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It was Heaven

Tramlines.  A concentration of musical joy into one exhausting, exhilarating weekend.

We saw 18 bands – could have fitted in a few more, perhaps, and certainly there were so many more that we wished we could have seen.  But heavens above, what we did see…

The sheer variety is one thing.  Even limiting ourselves to a cluster of City centre venues, we went from indie pop to instrumental jazz to hypnotic electronic trance to grunge to ska to bluesy soul.

Only two bands were known to us, and both of those only through previous Tramlines.  Nordic Giants‘ visceral post-rock with accompanying films left us stunned last time and no less so this year – we stumbled out of the City Hall ballroom and took refuge in the Cathedral for Beaty Heart’s psychedelic drum pop.

And we went back for more from Allusondrugs, having been blown away by their urgent psych-grunge with accompanying manic leaping about and flailing of locks a couple of years back.  Still just as potent, and the venue enabled the more fearless members of the audience to hurl themselves about with abandon too, joyfully thudding into one another, and screaming out the words.  The bass player – and his bass – surfed the crowd too at one point.

Saturday afternoon means the World Stage, in the Peace Gardens.   The sun shone for us all and the music was infectious and energetic.   Steel City Rhythm‘s reggae fusion featured mad ska dancing and we all danced too, albeit with rather less energy and agility.  And Danish band Whiskeyordnen turned up in dapper suits (jackets were soon discarded) and delivered what they variously describe as Worldtheaterjazzfunkrock, Chaoslounge, Fusion, Technojazz, instrumentally tight and delightfully engaging.

Sheffield Cathedral has always been one of our favourite Tramlines venues.  It’s not just the deliciously transgressive feeling of sitting on the floor of the Cathedral drinking Moonshine (this year sitting just behind a dude in a Antichrist Bootcamp t-shirt…), it’s that, with the right band, the acoustics become part of the performance.  Most bands playing there for the first time are very powerfully aware of the nature of the place, the associations it has and the atmosphere that its architecture creates.  This year the music seemed especially well fitted to the venue.

Mt. Wolf, Meilyr Jones, Beaty Heart, Dan Mangan, King Capisce all played with it in various ways, allowing subtle or soaring vocals to resonate, rhythms to echo, and harmonies to multiply.  Meilyr Jones at one point abandoned the stage to swim across the stone floor, still singing. And Dan Mangan too left the stage and the amps and performed for us as we sat on the floor around them.  The finale was Moon Duo, whose space-rock sounds were accompanied by a light show playing hypnotically across the Cathedral stone work.

What I’ve found myself unable to do this year is to pick one absolute, no real contest, stand-out moment.  We didn’t see a duff band this year, and that wasn’t achieved by playing safe.  With the two exceptions noted above, we knew nothing about the bands we chose to see, other than the brief (and often enigmatic) blurb in the programme. We took a punt on them, and were rewarded with performances that were at the very least enjoyable and engaging, and at best exhilarating, engrossing, moving and intoxicating.

Throughout the weekend, the city was suffused with music.  It seemed to be spilling out from every doorway, every venue packed, the vibes, or so it seemed to us, joyous, positive and inclusive.  There’s lots to be anxious about just now.  We know that the city is not as united as it seemed to be, as we flitted between gigs and street food emporia.  We know too that the aftermath, a sea of cans and bottles and general debris, will not look so lovely and will take a heck of a lot of clearing up.  But if we can be united in music for a weekend, dancing together in the sun, that gives me hope.  We walk back to the road, unchained.

The children of the summer’s end
Gathered in the dampened grass
We played our songs and felt the Yorkshire sky
Resting on our hands
It was God’s land
It was ragged and naive
It was heaven

Touch, we touched the very soul
Of holding each and every life
We claimed the very source of joy ran through
It didn’t, but it seemed that way
I kissed a lot of people that day

Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon
To paint that love
upon a white balloon
And fly it from
the topest top of all the tops
That man has pushed beyond his brain
Satori must be something
just the same

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size
We talked with tall Venusians passing through
And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head
And away they soared
Climbing through
the ivory vibrant cloud
Someone passed some bliss among the crowd
And we walked back to the road, unchained

“The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party
The Sun Machine is Coming Down, and We’re Gonna Have a Party.”

