Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Features: The Leeds Award: Honouring city folk who go the extra mile

The Leeds Award is one of the most prestigious honours that can be given by the city of Leeds. Jon Cronshaw looks at what makes the award so important and speaks to some of its past recipients.


The Leeds Award is one of the most prestigious honours that can be given in the city - and it is hard won.

Recipients have worked long and effectively on behalf of others and they include some of the most dedicated volunteers in the city, battling to make a difference in areas of life that are tough and traumatic.

Past winners have covered a range of difficult and even dangerous issues, from trying to stop girls being groomed by pimps to working with the dying.

Leeds Award recipient Claude Bandawe

Launched in 2008, the award was designed to complement the Freedom of the City, a title which has been bestowed on Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, cancer fundraiser Jane Tomlinson, and writer Alan Bennett.

“The most pre-eminent award we can give is to give someone the Freedom of the City,” says Coun Bernard Atha, Chair of the Leeds Award.

“In the past, that has been reserved for only the most exceptional individuals.

“What we wanted was something that recognised people that didn’t quite reach that level of eminence, but had made a real difference in Leeds.

“We came up with the Leeds Award, which is the second most important honour in the city.”

The public are asked to nominate members of their community for the honour. The names are then put to a panel of councillors, with only the most significant nominees being put forward to receive the award. “We wanted it to be something that was not so easily earned. It had to have the same degree of sanctity that the Freedom of the City has,” says Coun Atha.

“We wouldn’t be giving an award recognising someone as an employee – it has got to be an exceptional voluntary contribution.”

Winners of the Leeds Award receive a certificate and a personal gift from the Lord Mayor of Leeds at a ceremony in the banqueting suite of the Civic Hall.

The names of the winners are carved into a ‘wall of fame’ in the entrance to the Civic Hall as a permanent reminder of their contribution to the city.

The award, which also recognises people who have been overlooked by other honours lists or national awards, is not given out on a regular basis as other honours are, but is awarded as and when the need arises.

“At any time, anyone can come forward and nominate a person for the award – the panel then meets and makes a decision,” says Coun Atha.

“If there’s a long period of time between awards, it’s because no one has come up with a person who has done something that is so outstanding that merits this award.”

Hilary Willmer received the Leeds Award in 2011. For Coun Atha, she embodies the type of character that the Leeds Award seeks to honour.

“She was a volunteer at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, she set up the Leeds and Moortown Furniture Store, which is a most remarkable organisation,” says Coun Atha.

“After she retired, she got involved with relief and accommodation for homeless people and set up the organisation Night Stop. There are now 30 Night Stop schemes across the country – if she’d done nothing more, that would have been remarkable.

“She then set up another organisation the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping. So she made a real difference,” he says.

Dawn Newsome received the award at the first Leeds Awards in 2008 for her work as project manager at Armley Helping Hands.

“It’s a nice opportunity to recognise people who are doing work on a day-to-day basis that’s having a real impact on their community,” she said.

“There are awards like the royal honours, but people who receive them are usually already in the public eye. They do need that recognition, but there are so many people on the ground that people sometimes forget about.”

Armley Helping Hands provide support for older people living in Armley and Wortley, helping them to retain their independence and be part of an active community.

For Dawn, the award wasn’t for her, but for the organisation she founded.

“Although my name’s on the panel, I didn’t just accept it for myself – I accepted it for my team,” says Dawn. “Every individual who achieves things like that always have a strong team behind them.

“It was their hard work and commitment that made things happen – a leader can only do so much.”

With government cuts, charities like Armley Helping Hands are taking responsibility for services that were once offered by Social Services and the NHS.

“Because of changes in society, and because of the recession, we’re dealing with more cases and supporting more people,” says Dawn.

“Even though our finances are hypothetically stable, there’s always that higher demand from the community to deliver more.

“We’re always looking to recruit more volunteers who can help, and to develop partnerships with other organisations so we can pool our resources,

“The work is so rewarding – we feel that we’re improving the lives of the people we support.”

