By Emily Oldfield

The last weekend of March saw Salford thriving with immersive events and activities – from discovering the Ordsall Peacock (below) to urban exploration on every level – as part of Not Quite Light Weekend 2019 (NQL19).

The Ordsall Peacock

NQL19 stems from creator Simon Buckley’s Not Quite Light photography project – seeking to explore the under-covered aspects of the cityscape, often in the early hours– and 2019 saw the third edition of the festival format. From 28-31 March, NQL19 hosted various participatory events, film screenings and artistic displays in Salford around four broad themes: art, debate, music and architecture.

Manchester Metropolitan University’s HAUNT Manchester also hosted a precursor event in association with NQL - ‘Hauntology: Twilight Streets and dark horizons’ (full overview here)– exploring what appeared to be a prominent theme of this year’s festival: personal relationships with the past and place. In this lively discussion, a four-strong panel chaired by Simon himself, discussed subjects including the changing relationship between cities and the people living in them, the importance of edgelands and allowing ourselves to feel terror.

Hauntology panel

A key aspect of NQL19 was cross-collaboration, and richly so: as individual artists were encouraged to get involved in a number of ways, expanding their own creative prospects in the process – a very notable point. For example, a number of  the Wednesday evening panellists went onto appear in later festival events – with artist Jane Samuels hosting an event which encouraged audiences to ‘follow their own story’ and Professor Nick Dunn leading a ‘Dark Borders’ nightwalk. Reflecting on the festival, Nick had this to say:

“At a time when so much of contemporary life is compressed and commodified, Not Quite Light offers a genuinely alternative series of events. The festival gives people the chance to breathe out - physically and creatively - as they engage with a wonderful selection of carefully curated activities and performances. It brings enchantment from the shadows through shared experiences. Truly special."

Wilderness Hymnal Live

Thursday 28 March saw NQL19 officially start in a truly special fashion after all, with an evening of Hauntology inspired performance and immersive visuals at Salford’s atmospheric venue The White Hotel – another event in association with HAUNT Manchester.  Earlier in the evening a range of recycled lanterns had been decorated with Ordsall Arts Community group in an event titled ‘The Lights Are On’, the purpose of which was later to be revealed, to stunning effect…

Not Quite Light’s Festival format also continued to uphold its reputation for unique creativity and brave new commissions, rather than giving crowds predictable content. It is this daring and diversity which continues to set NQL apart: actively part of change and development, rather than just endorsing it.

An example of this creative development was displayed in the form of ‘Beneath These Tarmac Cracks’: a play specially commissioned for the festival. This gripping piece of theatre set about encountering themes of memory and change in a hugely innovative way: following the story of a 1913-born Salford woman who, in the course of developing a neurological disease, can remember every day of her life. How do we move on effectively from the past? And how does that affect our engagement with the future of a place? These were just some of the questions raised– again, themes also raised in the Hauntology panel discussion – with the play written by Joshua Val Martin and Ellie Scanlam, as well as music from sound artist Daniel Mawson.  Performed at Five Four Studios, the show, which ran both on Friday and Sunday, was also given additional emphasis through Not Quite Light providing bespoke visuals.

Once Upon A Time in Salford

Another theatrical highlight was the world premiere of ‘Once Upon a Time in Salford’ (pictured above), written by John Ludden, presented by MancMade Productions and featuring performances from the city’s very own  JB Barrington and Jess Kemp. This again highlighted the festival’s ongoing incentive to encourage the artistic representation of Salford as a place and bringing four world premieres in total to the city this year.

 The use of space around the hub of Five Four Studios was also a prominent point of the festival. Located on Oldfield Road, this really was a venue of exciting and stimulating change and contrast: two floors of plush darkness, before an upper loft area completely bathed in stunning white. During the weekend especially, this became a thriving location of varied NQL19 activity – from children ‘building a city’ to film screenings, in-conversation events and even closing live music from Quare Hawk; with a highly varied demographic of people through the door.

