed.

“So I wrote a piece starting from when the Sex Pistols played at the Lower Free Trade Hall,” continues Rob, “fast-forwarding through the whole Madchester scene with a bit of Shelagh Delaney thrown in.”

I love Mad Theatre’s approach. Time and again they produce wonderful performances about real life, about things that matter. It’s very well done and a pleasure to watch.

“And what’s also been great,” says Rob, “is that, just like we do with our Forever Manchester partners in Harpurhey and Moston, we’re making a joint bid with the Camerata for a totally new project.”

Once the performers have changed and parents start to arrive for the dress rehearsal, I put my tape recorder in front of 15-year-old James. “You sing about the bomb?” I say.

“There’s a line in the Smiths’ song which goes, ‘If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together.’

“And, as young people, this performance been a really good way for us to express how we feel about the most recent Manchester bombing.

“It’s saying, there is nothing that’s going to stop us. We’re Mancs, we’re strong.”

“And what’s this been like?” I ask, nodding towards the string quartet.

“It’s been absolutely amazing because we’ve never worked with an orchestra before. It’s been eye-opening. Today is the first time we’ve performed live with them. Until now we’ve been working with a recording. It’s a real kick with the live performers.”

17-year-old Jake is tonight’s frontman. Apparently he fronts his own band too, at the music college he attends. Tonight he’s Johnny Rotten, Morrissey and Shaun Ryder, in quick succession. “Have you had to watch a lot of music videos to get into the roles?”

“No, not at all. I’m really passionate about Morrissey and the Manchester bands. This is the sort of music I listen to, so I know all the words.”

The parents have now arrived. Jake, James and the rest of the young people are back on stage as Rob finishes a short introduction.

With a nod to the musicians, Jake kicks them all off: “A one, a two, a one, two, three, four…”

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Being part of an active and friendly group

LRG member and owner of Chandlers Hairdressing, Stephen Chandler tells of his passion for the stage.

For the past five years I’ve been an active member of the North Manchester Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (NMAODS).

We’ve just finished out latest production, The Vicar of Dibley, Love and Marriage, which ran for four nights (and one matinee) to coincide with this year’s Comic Relief.

For this show I was part of the backroom crew but I’ve also had acting parts in our versions of Faulty Towers and ’Allo, ’Allo.

It’s not the first time we’ve followed the adventures of vicar Geraldine and Alice the verger. We first covered the sitcom in 2014.

The original, starring Dawn French and Emma Chambers, was first shown on the BBC in November 1994 and ran for over three years, with a number of ‘specials’ after that. It was written by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer. Curtis is well known for comedy films, Love Actually, Bridget Jones and Notting Hill. His TV hits include Mr Bean and Blackadder.

I’m really enjoying being part of such an active society and friendly group and must thank our director Vanessa Randall and chairman David Gordon for that.

In 2019 the North Manchester Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society will be 100 years old. We were created from the merger of the Harpurhey Dramatic Society and the Simpson Memorial Tennis Club.

Our home, since 1919, has been the Simpson Memorial Hall on Moston Lane which was originally built from money from the estate of William Simpson, a wealthy local silk manufacturer.

Its original objective was to ‘promote the benefit of the inhabitants of Moston and neighbouring districts by associating with the local authorities, voluntary organisations and inhabitants to advance education and to provide facilities for recreation and with the object of improving the conditions of life for the said inhabitants.’

And with NMAODS we’re continuing to do just that.

If you’d like to join us, or get information on our forthcoming productions, visit www.nmaods.com

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From fabrication engineer to community hub hero

“This one’s got bits of chorizo and smoked cheese,” says Louis showing me one of his pies in the community café. “It’s a bit misshaped, but it’s all there. Very rustic.”

Louis Beckett has been running The Miners Community Arts and Music Centre for nearly seven years.

Back in the day this single-story building off St Mary’s Road was a washroom for the local pit. Then it became a working men’s club until it closed in the early 90s.

Louis has in fingers in so many pies, I’m finding it difficult to pin him down. “As well as running this place, you’re also an artist, aren’t you?”

“I like being creative in whatever I do,” he says, pulling the pie-heater away from the kitchen wall so he can clean it. “Even with my cooking. But I have to do all sorts running this place. One minute I’m the cellar man, the next I’m taking bookings for gigs.

“But I do like to think of myself as an artist, although by trade I’m a welder, a fabrication engineer.” I must have pulled a puzzled face. “I know, it’s a bit weird.”

“I loved art as a kid. I started off at St Thomas More School in Miles Platting before I moved to the High School of Art in Cheetham Hill. That was great. It was much more creative than it was academic.

“When I was 12 or 13 I had a job as a butcher’s boy for Yates’s Butchers on Tib Street, next to the Wine Lodge. When I turned 16, the butcher – Norman Dixon – offered me a full time job.

“Really I wanted to be an architect but my dad said no, I had to get a ‘proper job’ rather than go on to college and university. I didn’t want to be a butcher so I went looking for another job. Bolton Brady Industrial Doors and Shutters in Ancoats was taking on apprentices and I went there and learnt the bench. Engineering was a semi-skilled job and I loved fabricating with metal.”

“Were you annoyed with your dad for not letting you follow your passion?”

“I suppose so, but that’s parents, isn’t it?”

“When Bolton Bradys shut down I got a series of jobs in small fabrication workshops, a few years at a time, until they shut down and I was laid off.

“In my 30s I went back to college and did A-levels in Fine Art and Design. And then I applied to Huddersfield University to do a BA Honours degree in Fine Art.

I took just three paintings to the interview and sat and talked to the people on the panel. They listened to what I had to say, looked at my work and said, right, you’re in. “But I couldn’t afford to go. It was full time for three years. So I went back into fabrication for another five years.”

continued in: The Miners: an oasis in a desert of closed venues and dwindling resources

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