(David Bowie, Memories of a Free Festival)

Our Tramlines 2016 was:

Friday 22 July

Leadmill: Northern Adolescence, Gramercy Park; Cathedral: Mt Wolf, Meilyr Jones

Saturday 23 July

Peace Gardens: The Unscene, Steel City Rhythm, Bell Hagg Orkestar, Whiskey Ordnen; Cathedral: Dan Mangan; City Hall: Nordic Giants; Cathedral: Beaty Heart

Sunday 24 July

Crystal: Starkins, Allusondrugs; Peace Gardens: Sushi; Leadmill: Reflektor, Hot Soles; Cathedral: King Capisce, Moon Duo

 

PS Early Bird Weekend tickets for Tramlines 2017?  Sorted.

 

 

 

 

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The 24 Hour Inspire

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We’re in the final run-up to an event that somehow or other I have found myself organising, and which – for all the panics, headaches and hard work it entails – is a labour of love, and the thing I’m proudest of in my career.

First caveat is that whilst I am the chair of the charity and I drive the planning of the event, actually putting it altogether is the work of many people.  My annual thank you list is only marginally shorter than the credit sequence for a Marvel superhero movie.

Second caveat is that, given the scale of the event – 49 speakers, delivering half hour talks over a 24 hour period, with a range of fringe events – the panics and headaches are very few, and the hard work by and large doesn’t feel like hard work.

It all started with a friend and colleague being diagnosed with a terminal cancer.  This particular friend and colleague was one of those people who was not only respected but held in enormous affection by those who he taught and who he worked with – he inspired people, and the news of his illness hit many, many people very hard.  I remember calling the admin and technical staff in the department together to tell them the prognosis, and their shock and tears – and anger at the disease that was claiming him.    Right from the start he was determined to do something positive with the utterly lousy card he’d been dealt.  And he did.

He had far less time to do anything than he – or we – had hoped.  All the more reason for us to ensure that we did something creative, joyous, inclusive and inspiring, in his name.

monifaThat first year it was incredibly personal. A fortnight after the funeral we were still raw with grief and one of our speakers commented on the intensity, a kind of tension that underscored the celebratory mood that we had, nonetheless, achieved.

It’s different now, of course.  Many of our speakers, most of our volunteers, never met Tim.  But the event has taken on a life of its own. It is – and was even that first time – a celebration of what the University is all about.  There’s a lot of cynicism about institutions like ours – we have to jump through so many government initiated hoops, we have to somehow be viable financially, it would not be surprising if the ideals that we proclaim were a bit tarnished and compromised.  But acknowledging all of that, from all of my experience as a member of staff, as a student, I know that those ideals are still burning brightly.

Give people a chance, an excuse almost, to demonstrate and to share the passion that led them into teaching and research in the first place, and they seize it.  When we ask people to take part in the 24 Hour Inspire, they so often respond with a Yes, and.  Yes, I will do a half-hour talk, and would you like me to bake some cakes as well?  Yes, and why don’t you ask my colleague A, because he/she is a brilliant speaker? Yes, and how else can I help to make this a success?

That applies whether they are Professors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and the like, or PhD/MA students at the start of their academic careers.

So on 12-13 May, 49 speakers from across the disciplines – engineers, lawyers, physicists, historians, medics and more – will be sharing their ideas, their research, their love of their subject with a diverse audience.  Between midnight and 6 am speakers, and many members of the audience, will be pyjama clad.  True, some members of the audience may actually be asleep, but I believe that’s not unknown in daytime lectures either…

Other colleagues will be hosting a pop-up radio broadcast, featuring interviews, Desert Island Discs, a quiz, and lots and lots of music. Some have contributed artworks for a small exhibition, others may be busking live in the foyer.

Of course it has another purpose, alongside the celebration and sharing of knowledge.  We’re raising funds, this year for the Teenage Cancer Trust and Impact Young Heroes, two organisations who work with young people with cancer.  Everyone who buys a wristband, a cupcake or a book, everyone who donates on line or on the day, contributes to that invaluable work.  Since Tim set up Inspiration for Life in 2012, we’ve donated £17000 to a range of cancer charities as well as to the Snowdon Trust who provide grants for students with disabilities.  I’m very proud of that.

But most of all I’m really excited about what’s going to be happening this Thursday from 5.00 pm.  I know that by 5 pm the following day I will be exhausted, but I will also be exhilarated, and that by the following day, I’ll be starting to think about the 2017 24 Hour Inspire…

Do pop in for a bit, if you can.  If you can’t, follow us on Twitter, and tune into the radio station.  It’ll be a blast.  It’ll be an inspiration.

