Monday, 23 December 2013

Music: Interview with Samuel S Parkes

Gomersal-based singer Samuel S Parkes has just received funds to record a four-track EP by fans who heard his music online.

Parkes cut his teeth as lead singer with Leeds indie band The Finnlys, supporting groups like Twisted Wheel, Reverend and the Makers and Ocean Colour Scene, and is now going it alone as a solo artist.

Within a week of leaving the Finnlys, the 24-year-old recorded and released his debut single Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work in November.

“I had got bored of the strength in numbers approach of working in a band and really wanted to step out and show what I could do,” says Parkes.

The single showcased a new direction for Parkes who had taken inspiration for his sound from the Northern Soul and Mod scene of the 1960s.

“You can’t say you’re doing new Northern Soul because Northern Soul was an underground dance scene – American soul music that got picked up by DJs over here,” says Parkes. “The music I’m doing though is definitely Northern Soul influenced – the rhythms, the tunes, the beat – everything about should scream Northern Soul to you.”

Parkes’ love of Mod culture has seen him perform his music in front of thousands of people at scooter events across the UK and Holland. But it is his use of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook that has helped him to introduce his music to fans from around the world.

And through a website called Pledge Music Parkes has been able to get fans to invest in the production of his music.

“We had pledges from all over the world – from Milan and Helsinki. I got in touch with people over Twitter and sent them my single with a link to the Pledge site,” he says. “Because of this funding I’ve been able to record the EP, and we’re going to release it digitally on iTunes and Spotify, and press 50 copies onto vinyl and 200 onto CD.”

Thanks to fan investment, Parkes is currently in the studio recording the Night Owl EP which will be launched at The Library, Leeds, on March 8, 2014. For more information visit:

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 19, 2013.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Music: Interview with Boyzone's Keith Duffy

When Boyzone burst onto the pop scene 20 years ago, few would have predicted the level of success they achieved and that two decades later they’d still be releasing records and selling out arenas.

Comprising Keith Duffy, Stephen Gately, Mikey Graham, Ronan Keating and Shane Lynch, Boyzone scored 18 top 10 hits including six UK number one singles: Words, A Different Beat, All That I Need, No Matter What, When the Going Gets Tough and You Needed Me.

In 2000, the group went their separate ways pursuing careers in such varied fields as music, acting and motorsport.

Seven years later, the BBC reunited Boyzone for a one-off performance on its annual Children in Need show.

“The BBC got us back together to do a medley of three of our big hits,” says Keith. “After that performance, we decided that we’d had a really good time and we realised how much we’d missed each other.”

With new found vigour, Boyzone embarked on a sell-out tour of the UK and Ireland.

After releasing a greatest hits album to coincide with the reunion, the group decided to head back to the studio to record an album of brand new material.But in October 2009, the tragic death of band member Stephen Gately left the band reeling.

“When we lost Stephen it threw us all over the place for quite a long time,” says Keith.

“We couldn’t deal with our lives on our own and we felt that there was a bit of peace when we were together.

“The void that Stephen left wasn’t as big when we were together,” he said. “Stephen was kind of in the room once the four of us were together.”

After long discussions between the surviving members, the band decided to finish recording the album, giving it the name Brother as tribute to Stephen.

On releasing the album, Boyzone toured as a four-piece, dedicating it to their bandmate.

“It was really difficult,” says Keith. “It had quite an adverse effect on us.

“The grieving process hadn’t finished and we were all very much emotionally drained by the end of the tour.

“I ended up in a dark place where I didn’t really know what to do next,” he says.

“I was suffering with nightmares and I ended up having to take a few months off to re-gather my thoughts, to figure out what had happened and to work out how to move forward.

“We moved forward. We dealt with our demons,” added Keith.

The group took time out from touring and recording after the Brother tour finished. They used 2012 to regroup and figure out what to do next.

“2012 was a very quiet year for us and we decided this year that a new studio album with a new dynamic would be a good idea,” says Keith.

“Now that we had come to a good place, to peace with everything, it might be an idea to see how we sound as a four-piece.”

Boyzone recorded the album BZ20 which was released November 25, 2013. The record celebrates 20 years since the group were originally formed.

Returning to the studio without Stephen was difficult for the group, but the experience helped the band to move forward with fond memories of the past and a renewed sense of purpose.

“There’s great camaraderie between us. We reminisce about old stories, stories about Stephen and just laugh because he was such a colourful person, such a character,” says Keith. “He made us laugh so many times.”

Far from being the teenage heartthrobs who made crowds of teenage girls scream on the Smash Hits tour, Boyzone have matured with all band members having children of their own.

“We’ve got nine children between the four of us,” says Keith. “My son is 17 and my daughter is 13.

“We all try to balance our family life with the band and we manage to do that well.

“All of our kids get on really well,” he adds.

“Backstage at the gigs they all hang out together. They really enjoy it.”

For Keith, one of the highlights of his career came when Boyzone featured on U2’s The Sweetest Thing.

“U2 were a big influence on me growing up. Larry Mullin from U2 was a huge inspiration to me and a hero of mine,” says Keith.

“I’ve followed U2 all my life and in my music career I’ve become friendly with the lads.

“They were very good to us when Stephen passed away. They lent their strength to us,” he said.

Over the past decade, Keith has built a career for himself outside of Boyzone, taking to the stage in various theatre productions and starring as bar-tending lothario Ciaran McCarthy in Coronation Street and in the highly-rated Irish TV crime drama Love/Hate.

“My ambition is definitely in the acting world,” says Keith. “I’ve spent a lot of time as an actor on stage and on screen so I’m very ambitious about where the acting career might take me when Boyzone are having down-time.”

Keith’s favourite Boyzone songs:

Isn’t it a Wonder: “It was one of the first hits we had that was written by the lads in the band.”

Picture of You: “It was used in the Mr Bean movie. It was great fun filming the video with Rowan Atkinson.”

No Matter What: “This was a huge hit for us. We once performed the song with Pavarotti – an amazing experience.”

Too Late for Hallelujah: “It’s the most powerful anthem Boyzone have recorded. I love singing it live.”

Who We Are: “An anthem that speaks of union and camaraderie. Going through highs and lows together.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 5, 2013, and the Yorkshire Post on December 6, 2013.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Music: Interview with Wayne Hussey from The Mission

Formed in 1986 by members of The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission have secured a reputation over the past few decades as one of Leeds’ finest gothic exports.

Front-man Wayne Hussey lived in Leeds during the mid-80s and has fond memories of the city.

“We were nocturnal creatures back then,” he says.

“We are still considered a Leeds band in some quarters even though none of us live there any more.”

The Mission released their ninth full studio album, The Brightest Light, in September this year which saw the group mature as song-writers.

“If you’re expecting the new Mission album to sound like a Mission album from 20 years ago, it might not be something that you like,” says Hussey. “I’ve read online that some of the fans are calling it the ‘Marmite’ album, which I kind of like.

“The dynamic was great. We set up in a room and played together which is, for a notoriously good live band, is something we really have not done that much of in the past,” he says.

The band members are spread around the world. With Hussey living in Brazil, Craig Adams in America, and Simon Hinkler and Mike Kelly living in Devon and Brighton respectively, getting the band together takes a lot of time and planning.

“We only get together when we have things to do,” says Hussey. “The logistics of getting us together is quite complicated.

For Hussey, the process of writing music comes in waves of creativity, but far from being sporadic, his method is disciplined and focused.

