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Manchester International Festival: Final Fantasy and Heston Blumenthal

As the festival draws to a rainy close today, people are watching the final event in the Unknown Pleasures music series – a free gig headlined by the Gossip outside the Lowry in Salford Quays. I just hope no one drowns.

My first and only experience of the series, which has included performances by PJ Harvey, Lou Reed and Bert Jansch, was at the Academy 3 last night. Final Fantasy, aka Canadian violinist Owen Pallett, played to about 300 fans – and another 20-odd people who had clearly mistaken the venue for a place to chat loudly.

Soundwise, it was possibly the worst thing I’ve heard at an Academy – and I’ve seen hundreds of gigs there over the years. The low end was muffled and distorted, practically destroying the rest of the music. The lights, too, were noticeably poor – no spotlights, just a vague hue over the stage.

Owen didn’t seem to notice or mind any of this but his fans, some of whom had travelled quite far, surely did.

I also took my last chance to try out Heston Blumenthal’s festival-commissioned culinary creations outside the festival pavilion. The chocolate wine popsicle was the highlight – imagine frozen port – and the accompanying millionaire’s shortbread with salt and ’24-carat gold’ was tasty too.

The strawberry and vanilla sundae was conventional enough, until you factor in olives. Leather essence was apparently in there too, though I couldn’t taste any. I was far too distracted by the secret ingredient: popping candy.

It’s a shame I didn’t have time for the mushy pea sorbet. Overall, however, this was a great little addition and well worth splashing out £5 for the experience. I thought it rather silly that we had to purchase tickets beforehand, however – especially when the process took a good few minutes.

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William Orbit was fantastic, this was definitely a great event for Manchester and should continue. I missed quite a lot of the festival, which a silly thing to do!!!

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