Season Preview 2016/17

Ten games into the season there’s a pre-match punditry breakfast round at ours. Everyone stumps up a fiver and writes down where they think the Owls will end the campaign.

Last year I plumped for 7th – just missing out on the playoffs, probably by a single point, probably due to a last minute own goal. (Yes, I’ve been following Wednesday for a long time). I was delighted to be wrong.
Across the years, through all the leagues, not one of the breakfast pundits has ever backed a top of the table finish. After the unexpected highs of last season, will our kitchen see a flurry of fivers placed on one of the automatic promotion places for 2016/17?

Much was made of Wednesday not beating any of the teams that finished above us in 2015/16 (play offs aside). Derby and Brighton are still there to test us. Will newly relegated Newcastle, Norwich and Villa be easier for Carlos to crack than Boro, Burnley and Hull were? Or will there still be five well organised teams above us at the end of the season?

Wembley was great but it showed up our flaws, particularly in the final third of the pitch. Fletcher could provide a different dimension and take some pressure off Forestieri. Will it be enough?
Chris Hughton has the tactical nous – and motivation – to cancel us out, home and away. And with Barnsley and others still seeing Hillsborough as a big day out, it’s strange to think that our opening game against Villa is already looking like a six-pointer.

So when this season’s pundit predictions are popped into the Russian doll of Lee Peacock for safekeeping, I might well be sticking with 7th place. But I reserve the right to change my mind…

Lee Peacock Russian Doll






This post was first published on on 29 July 2016.

The Dead Generations

Watching today’s Easter Rising centenary parade in Dublin I was reminded of an observation my grandfather once made, “If everyone who claimed to have been at the GPO in 1916 had actually been there we would have won the war in less than a week.” He made that observation more than once to be fair.

The Easter Rising lasted for 6 days. Many people are better placed than me to describe the chain of events it triggered: the war for Irish independence; Ireland’s partition into the 26 counties of the Free State and the Six Counties of the north in 1922; the civil war that followed. No Irish family was untouched by these events yet unlike the eruption of genealogical websites for research into the First World War, the stories of the young men and women who fought ‘Not for King or Kaiser but for Ireland’ are more sensitive, controversial, unfinished. Whereas the British (and Irish) soldiers who fought in WWI are seen as heroes who fought a futile war – the ‘lions led by donkeys’ – in the run up to the Rising’s centenary I’ve heard commentators refer to the men and women who took up arms for Ireland as anything from ‘Celtic mystics’ to ‘terrorists’ and many points in between. One of those men was my grandfather. He was not at the GPO but the events of 1916 shaped his life.

Jack NolanJohn Joseph ‘Jack’ Nolan was a cautious motorcyclist. Clinging to his broad back as instructed I would loop my fingers into the old leather belt with its parallel lines of stitch marks where the bullets had once been stored. Just once, when overtaken at a pace still slow enough for a bright ‘hello’ and wave from his younger brother, his huge hands twisted the throttle full-on. We overtook great uncle Tom, reared up on the back wheel and spun across the road to block his path. The brothers dismounted. With the coldest of stares and the softest of voices, grandad took charge.

“In the name of God and the dead generations, Tom. You were touching 40 back there. I have the girl with me.”

Apologies were given and accepted. Horn rimmed spectacles and trilbies were adjusted. A joke was made. And we were back on our way.

As we passed buildings, fields or crossroads my grandfather would throw cryptic, teasing memories over his shoulder. The railway at Wellington Bridge was where he had been the station master for a few days. He pointed out bullet holes in the former police station at Duncannon, then a Bord Failté recommended B&B, and asked, “Do you know why that’s still standing?” Pause. “Faulty fuse.” A small stone bridge over the river Bannon was where the Black and Tans had stripped him naked and beaten him senseless – his life saved by the intervention of a regular British Army officer.

Sometimes we would stop altogether, often at a memorial or a funeral. After one service I asked him about the mourner in the navy gabardine mac with one empty sleeve. She was a survivor of the incident we’d seen commemorated on the roadside in Salt Mills. Not a sentimental man, his eyes misted.