“There are no hard and fast rules with songs,” says Hussey. “ I am not someone who writes all of the time. I collect ideas and when I need to write I dedicate time and tap into that well.

“That can take a few days or it can take a couple of weeks before I hit the juicy spot. Once I do though, it all comes very quickly and there’s a lot of stuff that comes out.

For such an established artist it was quite surprising to discover that Hussey takes a liberal attitude to the issue of internet piracy.

“I’m sure my record company would hate me for saying this, but I have no problem with it,” says Hussey.

“Obviously it has affected sales, but I think that ultimately you’ve got to look at the bigger picture – as a musician and song-writer, I want my songs to be heard.”

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 5, 2013.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Music: Interview with Albert Hammond Jr from The Strokes

When The Strokes emerged in 2001 with their debut Is This It, few could have foresaw the instant impact that the band had on the trajectory of rock music. Jon Cronshaw spoke to the band’s guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.

In the early 2000s the indie scene of the mid-90s had been completely overshadowed by the misogyny and brashness of ‘nu-metal’ bands like Limp Bizkit.

But in early of 2001 a three-track EP The Modern Age started making the rounds – it was urgent and sounded like it had been recorded over a telephone. It was like nothing else around.

Over the following months until the group released their debut, to say that the media hype was overblown is something of an understatement.

“We all thought it was ridiculous,” says Albert. “We knew we were a good band – we did have an impact and we did change some things, but you can’t really predict how big your success is going to be.”

“The hype bothered me because I knew it would push certain people away from liking us because of how extreme it was, but I can’t really complain because it help the band get successful,” he adds.

But the guitarist is now back on the road performing his own solo material to promote his new EP AHJ.

“The tour so far has been amazing,” says Albert. “It’s been one of surprise, wonder and amazement.

“The new songs seem to be everyone’s favourite, even though some of the older ones people add memories to,” he says.

“I’ve had a lot of people sending me messages and tweets about how much they’ve enjoyed the shows. It’s been really positive.”

For Albert, his solo work and commitment to The Strokes takes equal residence.

“My intention’s always been to try and write great songs,” he says.

“Nothing’s changed in terms of what I want to achieve, it’s just that my ability and understanding of it has got better.

“I believe that you only get better as you get older, so I don’t save any songs for myself – I give them my best, and I create something better later.

“It’s a constant struggle of trying to push yourself and find fans of what you’re doing and have a career out it,” he adds.

Having a career in music is not alien to to the Hammond family – Albert senior was a highly regarded folk singer. However, Albert never saw becoming a musician as following in his father’s footsteps.

“It’s so funny that people mention my dad,” he says.

“I don’t feel like I grew up in a musical household or anything like that.

“I never really related to it – it was just my dad.

“He never pushed me to music, and when I did want to be in a band he made sure I was doing it for the right reasons,” he says.

“It’s like that thing where have someone going ‘oh, your dad’s a doctor, that’s so cool, what’s that like?’ - I don’t know, he’s just my dad, you know?”

For musical influence, Albert looked to some of the bigger names in rock history and towards some of the more obscure artists in American rock.

“Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison gave me that first little tingle with music.

“Then I progressed to stuff like the Beatles and the Velvet Underground,” he says.

“Guided by Voices were also huge for me – they defined my life and gave me a sense of urgency.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 3, 2013.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Music: Interview with Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze

Best known as the musical mind behind new wave act Squeeze, Glenn Tilbrook will be heading to Bingley this month as part of his solo tour of the UK. Jon Cronshaw spoke to him.

Since their formation in 1974, Squeeze have occupied a strange place in British music, perpetually on the outside of the central music scene.

Their songs were too edgy to be fully embraced by the pop mainstream, but too catchy for the punk audiences.

Even today, the group still find it difficult to get their songs played on mainstream radio.

“With Squeeze, I think had a very small window of opportunity to get through – and I don’t think we always fit the remit,” says Glenn.

“We didn’t tend to get our records played on Radio One and we weren’t quite right for Radio Two – I don’t want to get all Status Quo about it, but it really surprises me,” he says.

“I’ve been invited onto loads of shows on Radio Two, but that never gets followed up by airplay.”

But with hits like Cool for Cats and Up the Junction, they’ve continued to draw in new fans by featuring their music on video games such as Rock Band and Grand Theft Auto, and allowing their songs to be used in cool American TV shows.

“It’s amazing that our music’s getting through to younger audiences all the time,” says Glenn.

“We had a few Squeeze songs included in the series Breaking Bad, and respect from people in their teens and twenties shot right up – it’s a very powerful thing.”

In 2010, Squeeze recorded their 14th studio album, Spot the Difference. The purpose of the album was to rerecord some of Squeeze’s most famous songs as a way to regain some control from their former record company.

“Universal own much of the band’s back catalogue, and because of the way record companies are structured, we’re always in debt to them,” says Glenn.

“If the tracks get used, they get paid. I get paid as a writer, but not as a band member.

"So if we could say to a production company for a movie or advert, ‘you can pay Universal that much, or you can pay us and we’ll undercut our own back catalogue – you get it cheaper and we get paid’,” he says.

“It was such a weird album to make – it wasn’t what I’d call joyful at all.

“It was like solving an incredibly difficult jigsaw puzzle. But it in the end, we were really proud of it.

“We didn’t do it quickly – we did it properly,” he adds.

Away from Squeeze, Glenn has been working on his own solo project which has seen his lyrics more politically driven since the coalition government came to power.

“I’m very proud of the way my lyrics have been developing,” says Glenn.

“It’s very important to me to be saying some of the stuff that I’m saying – I don’t know whether it will make any difference, but part of my job is to say what you see.

“There’s a lot of unfairness with the current government, and believe that we should all be trying make things fairer,” he says.

“In this country, over the past few years, we’ve really started to see a class divide. It’s a divide based on income, and there’s a harder line attitude.

“My son, who’s 21 now, went on the protests against student fees a couple of years ago and was kettled for eight hours – he wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet, he wasn’t allowed to eat – that’s a huge infringement on civil liberties,” he adds.

Glenn will be performing at Bingley Arts Centre on December 11.

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on December 2, 2013.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Music: Interview with Eagulls

Eagulls are a Leeds-based rock band who take their influence from the post-punk and hard-core scenes of the 1980s, but reinvent the sound to give it an edge of intensity and drama.

“A lot of people would probably pin us to post-punk, which I understand, but we all come from a lot of different musical backgrounds,” says vocalist George Mitchell. “We’re not really bothered what type of music people think we are, let them pick.

“From day one we weren’t doing the same thing as everyone else, and we’ve always been a bit different.

“I think the people who do like us – they understand. And the people who don’t like us don’t, and they seem to think that we just stuck on a post-punk album and decided to rip it off, but it was nothing like that,” adds George.

The band formed in the Burley Park area of Leeds in April 2010, and their previous single, Nerve Endings, saw the band get attention for all the wrong reasons.

“Nerve Endings is about anxiety, really,” say George. “I was suffering from it quite a bit when I was writing the album.

“It’s about trying to work through anxiety and understanding it, and then trying to go past it.

“The more I do this, the more I feel it’s kind of therapeutic in a strange way. It’s not making it any better, and in a way it’s probably making it a lot worse, but it feels better, so I’ll keep on doing it,” he adds.

“We really want to make music that makes people think and expresses real feelings. We’re not into just copying and pasting someone else’s ideas – we want to make stuff that means something when they listen to it.”

