Saturday, 25 January 2014

Music: Interview with Scoobius Pip

Combining electronic beats, dance hooks and a punk attitude with a mixture of spoken, rapped and sung vocals, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip are a group that resist being pigeon-holed.

“We’re always had a really varied fan base,” says David ‘Pip’ Meads. “We’ll get hip-hop heads and metal kids, and you have people coming at it from the spoken word side and then some of the more dancier types.”

Meads has gained a reputation for his startling and honest lyrics which starkly shine a light on areas seldom discussed in popular music including difficult subjects like self-harm, terminal illness and domestic abuse. 
“There’s an excitement about talking about things that aren’t generally discussed in music,” he says.

“I tend to find dark subject matters more interesting because when we’re happy in life we do what we what can to remain in that place for as long as we can, but when 
we’re sad or down or angry we try to get out of that place as quickly as we can – in music this has been quite unexplored.

The duo work with a 
strict division of labour – Dan Le Sac writes the music and Scroobius Pip writes the words.

“There’s a huge level of respect for what each of 
us does,” Meads says. “We might make suggestions for 
tweaks, but he knows that my part of it is the lyrics and his part is making amazing 

From their earliest shows, the duo put everything into producing an intense performance that set 
them apart from other 
hip-hop acts.

“When we first came out, a lot of acts that came under the loose term of hip-hop didn’t tend to be that good live – you go to a show and you’d just have some dude stood there rapping.

“I grew up in punk bands and going to punk and hardcore gigs, so from day one we had far more energy than people might expect."

This article was published by Yorkshire Evening Post on January 23 and Metro on January 24.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Reportage: UK-wide role for charity skills broker

A Yorkshire social enterprise project which acts as a broker between businesses and charities has expanded across the UK.

Skill Will, which was founded with £45,000 of investment in 2011, matches volunteers’ skills with the needs of charities.

Michelle Beckett, managing director of Skill Will

It was originally set up for businesses and charities across Yorkshire and the Humber, but the organisation has now spread nationwide.

Under the scheme, businesses offer targeted assistance to charities and third-sector organisations, enabling volunteers to improve their skills, create new contacts and raise morale within businesses.

Michelle Beckett, managing director of Skill Will, said: “Instead of sending corporate lawyers to paint a wall in a community centre or a charity, which is what a lot of businesses equate volunteering with, we get them to help the charities with business strategy or legal work.”

She added: “It’s the type of stuff that charities really need help with.

“So if they can save money by getting business experts to do things for them for free, more of the money that people donate to these charities goes to the people who really need it.”

For charities, the benefits are obvious – they are able to capitalise on skilled volunteers to improve their services.

Simon on the Streets is a Leeds-based charity offering moral and practical support for homeless people, or those on the verge of becoming homeless.

The charity was linked with 
Geoff Shepherd, Skill Will founder and also founder of Leeds-based business networking organisation Yorkshire Mafia.

Helen Beachell, general manager of Simon on the Streets, said: “It’s still early days, but it’s already been really successful.

“Geoff spent about two or three hours looking at everything we do as an organisation – how we run it, what our resources are, what our weaknesses are, where our strengths are.

“One of the things that came out was that our main area of weakness was IT.”

She added: “Every time we had a problem with a computer, I’d take it to the local corner shop and the man in there would charge us £50 before he even looked at it, and then four days later we’d get the machine back.

“For us, this wasn’t cost effective or good in terms of time.

“Within an hour of Geoff leaving, I had a phone call from a company called System Works who now manage all of our IT for us remotely as part of Skill Will – they manage it all for free, it’s fantastic.”

For businesses, Skill Will says the benefits are numerous.

According to the organisation, being connected with social enterprise and volunteer organisations enables a company to be perceived positively within local communities, which can lead to strong PR and positive media exposure.

Research by Skill Will found that 92 per cent of employees who engage in skills-based volunteering are more inclined to recommend their company as a good place to work with other people. It said employee wellbeing reduces staff turnover and increase morale within an organisation.

David J. Israel has worked with a number of charities across Leeds through Skill Will. The fundraising manager for Leeds Museums and Galleries and the chairman of the Institute of Fundraising in Yorkshire said his skill-set can provide support to charities.

“I’ve been involved in fundraising for over a decade, and I’ve picked up a lot of skills and experience in that time, and Skill Will’s been a way for me to share that knowledge with charitable organisations,” he said.

Mr Israel was linked with the Leeds-based charity St Vincent’s, an organisation that provides support for people living in financial and social deprivation.

“I started off by offering practical advice and offering them potential contacts they could approach,” he said. “They are already seeing tens of thousands of pounds of difference in terms of raising funds.

“If I was charging for this work, it would probably be several hundred pounds a day.”

Mr Israel said the benefits for him are simple. “Doing this makes me feel good about myself,” he said.

“I get a great deal personally from working with all the charities that I do – a good deed is its own reward.”

But there are also practical benefits involved in sharing skills. “Every time I work with a charity, I learn more about fundraising, more about how other charities work, so I’m more informed and more in touch – it’s very cyclical.” he added.