All this was in the 1970s/80s, when old age and reflection seemed to spring a timelock in my grandfather’s mind, releasing a voice that had not spoken since he swore his oath of secrecy, collected his rifle and Sam Brown belt and disappeared into Ireland’s hedgerows, barns and mountains to wage guerilla warfare some 50 years before. The cream and red Honda 90 was transporting us back to Jack ‘Sniper’ Nolan’s days in the Old IRA.

Though I’d heard many stories on the back of the Honda and over cups of tea, it wasn’t until his funeral in 1987 that a fuller account of the risks he had taken and service he had given was unlocked from the archives. His coffin was draped in a tricolor, a TD (MP) gave the oration, and a guard of honour fired a salute over his grave. Two things would not have escaped Jack Nolan’s readily raised eyebrow: Proud though we were at the recognition, the funeral became a tussle between family and state – I was ‘allowed’ to give a reading at the mass instead of a politician, while my brother was on constant alert to remove the ‘state’ bouquet placed on the coffin by stealth and replace it with family flowers, a floral exchange that happened more than once in the course of the event. And the soldiers in dress uniform were protected by a ring of their comrades in combat gear, stationed outside the graveyard to prevent ambush by dissidents intent on stealing the saluting guns. Oh the complexity of it all.

At midnight on January 1st, 1966 we were woken to stand on a doorstep in Finglas with our parents, aunts and uncles to hear the church bells ring-in the 50th anniversary commemorations, followed by mass.  The Republic of Ireland is now another 50 years older, less conservative, more confident. I spent today in proud and loving memory of my grandfather for his role in making that happen.

2015 and all that.

I clicked on that facebook ‘Review of your 2015’ thing and it threw up 4 random photos, 3 of which I don’t even recognise.  So here’s my own pretty random review of 2015’s highlights without the aid of friendface. No world events, no links I clicked or petitions I signed, just things I remember doing. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a memorable year. Here’s to a happy and peaceful 2016.

moonwalk startTHE MOONWALK: The first five months of the year were dominated by training for this overnight marathon through London. Being of an age, Louise Timothy and I took the organisers’ advice and checked in with a podiatrist beforehand. I was ridiculously excited to be told I have mechanically perfect feet, my joy only slightly tempered by the situation from the ankles up. Setting off at the dead of night on 16 May, we crossed the finishing line the following morning, raising £1,593.18 for breast cancer charities through the generosity of friends and colleagues.


19194867530_73454c1ee8_kOUT ALOUD 1: What happens when you put Sheffield’s LGBT choir, the Friends of Edward Carpenter and Radio 2 Folk Music award nominees in a room ten days after the, shall we say disappointing, general election? The perfect musical antidote is what – a full house at Firth Hall for a concert with inspirational new songs written by Out Aloud’s musical director, Val Regan and “exquisite harmonies that truly shine” from O’Hooley & Tidow, restoring spirits, recovering mojo and generally cheering each other up. As an aside, I’d finished the Moonwalk marathon at 8 o’clock that morning and needed to be back in Sheffield for the final rehearsal at 2 p.m. The train guard (sorry, Revenue Protection Manager) spotted all the Moonwalkers heading back up north, asked where each one of us was getting off and stirred us from our gaping mouthed slumbers just before our destinations. What a gent.

docfestSHEFFIELD DOCFEST: There were 20 venues, two opening galas, virtual reality at Site Gallery (the big hit with festival goers). And then there was an hour spent in a darkened room listening to a radio documentary in Danish, with subtitles projected onto the screen. Rikke Houd’s THE WOMAN ON ICE unpicks the story of Karen Roos, a Danish woman who disappeared outside the settlement of Angmassalik in Greenland in 1933. The threads, the voices and the atmospheric soundscape were mesmerising. A deserved winner of the festival’s In The Dark Audio Award.


bette midlerBETTE MIDLER: “I know you’re all going to want to sing along to this one… Please don’t. There’s only room for one diva in this room.” And there was. She worked an Arena crowd like a cabaret room and it was marvellous. If not for Bette my best live gig of the year would have gone to Sharleen Spiteri and Texas on their 25th anniversary tour. Another sound woman who can work a room.