In order to capture the tension and paranoia of the song’s lyrics, the band acquired a pig’s brain from a local butcher’s shop and filmed its gradual decomposition.

George and drummer Henry Ruddell are housemates and used their cellar as the film set to the music video.

Trouble came when Henry and George were out, and someone visited their cellar to read the gas meter.

Thinking he had stumbled upon the scene of a murder, he immediately called the police. The street was cordoned off and the house raided by police.

It quickly became apparent what was going on to the police, but Henry and George were unaware of what had transpired until they returned home to find their locks had been changed.

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on November 21, 2013.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Features: Putting faith in people, not in a god - The Sunday Assembly, Leeds

A new church movement which focuses on community and doing good things is gathering pace. What makes the church unique is that it doesn’t promote a religion. Jon Cronshaw reports.

For many religious observers, the idea of a church without God is like making an omelette without eggs – it doesn’t make sense.

But for members of the newly-formed Sunday Assembly, the idea of a church community without the requirement of faith is quite appealing.

Their aims are simple – to live better, help often and wonder more.

The Sunday Assembly was formed in London in January 2013 by Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans as a non-religious gathering for people seeking the communal experience of church, but lack religious belief or conviction to attend.

Inspired by what they saw, co-organisers Chris Osborne and Ian Bushfield approached Sanderson and Pippa with the idea of setting up something similar in Leeds.

“We want to build a community that anyone can be a member of, there’s no entry requirements – you just have to be prepared to ponder life, do some good and get involved,” says Chris.

“We want to come together to celebrate the one life that we know we have.
“The big questions like ‘why am I here?’ really do keep people awake at night,” he says..

“Whereas a few hundred years ago they may have spoke to a priest and found reassurance, a lot of people today miss that and a lot of people feel really isolated because there’s nowhere to turn.”

In less than a year, the idea has become a worldwide movement, with Sunday Assemblies cropping up across the UK, America, Australia and beyond.

“We’re not saying to people that they’re not going to heaven, or that Allah isn’t real, and we’re not saying to people that they shouldn’t be a Hasidic Jew – what we’re saying is that if you feel isolated but don’t feel like you fit into a religious community we’d like to hang out with you,” says Chris.

The group prides itself on not trying to compete with other religious groups, and say that anyone is welcome to attend.

“Our doors are open to everyone,” says Ian. “We get together to talk about the things that we know - we know that there’s at least one life, and we should enjoy it while it’s here.

“As a group we’re focused on the here and now, and trying to encourage other people to do that.

The Sunday Assembly had its first meeting in Leeds last month and attracted over 120 people.

“We sing rock and pop songs instead of hymns, we have moments of quiet reflection instead of prayer, instead of a sermon we have an interesting talk – something thought provoking,” says Michelle Beckett, who sits on the organising committee for the Sunday Assembly.

“We’ve had great feedback from people on Facebook and Twitter saying it was really uplifting,” she adds.

the word ‘atheist’ comes from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘without God’, so in a sense describing the Sunday Assembly as an ‘atheist church’ seems fitting, but it is not without its problems.

The Sunday Assembly does not preach against the existence of God, nor does it take shots at other people’s beliefs.

“The press have coined the term ‘atheist church’ which is useful as a starting point, but it’s not strictly true, say Michelle.

“We’re actually quite far removed from atheism – it just so happens that we don’t mention God or the supernatural.

“There’s no pushing of atheism – as you’d get with someone like Richard Dawkin. We want to get as far away from that as possible – we’re more inclusive than that,” she says.

“We don’t get together to bash religion or anything like that,” adds Ian. “Many of our members are ex-Christians who miss the feeling of community you get in a church and just like the idea of getting together and celebrating life.”

Indeed, the idea of creating an inclusive community that doesn’t put conditions on its members is at the heart of the Sunday Assembly’s ethos.

“We wanted to bring an unconditional sense of community,” says Michelle. “Other groups tend to be formed around hobbies, sports or other interests – that can be quite exclusive. Unless you have those shared interests, you can’t really get involved.

“We wanted to bring together a real mix that reflects the entire community and provide unconditional support.”

There is a strong moral aspect to the church which is focused on doing good things, with a strong emphasis on charity.

“We can say, hand on heart, that we are trying to make lives better for ourselves and other people,” says Michelle.

“In a selfish way, doing good makes you feel happier. If you do good and help other people it can give you a real boost,” she adds.

The Sunday Assembly is not just for adults, and the group have plans as the organisation grows to incorporate a Sunday school to enable young people to explore ideas about themselves and the world around them.

“It’s a family-friendly event - we’re not saying we’re providing childcare or anything, but that’s certainly a focus,” says Ian.

“When we grow, we really want to start putting on more child-focused events. It’s not about telling children what to think, but we do want to encourage them to ask questions and let them come their own conclusions about things,” he adds.

“There’s a real focus in science and psychology at the moment on how to be happy,” says Michelle. “If we can give children and teenagers those seeds growing up, I think that could be a really good thing.

“We want to give young people things to think about that they might not necessarily get in schools,” she adds.

Like many Christian churches, the Sunday Assembly will be holding a service this December to celebrate Christmas.

“People have asked me over the years why I celebrate Christmas even though I’m an atheist, and my answer is always ‘why not?’ - it’s great fun,” says Michelle

“I love putting my tree up and giving my kids presents, eating mince pies, playing family games and thinking about charity – that’s what it’s about to me..

“Christmas for most families is more of a secular festival anyway. Christmas was hijacked by the Christians from the Pagan winter festival, and it’s been hijacked again in recent years as something more secular and commercial,” she says.

“For a lot of people now, Christmas has become about rest, food and family. I’m planning on wearing a red dress and bauble earrings for our December service.”

Ian agrees, believing that Christmas can be a celebration of family and sharing – and what better way to celebrate than by singing some cheesy Christmas songs?

“There are lots of songs about coming together and celebrating that aren’t about a religious Christmas, but a family Christmas,” he says. “I think we’ll sing some of those songs because they’re quite fun.”

Perhaps understanding what the Sunday Assembly has been hindered by the difficulty in which the media and the church’s organisers have encountered when trying to explain in simple terms what it is they do.

Terms like ‘atheist church’ or ‘Godless church’ conjure up negative images in some people’s minds which can lead to misunderstanding.

The group is probably best desctibed as a gathering of well-meaning people who want to do good things and celebrate the things they can be sure of.

What is clear is that the Sunday Assembly will continue to grow, and for many members of society could provide a much-needed sense of support and community – anything which supports those values can only be applauded.

For more information about the Sunday Assembly and to find out about their next meeting visit

This article was published the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post on November 18.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Art: The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories - an interview Amar Kanwar

The work of one of India’s leading artists and film-makers is on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Jon Cronshaw met Amar Kanwar.

There have been few exhibitions in recent memory as moving as Amar Kanwar’s The Sovereign Forest + Other Stories currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The exhibition reveals how large multinational corporations are destroying rural life in India by appropriating vast areas of land for mining – the authorities are unwilling or powerless to intervene.

“I feel compelled – it’s a kind of need – to find out what is happening around me,” says Kanwar.

“I look for multiple ways to comprehend. I find that legal ways, journalistic ways, formal ways, forensic ways – many of these established ways which are used to comprehend these crimes – they do illuminate, they do inform, but they do not necessarily help you to understand the scale, the meaning, or the depth of what is happening. A lot of my work has been to try and find a method to do just that.”

