Saturday, 29 December 2012

Things I enjoyed in 2012

Music 

Big Star Third, Barbican, London 

Big Star are my favourite ever band, and I have my dad to thank for getting me into them when I was a teenager. Whilst I love individual songs on #1 Record and Radio City, for me their final album Third/Sister Lovers works best as a complete piece of work, with its surprise mix of rocking pop songs, strange, otherworldly clanging and heart wrenching string and horn arrangements – it's one of those records I used to spend hours listening to in the dark trying to work out how the arrangements fitted together and how all the sounds the record were achieved. In 2008, my dad offered to take me to see their singer, Alex Chilton, at Shepherd's Bush Empire, but I decided to move house that weekend instead. I came to regret this a lot, as Chilton died a year and a half later at the age of 59, of a heart attack, so I never got to see him. When I heard about an event at the Barbican with a guest cast of musicians playing Big Star's third album in its entirety with the original string and horn arrangements, a few weeks after my dad's 50th birthday, therefore, it seemed like the perfect present. We decided to make a day of it in London, but my dad was in an unbelievably grumpy mood and barely spoke to me all day, and I was worried the gig wasn't going to interest him either. I've never seen someone perk up so suddenly, though. The revolving cast of musicians from bands like REM, Yo La Tengo and Teenage Fanclub really worked (with the exception of John Bramwell from I Am Kloot, whose nasal whining was completely out of place) and my dad was on the edge of his seat throughout the gig, smiling broadly – not least when Ray Davies was brought out as a surprise guest to rock the stage at the end. The Barbican concert hall is beautiful too – all wooden inside with really clear acoustics.

Chain and the Gang, Kraak Gallery, Manchester

I went to this gig as all girl punk band Trash Kit, one of my favourite bands of recent years, were on the bill, not knowing anything about headline band Chain and the Gang. In between bands, my friend excitably said 'There's Ian Svenonius, shall we go and have our photo taken with him?', to which I replied 'Who's that?'. Turns out Chain and the Gang singer Ian Svenius is a bit of an indie hero, having played in several cult bands over the years. It suddenly made sense why the audience was noticeably older than the usual crowd at this type of gig, and John Robb jumped up on stage to introduce them (possibly the only time I have ever been at the same gig as John Robb). Whilst Chain and the Gang are indisputably punk rock, their music is classy, stylish, musically slick and, most of all, fun, with front man Svenonius and front woman Katie Alice Greer dancing around the stage and playing off one other. 

Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield , Academy 2, Manchester

No surprises here – Dando and Hatfield duetted on classic Lemonheads tracks and took it in turn to play their own songs – except I'd never realised what a strong singer, guitarist and songwriter Hatfield is in her own right.

Trust Fund/Two White Cranes, my garden, Manchester

The last gig I'll ever have in my canal-side garden (I'm moving house soon) was a good one: Roxy Brennan, formerly of the Mountain Parade, writes sweet, simple folk songs as Two White Cranes, whilst Ellis Jones, formerly of the Bumblebees, sings falsetto over a Casio keyboard and sparse guitar under the name Trust Fund.

Dan Deacon, Islington Mill, Salford 

I maintain that Dan Deacon provides the most fun you can have at a gig – including dance-offs, a strobe light app for iPhones and making the audience create a tunnel with their hands then run through it to come out outside the building and then do the same again to go back inside. The music – euphoric dance – isn't bad either.

ATP, Minehead

I admit the appeal of ATP isn't really about the music – watching bands is always going to come second to wandering around charity shops, and exploring up and down hills and along the beaches in Minehead itself, interspersed with trips to Butlins' cinema and wave pool, but it was also great to see Minutemen, Young Marble Giants and Apples in Stereo, who were as fun as I'd hoped they would be. 

Wake Up Dead, Wim Wams, Irma Vep, the Hipshakes, Hotspur House, Manchester 

Top floor punk party with a view over the rooftops and train tracks of Manchester, in one of my favourite spaces in the city.

Honourable mentions go also to Francois and the Atlas Mountains, Rozi Plain and Being There, all at the Castle in Manchester.

Art 

Jane and Louise Wilson, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 

The best exhibition I've seen in Manchester in a while, Jane and Louise Wilson's photos, videos and sculptural installations show both the human and environmental impact of the Chernobyl disaster (and, elsewhere in the exhibition, recreate the scene of the murder of a Dubai businessman), in an exhibition that exposes the limits of human planning, surveillance and control. Read my review of the exhibition for Corridor8 here.

