A passion for literature and ideas was there for all to see in Rochdale as arts lovers descended on the town at the weekend.
Rochdale was full of inspiration, laughter and creativity from Friday to Sunday as the town staged their first Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival.
Hundreds of visitors attended a diverse range of events, shows and activities which ran from Friday 25 to Sunday 27 October at the new Rochdale Central Library inside Number One Riverside.
Over 40 performances took place covering drama, dance, music, theatre, films, visual arts and children’s shows.
The Mayor, Councillor Peter Rush officially opened the festival and said it was designed to show some of the best the borough has to offer:
“This fantastic new library is the perfect setting for the festival and it is excellent to see such a strong line up … a mix of fabulous local talent alongside some of the biggest names in the business. I would also like to thank the staff and volunteers for helping to support creativity in the borough.”
Highlights on Friday included a mesmerising series of readings by Simon Armitage. The BAFTA award winner performed some of his best known work to a sell out audience. The popularity of the performance was such that extra seats had to be released earlier in the week to cope with demand.
Children’s shows were hugely popular too, with Melvyn Rawlinson’s timeless puppet theatre show ‘The Pied Piper’ also sold out, providing entertainment to both adults and children!
Designer, inventor and businessman Mark Champkins made sure the festival lived up to its name, talking about his sources of inspiration and how product ideas can be transformed into reality. He spoke about his life thus far, and appearance on the BBC2 television programme ‘Dragon’s Den,’ sharing his secrets for success in business.
The first day was brought to a dramatic end with the main festival venue, Number One Riverside transformed into a giant musical object under the watchful eye of composer and musical director Michael Betteridge. Local young musicians provided an opening fanfare, poetry readings, live music and a silent disco, using mini-recording studios in pods on two floors during the event named Frozen Music. Michael said it was exciting to see:
“It was daring and ambitious, certainly not your usual music show. I have done similar things before, but not on this scale … so to see everyone interacting and the atmosphere it created was very very exciting.” Despite confessing to feeling under the weather, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy certainly didn’t disappoint another packed audience on the Saturday, reading her work alongside musician John Sampson. Her performance included readings of some love poems from the book ‘Rapture’ and was followed by a signing session for fans who were quick to snap up copies of her books.
MOBO award-winning rapper Akala brought some cool sounds and thought provoking words to the Hollingworth Suite on Saturday, performing tracks from his last two albums. Earlier in the day the festival was brought to a standstill with a massed clog dance in a flashmob style featuring local people of all ages accompanied by Rochdale Music Service.
MaD Theatre brought their unique talents to the weekend, performing their new play ‘Posh Tramps and Papooses’ at Touchstones Arts & Heritage Centre.
There was more fun for children on Sunday prior to the arrival of former ‘Coronation Street’ actor Kevin Kennedy, best known for his role as television’s Curly Watts who talked candidly about his life on the street, career since leaving the soap and overcoming his addiction to alcohol. His inspiring appearance coincided with the release of his tell-all autobiography which he signed whilst chatting to fans after the session. He talked about his new life as a West End musical star and the effect that addiction had on his life. It was his first public appearance with his new book and Kevin was full of praise for the festival:
“I’ve really enjoyed today … there was a great crowd here and I hope people found it interesting. This is a fabulous festival with a really good atmosphere.”
There was no shortage of humour and a sparkling wit when author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth took to the stage on Sunday afternoon. Fresh from presenting the BBC1 panel show ‘Have I Got News For You’ on Friday, Gyles was on top form and went down a storm with a capacity audience, talking about his Oscar Wild Victorian murder mysteries in his own inimitable style, before taking questions from the audience. He certainly got the audience laughing and spent over an hour chatting to fans and signing copies of his most popular books in the library.
On the eve of Rugby League World Cup 2013, Ikram Butt was another popular draw, talking about his sporting career and fascinating life which has taken him from inner city Leeds to Westminster where he has shaped government policy on community development in sport.
The festival certainly lived up to its aim of ‘expanding your mind’, concluding with a chilling Ghost Walk around historic parts of Rochdale town centre, exploring the hidden past of well known landmarks, led by actor and historian Colin Meredith.
Public feedback has already been positive, with many visitors taking to social media to describe performances as “astounding” “fun” “exciting” and “well organised”.
With sold out performances every day and the festival attracting a wide and diverse audience Councillor Peter Williams, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Customer Services, said it was a success: “The first Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival has proved popular, not just during the main three days, but also the preview events held right across the borough earlier this month. To have such a strong line up for our first one has been fantastic, and the feedback already received from visitors has been very positive. Attendances every day were strong with a number of shows completely sold out before the festival even started. The interest, praise and publicity that the festival received reflects very well on the borough. I would like to thank everyone who supported us, our partners and those who have worked so hard on it over many months. I hope it will become an annual event.” Other performers included Vincent James, Manchester Salon, Susann Oldfield, M6 Theatre and Leigh Hodgkinson. The festival was compered by poet and broadcaster Norman Warwick who said it provided a platform for local performers of all ages and local arts groups to showcase their work:
“The talent displayed by local people was inspirational. The festival helped local talent to blossom and show how much creativity there is in the borough.” The event was down to the generosity of Annie and Frank Maskew, a Rochdale couple who shared a passion for reading and thinking, and originally met in Rochdale Library. They left a sum of money to be used on resources and events related to literature, and philosophy to ensure classic works are available for future generations.
It was organised by Rochdale Borough Council, funded by the Maskew Bequest and the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts Award.
For more photographs and feedback from the festival visit www.rochdaleliteraturefestival.co.uk If you attended and would like to give your views you can also do so via the website.
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