Kanwar aims to present stories and evidence through films, poems, photographs, documents and objects to highlight the deeper meaning of land and community.

“In one way there’s this economic boom taking place in India, which is a positive development. But at the same time, there are many things being destroyed along with it,” says Kanwar.

For Kanwar, land is linked to communities, knowledge and traditions. When that land is lost, generations of knowledge disappear with it.

Within the exhibition is a display of 272 different species of rice. Beautifully lit, and carefully arranged, they demonstrate Kanwar’s issues with industrialised farming.

“Land is not just dimensions. If you lose a piece of land, and the state wants to compensate you for that piece of land, the method for working out the value of the land is a multiplication of the area on the basis of real estate price at that time,” he says.

“You have 272 varieties of rice here, which is a knowledge system. So if you lose this knowledge system which has been tried, tested, shared and re-tested over so many decades, how do you place a value on this loss?”

Not everything in the exhibition is symbolic or poetic. The final room in the exhibition presents mountains of evidence from deeds and documents to one particularly graphic photograph of a victim of brutal violence.

“Sometimes if something is quite graphic and hard to see, then you have to consider the intention with which you show that,” say Kanwar. “First, and most important, is your intention. If you’re clear and honest about your intention, then I think people understand why you do that.

“Violence is a part of our lives, and people need to know that these things happened in a particular way, so it’s necessary for me to include that image, but I try and do it in the most respectful way that I can.”

The exhibition continues outside to the gardens of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A series of ‘Listening Benches’ use audio recordings of Kanwar telling stories to add further layers to those presented in the gallery.

“For a long time I’ve wanted to find a way I could take the stories and give them a form that exists outdoors,” he says. “The benches are very simple – they are functional, they have a use.

“I wanted to make the benches here out of local wood from Yorkshire – some waste wood from either fallen timber or pre-existing wood.”

The benches were built from wood recycled from a large disassembled church organ which was once housed in the Sculpture Park’s chapel.

“Nobody knew what the wood inside of the organ would be like – all you see is what's on the outside.

“When the organ was ripped apart, they had all types of wood – small pieces, long planks. So we made the benches as they emerged from the wood,” says Kanwar.

“We just picked up pieces of wood to see what goes with what. We didn't cut it, we didn't define it, we didn't saw it, we worked with the material that was there.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on November 15, 2013.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Review: Sign Painters @ Leeds International Film Festival

The decline of traditional crafts and industries is at the heart of Faythe Levine and Sam Macon's documentary about artists who, in the face of technological advances and cheaper production methods, dedicate their working lives to the creation of hand-painted signs, shop-fronts and murals.

The film-makers travelled across America to document a once great industry which was destroyed virtually overnight by the invention of vinyl cutting machinery, rendering the role of the traditional sign painter as practically redundant.

In the 1950s sign painting houses across America employed thousands, today the industry is kept alive by dedicated individuals who spend years as apprentices to perfect their craft and work on a job-by-job basis to earn a meagre living.

You get the impression from the artists that continue to paint signs, that the craft is more than a mere job – it is a calling.

It's difficult not to be infected by the passion to keep the craft from being lost in annuls of time, to be replaced by computer-designed, soulless signage that saps the identity out of our towns and cities.

There's a heartbreaking sadness that runs through the film, a sense of nostalgia for a more innocent time. It's a nostalgia not just for the heyday of sign painting, but a yearning for individualism and the return of home-grown, craft-led industries that have declined in the face of faster and cheaper world.

But the film ends with a sense of hope – the traditional crafts are seeing a resurgence, and the documentary leaves you feeling that we're on the cusp of a sea change.

Four stars

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Music: Interview with Billy Bragg

The political sphere may have changed beyond recognition since the late-70s when Billy Bragg started out, but he continues to use music as a way to communicate his ideas about socialism and left-wing politics.

Being a staunch supporter of traditional Labour values, the singer was dismayed to discover recently that senior members of the Conservative party were fans of his work.

When David Cameron chose The Smiths’ anthem This Charming Man for Desert Island Discs, the Prime Minister was asked by the Spectator magazine whether he was a fan of Billy Bragg.

Cameron admitted to being a fan of Bragg’s A New England, but said he preferred Kirsty MacColl’s cover of the song.

“I dodged a bullet there,” says Bragg. “George Osborne is allegedly a fan of mine, though.

“Occasionally, I bump into people in the media who went to school with Osborne, and they’re always telling me how much he likes my stuff – I’m like, please don’t say that.

“The terrible thing is that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your fans.”

His fans in Leeds, however, are held in high regard by Bragg.

“I did a show at the Irish Centre once during the tour for The Internationale,” he says. “In the centre of the room were a couple of skinheads who proceeded to do Nazi salutes – there’s a lot of stupid places you can do a Nazi salute, but one of the stupidest would be at a Billy Bragg gig.

“I put my fist in the air and said ‘this is the anti-Nazi salute’, and everybody in the venue did – then the audience themselves, not in a violent way, just pushed these guys out. I’ve always been really impressed by that, so I warmed to the audiences in Leeds.”

For Bragg, music can be crucial for highlighting important issues, and he believes, even in the age of the internet, musicians still have an important role to play.

“Music used to be the main medium for people to talk to each other – for my generation music was the only way you could talk about the world – it was our only form of social media available,” says Bragg.

“An angry 19-year-old today has a number of options that are a lot more accessible than having to learn to play guitar, having to write songs, articulate your idea for that form, and then being able to get up in front of an audience and have the nerve to perform.

“But nobody invites you on the TV or radio or invites you to write an article in a national newspaper because of your Facebook posts,” he adds.

“Writing songs and performing them in a darkened room doesn’t have same immediacy as clicking ‘post’ on a blog, or putting together a video for YouTube – I can understand why people who feel strongly about the world do that, I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with that – but if you want to see the world, then being a musician is a great way to do that.”

But for Bragg it seems much more difficult today for young people to get passionate about politics - he blames the mainstream political parties for being almost indistinguishable.

“During the miner’s strike, it was absolutely clear which side you were on. It went on for so long that everyone had an opinion on what was going on,” says Bragg.

“A lot has changed since those early days. The idea that mainstream political parties are opposed to one another has more or less disappeared altogether. 
 “If you sat down to have a chat with Margaret Thatcher, the vast majority of people would find out they had nothing in common with her as a person – she came from such a different world.

“At least with Neil Kinnock he had an appreciation for popular culture – he might not have been into punk rock, but he certainly knew that music could be political,” he says.

“But today you’ve got David Cameron talking about how much he loves Eton Rifles – I mean, for crying out loud!”

Bragg believes that political activism can occur outside of the party lines, and that everyday people can make small differences to each other’s lives.

One example of this is the project Bragg has helped set up in the UK called Jail Guitar Doors.

“It’s a well-known fact that our prison system isn’t working the way it should, that we’re not managing to rehabilitate enough people,” says Bragg.

“One of the ways of doing that, and this by no means works for everyone, is to express themselves – writing songs and playing guitar can help people to do that,” he says.

“As a musician, I know that playing music can help you to momentarily transcend your surroundings – music can change your life.”

“You have to find those people, you have to do something that resonates with them – that way you’ll be able to give up your day job and spend 30 years saying how you don’t want to change the world while surreptitiously changing the world.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on November 14, 2013.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Music: Interview with Keith Duffy from Boyzone

Friday, 8 November 2013

Music: Bill Wyman on the blues

Bill Wyman is heading to Leeds with his rhythm and blues band, The Rhythm Kings, next week. Jon Cronshaw caught up with him.

