Manchester Jewish Museum in 2016: The return of the sell-out Syna-Gigs

Polly Checkland Harding

Want to go to events in one of city’s most unusual venues? Manchester Jewish Museum’s 2016 programme features Wonder Women, Bad Language and Manchester After Hours.

It was one of the unexpected cultural stories of 2015; the lesser-known, but utterly stunning Manchester Jewish Museum is in the process of reinventing itself as an events venue, with sold out comedy nights, gigs and artistic collaborations. So, the Grade II*-listed building is now not only the city’s oldest surviving synagogue; its beautiful stained glass windows and pews have made for one of Manchester’s most atmospheric settings for unusual happenings, only ten minutes’ walk from Victoria Station up Cheetham Hill.

Now, the museum’s Syna-Gigs series is back, and people are catching on fast: the first evening in 2016, Degenerate Music: Music Banned by the Nazis, sold out ahead of the event. Which is why we’re doing a handy roundup of the highlights in the calendar; what with Written in the Margins as part of Wonder Women 2016, an appearance from Woody Allen (ish) and a very special event from award-winning live literature night Bad Language, these tickets are set to disappear quicker than Banksy’s new art work opposite the French Embassy.

Our first pick is the critically-acclaimed Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir in collaboration with Berlin-based percussionist Renu Hossain (28 Feb, 2pm-4pm, tickets £3). The 50-strong Sacred Sounds Choir were created for Manchester International Festival’s creative programme in 2013 and have been combining song, soundscaping and silence ever since. Renu Hossain, meanwhile, is a multi-percussionist, composer and songwriter who’s worked with the likes of Grace Jones. The teeny tiny ticket price also includes tea and two (two!) slices of cake from the historic Titanic Deli (one of our top food picks nearby).

These tickets are set to disappear quicker than Banksy’s new art work opposite the French Embassy

Anticipation for Wonder Women 2016 in March is already building – and the Jewish Museum has a superb event as part of it. Written in the Margins (10 March, 6.30pm-9.30pm, tickets £3) celebrates female writers (journalists, songwriters, poets and performers) with acclaimed poet Clare Pollard reciting her new free verse translation of Ovid’s Heroides, letters from Greek heroines to their absent men, renamed Ovid’s Heroines by Pollard, which will be responded to by Serafina Steer with a debut piece of music (commissioned by Brighter Sound). BBC broadcaster and author Stuart Maconie will chair a panel debate organised by Brighter Sound on the impact of written media on female representation the same evening, featuring singer-songwriter Roxanne Du Baston and journalist Laura Snapes (Pitchfork, NME, the Guardian) among those thrashing the topic out. A limited edition Wonder Women Zine will also be created and printed during the event.

So, you know we mentioned Woody Allen? Well, he’s not strictly in the programme… comedy act Woody Allen-ish is though (7 April, 8.15pm-10.30pm, tickets £10). The man behind it, Simon Schatzberger, has appeared in the likes of Black Books and is, apparently, a spit for the iconic comedian and director. We wonder if familial controversy will come into the set at all… Opening the evening is Schatzberger’s sister, jazz singer Julie Schatzberger, who’ll be performing the songs and music from Allen’s timeless movie soundtracks live.

Giving a real insight to the history of the area, as well as showcasing some superb new writing, is Voices of the City (12 May, 9pm-11pm, tickets £5), an evening of live literature as part of Manchester After Hours 2016. ‘Best Spoken Word Night In the UK’ (Saboteur Awards 2015) Bad Language have commissioned writers including Somerset Maugham Award-winning writer Rodge Glass and Dylan Thomas Prize-shortlisted South African author Marli Roode to write fiction in response to pieces of archival footage of Manchester from the North West Film Archives. Hear the stories and see film that dates back to the 1950s – we don’t yet know what the writers will pick, but hear that the clips include a wedding, a boat, and a man hiding his, um, privates with a sombrero.

If you do buy tickets for any of the above events (and you should), then our guides to the best places to eat, things to do, walks and sights and places to shop in Cheetham Hill are worth keeping in your back pocket. Though rough around the edges, it’s a vibrant area – and rather beautiful in places. Well worth exploring on your way to Manchester Jewish Museum’s new, excellent-sounding round of Syna-Gigs.

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