THE SUN AND THE MOON: Oh the portents… moonThe total eclipse was seen via my phone’s JMW Turner mode; the blue moon was via the Impressionist mode. On the night of September’s blood moon I woke at 3.01 a.m. precisely and took it as a message from the gods to get my photographic act together, dig out the proper camera and catch the event in slightly sharper focus.


BRUGES: Remembering the dead. Celebrating life. Visiting the First World War battlefields, cemeteries and the Menin Gate for the first time since a school trip many years ago. We also spent time at Langemark, a German war cemetery. On both sides, the scale is so immense and sobering. Two things in particular evoked the personal stories behind the numbers:

  • Andrew Tatham’s poignant history and art project based on 21 years’ research into the lives of the men captured in A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH – Before, Now & In-Between at the Flanders Fields museum.
  • Meeting a mourner at the Irish Farm cemetery (so called because Irish regiments had been based in the farm buildings just outside Ypres). She didn’t seem that much older than me. She had found the grave of her uncle. She had not known him, obviously. Her mother, just a baby when he left for war, had not known him. In the hundred years since he was laid to rest there, no other member of the family had ever visited his grave. She cried as though she was crying for them all.

Bruges itself was as beautiful, charming, mediaeval, cobbled, beery and chocolatey as you could hope for.

germanyOUT ALOUD 2: Our friends Heart Core in Mönchengladbach were not only celebrating their 20th anniversary but also offering a masterclass in hospitality – food, drink, singing at their homes, singing in the street, singing in a lantern parade, singing at their concert, singing in a crypt. And then there was the cheesy disco. Some of the choir brushed up their German in advance. To my shame, I wasn’t one of them but I tried my best with Arschloch (rude) and the ‘boom boom’ of “Ich gei mit meiner laterne, boom boom”. All the right booms, not necessarily in the right order. Danke.


20151117_144230THE HURST ARVON CENTRE: A week in John Osborne’s former house. Writing, listening and story telling. How lucky was that?No phone signal. No wi-fi. And I imagine the first time Thomas Mann’s ‘Death In Venice has ever been greeted with howls of laughter (charades).



AH openingTHE ART HOUSE, Wakefield: Opened! A Grade II building saved. A community of 34 artists built. Three years of hard work rewarded. Some friends for life made.




WALKS AROUND SHEFFIELD: In all weathers, with the best companions and most wondrous sights.

mud monthA little reminder that pre-Roman Britons called February ‘Solmanath’ – mud month.




jazz in snowA dawg.





agnus deiA mediaeval altar piece – I’m thinking ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lambs’.




SITE GALLERY: My rewards for chairing Site’s board over the past six years have been many. Watching the gallery blossom under Laura Sillars and Judith Harry has been a joy, as has being introduced to the ideas of artists and collectors from around the world, culminating in GOING PUBLIC: International Art Collectors – a collaboration between collectors and Sheffield’s visual arts venues to share the best and most challenging contemporary art and artists. As if that wasn’t enough of a high to stand down on, I was presented with two works by Zoe Beloff, one of the artists in Site’s ‘family’ whose work I most admire. An absolute surprise and joy. Oh you shouldn’t have, but… yes please and thank you. What a lovely way to end the year.


Weds3Arse0“We’ll always have Paris Arsenal. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca Hillsborough. We got it back last night.” As Ingrid Bergman almost said. Happy New Year, everyone.


A little bit of history and a lot of future.

When I first walked into the Carnegie Library in Wakefield almost 3 years ago it was cold, dark, damp, stripped of all its books, but not unloved. Though the staff and users had moved to new premises 12 months beforehand, they and other Wakefield residents held on to their fond memories and hoped the library would somehow be brought back into public use.

Today, following a £3M refurbishment, the building is officially re-opening in its new guise as 34 artists’ studios run by The Art House, Wakefield. The team that made this mighty transformation happen includes an award-winning brass bander, an illustrator, the star of a classic 1980s pop video, a burlesque artiste and a make-up guru. Only in the arts.