Quare Hawk

And yet this was not just a festival with certain events tailored to certain audiences – many contained something for all. A profound example of this was ‘The Ordsall Peacock’, an event which took place in the heart of the Ordsall estate in Salford; with a local community arts group and children getting creative side-by-side to help create an enormous light-up peacock sculpture out of recycled materials. Then, as night fell, participants were invited to view the design from the aerial view of a local resident’s 11th floor flat in the Nine Arches block, with people dancing around the sculpture. An utterly unique sight.

Testament to the collaborative and communal aspect of the festival, other venues used included The Kings Arms – providing a welcoming space for sharing stories and facilitating performance. This was ideally suited to Friday evening’s sell-out event ‘The Real Story: Transition’ (pictured below), with a series of writers reading out short non-fiction works in front of an eager audience, headlined by Jenn Ashworth and presented by Adam Farrer, who reflected:

“This is the second year in a row that The Real Story was worked in partnership with Not Quite Light weekend and we look forward to being a continuing part of it. It's a unique and important festival that shines a light onto forgotten and ignored areas of the city and transforms them into creative inspiration. Salford is an interesting and special place and with every year that the festival runs, more people are realising that.”

The Real Story

HAUNT also previously interviewed Adam regarding his role as writer-in-residence of Salford’s Peel Park: a location that was further featured in another NQL19 event: ‘Space of Doglessness’. Whilst a stills and moving image piece with this title played on-loop in Salford Art Gallery, created by artist Clare Archibald in her exploration of the impact of dog walking on interaction with place, she also involved the public to be involved in an analogue photographing activity in the park itself, along with Scottish filmmaker Jim Burns.

NQL19 entrenched itself as a festival that raises questions and facilitates conversations, rather than simply serving anticipated content. From considering the impact walking a canine companion has on our interaction with community to contemplating the ways in which we view urban space – the festival events also served to highlight this in surprising formats. ‘We Eat, We Live’ for example, was a Sunday afternoon special on The Crescent, an area that guide Stephen Marland earlier covered in a walking tour. ‘We Eat, We Live’ itself combined thinking about the community impact of food, with a GRUB food fair, live graffiti art from Afi Javed, other-locally refreshments and a range of speakers. Ordsall Hall, on the other hand, took on the subject of sleeping rather than eating, with ‘Sleep Like A Tudor’, historians pondering what we can learn from historic attitudes on sleep.


Another notable point of NQL19 is that its events indicated the prospect of ongoing development and interest – especially significant given that 2019 was the first year the festival attracted Arts Council Funding. Demonstrating the possibility of ongoing development were aspects such as ‘Pilgrimage’ (pictured above): an arranged long-distance walk of nearly 30 miles following the River Irwell from source to its emergence in Salford, participants raising money for local homelessness charity The Booth Centre in the process. Led by Reverend Andy Salmon (Rector of Sacred Trinity, Salford), this took place all day on Saturday, with 11 people taking part for its debut; a figure sure to rise over time if this innovative event continues.

Other highlights of a packed long-weekend included various guided walks,  sofas appearing as part of a unique art installation in Salford Meadows and Dave Haslam and collaborating artists The Option from Paris presenting a beautiful soundscape with evocative visuals titled ‘Heart and Soul’: carrying a crowd through until the early hours. Another early hours event was on Sunday morning, signified by a dawn bike ride through Salford and incorporating the iconic Salford Lads’ Club (pictured below) – a popular follow-on from last year.

Dawn Bike Ride

NQL19 indeed highlighted how the Not Quite Light Festival format had continued to grow and expand, favouring a ground-up approach through collaboration rather than close control. In the age of inevitable festival line-ups, the NQL format could be considered refreshingly welcome; allowing room for adventure and risk. This was displayed for example in the ongoing series of ‘Artists Talks’ throughout the weekend, with diverse creatives put together in front of a live audience to discuss a range of themes – the consensus of the series being that each created fascinating conversation for all involved. ‘The Dark City’ panel discussion (pictured below), for example, was chaired by HAUNT Manchester’s Editor Emily Oldfield, featuring Rosie Garland, Anne Beswick, Nicholas Royle and Stephen Marland, and explored themes from mysterious cityscapes in literature to  how we physically interact with the stories of the city today.

