24 Hour Party People

Bob Riley has been CEO at Manchester Camerata for 10 years. Now he leads what The Times newspaper called ‘Probably Britain’s most adventurous orchestra’. He talks to Maria Roberts about the chamber ensemble’s headline hitter for 2016 – Haçienda Classical. 

Bob Riley

Bob Riley

‘The Haçienda is a pillar of the Manchester brand. It’s exportable outside of the city and the UK. At the moment we are discussing where it can travel. It’s been really good for us to work with those artists and DJs, and it takes some guts to put something like that together.

A quick look at the Manchester Camerata website and you’ll be wowed by what’s on offer at this neat little outfit based in England’s North West. There’s a tremendous sense of 360 vision in its activities – health, welfare, community, nurturing of new talent, celebration of old masters, celebration of new masters, family, elderly and dementia care, the 20 to 40-something crowd and music lovers are all catered for.

And as a native of the city (I was born in Manchester, studied here, moved to and then worked in London, moved back), I’ve certainly sensed its strengthened presence these past few years.

Since 2010, Manchester Camerata has emerged onto the scene older, wiser and edgier. For a small team of 70 freelance musicians, and just a handful of administrative staff, it’s also probably the most hardworking ensemble in Britain, not just the most adventurous.

Interestingly its CEO, Bob Riley, is taking the 20 to 40-something crowd seriously. And this is important because families, accessibility, film lovers and games console players have all been catered for by the big players (like London Philharmonic Orchestra for example) yet the 20 to 40 crowd have been expected to settle down, bed in, and join the civilised sexagenarians if they want to attend a classical concert.

Likewise classical club nights have dabbled at the fringes by offering a casual setting for classical concerts (such as Limelight at London’s 100 Club). Manchester Camerata, on the other hand, is bridging the divide by offering medium to large-scale professionally executed concerts for specialised audiences across the musical spectrum.

The ensemble is pioneering in its placement of hedonistic culture vultures at the centre of its programming strategy by appealing to a ‘music-loving crowd’, rather than just classical music fans. To some extent it echoes the generational attitude epitomised in the 1966 Roger Corman film The Wild Angels. Its marketing strategy reminds me of the line: ‘We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do, and we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time’  – also cleverly sampled by Scottish rock band Primal Scream in the opening to the 1991 track Loaded.

There’s a certain sense of ‘lifestyle programming’ to its seasons. Yes, you can get your Mozart and Beethoven pure, but you can also catch a new artist like Martynas at the decadent Manchester Cathedral with a pop-up gin bar provided by the foodie lovers’ favourite, Booths Supermarkets.

Great food, plentiful booze, eclectic music. It fits, on all levels, with the philosophy of Epicureanism – the cultivation of art, enjoyment and friendships all underwritten by a willingness to ‘do good.’

Undoubtedly, Manchester Camerata’s headline hitter for 2016 is Haçienda Classical for which thousands of tickets sold out in minutes: most recently at Royal Albert Hall.

How did the partnership come about? ‘The Haçienda is a pillar of the Manchester brand. It’s exportable outside of the city and the UK. At the moment we are discussing where it can travel. It’s been really good for us to work with those artists and DJs, and it takes some guts to put something like that together.

Hacienda Classical

Hacienda Classical

‘The process is the result of a whole confluence of different people talking; the real genesis came from Graeme Park, Mike Pickering, Paul Fletcher [manager at Sankeys nightclub]and Haçienda co-owner Peter Hook [of iconic British band New Order].’

Riley describes the Haçienda Classical gig as a ‘Manchester original’.  ‘We’re doing it for an artistic reason, because it works for us,’ he says. The Camerata also worked on the New Order album, Music Complete, released in September 2015.

The full interview with Bob Riley appears in the latest issue of IAM. Download a copy here.

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