In February 2013 my job was to bring the Old Library back to life, guided by plans originally set out in 2011 that had stalled due to lack of funding.

Year one was spent mainly instilling belief that the project would happen, meeting Arts Council funding conditions, securing £1.5M from Europe and transferring the lease from Wakefield Council. Paperwork was involved. Meanwhile, the condition of the Grade II listed library was deteriorating as rain came in through the roof, the windows and the floors, pigeons made merry in the cupola and a tired and emotional citizen of Wakefield propped herself up against the stone balustrade. Both she and the stonework took a tumble.

The following 18+ months were spent mainly instilling belief that the project would happen (that’s a bit of a constant in capital projects), and procuring the contractors – the builders, the asbestos removers, the metal workers, the historic paint samplers. After which:



















18 layers of paint were stripped off the walls to reveal handmade arts & craft tile work.

The original cast iron radiators were blasted and fitted.

A lasagne of floor coverings was peeled back to reveal the original parquet flooring.

A ramshackle history of 20th century wiring was pulled out, along with pipes, conduits and phone sockets.

Historic paint schemes were agreed, disagreed, agreed again.

The weather vane was removed and restored.

Two buildings on slightly different levels became one.

The roof was re-leaded.

Pods and partitions were installed.

Lighting schemes were agreed, disagreed, agreed again.

People said you’ll never fill the studios.

New studio holders and office tenants moved in.

The project was completed – on time and on budget.


Was it worth it? A little bit of history and a lot of future.


Early postcard showing ill-fate stone balustrade

Early postcard showing ill-fated stone balustrade

Built in 1905, Wakefield’s library was one of 660 in the UK and Ireland made possible with assistance from the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. At the time it was criticized for its cost (£8,000 from Carnegie, plus a penny rate levied by the council) and its appearance (a ‘plain, barn looking building’).

The design had been put out to competition. Of 81 submissions, Surrey-based Trimmell, Cox and Davison won the contract. Their budget was based on London prices. Finding materials and labour much cheaper in Yorkshire, they were able to respond to the ‘barn’ criticism by creating a neo-Baroque style topped by a wooden cupola with leaded cap and an ornate iron weathervane.

The foundation stone was laid by lord mayor Henry Childe in February 1905. Carnegie himself – “just a quiet, well-dressed little man, with nothing in feature, figure or apparel to suggest any special distinction except his big head and large top hat” – formally opened the library in June 1906.

So that’s a bit of the history and one reason for preserving the building. The second reason is the people who will be using it.

“… A brilliant resource for Wakefield and Yorkshire. With leading facilities it can host national and international artists, provide a flexible and supportive workspace for visual artists and showcase the best of visual arts.” (Arts Council England, Feb 2014)

The Art House was established in 1994 by a group of artists with a vision to provide fully-accessible studio space, where disabled and non-disabled artists could work side by side. In 2008, The Art House ‘Phase 1’ building opened on Drury Lane in Wakefield, with exemplary access for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

Now, with the doubling of facilities provided through the Old Library project The Art House can continue to develop and work towards removing barriers for artists through residencies, professional development and mentoring and extending its remit through new activity challenging conventional approaches to diversity and the arts.

The opening, fittingly on the International Day of People with Disability, is an opportunity to show off the building. More importantly, it is a showcase for the work of a new creative community of artists who now have a base in the centre of Wakefield.

As the wonderfully committed project team would say, “You’re welcome.”



Walking the Walk 1

Cancer is something that affects all of us directly or indirectly. In my case, I lost my lovely mum. Raising money to fight cancer works; every year there are breakthroughs in research, in treatment and in support. I’m doing the MoonWalk in May – all 26.2 miles of it – to raise money for Breast Cancer charities. You can find out more and make a donation by following this link. Thank you!


Going Sober for October



Week One of Sobriety – A rowdy night out, a quiet night at the pub and flashbacks to Family Fast Day.

I’m not saying restrictions on birthday cake and drink opportunities drove me away from religion. That would be shallow. But for many years I carried the burden of my birthday falling during Lent, when all good Catholic folk cut out sugar, chocolate or alcohol for Jesus. (And for their waistlines. Mainly for Jesus though. Really).