This article was published in the Yorkshire Post on January 20, 2014.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Music: Interview with Ant Law

London-based guitarist Ant Law has made a name for himself over the past decade working as a session musician for acts including Mica Paris, Leon Ware and Steve Brookstein, but now his touring the country with his band to promote his debut album Entanglement.

“It can be really rewarding being a session musician, but ultimately with those things you are being told what to play,” says Law. “If you do your own music you tell yourself what to play – you’re your own musical director.”

Entanglement turned heads in the jazz world, but it is in the live setting of darkened rooms and small crowds where he feels most comfortable.

“When the music’s based in jazz idiom there’s so much freedom to do things like long improvisations – every time we play we’re finding different ways to work with the material, so it’s really different every time and that’s really fulfilling creatively,” he says.

Law grew up in family deeply interested in rock and blues music. His father was obsessed with the early blues masters like Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson, but it wasn’t until Law saw a live jazz band that he became hooked on the genre.

“The first time I saw jazz I thought it was awesome. I liked the way that the musicians get time express themselves individually,” he says.

“With popular music, the music is there to serve the song or the lyrics, but in jazz there’s such an emphasis on improvisation and being spontaneous – that really appealed to me.”

Law has been praised for his innovative guitar playing and his pioneering use of ‘perfect fourth’ guitar tuning which allows Law to play unusual guitar chords.

“It rules out using some of the most obvious chords that people in standard tuning use,” he says. “But then it rules in lots of interesting new chord shapes that are really hard to play in standard tuning.

“It gives me a different starting point – you’re starting from a different perspective.”

With dates in Sheffield, Leeds and Wakefield, Law is excited about coming back to the region.

“We’ve played in Yorkshire a few times now. Leeds especially is great because they’ve got the music college, so there are loads of hungry jazz fans there,” he says.

“We’re really looking forward to heading to Yorkshire and taking a break from the manic business of London and see something a bit more picturesque.”


This article was published by Yorkshire Post on January 17, 2014.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Art: Interview with Tom Price at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

He's notorious for licking a gallery wall till his tongue bled. Now, artist Tom Price creates sculptures of everyday black men that are deliberately unheroic. Jon Cronshaw meets him.

In 2001, Tom Price tried to cover an entire gallery with his saliva over a three-day period. But in the first hour, his tongue began to bleed profusely.

What was intended as invisible marks of spit on a gallery wall became something like an abattoir, steadily covered with the artist's blood.

"It wasn't pleasant," says Price, "but it was almost a relief when I started to make a mark so I could see where I'd been. Then it really became like a painting."

He certainly made a name for himself with the performance piece, called Licked, all while he was still a student at Chelsea College of Art. "People thought I'd used a paintbrush – people thought I'd faked it.

"After that, I started dreaming up other performances. I really got into demonstrations of sacrifice, I guess," he says.

"But then I realised I was seeking some weird approval, like an actor or performer needs applause. And I didn't want that – I wanted to say things people weren't going to applaud at all," he says.

So he turned to sculpture, teaching himself how to work with traditional methods. "Today, I try to take a less gimmicky approach, if I'm honest. And I've got such respect for sculpture. But in the contemporary art world, it is sort of sniffed at," he says.

Price's recent work, now on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, has seen him make bronzes of a group seldom represented in art galleries: disenfranchised, urban young black men.

"I started sculpting people near where I lived in Brixton, who happened to be black," says Price. "I showed one to my peers at art school and their reaction was strange – I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew I was tapping into something powerful. Maybe they thought it looked a bit like me, which seemed melancholic and vulnerable."

For Price, it's important to ask questions about why black men are only represented in certain ways within art. "There's a real lack of first-hand representation or self-representation of a black man in a neutral state – if that can exist – something like them not being heroic, not being a type, not being recorded as some sort of ethnicity," he says.

He wants his work to provide food for thought for the casual observer. "It's like they're saying 'I'm here and I don't care if you are'. The sculptures never meet your gaze, they don't have their shoulders back – they stand like they don't want to be seen."

Each one is a mishmash. They are not portraits of individuals but, rather like Dr Frankenstein, Price pieces different elements together to create what he calls psychological portraits – both in terms of his subject matter and himself.

"When you start to project ideas and emotions on to a work of art, it can't help but be a bit of a self-portrait," he says. "I resisted that idea for a long time.

"But who's the one continual reference? What's the one continual thing? That's me, so I'm definitely in them. I'm owning up to that a bit more now," he says.

His goal is "to show the inner worlds of contemporary people through ancient sculpture". So while traditionalists can appreciate the classical and technical skill involved, those with more contemporary tastes can contemplate the pressing questions they raise about race, class and identity.

"There's a lot of social commentary going on," he says, "but I try and do it in a way that's beautiful – to sugar the pill, as it were."

Where is Modern Art Now - Tom Price clip from on Vimeo.

Tom Price's work is on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until April 27.


This article was originally published by The Guardian on January 15, 2014.