Martin Creed, All the Bells

Martin Creed's Work No 1197, a mass artwork which involved trying to get all the bells in the country to ring as loudly and quickly as possible for three minutes as a wake-up call heralding the start of the Olympics, was definitely the event I was most looking forward to during the Olympic year – although I found it frustratingly hard to find other people who shared my enthusiasm for getting up at 8.12am to make a noise. Other towns, villages and cities had organised All the Bells events; Manchester had none, and I had visions of being reduced to standing outside ringing my doorbell by myself for three minutes. However, I borrowed an agogô bell from the samba band I play with just in case, and at the last minute joined up with Alison Kershaw to ring some bells at St Luke's art project in the Longsight suburb of Manchester. St Luke's is based in a modern church on busy Stockport Road – one of the main roads into Manchester – and, it turns out, the church does not have physical bells but uses old cassette recordings of peals which are blasted out ahead of services and events. Calls to worship are on one side of the tape, weddings and funerals on the other; the church would be stuck if it lost the tape, said Alison! Alison had downloaded the special ringtone Martin Creed had created for the event (I couldn't, as it was only available for smartphones), and we stood, smiles on faces, banging away outside the church, church bells ringing in the background, as local residents came to their doors and windows in bewilderment. Admittedly, these were the only bells we we heard in Manchester, and some wags started the Twitter hashtag '#noneofthebells'.

Mark Leckey, Manchester Art Gallery

For this show, Leckey faced off a huge speaker stack against a giant, metallic piece of industrial machinery formerly used in a factory. On the opening night, Leckey's DJing made the room reverberate with sheer, bone-shaking noise, contrasting with the monumental solemnity of the two pieces of redundant equipment during usual exhibition hours, facing each other in silence, and the frantic activity of his youth culture film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore.

Victoria Lucas, Untitled Gallery, Manchester

The best use of birds in an art gallery since Birds on Guitars (the Barbican, 2010), this simple yet lovely installation transformed tiny Untitled Gallery into an aviary by projecting a film of the gallery, temporarily populated by small, brightly coloured birds, onto the back wall, placing the viewer in a mirror image of the space. Watching the birds fly around the room was strangely captivating in itself, but what really made the film was the accidental presence of a strange figure (supposedly a bird expert) wandering in and out of the frame, failing over and over again to catch the birds with his hands and line them up on a low wire strung across the gallery.

Seven Sites, various locations, Manchester/Salford

Laura Mansfield and Swen Steinhauser's series of artistic interventions into everyday sites across the two cities, from a church to a curry house.

Hans Haacke, Reina Sofia, Madrid 

Fun but thought-provoking installations that make you look again at the art world and art's relationship with power, money and prestige.

Tracy Emin, Turner Contemporary, Margate 

I went to this exhibition expecting to be underwhelmed, but found Emin's personal, confessional drawings on the subject of sex, and her self-portraits, moving and affecting. It's rarely that I feel I can relate to a feminine topic, writer or artist just on the basis that I am a woman and am therefore supposed to have some kind of shared, woman-specific outlook on life, but I did feel a connection with Emin's work and experiences. She may not be the most subtle of artists, but I also thought her tapestries were really quite beautiful. We were there on the opening weekend, when the artist herself was wondering the building amid the crowds gathered to see this solo show in her home-town.

Michael Dean, Henry Moore Institute Leeds

One of several exhibitions I saw in Leeds in 2012, and Henry Moore Institute is another small gallery whose exhibitions always impress. Michael Dean fundamentally transformed the visitor experience, from creating sculptural door handles to carpeting the gallery's floor spaces, placing gallery assistants on the floor and filling the space with huge, tactile objects, some of which were so large they had to be made in situ.

The Humble Market, FACT, Liverpool

Part of Abandon Normal Devices festival, Brazilian/UK theatre collective Zecora Ura led viewers on a group tour through several scenarios, forcing the viewer to reevaulate their relationship to the artworks, as well their relationship with other members of the audience.

