Friday 12th July. 2019
I went to my first Manchester International Festival (MIF) two years ago. That was to see master saxophonist Colin Stetson as part of a series of gigs curated by MaryAnne Hobbs. It was at that gig that Tom and I met and became friends. That was a special night and a special time, I was only in Manchester thanks to the kindness of strangers who put their hands in their pockets to help me out when financially things got a little sticky. 40 gigs moved into another gear after this and the people of Manchester played their part in making me feel welcome and accepted. Hence wanting to go back.
This year’s MIF has seen a major retrospective of David Lynch’s films and art and he has also curated a series of gigs too. All at HOME in Manchester, a multi arts venue that seems to be quite lively. This gig was being headlined by Anna Calvi who I have been crushing on since I saw her live last year. Such swagger, such confidence and such talent. I was not going to turn down the opportunity to see her play live again.
Before the music, though, I wanted to see David’s art. It came as no surprise to learn that he had studied art – his films are so painterly and lit so beautifully that it makes sense to discover he is also an artist. His art is as strange, disconcerting, weird and dark as the rest of his output. If, like me, you love his movies and TV shows, you will also love his art.
I was darn near obsessed with Twin Peaks as a young teen. So, to walk into the theatre at HOME to find a red velvet curtain and strange music playing. Well. It set us up for the evening that was to come. We were allowed no photographs, and had to remain in our seats for the duration. The way it should be.
Chrysta Bell sashayed onto the stage like a 40’s screen siren to read poetry and introduce the first act, Douglas Dare. He was part new romantic, part Ashes to Ashes era Bowie and all parts wonderful. Playing variously piano, guitar and an instrument I didn’t recognise it was torch song, lamenting folk music that showcased Douglas’ fabulous voice. He was lit to perfection which added to the thrill of it all. I liked him tremendously and would be very interested to hear him again. Theatrical, flamboyant yet also understated.
Chrysta came back onstage with much theatrical flair with her backing band of guitar and bass. She has an amazing voice and vocal range, but it wasn’t really working for me. The singing siren, however good, is a cliché. If I had those legs, I would wear thigh high split dresses too, but whichever way you cut the cherry pie, she was a sexual object titillating men. I also struggled to hear the lyrics over the bombastic sound mix, including a very loud drum machine. The moody, dramatic lighting strayed too far into darkness. Given just how perfectly Douglas had been lit, I am not sure what happened.
I waited through the long interval nervously. Please, Anna, be amazing, I thought. This was Anna solo, no band, no backing, nowhere to hide. Not that Anna hides. She lets her talented light shine out as brightly as the sun. And what talent she has. She can shred a guitar with the best of them. She is possibly the best guitarist I’ve seen live. She also has an amazing voice, with great power and range. There was less of the prowling, hungry hunter on display tonight, but the raw energy and power was not lost. Anna Calvi dominated the stage with nothing more than her voice and her guitar. Barely a word was spoken, Anna lets her music do all the talking and she captivated me just as she had last year. I said then Anna Calvi is everything I wish I could be and I stand by that. To have her confidence, her charisma, her talent as a songwriter and performer, to own who I am with that level of defiance and refusal of shame, to be that damn cool and sexy without in any way selling my body to the male gaze, well, imagine if all women could be that powerful and in charge of their lives! We would have the patriarchy overthrown by lunchtime. There is something very powerful, as a woman, in witnessing a woman like Anna Calvi perform live. I loved her music before I saw her live, but experiencing the power of Anna live heightens it. I cannot wait to see and hear her again.
This whole show, and it was very much a show, was wonderfully put together by David Lynch. The three performers complimenting each other and building to the wonderful crescendo that was Anna Calvi. Bravo!