While I no longer observe Lent I still carry the abstinence-is-good gene that urges at least a month off something each year.  For a while now that’s been four autumn weeks without any alcohol.  So this year, along comes the Go Sober for October Macmillan fundraising drive, which seems a neat way of abstaining and raising money for a fantastic cause at the same time.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or someone you love has, you’ll already know that Macmillan provide practical, medical and financial support and push for better cancer care. I’ve signed up to Go Sober to support their work. Taking time to click here and sponsor me for the price of a glass of wine would be very kind of you.

Week One has been a reminder of how much of work and social life involves opportunities for a tipple. It’s also been a reminder that although there’s only so much sparkling mineral water the human frame can take, you don’t need an alcoholic drink to have a good time. Some highlights:

Thursday: Magical Mystery Tour of Art Sheffield venues.  A sober Laura Sillars, Site Gallery’s Artistic Director,  was tour guide for a minibus full of the great, good and slightly sozzled. The on-board prosecco flowed as we travelled between Graves Gallery, S1 Art space, Bloc Studios, an old pine workshop and Site Gallery. The intriguing snapshots of a city-wide visual arts festival were enough to keep me entertained without lips that touched liquor.

Sunday: “A quiet night at the pub” I were sat sitting in t’local nursing a glass of water when a man old enough to know better smashed a glass. Oh dear. The landlady calmly wheeled out the hoover, plugged it in, switched it on …and the pub sang, “I Want to Break Free”. (Freddie Mercury, the video, remember? There’s a wiki link at the foot of the page). I’m not sure that spontaneity – and willingness to admit knowing all the words – would have come without the disinhibiting effects of alcohol. A shame about that. Very funny though.

Constant flashback: Family Fast Day. Organised fasting has changed a bit since my school days. Then it was all about making a sacrifice to benefit others, although sometimes the detail confused me. ‘Family Fast Day’ involved eating much less than usual and sending what you saved to charities working with children in Africa. We got a little box with a slot at the top and everything. It was some time before I realised that ‘the savings box‘ was for coins rather than uneaten food. Truly. In my defence I did wonder what African children would make of the congealed sprouts, mash and baked beans postmarked London SW19. And my mother intervened before the stamp was bought.

Fortunately for me, the Go Sober for October online resource is very clear about the benefits:

  • Increased energy levels, higher productivity
  • Clearer head
  • No more hangovers
  • Sleeping better / snoring less
  • Weight loss
  • Clearer skin
  • Healthier bank balance / Save money
  • Sense of achievement
  • Fresh approach to alcohol consumption
  • Generally feel healthier
  • Doing something positive for a good cause

Self-sacrifice with a checklist of self-interested outcomes is quite compelling isn’t it? Certainly better than one bullet point: “Your reward will be in heaven”.

It’s not too late to join in, or sponsor someone who has already signed up:

Please Sponsor me by following this link

or visit the Go Sober for Macmillan site to sign up yourself.

And finally, if you’d like an “I Want to Break Free” memory-jogger, follow this link: Freddie declined a blonde wig as it would make him look silly…

A day with the Antiques Roadshow

I have hovered in the background at the Antiques Roadshow. Imagine.

Up to now, the highlights of my broadcast 15 minutes have been raising a hosta/slug enquiry on Gardeners’ Question Time, an animated contribution to Dimbleby’s Question Time and a Radio Sheffield vox pop on the pros and cons of dogs fouling pavements.

Since the demise of Crossroads, the opportunities to walk stiffly across a camera shot on national tv have been painfully thin. I think this explains the popularity of AR. Here the sensibly clothed moths can gather around the flame of a camera light, feign interest at the valuation of someone else’s property and adopt that inimitable expression that says, “I’m not looking at the camera but I know it’s there.”

So after much digging around under beds, in lofts, behind the sofa, the heir-loomed and car-booted of South Yorkshire  assembled at Wentworth Woodhouse today to be greeted by Fiona Bruce wearing a see-through poncho. (For the avoidance of doubt she was fully clothed underneath – the poncho was to keep the rain off). Nonetheless –  a national treasure wrapped in cling film, how BBC marvellous.