I've also really enjoyed all the exhibitions I've seen at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool, which I feel really punches above its size. The venues impressed more than much of the art at Liverpool Biennial this year – with the exception of John Akomfrah's video installation The Unfinished Conversation at the Bluecoat, which refracted memories through snippets of archive film to explore the ideas and life of Stuart Hall. In a rare (at least in my experience) occurrence for a gallery, members of the public sat still for forty odd minutes to watch the film in its entirety instead of hovering uncertainly at the back or wandering in and out. In Manchester, I enjoyed small solo shows by Daniel Fogarty and Mary Griffiths at Bureau Gallery.

Books 

Whilst neither of these books were published in 2012 (or, indeed, recently), they are both among the best books I have ever read and had me engrossed during 2012.

Waterlog, Roger Deakin 

The type of book you wish you could carry with you all the time for inspiration, guidance and a bit of comfort on bad days, Deakin uses a uniquely beautiful turn of words as he swims his way around the country's waterways, evoking the sense of freedom, excitement and spontaneity that swimming al fresco brings.

Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azzerad

I wish I'd read this book, about the bands, record labels and publications that spread the DIY spirit across America, ten years ago: it should be compulsory reading for anyone with ambitions for forming a band, putting gigs on or releasing records (skip the Mudhoney chapter, but the Minor Threat, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Beat Happening chapters are particularly inspiring amidst the fights, drugs and decadence).

Film 

Lawrence of Belgravia 

One of the most honest and least contrived 'rockumentaries' I've ever seen, Lawrence of Belgravia follows Felt/Go-Kart Mozart frontman Lawrence over a period of years in a warts and all, fly on the wall journey into the life of a pop star. Sometimes frustrating but mainly just heartwarming, the film makes you cross your fingers for Lawrence to get his big break, snag Kate Moss, and become an indie superstar. If anyone deserves it, he does.

Make Your Own Damn Art 

A documentary following the life and work of artist Bob and Roberta Smith. I found Smith's ethos, attitude and approach to making art refreshing and inspiring. From creating a gallery in his garden shed (anyone can make a gallery, he suggests) to selling affordable artworks at art car boot fairs and playing in a middle aged punk rock band, if Smith had a manifesto it would be 'Make your own damn art: don't expect me to make it for you', something which resonates with the Shrieking Violet. It's an important message for anyone who's ever wanted to make an artwork, a piece of music or even a zine but not known where to begin, so never quite got round to it.

Utopia London 

Utopia London pays homage to twentieth century town planning and the city in which its director, Tom Cordell, grew up. Comprising interviews with some of the key architects in the rebuilding of a city left ravaged by the Second World War, the film shows the ideals and aspirations of those behind the Modernist movement, demonstrating how they aimed to build a better, more equal world by fusing design with artistic and scientific innovation. Many of the architects are now in their eighties, yet still full of spirit and idealism, and some of the film's most moving movements are when they are taken back to the sites of their buildings to see how they fared. Utopia London is thought-provoking, inspiring and uplifting: a must-see for anyone who has ever looked around and wondered: how did our towns and cities get to be the way they are?

Bata-ville: we are not afraid of the future

On the list of things I want to achieve before I die is making a documentary film. Bata-ville, in which a coach full of (mostly elderly) former employees of paternalistic shoe company Bata is taken by two lively artists on a pilgrimage from Bata's now defunct factory in East Tilbury to the company's Moravian hometown, is surreal, funny and subversive in its attitude towards history and the meaning of memories. Bata-ville is the type of film I would love to be able to call my own.

Swandown

Whilst I find Iain Sinclair's writing difficult to read, he made for good entertainment in this travelogue with a difference. Swandown follows Sinclair and Andrew Kötting (director of the wonderful, poignant coastal odyssey Gallivant) on an unlikely, intrepid adventure by swan pedalo, which begins with the pair bobbing up and down on the sea off Hastings and culminates inland in the waterways of London, with plenty of laughs along the way as well as opportunities for reflection.

Nostalgia for the Light

Beautifully filmed and soundtracked yet devastatingly sad documentary which intertwines the wonders of Chile's observatory centre in the Atacama desert with the search by groups of women for the remains of loved ones missing, presumed dead, under the Pinochet regime. Nostalgia for the Light captures the grandeur, emptiness and openendedness of both the landscape and human existence, in which there sometimes are no answers, only mysteries.

