Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Manchester edition of Now Then is no longer publishing content. Visit the Sheffield edition.

Festival Square at Manchester International Festival 2019 credit Louis Reynolds
Louis Reynolds

Manchester International Festival Hip to be at Festival Square

This week sees the start of MIF 2021 and Now Then takes a look at its programme for Festival Square and beyond.

If you've ventured to Piccadilly Gardens recently then you can't fail to have seen the 42-metre model of Big Ben lying on its side. It's the type of eye-catching installation that has become the hallmark of Manchester International Festival (MIF), the biannual citywide cultural showcase that this year has managed to prepare a programme fit for this socially distanced era, whether that's digitally via video links or in-person with the now-familiar restrictions.

Here we have a look at what to expect as replica Big Ben strikes for the start of the 18-day festival.

The festival begins on Thu 1 July, and the free-entry Festival Square at Cathedral Gardens launches into life from Fri 2 July with Untold Orchestra's Four Women, a multi-disciplinary artistic collaboration featuring some of Manchester’s finest musicians. Based on Nina Simone's 'Four Women', the performance explores the experiences of black women in everyday life and within the arts. Expect to see Yemi Bolatiwa, Maisha Kungu, Seren Marimba, Shirley May and DJ Paulette all gracing the stage.

Jane Weaver by Rebecca Lupton

Jane Weaver

Rebecca Lupton

On Sun 4 July, there's a Griot City label takeover with their picks from Manchester's spoken word x music hybrids. The Girl Gang and Young Identity groups are there to warm up with physical and verbal aerobics, and Werkha is on the ones and twos twice before Griot's Keisha Thompson rounds off their sessions with her SheBeKeKe project. Former Broke N English rapper Konny Kon takes control of the decks 'til curfew, and is one of several stalwart tune selectors to share their wares across the schedule.

Mon 5 July sees Norman Jay MBE, Wed 7 July boasts Jane Weaver, and Matthew Halsall is welcomed on Thu 8 July. And that's just the first week.

They all share the bill with ones to watch from the city-region's live music spoils. Gondwana Records artist Caoilfhionn Rose joins Halsall on 8 July, while Tue 6 July is an electronic showcase headed up by TYSON. Sun 11 July is headlined by upbeat blues favourites Honeyfeet.

The programme has been fused by Sounds From The Other City's Rivca Burns, who said:

Festival Square is back once again as a showcase of what Manchester has to offer the world. Being able to bring such a wide array of incredibly talented and diverse musicians to our three stages in Cathedral Gardens this year is such an honour and a true reflection of this city. We hope that Festival Square will provide a safe and free space where anyone feels welcome to reconnect and celebrate.

Rivca Burns, MIF Festival Square Producer
MIF Festival Guide Map

Manchester International Festival Guide Map

Elsewhere, city wanderers and cartographers may enjoy the Poet Slash Artist series, which features Lemn Sissay, whose locations are handily illustrated on this festival map, and Cephas Williams displays a Portrait of Black Britain at the Arndale.

As for Big Ben, you can go along to see the structure - which is covered in 20,000 copies of books that have shaped British politics - from the outside at your leisure, and it's free to explore inside with advance booking. If you go along on 16, 17 or 18 July then you could take home one of the books for your shelf for free.

Learn more

For the full programme, follow the links below:

More Arts & Culture

Love Will Draw Us to Art

Art Battles have been raging since 2013 and the 20th event of the series is coming soon. Here's what to expect.

More Arts & Culture