@inspire4L

#24HrInspire

https://inspirationforlifeblog.wordpress.com/

http://www.inspirationforlife.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/Inspiration-for-Life-340350772727621/

 

 

 

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2015 – the best bits

This was the year we threw off the shackles of paid employment.  Martyn first, in March, and me at the very close of 2015.  It feels terrifying and liberating all at once.

For me, this new freedom will give me more time to do the things I care most about.  My PhD, which I hope I will now be able to do justice to.  And Inspiration for Life, in particular the 24 Hour Inspire.  Of all the things I’ve done over the years, this is what I’m proudest of.

And I hope of course to have more time to do the other things I love, more time to read, write, listen to music, go to gigs, go to the cinema/theatre, meet up with friends, travel, watch some of the box sets which are gathering dust by our DVD player…

Below are some of the cultural highlights of 2015.  I’ve been lucky to have access to Ensemble 360, Opera North, Tramlines, Sheffield Jazz etc, and to have wonderful friends and family to share these experiences with.

Film

The best of the year, without a doubt, was Timbuktu. Abderrahmane Sissako’s film is both beautiful and harrowing, a passionate cry from the heart about the threat posed by fundamentalist jihadists to the people, the culture and the music of Mali.

timbuktu

I won’t rank my other favourites, but they are:

Inside OutPixar at its very, very best. Clever, imaginative, daring, funny and moving. As the Guardian review said, ‘In the film’s wildest moment, the wanderers enter a zone of abstract thought, where they are zapped into a series of increasingly simplified geometric shapes, as they – and the film itself – dizzyingly self-deconstruct (“Oh no, we’re non-figurative!”)’.

inside outriley

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Ana Lily Amirpour’s film has been tagged as ‘the first Iranian vampire Western’. Atmospheric and full of unexpected touches (including a skateboarding vampire), and a powerful feminist narrative. Sheila Vand has a fascinating face that can look very young and somehow ageless at different moments.

Love and Mercy – biopic of Brian Wilson, portrayed both in the Beach Boy years and in later life, by Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively. Cusack’s portrayal is fascinating – seeing the clip of the real Brian Wilson at the end of the movie, I realised just how perfectly he had captured him, despite the lack of obvious physical resemblance.

love and mercycusack

I Believe in Miracles – the story of Nottingham Forest’s astonishing European Cup success. A joy from beginning to end. And featuring a couple of brief glimpses of my kid brother who was a ball boy at one of those games, as well as glorious clips of my all-time footballing hero John Robertson at his best. And funny and poignant anecdotes from the players, and clips of Clough running rings around interviewers.

miraclesrobbo

Mad Max: Fury Road – just a blast, possibly the best action movie I’ve seen, with a powerful female lead in Charlize Theron’s Furiosa (an action movie that passes the Bechdel test!), visually almost overwhelming and with an awesome soundtrack. And the Doof Warrior.

mad maxdoof warrior

Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’ve written previously about how much I love the Marvel films. This was a joy, thanks in large part to Joss Whedon’s crackling dialogue (the script is often where costs are cut in big budget movies, but thankfully not here).

TV

Lots of Marvel here too, with Agent Carter, Daredevil and Agents of Shield all delivering in spades. Daredevil was the darkest of the three, but the others had their moments and all had humour, well-drawn characters and moments of poignancy as well as action.  In other sci-fi/fantasy telly, Tatiana Maslany continued to be astonishing in Orphan Black, The Walking Dead continued to ramp up the tension till it was almost unbearable, and left us at mid-season break with everyone we care about in mortal peril – again.  The latter also spawned a prequel (Fear the Walking Dead) which showed the start of the crisis – the bit we missed as Rick Grimes was in a coma in hospital whilst society crumbled in the face of the undead onslaught.   And Humans was a thought-provoking and engaging take on issues around AI and what makes us human.

tatiana

As always we watched a lot of detectives. Two French series – old favourite Spiral was back (we missed you, Laure, Gilou, Tintin et al), and a new drama, Witnesses, was complex and compelling with an intriguing female lead (Marie Dompnier).   River was something else – Stellan Skarsgaard’s broody Nordic cop haunted by ‘manifests’ of his dead partner amongst others. Nicola Walker was stunning in this, as was Adeel Akhtar as River’s actual living partner.  Walker also caused considerable potential confusion by simultaneously leading in Unforgotten, which made one forget the implausibility of an entire police team investigating a very cold case (and nothing else, apparently) by the subtle and compassionate portrayal of the various suspects as their past actions resurfaced to disturb the lives and relationships they had built.  No Offence was refreshing too (though we felt uneasy with some particular plot developments in the later part of the series) with Joanna Scanlan’s  DI being startlingly rude, but also funny, forceful and warm, and a fab supporting cast.