TV 

I know he's a nasty man, but Michael Portillo is still my favourite TV present (his genial nature and colourful outfits make me smile), so I was pleased that the year started with another series of Great British Railway Journeys and ended with a new spin on the concept, Great Continental Railway Journeys, which saw the episodes extended into hour-long explorations of various European destinations.

Also worth a mention is the Jeremy Deller Culture Show special (for roughly the same reasons I enjoyed the Bob and Roberta Smith film).

Theatre

The Royal Exchange never disappoints, and the costumes and music are always particularly impressive. I saw a swinging production of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and a tense take on Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending there.

Radio 

2012 was the year in which I finally started listening to 99% Invisible's short podcasts on architecture, urbanism and design; recent highlights have included instalments on Buckminster Fuller, Kowloon Walled City and dazzle ships. As well as covering diverse subjects in a diverse, engaging way, Roman Mars has my favourite voice on the radio.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Hobart Man: life as a travelling service engineer

Over the summer, Manchester Modernist Society put me in touch with a new acquaintance called Bill Mather, and suggested his father, Roy Mather, might be willing to share some of his memories of working as a 'Hobart Man' in mid-century Manchester and Cheshire. I travelled to his home in Stretford to meet Mr Mather, and the following is based on our conversation.

When Roy Mather joined the Manchester branch of Hobart in 1945, as a service engineer maintaining automated, labour-saving devices such a mixers, dishwashers, mincers, potato peelers and coffee machines, it was the start of a four decade career that gave him a behind the scenes view of how Manchester lived, worked and played as it emerged from the rationing and austerity of the war years to become a swinging modern city.

Like many of his generation, Mr Mather left school at 14. He spent two years at Lewis's department store on Market Street before joining Hobart, a working life which immersed him in the city's social life. 'The Hobart Man', as he was known, made regular maintenance calls to canteens, bakeries, butchers, grocery shops and coffee bars (and even Strangeways prison – anywhere that provided catering on a large scale). One chain Mr Mather remembers particularly well was Kardomah, which started in Liverpool and had branches in various other cities in the UK and internationally. Kardomah had a presence in Manchester at Albert Square, Market Street and Market Square. The art deco-style Market Street branch, illuminated with neon signs, was a glamorous sight, designed by the prominent industrial designer Sir Misha Black, and Mr Mather remembers that Kardomah was a popular meeting place, serving thirsty shoppers an exotic and sophisticated range of coffees, as well as live music.

These were the days of mass employment at places like Trafford Park. Cheap lunches – the main meal of the day – were provided to workers in huge canteens, and workers socialised together when the day was done at working clubs. The Hobart Man was a regular visitor to companies such as Kellogg's, Brown & Polson and AIG (later GEC/Metropolitan Vickers), which had bases in Trafford Park, making sure the giant mixers, potato peelers and dishwashers were running smoothly. Nearby, the busy Manchester Docks were still filled with big Manchester liners with names like Manchester City and Manchester Renown, which sailed as far as Canada. The Hobart Man serviced equipment in the ships' galleys; one memory which makes Mr Mather laugh is leaving a ship's galley with the machinery in bits, with the intention of getting spares and returning the next day, but climbing onto an identical-looking sister ship instead and having to jump off when the ship started moving. He reflects that this was a dangerous thing to do as, “in those days, if you fell in you wouldn't live long there was so much pollution”.

Initially, Hobart had a showroom and offices at 97 Oxford Road, Chorlton-on-Medlock, in between a shoe shop and a Boosey & Hawkes shop which repaired musical instruments (this was taken over for the production of aircraft parts during the war, Mr Mather remembers). There was a workshop in the basement and a philosophical society on the floor above. The premises was later demolished to make way for Manchester's highway in the sky, the Mancunian Way, and the street would be unrecognisable to today's the Hobart Man. Now the heart of student land, lined with takeaways and university buildings, Oxford Road and Oxford Street once had a reputation as being Manchester's entertainment streets, home to several cinemas and picture houses. Mr Mather also recalls calling on a number of restaurants when it still was a bustling high street, including the Palace Restaurant, next to the Palace theatre, and the Prince's restaurant on the corner, as well as Lyons cafe and Duncan & Foster, which had a restaurant at All Saints and bakeries on York Street.