Claude Bandawe was honoured in 2010 in recognition of his ongoing commitment to youth sport in the city, setting up the Leeds Tigers basketball team in 1985.

“All my life I’ve dedicated myself to helping young people, and I’m still helping them now to find their way in life and achieve better things,” says Claude.

In 1975 Claude was forced to flee Malawi, then called Nyasaland, while working a civil servant.

“My president was trying to arrest me in Nyasaland under a false pretence, so I knew that I had to move to be with my family in the UK. After that, my name was on the wanted list – dead or alive. So to be accepted here in the UK is something that I really treasure – it was so poignant in my life.”

Claude takes great pride in being recognised by the city he now calls his home, and is proud to be the first black person to be nominated for a Leeds Award.

“It meant so much to me to be awarded like this. I owe it to Victor Ware for nominating me. He fought for me, and I thank him for that with all my heart and all my might,” says Claude.

“I’m trying to send out a positive message and focus on the good things that people do, no matter what their race or religion,” he says.

“There is definitely a need for more black people to be recognised as role models, and more importantly to change people’s perceptions and expectations.

“All we can do is keep chipping away and doing good things to hopefully inspire the next generation of people.”.

This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on September 18, 2013.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Reportage: GTA V marketed in kids' toy shop

A major toy retailer in Leeds has attracted criticism for its promotion of the controversial videogame Grand Theft Auto V.

The game, which depicts graphic scenes of violence and allows players to engage the services of prostitutes, has been promoted at the Leeds branch of Smyths toy shop with in-store adverts and a midnight opening on the day of the game’s release.

The store, which caters mainly to young children, has been criticised by leading academics studying the effects of videogame violence.


Dr Nicolas Robinson, Associate Professor in Politics and Videogames Research at the University of Leeds, said: “You do have to be 18 to buy this game – I could be in that shop with my kid and easily want to buy Grand Theft Auto for myself as an adult.

“But do these games end up in the hands of kids who shouldn’t be playing them? The answer to that is absolutely yes.

“The real problem is peer pressure – kids will be talking about these games in the playground, watching adverts on TV and seeing clips on YouTube.

“Kids should be protected from certain content. I believe Grand Theft Auto is a very sophisticated satirical piece of work – and I actually think that most kids under 18 just won’t get the satire.

“And if you don’t get the satire, it’s actually much more problematic than if you can,” he added.

“As a culture, we have a certain view about alcohol – parents know that giving a child neat whiskey is not a good thing – we don’t feel that way about games.”

Prof Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, is one of the leading researchers in to videogame violence. He said: “It is a really bad idea to market 18 rated games to underage children.

“Our studies show that violent videogames increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behaviour.

“Violent games also decrease helping behaviour and feelings of empathy for others.

“ The effects occurred for males and females of all ages, regardless of what country they lived in,” he added.

Robert Guckian, a spokesperson for Smyths, said: “As a leading entertainment provider, Smyths Toys Superstores cater for all ages.

“Grand Theft Auto V has a PEGI rating of 18+ and will not be sold to anyone under this age. ID is required for anyone wishing to purchase this game who may look under this age.”

Parts of this article featured on page 5 of the Daily Mail on September 25, 2013.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Art: Sculpted benches on Yearsley Moor: Interview with Jonathan Newdick

From his cat statues that prowl York’s rooftops, to his Lady of the Lake carved from a fallen tree in Kirby Sigston, Jonathan Newdick’s contribution to Yorkshire’s landscape has been impressive.

Over the past three decades Newdick has carved a reputation for being one of the region’s finest sculptors.

The York-based artist was recently commissioned by North York Moors National Park to produce five carved benches which take their inspiration from the rich history of Yearsley Moor.

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The artist had never made benches before, with the vast majority of his work being sculpted in stone, bronze and wood. But the prospect of returning to Yearsley Moor – the place where he walked his dog as a young man – was irresistible.