The last time I was at WW it was to play badminton in the gallery, the backdrop was stately home statuary and the house was one of Sheffield City Polytechnic’s five campuses. Today I was surprised to see the ugly-even-for-the-70s student accommodation blocks still blotting the landscape. Everything else about the house and gardens looked just about right for a stunning AR venue. And it was raining too. Perfect.

AR involves queueing. First of all to get to the reception desk where Fiona B and others scrutinise your offerings, then to queue for the relevant expert. Tip: ‘miscellaneous’ is obviously a top category for Britain’s heirlooms. Long queue. Ceramics also very popular in the cupboards of the UK. Well, we’ve all got a commemorative mug or two I s’pose.

Jewellery is fairly light, which is why I tagged on the end of that queue, rehearsing the line,    “My trinkets are of great sentimental value, I would never part with them.” While reserving the right to change that opinion etc.

I wonder if the expert realised just how important a moment this could be in her career? I only mention it because I had to brush chocolate crumbs off the valuation table, she gave me her opinion through a mouthful of chocolate and then took mere minutes to tell me the items in my rucksack were probably worth less than a really fine bar of …  you get the picture. Cheek.

What else about today:

  • The preferred mode of carriage for the AR crowd’s family heirlooms is a hessian ‘bag for life’ lined with towels. An honourable mention here for the Eden Project’s merchandisers. Great bag brand presence.
  • When considering a career in antiques evaluation, do invest in a stylish Bavarian jacket or tweeds worked with vibrant prints and a flamboyant hats/scarf/tie combo.

My Top 5 Highlights:

  1. Woman arguing with Eric Knowles when he told her – most tactfully I thought – that the detritus in her Tesco carrier bag was probably of greater sentimental than monetary value.
  2. The man in the queue who told me, on good authority, that WW is currently occupied by one old woman, living in just one room heated by a one-bar electric fire. He was carrying a Tupperware box lined with a towel (see above).
  3. The couple with an intricately carved teak screen; not only had they declined to conform to the tyranny of dusting (it was filthy) but they didn’t drop it on the toes of the woman who remarked that she had one just like it, carved in soap. What?
  4. The “Why Specialists Need to Leave Their Tables” section of the official guide. Especially around lunchtime, apparently. They have bodies – who knew.
  5. And finally, the vicar with the mahogany table.  For it was his filmed tête-a-tête with furniture expert Deborah Lambert that provided my opportunity to hover in the background with a no light behind my eyes expression, straining to hear or even care about what it was worth. So pleased that was caught on camera.

I didn’t see Bunny Campione though, which is almost as heart-breaking as not spotting Hilary Kay. Still, a great insight into the weirdly compelling combination of beautiful objects, social history and pure avarice that is the Antiques Roadshow. Huzzah!

Nice Richard Price prepares to tell a visitor her clock is worth a mint. Get a load of the interior too - house tours available

Nice Richard Price prepares to tell a visitor her clock is worth a mint. Get a load of the interior too – house tours available




Today I saw a lorry outside Leeds Station emblazoned with a company name plus ‘aluminium extrusions’. Nothing else. My vision blurred by tears of joy I couldn’t capture it on my phone camera. ‘Aluminium extrusions’. The sheer relief that there is still one business in the UK that hasn’t locked its staff in a conference room with a flip chart, a facilitator, lukewarm instant coffee and Crawford’s family selection biscuits until – in some hallucinatory state – they agree their rallying cry should be “Extrusion *Solutions* for the Aluminium *Community*”.

I have no idea what extruding aluminium entails. I could look it up – in fact I just have and can confirm it’s a service I’m unlikely to need for the foreseeable. It simply does what it says on the recyclable can for people who know that they need it.

Other businesses seem less confident in accepting that actually not everyone is their market. (Although I must say that as I pass their lorries on the A17, “Lomas Potato Transport” has always struck me as rather limiting).

So what’s with the rash of solutions, communities and random phrases that adorn the livery of so many vehicles and the brochures of so many Arts organisations?  Why do so many of us succumb to some version of “To Inform, Educate and Entertain”, paste it under a logo and call it a brand? I plead guilty to having done that one – “A unique complex offering unrivalled entertainment”. I do apologise.