At first, The Hobart Man had to carry his tools on the bus or the tram. Tyres were among the goods which had been rationed during the war, and a shortage of vans in the 1950s meant it wasn't until later that Hobart staff got Escort vans. Hobart moved on to Redgate Lane in West Gorton, and Mr Mather was allocated a 'patch' covering Stretford, Sale, Altrincham and South Cheshire – as far as Crewe and Nantwich. In the days of a reliable and predictable postal service, instructions were sent through the post each morning with the day's jobs. He recalls: “Every day was different. You didn't know where you'd be going in the morning.” There was a certain freedom, and Mr Mather made sure to time his jobs to where he knew he would be offered the best lunch! He also put his local knowledge of the roads to good use at the weekends, going on cycling trips around Cheshire with other members of Hobart staff and the then-burgeoning Youth Hostel Association.

One of many other perks to the job was being given a 'wrap' to take home after a maintenance visit – a bit of meat, perhaps, some sausages, cake, or a bag of sugar or flour (remember, rationing of sugar and sweets, introduced during the war, continued until 1953, and meat until 1954). Mr Mather's children still recall the excitement of him bringing liquorice and blackcurrant toffee home from Benson's sweet factory in Bury every July when the factory shut down and The Hobart Man was allowed access to the staff shop.

Hobart closed its Manchester branch in 1982, amalgamating with the Liverpool branch and moving to Widnes then eventually to Warrington. The company introduced pagers to notify staff of jobs, meaning that The Hobart Man no longer had the level of freedom enjoyed by Mr Mather earlier in his career. However, Mr Mather has fond memories of his time as a Hobart Man and still wears the engraved gold watch that was presented to him in 1970 to commemorate twenty years of service. Mr Mather's might seem an ordinary career, yet you could call him a flaneur, a wandering observer for the modernist era; his everyday memories bring to life Manchester's forgotten streetscapes and working history in ways that mere photographs could not.

With thanks to Roy Mather for sharing his memories, and his son Bill.

There wasn't space for this article to fit into the modernist magazine's forthcoming 'Cuppas' edition but the new issue, which will be packed with more cafeteria and cafe themed writing, is launched next Thursday at North Tea Power.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Review: Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools: A Pictorial Guide

The Shrieking Violet issue 15 featured a page about Levenshulme Baths, the historic swimming pool in the Manchester suburb of Levenshulme, drawn and written by John Mather, who got in contact after setting himself the challenge of swimming in each of Greater Manchester's 50-odd public pools.

His project is now complete, and the resulting guide, Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools: A Pictorial Guide, is out now. Mather's watery journey was a labour of love, and he fights the corner for what he terms “swimming's unique and often understated role in society” – the Guide is clear that the function of swimming reaches far beyond health and fitness to encompass social and community benefits. As well as acting as a guide to each building and each pool's facilities, Mather's book goes out beyond the pool doors to take a wider look at the people and communities they serve, taking care to include something memorable or special about each pool's location, from local landmarks to famous innovations such as Rolls-Royce (Stretford) and Stephenson's Rocket (Eccles), and show the “fascinating and diverse collection of towns and people” that is Greater Manchester. Each entry is handily annotated with essential information such as contact details, location and amenities such as parking.

Mather's love affair with swimming started when he learned to swim in Bury's old Victorian baths, which “seemed not just a place to swim but more like a landmark of civic pride and opulence”. Just as there is a huge diversity of towns in Greater Manchester, there is a great variety in the styles of pools found within them, from those associated with Manchester's first city architect, Henry Price, in the early twentieth century, with the old-fashioned pool-side cubicles remaining (Withington, Chorlton), to a number of pools built in the 1960s and 1970s – including Radcliffe Pool which, Mather said, set a benchmark for future pool building by local authorities – as well as recently opened, bang up-to-date facilities and even a pool in a converted cinema (Tyldesley). Mather views each pool on its merits, without expressing a preference for any architectural period or style.

The Guide is often humorous, and Mather slips in references to local celebrities, from the Rochdale Pioneers, who opened the first successful co-operative shop in the town, to Frank Sidebottom (Altrincham), John Cooper Clarke (Broughton) and George Formby (Atherton), as well as local personalities such as longstanding swimmer Sam Quinn, who has been a Broadway Baths regular for 75 years.

