(Or: ten things to do in Manchester and beyond this May Bank Holiday.)
Bank Holidays, what are they like? You wait ages and then three come along all at once. Which is kinda nice, because if Easter is all about eating eggs, and May Day all about throwing shapes, then this coming May Bank Holiday is surely all about making the most of the last long weekend until (sob) August. And here are 10 different ways of doing it.
#1. Start early. Hanging Ditch gets the weekend off to an early start courtesy of a wine tasting session with none other than Jurassic Park star, Sam Neill (22 May, 8pm, £20). Yes, the man best known for donning a safari hat and legging it from an angry velociraptor is here in Manchester, dinosaurs pushed aside in favour of a different kind of battle – one with a bottle. It’s perhaps not that surprising that Neill has chosen to swing by: he’s also a New Zealand wine-maker, and Hanging Ditch is one of the North’s best independent wine shops. It’s a match made in alcoholic heaven. In the (highly likely) event of this session being sold out, alternative alcoholic/filmic entertainment is on offer at Spinningfields; its outdoor screening of 1980’s romantic classic, Cocktail kicks off at 7pm (22 May, £3).
#2. Eat well. Line your stomach courtesy of the last ever (though we suspect not quite ever ever) Friday Night Food Fight (23 May, 5.30pm-11pm, free). Our own Polly Checkland Harding reckons “it’s genuinely good: interesting food, great atmosphere, even eating competitions (last time was spicy wings. Painful to watch)”. With regular queues out the door, get there before 8pm.
#3. See some art. Bob and Roberta Smith is in conversation (not with himself; the artist speaks to Professor of Criminology, David Wilson) at Castlefield Gallery on 24 May (2pm-4pm, free, reserve tickets here); Joana Vasconcelos continues to wow at Manchester Art Gallery (until 1 Jun, £7.50); Stanley Chow has a Takeaway at the CFCCA (until 22 Jun, free); and Clifford Owens gives his European exhibition debut at Cornerhouse in Better The Rebel You Know, a show that brings together two new commissions, performance, photography and video art (until 17 Aug, free).
#4. Go country. One of the good things about Manchester is its proximity to the countryside. As in, you’re never that far from the great outdoors. The Peaks are little under an hour away by train and, if you fancy putting a little colour in your cheeks, we recommend the Runners’ Tours published by Our Favourite Places – a series of runs that don’t require Iron Man-like training. Take a scenic drive through North Wales with our exclusive guide, or else consider Cumbria; head to the North Lakes and the Eden Valley to escape the tramping, Goretexed hordes that otherwise plague the southern Lakes. (“Plague” may be too harsh a term. Still, there’s nowt less conducive to wandering lonely as a cloud than a busload of tourists on the hunt for Beatrix Potter.)
#5. Get outside. Closer to home and still on the rural tip, the ever-reliable Yorkshire Sculpture Park opens a new show by Ai Weiwei on 24 May (until 2 Nov, free). This is the Chinese artist’s first UK show since his sunflower seed outing at Tate Modern in 2010; a series of rather lovely works are on display in the Bretton Estate chapel (itself newly opened after a £500k restoration). Elsewhere in the park, the epic theme continues with the monumental sculpture of Ursula von Rydingsvard – inside YSP’s galleries and out (until 4 Jan 2015, free). And, you know, we do love neighbouring Wakefield and the Hepworth in particular; read our guide to the best bits.
#6. Do a festival. If SFTOC has left you hankering for more city-based music festival fun, then Friday’s Dot to Dot is for you (23 May, 3.30pm-4am, £20). The day-long event is apparently bigger and better than ever (and also accompanied by Dot to Dots in Bristol and Nottingham); highlights include Real Estate and The Pizza Underground, Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute. Yes, you did read that last bit right.
#7. Don’t look back in anger. Three new museums exhibitions open over the Bank Holiday weekend. MOSI goes subatomic with Collider, its clever, immersive and surround-sound show about the Large Hadron Collider; it opens on 23 May (until 28 Sep, £7). The People’s History Museum, meanwhile, launches A Land Fit for Heroes, its take on World War One (24 May-1 Feb 2015, free). Forget talk of trenches; this show examines what the war did for us – how it changed forever the way we thought about women and the working classes. Over at Manchester Museum, Whitworth Park: Pleasure, Play & Politics takes an archaeological look at a park that’s about to be thrust back into the limelight – when the original gallery in a park, the Whitworth, reopens in October (24 May-5 Oct, free).
#8. Keep going. Fancy some good times? Norman Jay is your man. The MBE-toting, Good Times Sound System-making DJ returns to Twenty Twenty Two on Sunday (25 May, 10pm-3am, £10) for a set that promises to skip across house, funk, soul, jazz and all points in between. Music of a different kind can be had on the same night at Soup Kitchen (25 May, 8pm, £12.50), courtesy of Venetian Snares. This post-techno, post-punk electronica innovator has been doing his thing since 1999 and has yet to be caught peddling the same sounds twice. Confused? Yeah, well, that’s electronica for you (it’ll be good).
#9. Study some model behaviour. Model turned actress Lily Cole has a tough gig: she plays Helen of Troy, the world’s most beautiful woman, in the Royal Exchange’s latest offering. This is the world premiere of The Last Days of Troy (until 7 Jun, from £10), a play written by the poet, Simon Armitage – now’s as good a time as any to find out how Cole fares, and how they stage that famous wooden horse…
#10. Watch a rare documentary. End the weekend by watching a rare screening of archive footage gathered together by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a project formed in New York in the 1980s (26 May, 6pm, £8). It’s a fascinating look back at the hysteria that surrounded the disease back in the 80s, and the film itself is followed by a Q&A with the film’s director at Cornerhouse.