“The site immediately caught my imagination,” says Newdick. “It’s a remote area of woodland that has a lot of history to it. The National Park wanted to have something that would interpret the ancient history of Yearsley Moor to raise awareness of the history of the area.”

The five benches are made from English Oak and each represent a different era in the moor’s history. “For me, sculpture has to be connected with the past in some way,” says Newdick. “I like to have a dialogue and respond to something – whether its history, or the materials I’m working with.

“Some of the earliest sculptures ever made did that – they responded to the materials. I think they are very basic sculptural concerns that I have.”

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One of the benches draws on the ancient history of the moor, marking the area’s Bronze Age roots. The seat echoes the shape of a large double axe-head. “Archaeologists had unearthed ancient bronze from around 6,000 years ago, so I created a bench for that area in a huge dagger shape which actually points to the original archaeological site,” says Newdick

Another of the carved benches takes its inspiration from the area’s rich mining heritage. There are many bell-pit mines in the area which were formed by miners digging a shaft down to a coal seam, and then digging outwards in the shape of a bell.

“I wanted to show these coal mines within one of the benches,” says Newdick. “I did this by charring a section of the bench black to look like a coal seam, and carved out these bell shapes.”

A bench reminiscent of a chaise longue has also been produced to represent the era that the Fairfax family owned Yearsley Moor.

“The thing that really intrigued me about the 18th Century was that women had to wear incredibly tight corsets,” says Newdick. “They had to invent furniture which women could lie down on because they tended to faint a lot – so the chaise longue was actually invented for women to faint on and I knew I had to make one to represent that era.”

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Unlike regular works of art, the benches are made to be sat on and used. With this in mind the National Park have not given the benches labels describing what they are and what they mean. “I quite like that idea because it’s more about sculpture,” says Newdick. It’s a sculpture to sit on, and as you sit on it you can investigate the bench’s surfaces and shapes, and maybe ask questions about why the seat is there.”

The experience of working on the carved seats has inspired the artist to produce a new bench which will be a part of the 175th anniversary exhibition at York Cemetery which will open on September 13.

“I’ve developed a meandering bench that has this double curve which was originally from the tree. I wanted to make something that people could sit on and contemplate the nature of the landscape,” says Newdick.

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Also on display will be a large abstract sleeping head carved from oak. “I really wanted to get across this feeling of peace and tranquillity,” says Newdick. “It’s actually going to go in the temple of the cemetery, which is a beautiful building. It’s been refurbished over the last few years – it was in a terrible state of repair, but they’ve done a marvellous job with it.”

The life of an artist. 

After training to be a sculptor in Gloucester and Edinburgh, Newdick received his first commission in 1983 to carve a cat sculpture for a York rooftop, and has since carved a further 14 which are found around the city.

In 1989 Newdick was commissioned to produce a bronze fountain depicting a pig’s head on York’s Swinegate.

In 2006 Newdick transformed the remnants of a felled lightning tree in Kirby Sigston into a stunning carving of the legendary Lady of the Lake.

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All photographs courtesy of the artist. Visit: www.newdicksculpture.co.uk


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Features: The rise of the robots

With the opening of a £4.3m robotics facility at the University of Leeds and a year-long creative project March of the Robots being launched, Jon Cronshaw looks at why robots will be big news in 2014.

For the past century robots have captured our imaginations, filling us with a mixture of suspicion and wonder.

From the dawn of science fiction, writers have been fascinated by the idea of a machine built by man which has the ability to act and think independently of its human creators.


But the image of a robot depicted in fiction is a far cry from reality.

“It’s very different to the science fiction perception of robots as thinking machines that can be creative or that are rational. It’s more that they can just act by themselves – but they’re pretty stupid in many senses,” says Dr Robert Richardson, head of the new robotics facility at the University of Leeds.

“Making robots that look like humans is actually quite rare. The tasks you want a robot to do can be done with something much smaller and cheaper than trying to make it look human.

“If you want a robot to do the washing up, you don’t design something that looks human, you use a dishwasher,” Dr Richardson added.

