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Memories of a (nearly) free festival – Tramlines 2014

Once a year, for the last four years, my city has been taken over by music.  In the parks, the pubs, the squares, the cafes, the galleries, even the Cathedral, bands known and unknown have played, and Sheffield people – and visitors from further afield – have listened, cheered, and danced.

I love this city anyway, for its hills, its green places, the way in which it manages to be not just a metropolis but a collection of villages grouped around a vibrant cultural centre.  Fill it with music and I am besotted.

It used to be free, and it couldn’t stay that way, sadly.  But lots of it still is, and I paid £15 for the privilege of seeing 18 bands last weekend, constrained only by my own stamina, the necessity of spending a little time on boring necessities such as shopping and laundry, and the logistics of getting from one venue to another to see everyone I might have wanted to see. 

The sunshine helped of course, and the mood, wherever we went, seemed to be as sunny as the weather. The police reported – well, nothing really.  There were grumbles from people who’d bought tickets and didn’t get in to see the big names on Devonshire Green – but if you buy a Glasto ticket (at a somewhat greater cost), does that guarantee you’ll see the headliners?  I don’t think so.  And there were some late timetable changes which inevitably meant disappointments too.  But it was a blast, and a thoroughly joyous weekend.

And the best of it? Unquestionably Malian band Songhoy Blues, playing in the Millennium Gallery on Saturday night.   I’d resisted the calls from most bands I’d seen to tell them if I was having a good time, or if I was ready, or to clap along.  But when Aliou Toure asked us all ‘You like?’, we told him in no uncertain terms that yes, we did, we liked. 

West African music moves me so deeply partly because of my childhood in Ghana, and later in Nigeria.  As a small child living near the University campus in Kumasi, we heard the highlife music drifting over from the student residences, a hypnotic blend of Latin sounds and indigenous Ghanaian rhythms.  And in Northern Nigeria at the end of Ramadan I watched Tuareg horsemen in blue robes and headdresses charging down the main drag, magnificent and unforgettable. 

Over the years I’ve listened to music from all over that continent – many years back I saw the Bhundhu Boys from Zimbabwe and S E Rogie from Sierra Leone live at the Leadmill, and the CD collection (and my iPod running selection) includes King Sunny Ade, Youssou n’Dour, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Habib Koite, Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure and others. 

More than any other African music, I come back to the sounds of Mali.  Partly it’s because I love the blues, and in Malian music you hear that, the source of the blues, its DNA (as Martin Scorsese put it).  There’s immense variety in the music of Mali, the soul of Salif Keita, desert blues from Tinariwen, hints of flamenco in Habib Koite or Toumani Diabete – rich in influences from and on other musical traditions, but always clearly Mali. 

This sublime musical culture has been threatened in recent years but on the evidence of last weekend it is strong, gorgeous, joyous.  Songhoy Blues made me dance, made me smile like an idiot, made me cry a little, when Aliou Toure spoke about his country, his continent, and what the music stood for – peace, love, unity.  

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/dec/04/songhoy-blues-mali-africa-express

http://www.musicfilmweb.com/2014/07/songhoy-blues-mali-music-documentary/

http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/music/other_stories/documents/02438282.htm

http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/toumani-and-sidiki-diabate/

http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/mali-the-music-cries-out/

My Tramlines 2014 was:

Friday 25 July – Shy Nature (Sheffield Cathedral), Allusondrugs (Millennium Gallery), The Wedding Present (Leadmill)

allusondrugs

Saturday 26 July – Nordic Giants (City Hall), John T Angle & the Spirit Levels, Laurel Canyons (Cathedral), The Indecision, KOG (Peace Gardens), Juffage, Songhoy Blues (Millennium Gallery)

laurel nordic giants

Sunday 27 July – Max Restraino, Kane’d, Dresden Saints, Broken Saints (Western Park), Woman’s Hour (Cathedral), Blossomer, Neil McSweeney, TOY (Leadmill)

To all of the musicians, and to everyone who made it happen,

Thank you!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjBpozshWFo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGmwZd8UNdA

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Butor at Belle Vue

The long history of Belle Vue Gardens in Manchester is being celebrated this month, and it seems timely to note its appearance, under the name of Pleasance Gardens,  in Michel Butor’s Manchester-inspired 1956 novel L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time).

Butor’s view of Manchester (Bleston in the novel) was, it must be admitted, largely negative.  He loathed the climate, and the food, and seems to have been deeply unhappy in the city, where he arrived to take up the post of lecteur in the French department at the University in 1952.