Although there’s a certain pleasure in having your strap line repeated back to you as a truth by funding bodies, what does it mean and why do we put so much time into polishing adjectives and verbs into a sort of drop down menu to describe what we actually do – all the while studiously avoiding words like ‘art’ and ‘theatre’? Who actually cares about these signs and slogans apart from the people who devise them after a gallon of coffee and a fistful of pink wafers?

Hmm PINK wafers. See how the colour is inextricably linked to the product there? Never mind the trite slogans, a poll carried out earlier this month showed that brand recognition can increase by up to 80% based on the colours used. And Britain’s favourite colour is blue. Apparently. It works for me in terms of Steel City footballing alliances but certainly wouldn’t get my vote in other respects.

So. Back to this morning. It’s a 3 mile walk from Leeds station to Weetonwood Hall. Fuelled by the joy of Aluminium Extrusion I skipped along merrily to meet Nima Poovaya-Smith and Rachel Feldman from Alchemy and Ilkley Literature Festival respectively. I was looking forward to discussing  the successful bid to Arts Council’s Catalyst fund that will allow us to develop private giving investment programmes. Then I came upon this sign on the Otley Road:

iconic psychobabble

“Traditional Values delivered with an Original Outlook…Iconic Beer Garden…” And there’s me thinking it was a pub. Jeez. And it’s not even blue.

It almost ruined my day. But talking to Nima and Rachel over proper coffee and handmade biscuits proper cheered me up again.







day-by-day-by-south by: 2

The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson’s film about Kathleen Hanna, was my Day 2 highlight at SXSW.

Outside punk, riot grrl and feminist circles, Kathleen Hanna may be best known for providing Kurt Cobain with the inspiration for Smells like Teen Spirit – by spraying ‘Kurt smells like Teen Spirit’ (a deodorant for teenage girls) on his wall after a mega-binge. She didn’t drink for 6 years after that, so it must have been quite a night…

The feature-length documentary follows Hanna’s career from a spoken word artist through to a punk musician, becoming an ‘outspoken feminist icon’ en route.  I was sceptical about the icon bit when I entered the auditorium /converted by the time I left.

In short, The Punk Singer is a summary of how a young woman with the voice of Polly Styrene and the looks of Elizabeth Taylor got from here Kathleen Hanna spoken word to here The Julie Ruin featuring Kathleen Hanna

Hanna first rose to attention in the US as the lead singer of punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre. As the voice of the riot grrl movement she also became famous as an outspoken feminist, able to articulate her own inconsistencies and compromises in a way that encouraged other young women to take control of who they are. The post screening Q&A featured more than a few fans who’d been ‘Girls to the Front’ – Hanna’s concert war cry to protect her female fans (and her self) from the growing violence and misogyny of the 1990s mosh pit. And there was one ‘men to the back’ guy, who had done what he was told back in the day but you sensed he still wasn’t quite sure why.

Hanna worked in a strip club to pay her student tuition fees. She struggled emotionally with acknowledging the pain of  her father’s ‘inappropriate sexual behaviour’ in her childhood. And professionally she struggled on through a hectic US and European tour despite being visibly unwell. Laiprepaleset And then she married a Beastie Boy, but in fairness Adam does come across as a very good man.

These compromises and apparent inconsistencies were all grist to the tabloid mill. By 2005, a combination of ill health and having her life torn apart and misrepresented in the media led her to step back from recording and performance. Happily she’s now well on the roads to recovery and the recording studio.

Did I like the film? I thought the Lymes disease doctor (for that is what she was finally diagnosed with) had a wonderful deep and growly yankee voice. But I didn’t need to hear quite so much of it. As for Joan Jett‘s scary deep and growly voice – especially when filmed on the back seat of a limo bedecked with fairy lights – I could have listened all night.

Capturing the musical development of Hanna as an artist was fascinating – from the shaky video of her spoken word performances (better quality on film than the link above – sorry about that) through to the smoother melodies of Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, it’s all unmistakably and gloriously punk.