The development of robots has been relatively slow when compared with other technologies. Functions that most people take for granted, such as recognising faces and voices, are still far from perfect in robots.

“Robotics is just coming into its own, and I think it’s going to impact on all our lives,” says Dr Richardson.

“With computers getting smaller and faster, robots can do things like visually perceive much easier than they could before.”


The new facility will be the national centre for robotic research, and will put Leeds on the map as the world leader in the field of robotics.

“It gives Leeds a national strength, and we hope that companies will open up locally in order to work with us. Working locally will be much better for them,” says Dr Richardson.

The facility brings together the expertise of departments across the university, including mechanical and electronic engineering, computer science and medicine. The main focus will be on three key areas.

The first is in the development of robots to use in surgical procedures. “This means putting robots into small incisions in the body so they can do surgery with less damage,” says Dr Richardson.

The second is in the area of prosthetics – making replacement limbs for those who have lost or no longer have use of their own. “We can use robots to help people who’ve had strokes to get their movement back,” says Dr Richardson.

The third is working on exploration robots which can access confined spaces such as collapsed buildings to help locate those who are trapped without putting those searching for them at risk.

In 2011, Dr Richardson used a robot to explore hidden passages in the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt.

“It was one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved with – getting to see inside the pyramid was amazing,” says Dr Richardson.

“The challenge was that it was a very small confined space, and it couldn’t make a mistake.

“You’d think that the stone inside a pyramid would be quite strong, but it’s actually really soft, so there was a constant worry that you’d scrape the walls. The robot had to be quite gentle, and really reliable – that wasn’t easy.”

Over a three-hour period, the robot slowly crawled its way up a 60m shaft which was too small for a person to climb.

“Once the robot went in, the shafts were so small there was no way of getting it out – so there was a lot of pressure,” says Dr Richardson.

Along the shaft, the robot came across a small door which opened out into a secret room. Within the room the robot discovered a series of hieroglyphics which hadn’t been seen since the pyramid was originally built over 4,500 years ago.


But it’s not just boffins in lab coats who will be thinking about robots over the next year. Playful Leeds are running a year-long project called March of the Robots.

The project is being led by Emma Bearman who gives herself the tongue-in-cheek title chief officer of play at Playful Leeds.

“We’re interested in seeing how we can come together as a city and be really resourceful and really creative. And without being too nerdy, explore technology and who we are as humans,” say Emma.

The March of the Robots will include a range of creative activities and events across the city, with the intention of building a robot for Leeds in April. “We want to find out from people what it should look and feel like, what it would do,” says Emma.

“All you have to do is scratch the surface and you find the pioneering medical robots that are being developed at the university – these amazing things are happening right under our noses.”

Of course, there are negative aspects of robots that Playful Leeds also want people to think about. “It’s not just us going ‘aren’t robots great’, there’s another side to it,” says Emma. “The genie’s out of the bottle in a lot of ways, and there’s definitely a dark side to it all. When you automate everything, it’s going to put people out of work. How do we feel about drones and robots being used in warfare?

“Do we want robots looking after our old people? We do need to have conversations about robots because this stuff is happening.

“I suppose we need to ask ourselves where we want to be in this story.

“Do you want to be ahead of the robots or behind them?”

The March of the Robots was launched with an online campaign to fund a bid to bring a 1950s robot, Cygan, back to Leeds. It went up for auction at Christie’s on September 5.

“We were interested in Cygan because it’s a great talking point to get people thinking about robots and what that means to them,” says Emma.

Playful Leeds raised £7,179 from 117 separate pledges to try to buy Cygan for the city.

Unfortunately the campaign to bring the robot back to Leeds was unsuccessful with it fetching £17,500 at the auction. Instead the organisation aim to build a robot for Leeds.

Playful Leeds may not have succeeded in buying Cygan, but they have certainly got people talking about robots.



BE PREPARED TO PLAY

Playful Leeds formed in January 2012 as a project investigating how the people of Leeds can contribute to the future of the city through playful and creative activities.

