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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


Previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke.


Huge inflatable dolls and balloon sculptures – a must-see exhibition at Manchester International Festival

PREVIEW By Steve Cooke

While Factory International’s Aviva Studios does not officially open to the public until October, MIF23’s exhibition of Kusama's artworks give us the first opportunity to explore the new arts and culture space. Kusama’s inflatable dolls and balloon sculptures have taken over the vast warehouse space of the building, taking us on an exhilarating journey through psychedelic creations, most of which seen for the first time in the UK.

I found it an exhilarating visual experience and highly recommend it to not only art lovers but anyone seeking something new.

Yayoi Kusama is one of the world's most loved artists, celebrated and loved for her surreal paintings, sculptures, immersive environments, and spectacular inflatable artworks.

Exhibiting at Aviva Studios, the new home of Factory International, Yayoi Kusama's 'You, Me and the Balloons' forms the centrepiece of Manchester International Festival which is taking over the city from until July 16. The festival also sees new work from artists including Ryan Gander, Maxine Peake, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tino Sehgal and Juan Mata, and music from John Grant, Angélique Kidjo, and Alison Goldfrapp.

Conceived especially for the soaring spaces of Manchester International Festival's new home, 'You, Me and the Balloons' is Kusama's largest immersive environment to date and celebrates three decades of her inflatable artworks. Journeying through the exh0ibition, we see psychedelic creations - many over 10m tall - including giant dolls, spectacular tendrilled landscapes and a vast constellation of polka-dot spheres.

The new exhibition is a major moment for the North West's art and culture scene, even surpassing in scale Kusama's recent show 'Infinity Mirror Rooms' at Tate Modern.

Drawing on several decades of work as an artist and encompassing more than 30 years of inflatable artworks, this exhibition looks back to her childhood, when she first started experiencing auditory hallucinations and began creating polka-dot images.

Standard Tickets for 'You, Me and the Balloons' can be purchased via the Manchester International Festival website for £15, but there are also options for £10 or less. A maximum of 6 tickets per person applies for all bookings.

Yayoi Kusama's 'You, Me and the Balloons' at Aviva Studios runs until Monday, August 28.

TLC at St Mary in the Baum

REVIEW By Dr Joe Dawson

‘June was bustin’ out all over’ (… apologies to Carousel)

7 June: This month’s Telemann Baroque Ensemble line up featured oboist Alfred Pollard and bassoonist Kevin O’Sullivan with strings and harpsichord accompaniment. Glorious.

14 June: Lunchtime Prima Donna Louise Taylor began solo singing at the age of 24, going on to perform over 30 lead roles in light opera and musicals as well as singing oratorio and fronting a dance band. Alongside a 40-year career in journalism, most recently as editor of Cheshire Life for 11 years.

Classical songs and arias culminated in a resounding Prima Donna declaration: Art is Calling for Me! At half time, accompanist Jonathan Ellis played exquisite piano solos, by Debussy and Granados.

An amusing pot pourri of musical delights delivered with panache.

21 June: Jonathan Ellis in his own right as a first-rate concert pianist with a delightful Mozart Rondo in A minor, Schubert’s mighty Sonata in B flat major 4 movements, taking each of them to another level with breathtaking stamina and energy … not to mention the sheer feat of memory. Brahms’ Rhapsody in G minor was taken at a blistering pace to top off this sensational recital.

28 June: On the day that the Royal Northern College of Music was 50 years young, it was appropriate that two of its recent graduates performed. Clarinettist Johanna Leung had much early success in Hong Kong and gained a master’s from the RNCM in 2021. Similarly, pianist Ashley Lum graduated initially from UCSI Malaysia, and completed a master’s at the RNCM, where she is currently studying further in accompaniment. Ashley played some magical Ravel in the middle of masterful and assured duo interpretations of Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op 73, Nino Rota’s Sonata in D, and Lovreglio’s concert showpiece Fantasia on La Traviata. A wonderful finale from his exceptional duo, worthy representatives of the RNCM ethos.

• Since taking over from the council in 2001, The Queen’s Award-winning Toad Lane Concerts happen every Wednesday 12:30 – 13:30 at the Grade 1-listed St Mary in the Baum Church, Rochdale OL16 1DZ, admission £6.


Thursday 13 July - Saturday 15 July

Visit Fireground Museum

Join us at Fireground this week to discover Greater Manchester's firefighting story.

Fire museum attractions are on show inside the museum including our collection of historic firefighting artefacts from the 18th century to present day, plus home-made refreshments in the new Fireground Café, and souvenirs from our fantastic new gift shop! We have a wide choice ranging from toddler to collector.

Under 4s are free, Children (aged 4-15) and Concessions £5, Adults £7, and Family (4 people) £20.

Phone: 01706 341219


10am - 4pm

Fireground, Maclure Road, Rochdale OL11 1DN

Friday 14 July

The Active Living Social

The Active Living Social is back!

Come and join them for fun-filled music and dance afternoons taking you through the decades.

Have a drink, chat in a warm space, and meet new people and friends.

Bring your own hot drinks cup to help save the environment!

Numbers limited, booking required.

Booking is available in person at the centre you wish to attend, or by emailing: or ringing 01706 926205.

2pm - 4pm

Rochdale Leisure Centre, Entwisle Road, Rochdale OL16 2HZ

Friday 14 July

Littleborough Rushbearing Concert with Granny's Attic

With exceptional musicianship and boundless energy, Granny’s Attic are going from strength to strength. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (melodeon, Anglo concertina, vocals), George Sansome (guitar, vocals) and Lewis Wood (violin, vocals) have honed their skills touring the UK and Europe since 2009. They are much loved by audiences up and down the country, with bookings everywhere from Cambridge Folk Festival to Cecil Sharp House.

The trio have been heralded for their lively performances and skilled delivery of traditional material, playing with verve, energy, and their own inimitable style. Though grounded in tradition, they are keen to push new boundaries by exploring fresh approaches and writing their own compositions. In October 2021, they released their latest album, The Brickfields, an instrumental collection that sees them reach new heights both as performers and composers. Described by Folk Radio as “one of the most exciting and accomplished English folk acts on the scene right now”, this outstanding trio can hold audiences in the palm of their hand.

If you are a wheelchair user or require an essential companion ticket, please email to let us know before purchasing a ticket.

£14 plus £1.40 booking fee

Phone: Stephanie West 07846 974272



Littleborough United Reformed Church, Victoria Street, Littleborough OL15 9DB

Celebrating creative arts and artists - an oasis of positivity supporting individual and community wellbeing.

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