It’s no secret that Bill Wyman is quite the authority on the history of blues music – his 2001 book Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey: A Journey to Music’s Heart and Soul is testament to that.

For Wyman, the blues is the most important development in the history of music.

“All music seems to have stemmed from the blues,” says Wyman. “Blues was like the tree trunk, and all the branches came out of it, like jazz, ragtime, and then country music, then R and B, then rock and roll, and then soul and gospel. It all seems to have come from the same root in the 1800s.

“You had black blues musicians playing in the south, and then white people heard it and adapted it to their styles, like Irish reels, and Scottish and English folk music – and it became country music, but it still had blues flavours in it,” he says.

But it wasn’t until he joined the Rolling Stones in 1962 that he heard a blues record.

“I first heard the blues when I went to the first rehearsals at the beginning of the Stones in December ’62,” says Wyman.

“Brian Jones had a few records, and Mick had a few like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry – I knew Chuck Berry, but I’d never heard of Bo Diddley, and never heard of any of the blues artists – it was all new to me. After this, I really got into the blues, and spent all my spare time trying to hunt down records,” he adds. Born in 1936, Wyman grew up at a time when blues music was beginning to find its voice in parts of America, but hadn’t yet captured the imaginations of British audiences. “When I grew up, there was no blues music,” says Wyman. “ I grew up a lot earlier than a lot of the 60s musicians – I was a bit ahead of them, a bit older. I never heard blues because there were no blues records in the shops, there was no blues played on the radio – it didn’t exist.

“There were no blues players that visited the UK, except with jazz bands. There was the Chris Barber Band that would feature people like Sonny Terry and Browne McGhee, and Muddy Waters, but they just travelled with his band in front of jazz audiences so the public never got to hear about blues,” he says. It was only once the Rolling Stones began to see commercial success that Wyman was able to build up his collection of blues music. “When we first started touring Europe, in Belgium, France and Denmark you could buy tonnes of blues records,” says Wyman.

“You couldn’t get them in England at the time, so it became a devoted hobby to collect blues records and suss out all the great artists.”

Wyman, however, believes that the reputation of blues music has been damaged over the years by crude stereotypes and poor quality music.

“People should be very careful about what blues music they listen to when they start to listen to it, because if they start off with something that’s not very good quality, it will put them off for life,” says Wyman.

“At its worst, blues music can be really dull and boring, but if they’re listening to someone like Muddy Waters or Elmore James, Little Walter or Jimmy Reed, or people like that, then they would get the really good quality blues. A lot of it’s got fantastic humour, some of it is saucy, a lot of it is very close to the edge.”

In 1997, Wyman formed his band The Rhythm Kings – a group that take their inspiration from the various developments of the blues genre – from rock and roll to jazz, and from soul to country.

“I wanted to do something where I could play songs of quality by anybody from the past, whether it was Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, 
Chuck Berry, Creedence Clearwater Revival, JJ Cale, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, and just see if we could do it,” says Wyman.

“We always try to stick to the basic mood of the original – that’s the bit that people love,” he adds. Once the tour with The Rhythm Kings is complete, Wyman will be heading back into the studio to record a new solo album, which he hopes to release early next year. “I played the demos to a few mates and they really liked them. They said I’m starting to sound a bit like Tom Waits and JJ Cale because I’m singing with quite a low voice as I’m getting older, and I’m finding it more interesting to sing like that.”

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on November 8, 2013.

Reportage: Woman loses eight stone after health warning

A Wakefield woman has lost eight stone after being told she had five years to live if she didn't lose weight.

Marie Woodward, 41, a mother of three from Hall Green, made changes to her eating habits after turning down a gastric bypass operation offered by doctors.

At five feet tall, Marie weighed 21 stone – today she weighs 12.

Marie said: “I couldn't fasten my shoelaces, I couldn't have a bath, I couldn't walk without my back hurting – it was awful.

“I was depressed – I was down in the dumps. But since the weight-loss, my life's been brilliant – I can't believe the difference.” she added.

After attending a local slimming group, Marie changed her habits and improved her lifestyle.

She went from wearing a size 32 to a size 14 in just 18 months and said she did it by grilling and oven cooking meals rather than frying them.

As well as improving her diet, Marie has taken up mountain biking, she said: “It took some doing to get get fit, but I love it. I go off-roading with my husband Dean around the Pennine Trail around Wakefield.

“You'd have never got my on a bike two years ago,” she added.

The weight-loss has been a great relief to Marie's three children George, 13, Megan, 15, and Lauren, 16.

She said: “My youngest daughter is so relieved I've done it, she said 'mum, I thought you were going to die'.”

Features: New light shed on Wakefield history

A new book by a Halifax historian sheds new light on Wakefield life in the early 19th century.

Historian John A. Hargreaves spent many months researching the Wakefield Manor Court rolls.

The rolls kept a record of all the land transfers in the wider Wakefield area from medieval times to the 19th century.

And Dr Hargreaves' believes they reveal a great deal about everyday life during this period and has written about them in his forthcoming book Wakefield Manor Court 1812-13.

“1812 has often been described as the worst year in British history,” said Dr Hargreaves.

“Britain was in the middle of the wars with Napoleonic France, we became engaged in a war with America, bread prices were at a record high, the Prime Minster was assassinated in May 1812 and there was widespread machinery-breaking taking place in West Yorkshire,” he added.

These records have never been used before in historical research, and Dr Hargreaves said they provide a rare glimpse into many different aspects of people's lives.

Dr Hargreaves said: “There's information covering everything from manufacturing to bankruptcies, to the price of pews in local chapels.”

The great Manor of Wakefield held three substantial areas of land, totalling some 150 square miles, lying between Todmorden to the west to Normanton in the east, and reaching as far south as Holme.

Historians including Dr Hargreaves will be hosting a day school for people interested in local and family history at Northowram Methodist Chapel on November 23.

Reportage: Police funding 'unfair' says PCC

The Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has called for changes to the way police forces are funded to protect West Yorkshire Police from further government cuts.

Because of the different ways police forces are funded across England, Mr Burns-Williamson believes that there is a 'north-south divide' and is calling for reform.

He said: “A place like West Yorkshire suffers disproportionately because of the scale of the cuts.

“We rely on the government for 80 per cent of our funding, so the more our budget is cut, the more our funding gets hit.

“In a place like Surrey, for example, they only rely on 50 per cent from government grants and raise 50 per cent locally, so clearly there's a disparity.

“I've been raising the issue of unfairness with the Home Secretary, and will continue to do so,” he added.

He believes that reforms to the Proceeds of Crime Act would help to fill the funding gap.

At present, the Act gives courts the authority to confiscate profits made by criminals, with half of the money going straight to the Treasury.

He said: “As a matter of principal I'm saying why aren't we getting this money?

“I'm setting up a petition on the Number 10 website, and I'm lobbying government to look at that legislation.”

“It would be nice if the government recognised that policing is a priority in our communities,” he added.

This article was published by the Wakefield Express on November 8, 2013.

Features: Silent Witnesses remembering Horbury's First World War heroes

When the horrors of the Battle of the Somme came to an end in November 1916, the exhausted troops faced one of the coldest winters on record.