The project aims to pool the resources of business, academia, public agencies, voluntary organisations and the people of Leeds to get people excited about the city.

The project promotes the idea that all individuals are creative even if they don’t think they are, and the more creativity that surrounds them, the more enthusiasm they will feel about where they live.

“How do we give ourselves permission as a city to play? Especially in a culture of receding services and cuts, how do we get people together to have a good time and make stuff happen?” says Emma Bearman, chief officer of play at Playful Leeds. “It’s about being imaginative and having fun – daring to dream and being a bit daft.

“We want Leeds to be a place where people are willing to just try stuff out – it doesn’t matter if it works. It’s about having a go and being ambitious, no matter how much money you’ve got in your back pocket.”


WHEN CYGAN STOOD TALL IN LEEDS


Cygan the robot was created in the 1950s by Italian engineer Dr Ing Fiorito.

Standing at over eight foot in height, Cygan was first unveiled at the 25th Milan Sample Fair in 1957.

The robot could walk, turn and lift objects. He was programmed to respond to voice commands and could interpret signals given to it by using lights.

In 1958 Cygan opened the British Food Fair at Olympia, London.

In the late-1960s, the robot was bought by Tate of Leeds Ford dealership, where it was renamed ‘Mr Moto.’

In the 70s he was bought by a private collector.

“He encapsulates that excitement about new frontiers being found in the 50s and 60s with things like space travel and technology that was coming through,” says Charlotte Young, head of sale at Christie’s.

“He no longer works, but as a relic of that time it’s quite exciting to stand in front of him and think of him working. He was so advanced for his time. He’s got loads of personality.

“He really is a monument to the atomic era. He really shows the breadth of what they thought these machines could do for us,” added Charlotte.


This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post and Yorkshire Post on September 12, 2013.

Music: Interview with Colin Newman from Wire

They are one of the most influential rock groups of the late-1970s, and have inspired bands as diverse as REM, Manic Street Preachers, My Bloody Valentine, Interpol and Minor Threat.

Formed in 1976, Wire has been characterised by their absolute refusal to be pigeon-holed into a genre or defined by their past achievements.


“One of the things that characterise Wire is that we don't really have a sound,” says vocalist and guitarist, Colin Newman. “Our aim from day one was to be a contemporary band and we've really stuck to that all the way through as a project. We haven't stuck to a formula of any kind.

“Sometimes it's hard to push the idea to the fore that we are a contemporary band, because people want us to be something else. There seems to be much more of a desire for us now to be what we are, because that's the best thing we can be. What we are is a contemporary band with a fairly decent history.”

Over the years, critics have tried to label the band with terms like 'post-punk' and 'art-punk' but Colin rejects these terms, believing them to be of little use.

“Describing us as punk probably isn't a good idea – it's a word that's become almost entirely meaningless,” says Colin. “It means different things to different people at different times, but I don't think Wire were ever a type of punk band.

“We never wanted to be a punk band – we wanted to take something from punk and take it somewhere else that had a different agenda. Punk became very formalised by the end of '76, and we're very much a '77 band.

“We were latterly given the label 'post-punk' - as it was some kind of movement, but it wasn't. There were a lot of people who were energised by the idea of punk, but were appalled by its formalism.”

For Colin, music is something that needs to be exciting and evolving. Once a musical style begins to define itself in terms of what it is or isn't, that is when it ceases to be interesting for Colin.

“Formalism in music is what kills it. With any genre of music, it's at its most exciting when it starts and when it's breaking down. When people start breaking the rules, that's when it gets exciting,” he says.

After the release of their debut album Pink Flag in 1977, Wire became a cult hit with the American hard-core punk scene.

“That was more of a fluke of distribution than anything else,” says Colin. “A lot of the British music from that period didn't get American releases. They got the Sex Pistols, but there wasn't a lot more that came out in America from Britain.

“Wire was on EMI and on Capitol in America – they didn't promote it particularly hard, but they made it available in the shops.