witnessesno offence

This is England 1990

This is England deserves a much more in-depth consideration than I can give it here – one would need to re-view the whole series from the film to this final (if it is indeed that) instalment.  But there’s no denying – they can be a tough watch, as brilliantly funny as they often are.  It’s not just the moments of horrifying violence, I think the hardest thing would be to have to go through again with Lol her descent into despair in TiE 88.  Vicky McClure’s performance was intense without any histrionics and all the more devastating for that.  This final part had moments too, relating to Kelly, and to Combo, which stay in the mind.  And whilst the ending was upbeat, with that long-postponed wedding and Kelly’s return to the fold, Milky’s separation from the group and the reasons for it, and the likelihood that Kelly’s recovery will not be as straightforward as all that, mean that the darkness is not far away.  It’s been a hell of a series, with superb writing and direction and equally superb performances.

lolTIE

Raised by Wolves

When it comes to comedy I can be a hard woman to please.  Not that I don’t like a laugh,  GSOH, that’s me.  But I’ve given up on so many sitcoms because they’ve made me cringe more than they’ve made me chuckle.  However, despite feeling slightly neutral about the pilot, I did get into Raised by Wolves, and fell rather in love with the magnificent Della (Rebekah Staton) as well as with the writing, which as expected from Caitlin Moran (and sister Caroline) was rude and exuberantly funny.

della

Roseanne

We watched this back in the day (88-97) and rewatching it now is punctuated by cries of ‘OMG that’s George Clooney’, or spotting Big Bang Theory cast members (Sheldon’s mum and Lesley Winkle, with Leonard still to show).   But what we also realised was how much of our approach to parenting came from this show, where family life is chaotic, temperamental, combative but always loving.   And ‘our’ tradition of summoning family members to the meal table with a loud cry of ‘FOOOD’ appears to have been inspired by the Conners as well.  As I recall, things went seriously off kilter in later series, but so far, so funny.  Joss Whedon had a hand (probably just a fingertip in some eps) in the early series, which can’t ever be a bad thing.

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Résistance

French drama focusing on the activities of various Resistance groups in Occupied France – this was obviously a must-watch for me.  I hadn’t expected it to be as close to real events as it was, which was a mixed blessing, as I quickly realised who was doomed and who might survive… The central female character, Lili, was a fictional construct, which seems to have annoyed some viewers, but I felt it was a valid way of providing a thread to link the early activity of the Musée de l’Homme group with the Maison de la Chimie and the Combat and Manouchian groups, taking us all the way through to the Liberation.  It was a powerful, well constructed drama.  And the renditions of the Marseillaise, ringing out in prison cells and in the face of firing squads, came back to us so intensely in November when that spirit of defiance was called upon once again.

lili resistance

Fargo

If the idea of series 1 seemed in principle a bit odd, a second series was all the more so.  But if anything, series 2 is even better, even madder, even wittier than the first.  The film had Frances McDormand, who is always a very good thing, and series 1 had Allison Tolman, who filled those shoes admirably. In series 2 we root for her dad, Lou (we’ve gone back in time) and grandad Hank (played by Ted Danson), and her mother Betsy (I would like some time to see Cristin Milioti NOT dying of cancer, if that’s OK).  And we do kind of root for Peggy too, with her passion for self-actualisation and ‘being the best me I can be’, even if it proves somewhat dangerous for those around her.

fargo

Honourable mentions to Homeland, Doctor Foster (Suranne Jones magnificent as a woman scorned), and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

And of course there was Doctor Who.  This year’s Who was top notch.  Capaldi really found his voice, the plots were rich and complex without being merely baffling, and the climactic episodes were powerful and moving.  I will be writing more about Who in due course.

who

Theatre

On the Crucible main stage, we saw Arthur Miller’s Playing for Time, with a stunning performance from Sian Phillips, and Romeo & Juliet, with Freddie Fox and Morfydd Clark as the lovers.  The Miller play seemed stagey at times (an odd criticism, in a way, for a stage play) but the performances carried it and I reflected afterwards on the way in which the Nazi death machine was itself stagey, whether the intention was to terrify and subjugate, or to deceive.  Romeo & Juliet was terrific, but reminded me of how bloody annoying those two are, and it’s no disrespect to the actors that I wanted to give them both a good slap.