He seems to have taken to Belle Vue, however.   Pleasance Gardens, along with the various peripatetic fairs which rotated around the periphery of the city, on the areas of waste land, represent a mobile and open element in a closed, even carceral city, and a window on different kinds of community than those indigenous to Bleston.  The narrator sees the friends he knows in a different light in these places, which may be in Bleston but are not fully part of it and don’t share its malaise.

blestonbelle vue

Pleasance Gardens appears on the frontispiece map, in the bottom left-hand corner, its shape not dissimilar to that of the real Belle Vue.   Butor took from the real city of Manchester the geography and architecture that interested him and that fitted with his narrative preoccupations, and ignored or altered the rest.  The descriptions include a great deal of precision and detail – however, the historians of Belle Vue will have to judge where the fictional version departs from its model.

He describes the entrance to the Gardens:

The monumental entrance-gates whose two square towers, adorned with grimy stucco, are crowned … with two enormous yellow half-moons fixed to lightning conductors, and are joined by two iron rods bearing an inscription in red-painted letters beaded with electric bulbs then gleaming softly pink: ‘Pleasance Gardens’.

The big folding door which is armoured as if to protect a safe, and only opens on great occasions and for important processions, whereas we, the daily crowd, have to make our way in by one of the six wicket-gates on the right (those on the left are for the way out) with their turnstiles and ticket collectors’

The earthenware topped table which displayed, on a larger scale and in greater detail, with fresh colours and crude lettering, that green quarter circle with its apex pointing towards the town centre…

The tickets themselves are described in detail:

the slip of grey cardboard covered with printed lettering: On one side in tall capitals PLEASANCE GARDENS, and then in smaller letters: Valid for one visitor, Sunday, December 2nd.  And on the other side: REMEMBER that this garden is intended for recreation, not for disorderly behaviour; please keep your dignity in all circumstances’

On this winter visit:

There was scarcely anybody in the big, cheap restaurants or in the billiard-rooms; avenues, all round, bore black and white arrows directing one to the bear-pit, the stadium, the switch-back, the aviaries, the exit and the monkey-house.

We walked in silence past roundabouts with metal aeroplanes and wooden horses, … and past the station for the miniature railway where three children sat shivering in an open truck waiting to start; and past the lake, which was empty because its concrete bottom was being cleaned’.

Posters everywhere echoed: ‘Come back for the New Year, come and see the fireworks’.

A later visit, in summer, followed one of the fires that feature so frequently in the novel.  Belle Vue was devastated by fire in 1958, and whether this account was inspired by a real event I do not know – it may well be that whilst Manchester was plagued by an unusually large number of arson attacks over the period that Butor was there, he extrapolated from that to a fire at Pleasance Gardens, purely for narrative purposes.

In the open air cafe that is set up there in summer in the middle of the zoological section, among the wolves’ and foxes’ cages and the ragged-winged cranes’ enclosure, the duck-ponds and the seals’ basins with their white-painted concrete islands.  I could see, above the stationary booths of this mammoth fairground, eerily outlined in the faint luminous haze, the tops of the calcined posts of the Scenic Railway, with a few beams still fixed to them like gibbets or like the branch-stumps that project from the peeled trunks of trees struck by lightning; and I listened to the noise of the demolition-workers’ axes’

If Butor generally warmed to the Gardens, his portrayal of the animals in the Zoo is less enthusiastic – he speaks of the cries of the animals and birds mingling with the noise of demolition, of melancholy zebras and wretched wild beasts, and of their howls during the firework display.  Perhaps their imprisonment chimed uncomfortably with his own sense of being trapped in the city.

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/nostalgia/way-were-belle-vue—1209695

http://manchesterhistory.net/bellevue/menu.html

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2013 – the best bits. And some of the other bits.

 

It has been a funny old year.  Funny peculiar, though not without the odd moment of mirth and merriment along the way.

 

I came back from one secondment to my regular job in January, and went off on the next secondment in December.  This new one is a major change – working for HEFCE, based at home when not attending meetings in various exotic parts of the UK (oh, OK then, Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester, Dorking…).  It’s a fantastic opportunity, and challenges the way I organise my life as well as requiring me to acquire new knowledge and new skills.

 

I graduated, again.  Did the whole gown and mortar board thing which I hadn’t been fussed about when I was 21 and graduating for the first time. And then, with barely a pause, on to the doctorate.  Studying part-time, it’s going to be a long haul, with who knows what possibilities at the end of it, but I’m loving it.