“I got the impression the people in America saw the Sex Pistols as being style over substance. For a lot of Americans, they didn't come across as being very real – they saw them as a bit of a cartoon.

“The initial reactions to Wire were even worse – people thought we couldn't play and that we didn't have any proper songs, but for that generation it was something different and exciting,” Colin added.

“One chord and shouting isn't a proper song, you're right – it wasn't meant to be. It might not be a song, but it is sure as hell a lot of fun.”

The band became influential on a particular sub-culture of the hard-core scene known as 'straight edge'. The straight edge scene continues today, and promotes strict abstinence from cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

“We've always had quite a clean-cut image,” says Colin. “We're not known for the usual rock and roll indulgences. We're more famous for being quite disciplined and quite tough about what we do. I think that played quite well with the straight edge element of hard-core, but we're not living that lifestyle to be honest.”

From the no-nonsense rock of their debut, Wire's sound became increasingly complex, with layered guitar effects, the inclusion of synthesizers and innovative song structures.

When they perform live, Wire aren't the type of band to stick to a tried and tested set of popular songs and fan favourites.

“Putting together a live set for Wire takes the complete opposite of the focus group approach,” says Colin. “It's all about what we can do effectively. If something has become boring to play, we drop it, it doesn't matter how famous it is. If we can't make it sound good, it's pointless.

“Performing live is about something different to a record. A record has to stand repeated listens – that's the whole point of a record. But a live performance is all about the moment, and mistakes aren't necessarily that important. What is important is the energy that you can bring to a live show.

“In this period where you can get anything off the internet, you can't download a live performance. You might be able to get someone's recording of it on their phone on YouTube, but it's very far from being the same thing.

“There's something about being in the room, in front of those speakers, with the sweat and the crowd that you just can't get anywhere else.”

Wire formed in London in 1976 comprising Colin Newman (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass, vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar), and Robert Gotobed (drums).

Their debut album Pink Flag, released in 1977, has been lauded as one of the most original albums of the period.

Their 1978 album Chairs Missing saw the band move away from the minimalist rock of their debut, adding layers of synthesizers and making the music more atmospheric.

In 1985 Wire announced that they would no longer perform older material at shows, and hired a Wire cover band as a support act.

In March 2013, Wire released their thirteenth studio album Change Becomes Us.



This article was originally published by the Yorkshire Evening Post on September 12, 2013.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Reportage: Leeds bids farewell to Cygan

A campaign to buy the 1950s robot Cygan for Leeds was unsuccessful yesterday when the robot fetched £17,500 at auction.

The campaign to buy the robot was organised by the group Playful Leeds who are launching a year-long series of creative events under the banner March of the Robots.


Cygan, nicknamed Mr Moto, was a fixture in Leeds during the early-1970s when the robot was displayed outside of a Ford dealership in the city.

Playful Leeds raised £7,179 from 117 separate pledges to try and buy Cygan for the city, but were outbid on the day by a private collector in the UK.

But all is not lost. Playful Leeds will be building a 'robot for Leeds' in 2014.

Emma Bearman, chief of play at Playful Leeds, said: “The whole thing has been such a fantastic story so we're not too disappointed that we didn't get him. I think the disappointment will come if we don't find out who the new owner is.

“We really want to invite them to Leeds and keep up with what Cygan is doing.

“The BBC said 'Leeds loses Cygan bid, and I think that it's misleading to put in those terms because it sounds like a failure.

“What it's shown is that there's an appetite in the community to make stuff happen.

“In April we want to build our own robot for Leeds. We want to find out from people what it should look and feel like, what it should do,” added Emma.

Cygan the robot was created in the 1950s by Italian engineer Dr Ing Fiorito.

The robot could walk, turn and lift objects, but has long been deactivated.

Cygan was owned by a private collector from the late-70s until it was sold at Christie's yesterday.



Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Review: Bingley Music Live @ Myrtle Park, Bingley, August 30 to September 1

It was one of the last festivals of the summer, and Bingley Music Live didn’t disappoint.

