Minute Taker: Wolf Hours – Hope Mill Theatre

Wolf Hours is an audio-visual performance from Ben McGarvey, known artistically as Minute Taker. Performing his superb live music soundtrack alongside filmed videos, the show explores the psyches of gay men at different points in time.

I first watched Wolf Hours at Sale Waterside Arts last year, as part of their Refract Festival, and it blew me away. I subsequently became a fan of Minute Taker, signing up to his Secret Songs. His show returned to Manchester as part of Hope Mill Theatre’s inaugural Turn On Fest, which celebrates LGBTQ+ artists.

Wolf Hours is composed from tracks taken from Minute Taker’s earlier albums, and songs that haven’t been released yet. They span a diverse array of genres; ranging from the beautiful, mellow ballad, Somewhere Under Water, to an electropop track, The Darkest Summer, and the discordant piano chords of Tornado.

Minute Taker’s live performance is accompanied by music videos, relayed on a large screen beside him. Some of the videos are animated by Kirk Sylvester. Most are narrative based films that provide snapshots of the lives of gay men, documenting the changing attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, spanning the past century. McGarvey is a continuous presence in the majority of the videos, playing various characters over time.

Wolf Hours takes you on an emotional journey. The heartbreaking video for Lead You Home is exquisitely directed by John Lochland and tragically depicts forbidden love in the trenches of the First World War. As an old man (Bryan Hands) lies on his deathbed, he remembers the man he loved in the war, the guilt of rejecting his kiss, and the grief of his lover being killed in battle. Reunited in the afterlife, the old man dances with his young soldier, played by McGarvey, in a beautiful display of requited love. Matthew Lewis‘ cinematography is stunning, lending the video an epic quality, yet perfectly capturing its profound tenderness.

This theme is carried through to Not Afraid, which is also directed by John Lochland, portraying contemporary love between two footballers in university, beautifully depicted by Zachary Looker and Sani Nkomazana. The importance of telling this story cannot be understated, at a time where there are no openly gay footballers in the Premier League and homophobic abuse is rising in society.

Wolf Hours also commemorates those who lost their lives in the darkest time of the gay community’s history, the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. McGarvey’s haunting vocals for In Slow Motion are sorrowful and grief stricken, with the repeated lyrics “You let my heart break”. The film for this song is profoundly hard-hitting, showing hospital wards crowded with dying men. To watch their suffering is deeply affecting. The film directs anger towards politicians, like Margaret Thatcher, who turned a blind eye whilst, globally, millions died. Anger is also aimed towards corporations, like GlaxoSmithKline, who made billions in profit on the back of such a catastrophic tragedy.

When it premiered at Sale Waterside Arts, Wolf Hours faced criticism for being quite downbeat in mood. However, it ends on a cathartic high, celebrating the decriminalisation of homosexuality and revelling in the joy of Pride events. It is worth noting that in some countries, it is still illegal to be LGBTQ+, but the video for After The Rain, triumphantly shows how far the UK has travelled towards acceptance. There is still a long way to go though.

McGarvey has developed his work, producing a more balanced performance by adding more humour. This is due to the excellent additional film for Skeleton Dance, which pokes fun at the obsessive gym culture. It is interspersed with footage from Disney’s early short film, The Skeleton Dance, where skeletons dance and play each other’s bones, is timed perfectly to Minute Taker playing the glockenspiel. It is playful, amusing and a delight to watch.

Minute Taker has a gorgeous voice that is both haunting and mesmeric. It is astonishing that his voice sounds even better live than it does on record. His vocals in Somewhere Under Water never fail to give me goosebumps.

Combining McGarvey’s ethereal music and vocals with exceptional films, Wolf Hours is a sensational, unique theatrical experience. I am delighted that Hope Mill Theatre and Superbia selected it to be part of the Turn On Fest.

The fact that I bought Minute Taker’s music after watching Wolf Hours is the highest compliment I can give.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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