 

In February, a beloved friend and colleague died, and we – his family, friends, colleagues, students – grieved but also worked together to put on an amazing event in his honour, the 24 Hour Inspire.  We raised money for local cancer charities, and have raised more since, through an art exhibition, plant and cake sales and various 10k runs/marathon bike rides, etc.   And we’re now planning the 24 Hour Inspire 2014, and the publication of Tim’s diary.  He will continue to inspire.

 

Culturally, my high points in 2013 have been:

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the Showroom, talking about Americanah, and Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Peter Hill premiering newly discovered/completed Messiaen at the Upper Chapel (and playing Bach, Berg and Schoenberg too)
  • Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City, playing Mingus at Sheffield Jazz
  • Tramlines – the Enid in the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Jones Revue and Selecter at Devonshire Green. (And more, but those were the absolute top bits).
  • The 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on life, the universe and everything, including Ed Daw’s blues piano, Rachel Falconer on poetry and birds, Jenny Saul on implicit bias, Claire McGourlay on the Innocence Project, and personal narratives from Brendan Stone and Elena Rodriguez-Falcon.  Plus John Cockburn’s rendition of (What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding, and my favourite Beatles B-side, Things we Said Today, and more busking from Mike Weir, Graham McElearney and Eugenia Chung.  And more, lots more.
  • Fabulous Beethoven quartets/quintet from the Elias at the Upper Chapel
  • A magical Winter’s Tale at the Crucible
  • Two awesome Britten operas (Peter Grimes and Death in Venice) from Opera North at Leeds Grand
  • New (to me) authors enjoyed this year: Maggie O’Farrell, Louise Doughty, Lucy Caldwell, C J Sansom, Alison Moore, Edward St Aubyn, Rebecca Solnit, Wilkie Collins,  Jonathan Franzen
  • Wonderful new books from authors I’ve enjoyed before: Stephen King’s Dr Sleep and Joyland, Lynn Shepherd’s A Treacherous Likeness, Jon McGregor‘s This isn’t the Sort of Thing…., Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy
  • Finally finished Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe.  Allons-y, to La Prisonniere!
  • I’ve learned to love Marvel superheroes (Avengers AssembleThorIron ManAgents of Shield!), and have thrilled to The Walking Dead, Orphan Black (virtuoso performance(s) from Tatiana Maslany), Utopia and, of course, Dr Who.
  • Speaking of which, not only an absolutely stonking 50th anniversary episode, but also a fascinating and very touching drama about the show’s early days, with David Bradley as William Hartnell, the sweet and funny The Five-ish Doctors, with Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker sending themselves and everyone else up with great affection, and Matthew Sweet’s Culture Show special.  And the Christmas episode
  • Other cracking telly – Broadchurch, Homeland, Misfits, The Fall, Southcliffe, The Guilty, The Americans…  And from across the Channel, not only another masterclass in French profanity from Spiral, but the wonderful The Returned
  • And other top films – Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, Lore, The Hobbit Pts 1 & 2, Lincoln, and Patience (after Sebald).

 

About the blog itself.  It’s been less focused on my areas of research recently, and that will continue to be the case, as I’m working on the PhD.  The odd digression will find its place here – as Tim used to say, tangents are there to be gone off on, and the blog is a good way of nailing those (to mix my metaphors somewhat) and stopping them from distracting me for too long.  I shall be continuing to go on about all sorts of other things that pique my interest.  In particular the blog will continue to be a place where refugee stories are foregrounded, as a riposte to the mean and dishonest coverage which those stories tend to receive.

 

Over the last year, my posting has been somewhat erratic.  I note that I didn’t write anything between March and June (I made up for it in June, however, with a Refugee Week blog-blitz, as well as a piece about Last Year at Marienbad which I still intend to follow up.  That hiatus may have had something to do with being in the final stages of my degree – finishing off my dissertation, and a last batch of essays and presentations.

 

There are so many fantastic bloggers out there, too many to do justice to.  We lost one this year, as the great Norman Geras passed away.  But I’ll continue to enjoy, and to share/reblog That’s How the Light Gets In, Nowt Much to Say, and Futile Democracy, amongst others.  For my research interests, I will no doubt continue to find lots to think about and follow up in blogs from Decayetude and Vertigo.

 

So, thanks to the aforementioned bloggers, to the various people with whom I’ve shared the cultural delights enumerated above, to friends and family who’ve supported me in my ventures and refrained (mostly) from telling me I’m mad to try to do so many things.