It is the ability to place intellectually stimulating content into an under-celebrated public area which sets NQL19 apart, and also highlights its progression as a festival: from largely Manchester centre-based in its first edition in 2015, to expanding this year to connect Salford with further afield.

Ivan Wadeson

In turn, HAUNT Manchester spoke to Simon Buckley, the artist behind out Not Quite Light, to discuss his feelings following the festival:

“As a photographer, when I step out onto the street at dawn, I have no idea what to expect… and that’s a little like how I would describe the audience at Not Quite Light Festival: the excitement lies in that anything could happen. This involves trust, of course. I’ve said this a few times, I can’t quite explain it: I trust the artists, they trust me – that’s where the magic of life happens. This is a festival where artists and audience are encouraged to step outside what they normally do; that is the ethos of it, I would say.

“Compared to previous years, I think the word ‘substantial’ could be used to describe 2019’s festival. There’s been a greater spread of ideas and performance displayed, the sense that foundations really have been laid down. I could see the themes melding together very wonderfully in what was on offer: from a sofa in a field (pictured below) to Irish music exploring themes of loss, the food event with a graffiti artist to talking about owning a dog – a lot of discussion and debate. The Artists Talks stood out to me, for example, as everybody who was in the room, even if a small audience, seemed to have a really good time.

Sofa Memories

“After all, I want NQL Weekend to be a source of inspiration: I wanted to create questions in people’s minds that they wanted to go out and explore. You could see the level of exploration going on in the guided walks, taking people into wonderful new territory. There’s the example too of Nick Dunn’s guided nightwalk near what used to be a dangerous part of the Irwell – and the key point being that the audience all trusted him and the word ‘trust’ has been used so much this year. That matches my politics: egalitarianism, the concept that everybody has the opportunity to use their voice. We’ve seen this collaboration in the profile of the audience - a real combination of visitors as well as many local people, aged from in their 70s all the way down to 6.

“Engaging with the ideas of Not Quite Light feels like quite a political act, in a positive way – people coming together through action not words, causing change not just endorsing it. The festival reflects that it is not for me to dictate either: the artists are free to develop their own ideas and I also wanted to be respectful of the local community. My role then, is as a kind of catalyst without ego involved, I don’t want to be the figurehead - I want the other people to get benefit from this and as an artist I think it is important to spread that benefit to others. (pictured below: Afi Javed as part of the 'We Eat, We Live' event)

Afi Javed

“Highlights? It is difficult to say, as there was so much creativity and something unique provided by every person involved. The Ordsall Peacock was immensely beautiful – it incorporated so many aspects of what I wanted the festival to achieve too: community involvement, it looked beautiful at dusk, people engaged with a local area and it involved recycling too! It was a real collaboration which also served as a metaphor connecting the new of MediaCity and the old neighbourhood of Ordsall; signifying the past as well as the future of the area. ‘Pilgrimage’ also stood out considering the personal sacrifice people made to follow the ideas behind it. I remember seeing them (the walking party) dropped off at the starting point in Weir, near the Irwell source, and watched them disappear into the mist like ancient ghosts. Not only did they show the qualities of faith and trust, but £1200 has been raised for The Booth Centre in the  process.

“Not Quite Light weekend really is a product of peoples hard work. The thought kept coming into my head over the course of the festival – it would be great to add up all who were involved in the delivery, to thank them. I really do hope the festival  carries on beyond my lifetime, that people continue to explore the netherworld of dawn, dusk and twilight. It is important after all to take ourselves to these places, out of  our comfort zones and to carry on discovering new things.” (Pictured below: The 'Dark Borders' nightwalk led by Nick Dunn)

Nick Dunn nightwalk

Photography Credits

Photo 1: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 2: Own. Photo 3: Helen Darby. Photo 4: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 5: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 6: Paul Jones. Photo 7: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 8: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 9: Ivan Wadeson. Photo 10: Simon Buckley/ Not Quite Light. Photo 11: Simon Buckley/Not Quite Light. Photo 12: Dan Dubowitz.