Success story - Rochdale’s literature festival feast draws the crowds

Posted 28 Oct 2014 by Mark Roberts in Latest Libraries News

. A record 50 performances took place over three days, covering drama, dance, music, theatre, films, visual arts and children’s events, with stage shows and workshops.

More than 1,500 tickets were sold, across 22 venues with hundreds more attending un-ticketed free events throughout the weekend and previews earlier in October. There were sold out performances every day with the festival attracting diverse and enthusiastic audiences and a delighted Council Leader Richard Farnell said: “Without doubt this has been another great festival. Ticket sales were strong, the atmosphere was fantastic and we welcomed an incredible calibre of artists. We take great care to programme unique events that are stimulating, surprising and entertaining, so in the coming days we will be taking a close look at all the visitor feedback. I want to thank the staff, volunteers and local arts groups for helping to support creativity in the borough, we couldn’t have done it without you.”

One of the highlights was the appearance of X Factor favourite Lucy Spraggan, who took to the main stage on Saturday afternoon. In front of a capacity crowd the soulful singer/songwriter played some of her most well-known songs including ‘Beer Fear’, ‘Lighthouse’ ‘Last Night’ and ‘Tea and Toast’ along with world premieres of two new tracks from her upcoming album. Following the gig she went back on stage to chat to festival compere Norman Warwick about her inspiration, motivation and career so far. “It was quite scary playing some of the new stuff, but I enjoyed it and the fans were great. It was brilliant to get time to actually talk about my work too, quite therapeutic actually! This festival has a lovely feel to it,” said Lucy Spraggan.

Highlights on Friday included a hilarious poetry masterclass from the ever enthusiastic Ian McMillan (pictured). The renowned wordsmith presented some of his best known work in front of a sell-out crowd. Photo of Ian with arm up

Novelist, poet and punk singer Rosie Garland delivered a writing workshop before reading some of her most popular poems, and writer Alan Gibbons presented his moving film ‘And She Cried’.

Stand-up comedian Dave Spikey came up with plenty of punchlines in his new live show at Middleton Arena, taking an hilarious look at jokes and the art of being funny.

The much loved dramatist, lyricist and composer Willy Russell talked about his life and work before taking questions from another sell-out audience at Number One Riverside.

Children’s shows were hugely popular too, with John Pipers timeless puppet theatre sold out, and a Where’s Wally? hunt providing entertainment to both adults and children! Also on Friday 125 people were in awe, watching poets and international musicians for the ‘World of Poetry and Music’ representing cultures from across the borough.

At the Flying Horse Hotel the Inspiral Carpets frontman Tom Hingley talked about what it was like to be in a band which changed music for a generation before performing some of their biggest hits in front of a lively crowd.

On Saturday Coronation Street star Jane Danson hosted an acting workshop, showing budding young actors how to develop their skills. The session included getting participants to act out a real Coronation Street scene, under the guidance of Jane who won a coveted British Soap Award in 2011 for ‘Best Dramatic Performance’. Following the workshop she took to the main stage to talk about her television career and life off camera. She said she really enjoyed the experience: “The acting workshop was great … everyone really got into it and said they learnt a lot. I’ve really involved being part of the festival … the line-up is great and I think it’s a really positive thing for the town. The reception from the audience during the interview was great … lots of thought provoking questions but it was fun!”

MOBO nominated rapper GHETTS, fresh from last week’s performance at the O2 Arena in London brought some cool sounds and thought provoking words to the festival on Saturday evening, performing tracks from his recent ‘Rebel with a Cause’ album.

Jackie Kay MBE (pictured) was another highlight, performing some of her most celebrated work and extracts from her novel ‘Trumpet.’ Phto of Jackie in front of festival banner

There was more fun for children on Sunday with the Afrocats, prior to a talk by BBC broadcaster Liz Kershaw. Liz talked about her life and autobiography ‘The Bird and the Beeb’ and her career in radio since leaving BT in the 1980s. After tracing her journey from Rochdale to Radio One she talked about the challenges she’s faced and how her determination has ensured her rich Rochdale tones graced the national airwaves for decades.

There was no shortage of humour and sparkling wit when BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull took to the stage on Sunday afternoon. Bill began by chatting about the typical day of a breakfast television presenter, beginning with his 3.30am alarm call! As well as some of his most memorable moments on the famous sofa he talked about his love of bee-keeping and his time on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ before taking questions from the audience and meeting fans.

Performance poet Tony Walsh took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions, with his talk ranging from comedy to tragedy. Reading from his recent book ‘Sex & Love & Rock & Roll’ his set was brimming with northern warmth and humour.

Music filled Number One Riverside on Sunday evening, with an exquisite concert from Manchester International Roots Orchestra, combining influences from Eastern Eurpoean melodies, Middle Eastern percussion and vocals through to soulful chants and African gospel. 2 performers photo

The festival certainly lived up to its aim of ‘expanding your mind’, concluding with a chilling Ghost Walk around historic parts of Rochdale town centre and a Sherlock Holmes Murder Mystery at Heywood Library.

Public feedback has already been positive, with many visitors taking to social media to describe performances as “magical” “great” “ace” and “a real treat”.

Other performers included Sarah Crowe, Manchester Salon, Littleborough Oakenhoofers, M6 Theatre and Cartwheel Arts.

The event was down to the generosity of Annie and Frank Maskew, a Rochdale couple who shared a passion for reading and thinking, and originally met in Rochdale Library. They left a sum of money to be used on resources and events related to literature, and philosophy to ensure classic works are available for future generations.

The festival was organised by Rochdale Borough Council, funded by the Maskew Bequest and sponsor Bright Books. For more photographs, feedback and highlights from the festival visit

Gallery of images here

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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