 

Thing is, I have a history of depression.  I know that the best way for me to fight that, to avoid sliding back into that dark pit, is to do lots of stuff I care about.  So, not just the job – which I care about, passionately – and my wonderful family, but research, writing, ensuring that we do Tim proud via the charity, and so on.   I am very aware that there’s a tipping point, that if I do too much stuff I care about, given that I also have to do stuff that I have to do, just because I have to do it, the anxiety of having so much going on can itself lead to sleepless nights, which make me less able to cope, thus leading to more worrying and so on and on… It’s all about balance, and about having support when I need it.  So, to all of you who, whether you know it or not, provide that support, and help me to keep that balance, a heartfelt thanks.

 

In particular, over this last year, I’d like to thank:

 

For unstinting support and encouragement through the part-time degree and especially as I reached the final stages – tutors Sophie Belot and Annie Rouxeville, and classmate Liz Perry.  And a special thanks to Chris Turgoose for ensuring that my graduation gown stayed put via an ingenious arrangement of string and safety pins.

 

For support and encouragement to go on to the PhD – the aforementioned Sophie, Annie, and Liz, plus Rachel Falconer, Helen Finch, and my supervisors Amanda Crawley Jackson and Richard Steadman-Jones

 

For their contributions to the work of Inspiration for Life, and the 24 Hour Inspire, and their support in commemorating and celebrating Tim – Tracy Hilton, Ruth Arnold, Vanessa Toulmin, Chris Sexton, John Cockburn, Lee Thompson, Matt Mears and David Mowbray

 

My family, of course, without whom…

 

And, finally, Tim.   I’d have loved to share this year’s triumphs and tribulations with him.

 

Have a wonderful 2014 all of you.

 

fireworks

 

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Farewell to Norman Geras, 1943-2013

As I only knew Norman Geras – Norm – through his blog, it seems appropriate to pay tribute to him on my own.  He was one of the writers who inspired me to use this form to write about whatever mattered to me, and he was kind enough to invite me to complete one of his profiles.

I cannot speak of his life, except as revealed through the many entries on Normblog, and now through the obituaries that have started to appear.  A life of conviction and passion, of family and friendship, of music and books and film, of cricket…  His very last entry was a list not of books that you must or should read, but of ‘books you might enjoy’ – no browbeating or pressure, just the suggestions of a friend, who wants to share their pleasure with other people.

He also used his blog for a series called Figures from a Dark Time.  This was a response to those who argue that we all go on too much about the Holocaust, that it’s all been said often enough.  Each entry was composed of testimonies of individuals who were engulfed by that darkness, some who survived, many who did not, and some too who risked everything to help those who needed it.   He wrote ‘contre l’oubli’, restoring to some few of those individuals their names and their stories.

atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale

Shalom, Norm.

 

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‘The Space Between’ CARA Exhibition for Refugee Week

Originally posted on Refugee Archives and History Group:

‘The Space Between’ Exhibition for Refugee Week

CARA_the_Space_BetweenCARA is delighted to invite you to our photographic art exhibition ‘The Space Between’, taking place at The Rag Factory from the 17th-22nd June, as part of Refugee Week.  The exhibition has been commissioned by Birkbeck College and will feature images that explore the experiences of women refugee academics.

We will be holding lunch-time talks by women refugees during weekdays who will speak about their experiences leaving everything behind and starting again in an entirely new culture.  We will celebrate the contributions of refugees to British culture and challenge caricatures of refugees as people who just ‘take’.

For more information visit www.academic-refugees.org/the-space-between
Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/403910276388189

Please disseminate to friends and colleagues.

See also:

CARA presents ‘The Space Between’, a week long photographic exhibition to mark Refugee Week which provides women refugee academics who hail from Iraq to Palestine, Burma to Burundi…

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Events: From Spitalfields to Green Lanes: mapping the refugee experience in London

Originally posted on Refugee Archives and History Group:

From Spitalfields to Green Lanes: mapping the refugee experience in London

London through the eyes of its communities (a talk and viewing of original documents)

London is widely known for its cultural diversity. Where, why and when did the different refugee and migrant communities settle here? Using written and audio-visual material from LMA collections, this talk will present stories from some of London’s diverse communities, focusing on their experiences of coming to London and making ‘the monster city’ their home.

Date 20/06/2013
Time From 17:30 to 19:00
Venue London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
London
EC1R 0HB
London
Organiser 020 7332 3851
http://newtolondon.eventbrite.co.uk/
marta.lomza@cityoflondon.gov.uk
Category Conference/seminar/lecture
Price Free

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Reflections on the 24 Hour Inspire

How can I capture that 24 hours of inspiration that we shared last week?  I don’t want to forget anything, or anyone, who made it what it was.  I don’t want the sense of possibilities, of beginnings, of connections to be dulled by the everyday concerns that have had to now re-enter our lives.  I don’t want the elation to ebb away, because what happened really, profoundly, matters.  It has to be the start of something, and I believe it can be.