Forced to dig in, the servicemen were offered no respite from the bitter winds and relentless rain as the trenches flooded to waist level with putrid water.

The troops were surrounded by the stench of stagnant water and sewerage, with hypothermia and disease becoming a real and urgent threat.

If the conditions in the trenches weren't bad enough, the troops had to endure barrages from German artillery units and infantrymen – the war continued on for another two years.

Private Alfred Fisher of King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry 1/4th Battalion from Horbury was killed in such an assault on January 13, 1917.

Private Fisher is one of the 14 fallen soldiers' stories told in John Heywood's new book, Silent Witnesses - Stories of Horbury’s Fallen Heroes.

John said that he was inspired to tell these stories after seeing the names of fallen soldiers on a memorial window in St Peter's Church, Horbury.

He said: “I saw the list and realised that I knew nothing about any of these people – I thought that was very sad – I wanted to find out who these men were and tell their stories.

“The vast majority of them were in their early-20s – they were no more than schoolboys.

“Most of them were ordinary men from ordinary jobs, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country,” he added.

For John it is in knowing the stories of these individuals that will enable us to remember the sacrifices made.

“Names and dates are important, but they don't tell you about the person. It's the social history side of it that's important,” he said.

“There was one poor lad who was under five foot tall, he weight less than eight stone and had flat feet – he wasn't the epitome of a rough, tough soldier.

“You can imagine him going out there with his rifle the would have been nearly as tall as he was, and he was out there and was killed. It's just so sad,” he added.

With the 100th anniversary of the First World War next year, it's a war that is no longer in living memory.

John said: ““I really wanted to get across the fact that we live at a time where we're in danger of forgetting because there's no one left now who fought in the First World War.

“These people fought for the freedoms we take for granted now. If we do forget what happened in both the Great War and the Second World War, we're in danger of it happening again.

“There hasn't be a year since the Second World War when there hasn't been some form of conflict around the world – so we don't learn.

“It's important at this anniversary time that we remember the sacrifices of these people,” he added.

Silent Witnesses - Stories of Horbury’s Fallen Heroes is release on November 11 by Beech Genealogy.

Reportage: Bus drivers will be blindfolded to raise understanding

A group of visually impaired people are swapping places with bus drivers in Wakefield to highlight the difficulties they face travelling on public transport.

The event, organised by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), is apart of an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of blind and partially sighted people's needs when travelling on buses.

Bus drivers from Arriva Yorkshire will be blindfolded and asked to carry out tasks such as boarding a bus, paying for a ticket, and finding a seat so they understand the difficulties faced by visually impaired passengers.

Tracy Dearing, RNIB regional campaigns officer for Yorkshire and Humber, said: “One of the biggest barriers that blind and partially sighted people face when using public transport is being able to recognise and stop a bus, to find a seat and then know when they're at their destination.

“We've had a really positive response from bus operators, and we've found that in places we've offered these events companies have taken things on board and things have improved.

“It's not just about bus companies understanding the issues faced by blind and partially sighted
people, it's also about understanding the difficulties faced by bus drivers.

“Bus drivers get a really hammering, but they've got to drive a bus, they've got think about health and safety, as well a provide this level of customer service that we're asking for.”

"However, the difficulties blind and partially sighted people face in making journeys, that other people often take for granted, are unacceptable and often unnecessary. We want operators to remember one simple principle – stop for me, speak to me," she added.

The event is a collaboration between RNIB, Action for Blind People, the Guide Dogs for Blind Association and Arriva Yorkshire, and at will be taking place at Wakefield Bus Station on November 15.

Art: Interview with Dana Schutz

The walls of the Hepworth have been brought to life by the colourful paintings of acclaimed US artist Dana Schutz. Jon Cronshaw met her.

One of the brightest hopes for the future of American painting, Dana Schutz, has finally made it to Yorkshire from her home in Brooklyn, New York, for her first UK solo exhibition.

“I’m really excited because I’ve never shown my work over here before – it’s been amazing,” says Schutz. “The Hepworth is so gorgeous, the way it sits right on the river and just lets in all this natural light. The sky is amazing in Yorkshire – it’s just incredible. How low the clouds are, and the shifting light – it’s insane, it’s really beautiful.

“I wondered how it would work because all the rooms in the gallery are different sizes, and there are no right angles in the entire building. I didn’t see at first how the paintings would work on the walls, but it’s actually been great.”

The exhibition brings together 13 of Schutz’s large-scale paintings produced between 2010 and 2013 which all give a strange twist or an unusual composition to familiar everyday scenes – from shaving to dressing.

A new painting which dominates an entire wall depicts a familiar scene at all art schools – a life drawing class with a group of students sitting at their easels.

The scene is given a surreal spin with the inclusion of a giant octopus modelling for the students, its tentacles thrashing around and causing the type of chaos one would expect from the presence of a giant octopus in a classroom.

“It’s been really weird – some of these paintings have never been seen together,” says Schutz.

“It’s been really interesting for me to see how my technique has changed, or how themes and ideas have cropped up in different places. There are a couple of paintings in the show that I haven’t seen in a long time, so it’s been really nice to see them again.”

The pictures take their inspiration from some of the greatest painters of the 20th century, but bring their ideas up-to-date with references to popular culture and her use of bright and bold colours.

There are subtle references to paintings by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Alex Katz and David Hockney.

“I like the way that space is constructed and the way the colours work in those paintings,” says Schutz.

“I do look at a lot of paintings, and I think that the way I relate to other art is that I don’t think I’m trying to make a comment on it or anything like that – it only becomes a problem if it’s too heavy with the reference.”

Schutz started painting as a teenager growing up in Livonia, Michigan a suburb of Detroit – a city with a heritage of car manufacturing and soul music. “When I was 14 or 15 I remember thinking that art was something that I could see myself doing,” she says.

“I knew at the time that I wasn’t very good at it – but I liked it, and that was enough to at least get me started. If you like something, and you have a lot of time, you can really put a lot into it.

“I think there’s something quite romantic about art when you’re that age. When you’re in school, it doesn’t feel like a lot of people were making paintings, so it’s 
quite an exciting thing to be doing.

“I remember taking one of those aptitude tests that you have to take when you’re in the ninth grade in the US, 
and it said that I’d be a bricklayer because I liked the outdoors and could work with my hands. At the time I thought that was really depressing – but I think secretly I would have quite liked to do that.”

Dana Shutz’s exhbition is at The Hepworth, Wakefield until January 26, 2014.

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post on November 8, 2013.

Reportage: Young film-maker set for international recognition

Daniel Whitaker
A 17-year-old Agbrigg film-maker has reached the finals of an international film competition with a comedy sketch about climate change.

Daniel Whitaker was one of 14 people to be selected from 567 film proposals as a finalist for this year's TVE BioMovies competition.

The competition asked film-makers to come up with a film about climate change of no more than one minute in duration.

Finalists were selected from around the world and include film-makters from Bolivia, Cameroun, Portugal, Slovakia, and America, and range in age from 15 to 39.

All of the films will be screened an the UN Climate Conference in Warsaw, Poland, on November 11 with the winner of a $1,500 (£939) prize being announced on December 19.

Daniel said: ““It would mean quite a lot to me if I won because it's good to have recognition for something that I'm so passionate about – it would be a nice boost.

“I came up with idea of doing a sketch about extinction – I thought it could be a bit of challenge to make it funny, but with a serious point.

“It's set in the near-future, and the ozone layer has disappeared.