A quote from Kathleen Hanna: “Art revolves around creating something that isn’t there.”

Screened as part of the 24 BEATS PER SECOND strand at SXSW, The Punk Singer certainly celebrates 24’s aim to showcase the sounds, culture and influence of music and musicians and their impact on social and political change. Soon to be released on DVD…

The Punk Singer

Director: Sini Anderson

day by day by south by: 1

No More Road Trips? – a silent movie road trip across the USA and the perfect way to realign my brain after criss-crossing time zones and colliding with a switch to daylight saving en route to SXSW Made entirely from home movie clips spanning the 20th century, starting  with a 1930s rich kid filling a bottle with Atlantic Ocean water prior to heading West. If he ever followed tradition and poured the water into the Pacific we don’t know – or at least film-maker Rick Prelinger hasn’t found that particular clip. Yet.

The painstaking work of sifting though collected, found and donated film stock to compile No More Road Trips? has an astonishingly high attrition rate – only 1 minute in 80 making it to the final cut.

Barring the odd diversion, the film’s narrative is a westward sweep across the states, mixing and matching whatever footage from whichever era to map the route. As the 20th century plays out we see Rural turn industrial, Industrial turn suburban and various states of economic rise and fall often within a few consecutive frames. So the Pacific coast is approached via a California of wooden track roads across the San Bernadino mountains,  fields of grainy monochrome oil drills, a youthful Dennis Hopper waving to Hollywood tourists and Jerry Lewis gurning from his Cadillac in full colour.

So that’s what we see. But what we hear is…nothing. Prelinger’s premise is that the audience at each screening makes  a fresh soundtrack. Downwitemnoyris In other words, the audience is encouraged to call out in response to the people, places and situations on screen. On this occasion, despite Prelinger’s prompting presence the ‘soundtrack’was little more than a few observations about location and style. Acknowledging that this element is a work in progress, he is heading back to his base in San Francisco to work on triggers for the audience.

A couple of things stopped me contributing to the sound-tracking experience. One was the editing, which is generally pretty fast moving so the remarkable hat, house or car has moved off screen before the words have reached the tip of the tongue.The other barrier, for me anyway, is that the images as presented simply prompt a bit of an ‘oo’ an ‘aa’ and an ‘Auntie Nellie had one of them’.

Prelinger’s provocation is that question mark at the end of the film title. Have market globalisation and soaring fuel costs junked America’s freedom to get in a car and travel to a new life in a different place with its own unique appearance  and history. It’s an interesting enough provocation but…

Prelinger has taken an editorial decision to remove sequences of film that may be controversial or provocative. Specifically, he has not included clips of Native Americans or African Americans which he believes are culturally  insensitive or stereotypical. It’s difficult to judge his decision without knowing the material. We’ve all seen early (and not so early) white European home movies emphasising the ‘exotic’ natives and lifestyles found on their travels. Are staged or real Native American rituals captured in Prelinger’s film cans? Are these predominantly from the early 20th century or did they extend to more recent times? And why, from memory, was there only one shot of an African American family? (standing under Lincoln’s statue in Washington) even though a much filmed locality was described as a mixed Italian / African American neighbourhood. We wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t been present and told us. How are home movies of people going about their daily lives construed as offensive? Questions Unsaid and Unanswered.

No More Road Trips? veers slightly too much towards the sentimental past of cows blocking country lanes, close knit families and happy campers. The soundtrack of the 20th century is a noisy and discordant one. Reflecting some of that discord on screen might be the participatory trigger Prelinger is looking for.

But having said that, maybe a cinema auditorium – even one as beautiful as the Alamo Slaughter Lane  – a cinema auditorium is not the best place to shout out in public what would have been your asides to friends. Or at least, that’s how I felt when Prelinger asked a question during the screening, I knew the answer and I didn’t call out but I was happy to mutter.

In fact I shared one of the SXSW limos back downtown with the director and I still didn’t strain my vocal chords to put him straight. Rick, if you’re reading – those trees on the corner of the dark road? It’s white paint.

No More Road Trips? Director: Rick Prelinger.