Music

Operatic outings this year included a fabulous Kiss me Kate, a powerful Jenufa, and a magnificent Flying Dutchman, all from Opera North.

 

I’ve written previously about the splendid Bassekou Kouyate gig at the University’s Firth Hall.

bassekou_and_amy

At the Crucible Studio, Ensemble 360 treated us to performances of Mendelssohn, Ives, Janacek, Watkins, Brahms, Berg, Boulez, Kurtag, Mozart and Bartok, amongst others.  Such fantastic musicians, and particularly delighted to have had the chance to hear so much 20th century music this year.  Same venue, different ensemble –  Chris Biscoe’s Profiles of Mingus feat. Tony Kofi on sax (we’d heard him playing Mingus last year, with Arnie Somogyi’s Profiles of Mingus).  More jazz, courtesy of  Leeds Jazz Orchestra (feat. one Aidan Hallett) in Leeds Golden Acre Park.

And then there was Tramlines.   Nothing much to add to what I said at the time, except that I can’t wait for the 2016 festival.

So, thanks to those who shared these highlights with me.  I look forward to lots more in 2016.

I hope to blog more in 2016, of course.  I managed a post most months in 2015, and the overall total looks more impressive thanks to eight in Refugee Week and a few reblogs from That’s How the Light Gets In and Nowt Much to Say.  I blogged for Holocaust Memorial Day, wrote about the Hillsborough inquests, the 24 Hour Inspire, Marvel films, Tramlines, the phenomenon of the ‘fugueur’, the music of Mali, the ‘refugee crisis’, and the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris and elsewhere.  I also blogged for Inspiration for Life, and on the aftermath of the May General Election. Thanks to all who have read, liked, reblogged, commented, etc.

And for 2016, which may seem to hold so much threat and so little hope, I cannot do better than to quote this poem, by Sheenagh Pugh.  Apparently she doesn’t rate it – scribbled it in a hurry on a card for a friend going through a tough time.  I beg to differ.

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

May it happen for you, may it happen for all of us.

 

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24 Hour Inspire, 16-17 April 2015 – Programme

monifa

If anyone had told me a few years back that I’d be organising anything like the 24 Hour Inspire, I’d have thought they were delusional.  But we’re about to hold the third such event – 24 hours of non-stop lectures on all sorts of topics – and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of in my professional life.  It’s not just the funds we raise, though I’m delighted to be part of raising money for charities like the ones we’re supporting this year, who provide end of life care for cancer patients or support young people with cancer.  It’s the way that the event makes connections across and beyond the University which is my alma mater (twice) and my workplace, the community in which I feel so much at home.  It’s the way that it taps into such a deep seam of goodwill, that people respond with such enthusiasm and generosity to our requests for help, often offering more than we ask for.  It’s the way in which not only the task group who have been meeting for the last few months to plan and organise the event, but a much wider group of people want it to work, and do whatever it takes to make it work.

I get slightly nervous, of course.  There are so many things that potentially could go wrong with an event on this scale.  But that nervousness is always offset by the recollection that every time something has threatened to unravel, someone has sorted it out.  A speaker drops out at the last minute – a quick tweet to say that we need a replacement, and half an hour later we have one.  It’s a collective effort, and that’s why it’s such a joy.

It emerged of course out of great grief and loss.  But in those 24 hours I believe we’re doing something special, we’re living intensely and revelling in learning, in making connections, in broadening our horizons, and in collaborating.  Twelve sleeps to go now.  I can’t wait.