“Everyone's too engrossed in their phones and tablets and on social media to notice that they're all slowly choking to death.

“There's this one girl who notices. She tells her brother that she believes that we're going to end up extinct like the dinosaurs. He pretends to be a dinosaur and eventually dies – it's funnier than it sounds,” he added.

Daniel currently attends New College, Pontefract, studying Media, Drama and Photography.

He hopes to attend university to study media with the aim of becoming a film-maker.

Daniel's mother, Karen Else, said: “We're really proud of what Daniel's done.He's done something creative that uses his skills to raise a serious issue.”

This article was published by the Wakefield Express on November 8, 2013.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Reportage: West Yorkshire PCC in public consultation

The Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, has launched a new consultation which will give the public more say in local policing.

Mr Burns-Williamson has pledged to listen to the public to determine the best ways to use police resources.

He said: “This is the start of a consultation called 'Listening to You First'. It's about hearing from the public to find out what concerns they have regarding crime and community safety in their areas.”

On Monday, November 4, Mr Burns-Williamson took to the streets of Wakefield to speak to the public and find out their concerns.

He said: “The colleagues I'm about to go out with this afternoon in Eastmoor are the bedrock of what we do in terms of neighbourhood policing – Police Officers and Community Support Officers out in the communities finding out what the issues are and tackling those issues.

“It's important for me as the elected Police and Crime Commissioner to be out and about as much as possible,” he added.

He hopes to reach as many people of possible from a whole range of backgrounds, ages and social groups.

“The role enables me to speak to a wide range of people,” he said.

“On a weekly basis I'm meeting with what you might call hard to reach groups. I've visited projects where ex-offenders are being rehabilitated through programmes throughout West Yorkshire.

“I've met with lots of younger people who often get ignored in consultation. I've set up a youth advisory board.

“Increasingly we're going to have to work more closely with communities given the cuts that are happening across the public sector.”

Music: Interview with Savages

Formed in 2011, Savages have carved out a unique sound pulling in influences from late-70s post-punk and the New York ‘no wave’ scene of the early-80s.

But far from being mere copyists, an attitude of innovation and experimentation are at the fore of Savages’ music.

“We wanted to focus on writing lyrics for the stage, writing for the performance and we didn’t speak about musical influence or anything like that – we kind of just started playing together,” says guitarist Gemma Thompson.

“We just started working on an idea behind a word or drum rhythm and just worked on how we played our instruments - not what to sound like, but to try and focus on how to get a certain sound out and to play with an intent rather than technical ability,” she says.

“There is so much more to explore in that sound and we like to perform it in a really physical, emotional, violent way.

“I think there’s a lot more that you can explore in that rather than just pure entertainment,” she adds.

The group’s first show was supporting British Sea Power in January 2012, and from the beginning all of the songs were put together with an emphasis on live performance.

“We decided to really focus on the performance aspect,” says Gemma. “The idea was that the songs weren’t finished until they were actually played live.

“The energy on the stage would complete the song, so that’s what we concentrated on. They would grow as a live thing.”

With such an emphasis on the live performance, the group were in a quandary as to how to translate their energetic sound to record.

The group decided to record their debut EP I Am Here live during their first UK tour.

“The idea was to get the live energy recorded,” says Gemma. “From them we worked out how we could do that in the studio by thinking how each musician could capture that energy as they were recording.”

The debut album Silence Yourself was released in May, and has seen the band receive a nomination for the coveted Mercury Music Prize.

“I’m pleased that a band like us has been nominated because up to the end of the first album we did everything ourselves,” says Gemma.

This article was published by Yorkshire Evening Post on November 7, 2013.

Film: Leeds International Film Festival round-up

Yorkshire's film fans are a lucky bunch. With a great selection of independent cinemas and film festivals across the region, and of course the National media museum on our doorstep, there's plenty to keep even the most discerning film buffs interested.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown of Yorkshire's ilm calendar is the Leeds International Film Festival.

Now into its 27th year, the festival attracts ilmmakers and movie lovers from around the world for a fortnight of cinematic bliss – and this year's line-up doesn't disappoint.

For the festival's gala opening at Everyman cinema last night, audiences were treated to the Uk premiere of Alfonso Cuarón's glorious science fiction saga Gravity, screened in breathtaking 3D.

Tonight Hyde Park Picture house will be screening sign Painters, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon's follow-up to their 2009 film Handmade Nation. Exploring the art and craft behind the painting of shop signs might sound a litle bit niche, but the film highlights the passion and artistry required by the sign painters, and the almost indelible mark that painted signs have let on our towns and cities.

If you prefer something a litle more mystical, then a special screening of the 1968 sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A space odyssey on November 9 in the grandiose surroundings of Leeds Town Hall might be just the ticket.

Directed by stanley kubrick and written in partnership with legendary science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A space odyssey tells the story of human interactions with mysterious black monoliths which appear to influence the development of human evolution.

For something more contemporary there's Blue is the Warmest Colour. A hit with this year's Cannes film festival jury, chaired by one Steven Spielberg, this powerful love story about a deeply passionate relationship between two young women features extraordinary performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle.

Music fans will be intrigued by Vikram Jayant's2009 film The Agony and the ecstasy of Phil Spector which will be screened on November 10 and 14 in Leeds Town hall's Albert Room. Spector stands with Nile Rodgers and Joe Meek as one of the most important music producers of the 20th century, rising to fame with his ‘Wall of Sound' method of production.

Spector became headline news in 2003 after shooting actress Lana Clarkson in his California home, and was convicted of her murder in 2009.

For something a bit more light-hearted, there's always the UK premiere of Japanese martial arts comedy, Takanori Tsujimoto's Bushido Man which will be shown at Hyde Park Picture House on November 9 and Vue in the light on November 19.

With its wacky storyline which teaches the understanding of one's opponent through studying their favourite foods and its over-the-top fight choreography, this film is proof if ever proof were needed that Japanese cinema is possibly the most entertaining and imaginative in the world.

Andrew Bujalski's funny and inventive Computer Chess will be shown on November 9 and 13 at Everyman Cinema and November 16 at Vue in the Light. Set in the early 80s, the film is centred around a tournament between computer programmers pitting their chess programmes against each other.

Documentaries critical of capitalism and ‘evil' corporations are the staple of any film festival worth its salt. Showing on November 14 and 18 at leeds Town hall's Albert Room, Michael Chanan's 2012 documentary Secret City is somewhat subtler.

The film exposes the role of the ancient Corporation of London in the recent global economic crisis, shedding light on the inner-workings of London's financial centre.

The UK premiere of Hungarian director György Páli's Final Cut, Ladies and Gentlemen will be shown at the festival's closing gala at Leeds Town hall on November 21.

The 27th Leeds International Film Festival runs from November 6 to 21. For more information visit

This article was published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on November 7, 2013.b

Monday, 4 November 2013

Music: The Orb - History of the Future album review

Describing an established artist as a ‘pioneer’ has become something of cliché in music journalism, but when it comes to an act like The Orb, nothing else seems fitting.

Now celebrating 25 years in the music industry, The Orb’s new four-disc box set brings together a selection of some of the group’s finest achievements.

Tracks like Little Fluffy Clouds and Perpetual Dawn sound as fresh and innovative as they did over two decades ago. The layered samples and technical wizardry have seldom been equalled.

Some of the more mainstream offerings, such as Toxygene, highlight an issue that seems to be inescapable with a lot of electronic music – it dates in line with its innovations.

