It’s October, and once again the Manchester Food and Drink Festival is in full swing. And, once gain, east Manchester gets stuck in as if the festival was designed just for them! Len Grant reports from Sportcity.
This month there are dozens of festival events from food tasting to cookery competitions and food-inspired poetry. For East I take a trip to a tea dance at the City of Manchester Stadium and a community allotment in Gorton, (more of that soon).
Tea dances are always good fun to photograph. Everyone’s in a good mood and up for a laugh. Alan, the DJ, is warming up his audience as I arrive and, as this is a regular monthly event, he knows many of the punters by name. “Come on, Cyril, this is your favourite,” he says from behind his deck. “Table five, do you fancy a slosh?”
Beswick resident, Mary Bailey never misses a session. “I like a bit of Nat King Cole,” she says. “Oh, and we do like a bit of disco,” chips in her friend, Joan from Audenshaw.
Once they’ve bought their ticket it’s free tea and – usually – biscuits. But today, maybe because of the festival, it’s scones with cream and jam. I guess they all work it off before the end of the afternoon.
Another of Mary’s friends, 82 year-old Harry Leigh, was born and brought up around here. “Our terraced house would have been somewhere on this Sportcity site,” he says. “It was a dirty industrial area in those days and things were hard, but we got by.” Harry slips on his treasured dancing shoes as I quiz him about his younger days.
“Oh yes, there were plenty of places to dance. We’d go down to Belle Vue, or the Lido on Ashton Old Road, or the Apollo on Ardwick Green,” he recalls.
Over on table seven, I hear more reminiscences from Dorothy Longmire and Ada Wakefield. “You’d buy a ticket from the Co-op for a shilling,” they say, “and that’d get you in the dance on the Saturday night.”
“We’d go all over,” remembers Dorothy, distracted by a change of line-up on the stage, “the Conservative Club on Pinmill Brow near town, or Ardwick Lads Club. We’ve always enjoyed dancing… Oh, look, it’s Carl on now.”
Alan is taking a break as singer Carl Bennett takes to the microphone. “Carl’s lovely,” says Dorothy, “he’s the best singer we have.” Ada agrees, “He’s brilliant. He’s got a way with him.” Sure enough, Carl does have a way with him. Permanently smiling, he belts out the classics with an infectious enthusiasm that’s difficult to ignore. Soon I’m tripping around the dance floor taking pictures with a little swagger, wondering if anyone would notice if I put my camera down and joined in.
I have to leave sooner than I’d like but first have a quick chat to Deborah and Sophie, the City in the Community organisers who’ve been running the dance for the past two years. “We advertise in the match day programme,” explains Deborah, “and visit care homes and community groups to tell them what we do. It’s becoming ever so popular.”
But what has been special about today, for the food and drink festival? “We’ve given everyone recipe cards for healthy meal suggestions,” says Sophie, “and this month’s picture quiz features celebrity chefs. We’ve also got outreach workers here from the NHS and the ‘Getting Manchester Moving’ campaign.”
“But what about you two?” I ask, cheekily. “Do you ever get up for a bop?” Deborah and Sophie are emphatic in their joint response, “Oh no! We just observe.”
I can’t believe they haven’t succumbed to Carl’s crooning before now!
The next tea dances at the City of Manchester Stadium are 12th November and 3rd December. Call Sophie or Deborah on 0161 438 7711 or 438 7834 to book tickets.