Come along if you can, for some or all of it.  If you can’t, but wish you could, you can still tweet about it using the hashtag #24HrInspire, and you can donate here:  https://mydonate.bt.com/events/24hourinspire2015

Inspiration for Life

Catherine Annabel Inspiration for Life Introduction and welcome
17:00:00 Professor John Flint Town & Regional Planning Victoria Henshaw – a tribute
17:30:00 Dr Nate Adams Molecular Biology & Biotechnology Throwing spanners at nanobots
18:00:00 Dr Victoria Williamson Music Music for wellbeing: possibilities and promise
18:30:00 Professor Paul White Geography Global population growth – the good news and the bad news
19:00:00 Professor Rowland Atkinson Town & Regional Planning Ecology of sound: the sonic order of urban space
19:30:00 Morag Rose Town & Regional Planning Loitering with intent: psychogeography the Mancunian Way
20:00:00 Professor Claire McGourlay Law Legal aid – what legal aid?
20:30:00 Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson French Post-traumatic landscapes
21:00:00 Professor Davide Costanzo Physics & Astronomy Anatomy of the ATLAS particle detector
21:30:00 Dr Tim Shephard Music Machiavellian sounds: how to rule a Renaissance state with music
22:00:00 Dr Catherine Fletcher History The insider’s guide to Wolf Hall
22:30:00

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2014 – some of the best bits

Some of the cultural highlights of my year – a year of working at home, long train journeys to long meetings which gave me more time to read, less time to go to the cinema or the theatre.   However, I did manage a few outings…

  • Twelfth Night at the Crucible – a real delight.  I’d been disappointed that we weren’t getting a tragedy or one of the problem plays, rather than a comedy that I’d seen on stage before, but that feeling evaporated very quickly indeed.  The performances were excellent, the staging imaginative and suggestive of darker undercurrents (the cast appearing at windows almost like the undead, the showers of rose petals  – see also Poppeia).
  • Brilliant opera at Leeds Grand – La Boheme,  and The Coronation of Poppeia.  And another Boheme, this time in Graves Gallery, from Opera on Location. 

poppeia la boheme

  • Tramlines!
  • Music in the Round – I’d pick out the Schubert octet, Tim Horton’s bravura performance of the Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 7 (described by the Guardian as ‘ferocious’),  Charlie Piper‘s WWI suite, The Dark Hour; works by Schulhoff & Haas, and consort of viols, Fretwork.
  • Once again we celebrated Tim Richardson’s life and passion for learning and teaching with the 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on a host of topics, from WWI poets to insect sex, from biogeography to Mozart, from underground science to fairground history – ok, you get the picture.  Once again a host of people stepped up to help, everything ran smoothly, and we were able to donate to Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes.  We’ll be doing it again on 16-17 April 2015.  Tim’s charity, Inspiration for Lifegoes from strength to strength.
  • I revisited the City Ground after far too many years, for the first home game of the season, and Stuart Pearce’s first game as manager.  That was a great game.  We’re in a slump at the moment, and that early euphoria has dissipated.   If it was anyone but Psycho in charge I suspect the calls to sack the manager would be ringing out right now, but few Forest fans would want to deny him the chance to turn things around.  I hope he can.  I really, really, hope he can.

Top TV of 2014

No attempt at ranking.  How could one decide on the relative merits of a gritty cop drama and a comic book fantasy?  So, what do all of these shows have in common?  First, excellent writing, and great performances.  Essential to have both.  So many big budget dramas skimp on the former and blow the budget on the latter, but even the best actors can only do so much with a script that clunks.  Second, great female characters.  All of these programmes  basically kick the Bechdel test out of the park.   It’s not just about having ‘strong’ women.  Not all women are strong, and no women are strong all of the time.  It’s about having women characters who are rounded human beings, fallible and flawed, but not dependent on men to make decisions or to solve problems.   Some of these women do indeed kick ass, but they don’t all have to.  So, to Nazanin Boniadi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Amelia Bullmore, Lauren Cohan, Clare Danes, Siobhan Finneran, Danai Gurira, Keeley Hawes, Elizabeth Henstridge, Gillian Jacobs, Suranne Jones, Nimrat Kaur, Sarah Lancashire, Melissa McBride, Vicky McClure, Tatiana Maslany, Lesley Sharp, Allison Tolmin, Ming-Na Wen and the rest – cheers, and thanks for giving us images of women that are as diverse and complicated as actual real live women are.

orphan line of duty happy valley mollyhomeland scott & baileycarol community shield