There are points where you can’t help but be awestruck at the group’s sheer talent – it’s not often than an act can combine a flair for innovation and creativity with a good groove, but The Orb managed to balance these two often opposing forces throughout, giving tracks like The Blue Room an incredible sense of urgency and tension.

Whereas the first disc appeals to the casual fan, collecting together some of the groups most well-known songs, the second disc is a little more interesting for The Orb fan as it brings together some rare remixes from the likes of Coldcut and Mark Pritchard.

It is the third disc, however, which is the jewel in the crown of this boxset, which sees the group performing their music in front of a live audience – the energy on the record is magical.

This article was published the Yorkshire Evening Post on November 4, 2013.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Reportage: Wakefield's Unity Hall's future secured

For the past 25 years music venue Unity Hall has stood empty slowly descending into ever increasing dilapidation.

But now it will be restored to by a cooperative which has raised £4m by issuing shares to local businesses, community organisations and music fans.

The Grade II-listed building, which was built in the 19th century, has played an important role in the city’s past – and the work of the co-operative means it will also help to shape Wakefield’s cultural future.

The restoration project will create around 30 jobs, possibly up to 300, and transform it into a multi-purpose venue.

As well as a 600-seat music and theatre hall, there will be workspaces equipped with high-specification digital infrastructure for new businesses. a cafe, and conference facilities.

Chris Hill, director of Unity Hall, said: “There is a mass of creative business talent in Wakefield that too often moves away. Unity intends to be the focus for their energy and an advert to the world that Wakefield is on the up.”

The project has received financial backing from the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership which estimates up to 300 jobs could be created in the long term when the hall is up and running.

Roger Marsh, chairman, said: “The scheme represents a long-term driver of entrepreneurship, job creation and economic growth for the city region and in turn is likely to attract significant investment within the region.”

The hall is one of the first sights that visitors to Wakefield see as they leave Westgate station.

Kevin Trickett, president of Wakefield Civic Society, said: “It very pleasing to see that restoration of this important landmark building is about to begin.

“The building makes a big impact on people travelling into the city centre via Westgate, and in recent years, that impact has been far from favourable.”

The project has been backed by Wakefield Council.

Leader Coun Peter Box, who is also the chairman of the Leeds City Region leaders board, said: “I am very pleased that these ambitious plan to renovate a landmark building at a key gateway to the city centre are coming to fruition.

“This is great news for the district, as we are bringing one of Wakefield’s key buildings back to life.”

The hall has been subject to numerous makeovers during its lifetime but the cooperative want to strip it right back to its roots.

Mr Hill said: “Throughout the 60s, people were putting plasterboard over the lovely original tiling. Our job is to take all of the 60s rubbish out and take it back to the 1907 look.

“We have tried to conserve the building as best we can, the only concession we’ve made is that all of the stained glass panelling in the office area has been taken off and hung on the wall, because it’s really not very nice to work behind.”

The hall was opened in 1902 by the Wakefield Wholesale Co-operative Society.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, Unity Hall was Wakefield’s most important music venue, and hosted some of the biggest bands of the era.

The hall also holds special memories for many older people who met their future husbands and wives at Saturday night dances.

But the next phase could be its most exciting says Mr Hill.

He said: “I just fell in love with the building – it was an absolute travesty to see the decline of such a wonderful building right in the middle of the city.

“I think the main difference from how it was in the 80s is that we want to bring in a wider music repertoire. We’ll definitely have touring rock bands, but we’ll also go towards the artier end of music – it will be fairly eclectic.

“And apart from the very top comedy acts, the capacity will be about right for a most good comics.

“We won’t be able to reach arena standards of bands, but we’ll certainly attract that second level of artists.

“This is a community facility, but we also have money to repay. So for instance, we couldn’t give the hall to a weekly event, but we’ll definitely be doing lots of one-off interesting things.

“A lot of towns boast about their cultural quarters, but it’s a reality in Wakefield. We’ve got the theatre, the Art House and the Orangery within about 50 yards of each other, and then you’ll have Unity Hall.

“We’re really serious about putting on joint events with places like the Hepworth – things like the lit fest would work really well. “

The co-operative aims to re-open Unity Hall in August, 2014.


Chris Cameron was the guitarist with 60s act Bob Taylor and the Stranger and often performed on the stage of Unity Hall.

“Wednesdays would feature acts like The Undertakers and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. The Mindbenders went on to become 10cc and also Screaming Lord Sutch was a regular.

“They were thriving nights. It was about three and six to go in, and you got to see these bands that were on the up.

“It was definitely a night for people under 30 – unless they were music freaks – it was a good place to dance, it was a bit like Top of the Pops.

“The people usually went because they were interested in the bands. They’d stand and watch the music, by the end of the evening everyone was dancing.

“It was a show for people who were really into music. The audience was predominantly male, but there were some couples there as well. It was definitely more about the music than the social side.

“They had some amazing bands on, and the acoustics were really good and the atmosphere was great – I think that’s why a lot of bands went out of their way to play there at the time.

“Back then you could just hire the hall for about £15 a night so long as it was decent and legal, so you could put on what you wanted.”

Peter Morton played at Unity house many times during the 1970s and early 80s his time as the drummer with up and coming Wakefield band Strangeways.

“For us, it was our home turf. In my own mind it was very crucial for people of our age in the city because it was the one major gig venue that you knew that some of the big acts would come through.

“The only thing you had prior to Unity were what were called the ‘tech dances’, which were at the local technical college, and seemed to constantly book the Scorpions.

“For young people in the city who were into rock music, it was for a number of years the only venue, and therefore remarkably important.

“For a local band, we were certainly grateful for it. It gave us somewhere we could play that for Wakefield was a major venue. It wasn’t just used for gigs, it was also used for all night northern soul events.

“Between around August 1998 until August 2001 the Department of Music at Bretton Hall took it over, and I hadn’t been into Unity for a long time. It wasn’t in a great state of repair – it had got quite run down.

“Since Unity closed down, there’s never been a big venue in Wakefield that a relatively well-known act would be prepared to play.

“When Unity closed down it was a loss, not just to Wakefield but to all the satellite towns like Pontefract and Castleford. Getting to a venue used to be relatively easy, but for a long time now, you’ve had to travel to Leeds.

“The Pretenders played their first ever gig at the Unity supporting Strangeways in 1978. We were on the same label, and we already had a big following – we had a record deal and records out, and their manager wanted somewhere for them to play before they played London.

“It was from that gig that The Pretenders hit Brass in Pocket came from.

“We were in our dressing room chatting, and there was this pair of ridiculous trousers – probably a pair of pink leopard-print pants. Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders singer) asked ‘whose trousers are those’, and our singer Ada Wilson piped up with ‘if there’s any brass in pocket, they’re mine’ – and that’s honestly where it came from.

“I remember driving through Wakefield the night Captain Beefheart was playing . I knew the gig was on, but I wasn’t particularly interested in going along, even though this was the legendary Captain Beefheart.

“You should have seen some of the people walking down to the gig – the city was semi-swamped with people that were going to that gig – I remember thinking there were some very strange characters around.”

Bob Marsden played bass guitar in Strangeways, he said: “When Unity closed, Wakefield’s music scene died with it.

“With it re-opening, it will give the local bands a huge boost because they’ll be able to support bigger acts and play in front of bigger crowds.”

This article was published in the Wakefield Express on November 1, 2013