Manchester festivals: our pick of the best

Ben East

Looking for things to do in Manchester this month? Ben East rounds up the best of the October festivals.

comedy festival grumpyThe festival season conjures up many images; of sun, of bands, and most of all, of long and carefree June, July or August days. But in Manchester, October is when the real fun begins. This month sees a dizzying array of talent arrive in the city – everyone from Michael McIntyre and Martin Amis to Michelin-starred chefs – as the Comedy Festival, Literature Festival, Food & Drink Festival, Science Festival and new music extravaganza In The City all kick off.

To save you carrying around your own weight in shiny brochures or spending days putting together an overambitious festival plan of attack, we’ve done all the hard work for you: here is our pick of the top ten festival events in Manchester this October.

1. Festival Food Walks at Manchester Food And Drink Festival

Arriving in a city and picking a restaurant or bar for the evening’s festivities can be a bit of a lottery – you always wonder whether that slick establishment over the road would have been a better, more interesting option. Hurrah, then, for the Festival Food Walks. First Peter O’Grady leads a tour of Chinatown (7 Oct, 1pm) – amusingly titled Let’s Wok And Stroll – which takes in the history, the restaurants, the Chinese supermarkets and bakeries. There’s also a walk around Manchester’s vibrantly cool Northern Quarter (9 and 14 Oct, 1pm) – which O’Grady should know more about than most: his Market Restaurant was one of the first factors in the renaissance of the area. Finally, get intimate with Manchester’s many fascinating markets (10 Oct, 11.30am).

All walks begin at the Visitor Information Centre, Town Hall Extension, £5.

2. Eoin Colfer at Manchester Literature Festival

Dan Brown aside, one of the publishing events of the autumn is the arrival of the long-awaited sixth book in the late Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series. Follow-up And Another Thing has been written by Artemis Fowl novelist Colfer, and at this event he reads excerpts and discusses how he conjured up a sequel to Adams’s last book (a tough task considering that in Mostly Harmless the Earth was destroyed.) It’s also the chance to kill three birds with one stone: this literature festival evening is held in association with the science and comedy festivals.

15 October, Contact Theatre, 8pm, £7.

3. In The City

Picking a single highlight from this three-day festival of spanking new music is almost impossible; there are literally hundreds of bands slated to play and the final schedule isn’t announced until the last minute. You’re almost guaranteed to see stars of the future at In The City though, and with showcases from NME, The BBC and XFM, quality is high. Buy the £20 wristband for the In The City Live strand at venues across the city – we’re particularly looking forward to Goldheart Assembly – or if you’re an industry type, the full delegate pass (£350) gets you into talks with the likes of Mark Ronson, photographer Gered Mankowitz and Fleet Foxes’ label boss Simon Raymonde.

18 to 20 October, various venues.

4. Simon Armitage at Manchester Literature Festival

Festivals seem to suit Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage, and not just those literary affairs indoors. Over the summer he regularly pops up in places like Latitude, drawing big crowds with his intelligent, accessible and wryly comic poems. This Manchester Literature Festival date is essentially a ‘greatest hits’ set of his life’s work – only fitting for a writer whose recent memoir, Gig, charts his love of alternative music.

20 October, St Ann’s Church, 7.30pm, £7.

5. Richard Herring at Manchester Comedy Festival

This summer’s most talked-about comedian was Richard Herring, thanks to the show Hitler Moustache, where he did indeed grow a Hitler moustache in order to reclaim it for comedy. Herring was fortunately able to dismiss any notions that such antics were offensive with a thought-provoking (and crucially, very funny) exploration of how ludicrous racism is. It took Edinburgh by storm – and this is the only chance to see Herring perform the show in the UK this autumn.

20 October, Frog & Bucket, 8pm, £9.

6. Taste Of Yorkshire Dinner at Manchester Food & Drink Festival

It’s a source of much local frustration that Manchester doesn’t have a Michelin-starred restaurant in its ranks – but thanks to the Food & Drink Festival, for one night only it does. The Second Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols welcomes Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern of the highly regarded Star Inn at Harome for a night of food with a distinctly Northern flavour. He’s joined by Bruce Elsworth of the similarly excellent Angel Inn and Richard Walton-Allen from Harvey Nichols Leeds. Worth saving for.

8 October, Harvey Nichols, £50.

7. Joan Bakewell at Manchester Literature Festival

The highly-regarded broadcaster and journalist is well known on the festival circuit, but she’s typically sat on a panel airing her forthright views on everything from sex to politics. Which is why this appearance at Manchester Literature Festival is so interesting: Bakewell waited until earlier this year to publish her debut novel All The Nice Girls. What’s more, there’s a scene in the book set in The Midland Hotel, where this special reading and Q&A takes place. There’s even the promise of tea and scones – the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

15 October, Midland Hotel, 3pm, £12.

8. Charles Darwin events at Manchester Science Festival

If the new Paul Bettany film, Creation, has stimulated your interest in Charles Darwin during his bicentennial year, you may want to check out these events from the science and literature festivals. To coincide with The Evolutionist Darwin spectacular at Manchester Museum, poet (and great-great-grandaughter of the man himself) Ruth Padel reads from her current collection Darwin – A Life In Poems in the museum’s Animal Life Gallery (15 Oct, 7.30pm, £7). Elsewhere, biographer of Darwin, James Moore, discusses the scientist’s connection with the anti-slavery cause (20 Oct, University of Manchester, 7pm, free).

9. Michael McIntyre at Manchester Comedy Festival

Michael McIntyre is without doubt the biggest act to come under the Manchester Comedy Festival banner, and despite other dates on his tour selling out months ago, the sheer size of the M.E.N. Arena means there’s still the chance to see this crowd-pleasing comic. OK, it won’t be intimate, but for good-humoured, genial and observational stand-up McIntyre is just about untouchable.

20 and 21 October (other dates in November), MEN Arena, 7.30pm, £30.

10. Martin Amis and Will Self at Manchester Literature Festival

Authors Martin Amis and Will Self have appeared together in Manchester before – and it was the funny, lively and contentious night out you might expect. This time the two novelists discuss literature and sex. Amis’ regular Manchester events are considered intelligent forums for debate, but if there’s no reference to the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award Will Self was nominated for in 1992, we reckon you’re entitled to a refund…

12 October, Martin Harris Centre, 6.30pm, £5.

Ben East is an experienced arts journalist based in Manchester who has written for Metro, The Observer, FHM, Filmstar and The Word magazine.

Image: Courtesy Manchester Comedy Festival.

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