The opening night performance by the Neville Staple Band got everyone in the festival with some classic tracks by the Specials including Gangsters, A Message to You Rudy, and a dub-tinged rendition of Ghost Town.


Friday headliners The Human League have a formidable back catalogue. Like being in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, the hits came thick and fast. Their set was a lot of fun, and the performance of their single Don’t You Want Me saw virtually every member of the audience singing the chorus at the top of their lungs – it was certainly one of the highlights of the festival.

Saturday was a somewhat sombre affair. Lovable Rogues played early afternoon, and were anything but lovable or roguish. After finding fame on one of those tedious talent shows they have nowadays, Lovable Rogues charmed a small crowd of teenage girls with laddish lyrics and the type of twee ukulele playing that you’ll find on your average insurance commercial. It was horrible, but the kids seemed to lap it up.

Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson played a passionate set which was initially hampered by sound problems. Earlier this year, Johnson announced that he was dying of terminal cancer – Bingley Music Live was his last scheduled show. It was humbling to see a man so aware of his mortality just going out there and doing what he loves. By the closing notes of his encore performance of Bye Bye Johnny, there were very few dry eyes in the front rows.

Saturday headliners Primal Scream put on a lacklustre performance. A decade or so ago, the band had a reputation for their stunning live performances. But with their Bingley performance, it was difficult not to feel short-changed. Although their set was biased towards some of the tracks from their classic album Screamadelica, many of the songs felt tired and dreary, with much of the instrumentation coming from a backing track.

The Wonder Stuff provided a perfect Sunday afternoon treat. Again, there were a few sound problems early on, but frontman Miles Hunt was clearly at ease and the band seemed to have a lot of fun. It was clear from the quality of songs like Caught in My Shadow, Circle Square and Size of a Cow, that The Wonder Stuff should have been higher up on the bill.

Festival closers Chic featuring Nile Rodgers put on a truly excellent performance. Rodgers has written or produced countless classic records including David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Madonna’s Like a Virgin, which fit perfectly into the set. Like The Human League, the hits came thick and fast, but it was the disco classics by Chic such as Le Freak and Good Times that really got the crowd moving. It was an honour to be dancing only metres away from one of the greatest musical minds of the last 40 years and was the perfect close to a very good weekend.

This article was originally published by Yorkshire Evening Post on September 3, 2013.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Music: Interview with Theme Park

Fronted by twins Marcus and Miles Haughton, indie-pop band Theme Park will be returning to Yorkshire for this weekend’s Bingley Music Live.

The band comprises Miles Haughton (vocals, guitar), Marcus Haughton (vocals, guitar), Louis Bhose (bass) and Oscar Manthorpe (guitar).


Formed in 2011 while Marcus and Oscar were studying at the University of Leeds, Theme Park quickly gained a reputation for their fun live shows and were touted by the indie music press as the next big thing.

“My brother and I have been playing music together for a while now,” says Marcus, 24. “We brought in our good friend Oscar to play guitar and it all happened quite naturally. When we all went to uni, we were all in bands going in different directions, but when we left we came together with Theme Park and it kind of spiralled from there.”

When they released their self-titled debut album earlier this year, comparisons were drawn to China Crisis, ESG and Talking Heads, but the band took their inspiration from more contemporary artists.

“We see ourselves as a kind of alternative pop band – we write pop melodies with a bit of a left-field edge to them,” says Marcus. “A lot of people compare us to bands like Talking Heads, but I don’t think the influence is as direct as that. Bands like LCD Soundsystem and the Rapture were more important to us.”

Last weekend, Theme Park played at Leeds Festival, and are looking forward to bringing their sound to a Bingley audience. “With our gigs we just want to have a party – we just want people to dance and have a good time,” says Marcus. “We try and make our shows a lot of fun. We’re going to bring all our lights along and our smoke machines, so it should have a real disco vibe.”



This article was originally published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on August 29, 2013.