What follows is not a coherent account of the event – I’m not sure that I could provide that – but various sources that, taken together, I believe give a sense of what it was about, in all its rich variety.   I’ve drawn this from my own opening and closing words at the event, from emails, tweets, other bloggers.  There will be lots more to come, and whilst we want to continue celebrating and enjoying the event itself, we want to start asking where we go from here.  What’s next?

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These are edited versions of my opening and closing words at the 24 Hour Inspire.

17.00 Thursday 28 February

Good evening everyone, and welcome to the 24 Hour Inspire, 24 hours of lectures presented by the charity Inspiration for Life, of which I am the Chair.    This event has been made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of colleagues in all parts of the University, not just our speakers but also the buskers who’ll be entertaining you in the foyer, the wonderful people who’ve baked cakes for us to sell, the University services which have been made available to us without cost, and all the volunteers who will be here throughout the event to make sure it all runs smoothly.

Inspiration for Life was set up by Dr Tim Richardson, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last June, to promote lifelong learning and the public understanding of science, and to raise funds for cancer charities.  This is our first major event – when we started planning it we hoped that Tim would still be with us, but sadly he died on 5 February.  His family, friends and colleagues want this event to be a tribute to him, and a celebration of his life.

You may recall that back  in November 2011, Tim did 24 hours of lectures solo, to raise funds for Children in Need.  Tim’s heroic achievement is the inspiration for tonight’s event.  Tonight we have 42 speakers, from across and beyond the University presenting a wonderfully diverse range of talks, going through the night and up to 5 pm tomorrow.   We’re raising funds for two charities in particular, Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity and Rotherham Hospice:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/inspirationforlife

http://www.justgiving.com/forTimRichardson

17.00 Friday 1 March

It’s been an amazing 24 hours.  We’ve raised funds for our charities, and we’ll be announcing the totals early next week.   The 24HrInspire hashtag has been all over the twittersphere, and the buzz has reached far further afield than we could ever have imagined – an email from Iran reached me last night, from someone who was a PhD in Sheffield, and who read about the event on the University website.  He translated this into Persian and has been circulating and web-blogging it amongst his colleagues and friends.  I won’t read his email in full, as I don’t think I could do so without losing it [see below for the full text] – but just one short quote: ‘When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true’.

How wonderful that someone who wasn’t even here could sum up what’s happened so perfectly.  We’ve been entertained, informed and moved, we’ve eaten a lot of cake, and we’ve seen some eminent physicists in their pyjamas.  What more could you ask?  I think I can speak for everyone and say that we’ve been inspired.

As I said at the beginning – 24 hours ago, when I was a lot more coherent than I’m able to be now, as well as more fragrant, probably – this has all been for Tim.   Inspiration for Life is his vision, and we will do everything we can  to make it a reality.  He would have loved it all – the talks and the music, and above all the sense of the University not just as an institution or an organisation, but as a community coming together to do something wonderful.  This is just the start, and we will go on to do all sorts of things in the future, and in everything we do, we’ll be raising a glass to Tim, to say thanks, to say cheers, to say hello.

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Blog by Chris Sexton, Director of Corporate Information & Computing Services, who gave the event tremendous support throughout

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Storify Twitter feed from the #24HrInspire hashtag (thanks to Chris Sexton)

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Email from Iran, 28 February 2013

Dear Catherine,

I have been PhD Student at the University of Sheffield from 2003 to 2006. I saw the news about 24 hours of nonstop lectures on the University Website, which I believe is being held right now.  I wish I was there to attend this inspiring event. However, my thought is with you all in Hicks Building, one of the first buildings that I visited at the university during my study time and I have a very clear picture of it in my mind.

Although I am not there at this moment, I have done a very small contribution to this event by translating the news of this remarkable event into Persian and sending it to a number of mailing lists in Iran and uploading it on a weblog to share this story with my colleagues and friends here.
I believe what Dr. Richardson has done is a wonderful and profoundly inspirational initiative, which I am sure will be a source of hope and courage for many people for a very long time. When I imagine that in the middle of the night people have been gathered in the Hicks Building and sharing their ideas about various subjects, I believe that Dr. Richardson’s dream to inspire people has come true.

Yazdan Mansourian, PhD, Associate Professor

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