  1. Fargo – I was decidedly unconvinced beforehand, but it turned out to be funny, gruesome, and touching, with one of my favourite women cops in Allison Tolmin’s Molly (not just a re-run of Frances McDormand’s marvellous Marge from the film, but a character in her own right), Billy Bob Thornton as a grimly hilarious killer and Martin Freeman as a weaselly one, and a wealth of other characters, some of whom we came to care about so much that at tense moments there was much yelling at the screen as we thought they might be in danger.
  2. Line of Duty – I wasn’t convinced about this one either, mainly because the first series had been superb, and I wondered if they could match it.  They did,  and it was Keeley Hawes’ performance that clinched it.  Whilst I’d watch Vicky McClure in anything, Keeley wasn’t in that category for me, despite Ashes to Ashes.  But in this she was riveting, absolutely mesmerising.   The rest of the cast was superb too.
  3. Happy Valley was perhaps the most ironically titled programme of the year.  This valley was pretty damned grim.  But Sarah Lancashire as cop Catherine Cawood was wonderful, and the story was compelling and moving.
  4. Scott & Bailey maintained its form in series 4.  The three central women (count them!  three central women!) are all convincingly real, sometimes infuriatingly so.
  5. The Walking Dead opened series 5 with an episode so gripping that I really could neither breathe normally nor speak for quite some time.   It’s maintained that tension (more or less) whilst varying the format, to focus on different subsets of the characters, and different locations.   Carol has been central to this season’s episodes so far, and her character is one of those that has been allowed to develop and deepen throughout.  There’s no shortage of other interesting characters, and the plot allows for philosophical, political and ethical speculation as well as for gory shocks and suspense.
  6. Agents of Shield got past a slightly wobbly first series and got its pace and tone just right.  It fits right into the Marvelverse, but stands alone perfectly well.  And it features girl-geek Simmons, a Sheffield lass, and there’s just a hint of South Yorkshire in her accent from time to time.
  7. Community made me laugh more than anything else this year.   Just when you think it is as bonkers as it could be, it ups its game, to be even more meta, and even more daft.
  8. Doctor Who I have spoken of elsewhere.  I have a deep love for this programme, and whilst this regeneration has been unsettling at times, uncertain in tone perhaps, I have great hopes for Capaldi and Coleman in series 9 next year.
  9. Homeland redeemed itself.   Gripping stuff, with Clare Danes acting her socks off and getting us deeper into what makes Carrie tick.
  10. Orphan Black is one of the most criminally underrated programmes of this (and last) year.  Tatiana Maslany inhabits each of the characters she plays so well that I forget – disbelieve almost – that there is just the one actress involved.   And when she’s playing one of them pretending to be one of the others….  Cracking plot too.

Films of the year – I leave the in-depth cinematic  reviews to Arthur Annabel who promises an extensive blog on this topic soon.   I simply note these as films which have delighted and/or moved me, in no particular order.  Worth noting that whilst the programmes on my TV list get A* on the Bechdel test, the films are considerably weaker on that front.   Nonetheless, some fine performances, and Nicole Perlman was the first woman with a writing credit on a Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy).

guardians 2 cap america x men lego dallas white ribbon mr turner  slavedragonaurielcornelia

Women of the year:

  Jack Monroe – for enlivening my repertoire of meals to feed the family, and campaigning about food poverty

Professor Monica Grady – for being emotionally, exuberantly passionate about science

kate Kate Bush – for doing it her way, as always

fahma Fahma Mohamed – for telling men three times her age what they needed to be told about FGM and how to protect young women in the UK

malala Malala Yousafzai – it’s all been said really.  A young woman of remarkable maturity and dignity, as well as courage.

adedevoh Dr Ameyo Adadevoh – helped to curb the spread of Ebola by quarantining a patient in the face of pressure from his government, but succumbed to the disease herself

 

laura bates Laura Bates – her Everyday Sexism project helped to give women a voice, to tell their stories, to shout back.

In 2014 I’ve blogged about refugees, genocide, footballW G Sebald and Michel Butor, Kazuo Ishiguro, everyday sexism, Tramlines, Josephine Butler and Doctor Who.  I got a bit personal on the subject of depression, and was inspired by Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl to present my manifesto – a plea to just be kind. And my blog about reading the last of the Resnick series of detective stories won the approval of the author, John Harvey, who linked to it on his own blog, and republished my jazz playlist!

Amongst the blogs I’ve followed, or at least tried to keep up with, I would particularly note Searching for Albion.  This is the record of Dan Taylor’s four month cycling trip across the British Isles, talking to people he meets, by plan or by chance.  A fascinating project, beautifully documented.

To all of those who’ve shared some of the above events, obsessions and enthusiasms with me, who’ve given me support when I’ve needed it, who I’ve learned from and with, thank you.   I don’t know what to expect from 2015 – but see you there!

 

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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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