Dive below the surface, and you discover stories about the individuals who have used these pools over the years. Greater Manchester, Mather says, has a long tradition of swimming and Olympic success, a “long forgotten 'Golden Age' of swimming prior to the First World War”, when “Greater Manchester's swimmers literally led the world”. For instance, Henry Taylor from Chadderton, a swimming instructor for many years in the town, won three golds at the 1908 London Olympics. Today, the region's pools are used by everyone from learner swimmers to elite swimmers from national and international teams, and have hosted many Olympic and Commonwealth medallists.

Pool buildings have social history written into their brickwork and tiles. Now derelict, Collier Street Baths in Salford, opened in 1856, is Britain's oldest surviving swimming baths building. Withington Baths in Manchester, which still says 'Men' and 'Women' above the entrance where the sexes would once have been separated before entering the water, took the daring step of allowing the city's first mixed bathing in 1914. No visit to Manchester's pools, of course, would be complete without a reference to Edwardian water palace Victoria Baths (despite the current lack of water!), and Mather considers the past, present and future uses of the building.

I read the Guide as a call to action, a reminder to get swimming and use some of these pools before they disappear forever. Rochdale's spectacular art deco Central Baths, which were still in use as recently as this summer, have now been demolished. The futures of Levenshulme and Chorlton Baths are both uncertain, and there are plans to close the historic, much-loved Royton and Crompton pools in Oldham (Crompton Baths is the oldest Baths in Greater Manchester still serving its original purpose) in order to replace them with a single, modern facility.

Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools: A Pictorial Guide can be purchased for £5.99 at www.lulu.com/shop/john-c-mather/greater-manchesters-public-swimming-pools/paperback/product-20441129.html.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Olive Shapley poster for Shape & Situate zine

I have contributed a badly linocut poster about radio producer and presenter Olive Shapley to the new edition of Melanie Maddison's Shape & Situate: Posters of inspirational European women zine (as seen at the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention in May!), which will be launched at Leeds Zine Fair at Wharf Chambers on Sunday November 4.

Now in its fourth edition, Melanie's project celebrates underlooked women in all fields of society. I felt compelled to create a poster about Olive because I became intrigued by her during my involvement in the Manchester's Modernist Heroines project. Of all the women we focused on, Olive is the one I keep returning to and trying to find out more about, and my poster is inspired by the presence she still has in the Manchester suburb of Didsbury today – as well as being honoured by a nursery school bearing her name, there is a street named after her. Olive's former home, Rose Hill, where she housed Vietnamese boat people and single mothers, became Didsbury's first £1 million house in 2002. I have an unfulfilled ambition to procure some of Olive's radio programmes – particularly her 1930s Engels-inspired documentary the Classic Soil, and children's shows – with the aim of organising an Olive Shapley listening party, but they are proving hard to come by (the Classic Soil is available at the British Library, but apparently 'the ending is missing' from the recording, and I imagine it would be very expensive to hire copies from the BBC).

Melanie Maddison and Lindsay Starbuck will also be running a social history workshop at Leeds Zine Fair, entitled 'Remembering who we are', which will feature examples of inspiring social history zines and provide an opportunity to contribute to a collective zine being compiled on the day. The zine fair is being hosted by Leeds' Footprint Workers' Co-op, and will be well worth attending!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Co-operative Women’s Guild: an alternative education

In March I am going to be doing a talk at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum about the co-operative women's magazine Woman's Outlook (published by the Manchester-based Co-operative Press between 1919 and 1967). The magazine intrigues me because it blended news about the campaigning and educational activities of the Co-operative Women's Guild with tips for cooking, nutrition, child rearing and homemaking. I am trying to find former readers, or at least women who were members of the Guild at the time, to speak to. Lynette at the Working Class Movement Library got me the name and phone number of one woman, Pat Williams, who was willing to talk about her memories of being part of a Branch in Sale, Cheshire in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when she was in her late twenties and early thirties. She was also a member of a standing conference for women. Pat's mother was a co-operator and in the Guild before her, and Pat herself became a member of the Co-operative at the age of twenty when she got married and her new mother-in-law took her to sign up. Pat looked after her four children, and later ran a nursing home “on the basis of socialism and co-operation”. Now in her seventies, Pat is still politically engaged. She is a long-term member of the Labour party – she received a certificate from then-leader Gordon Brown when she reached fifty years of membership – and was still attending the Labour Party Conference until last year. She continues to be part of a Co-operative members' group in Manchester.

Whilst Pat didn't read Woman's Outlook – in fact, she hadn't heard of it (although she has been reading the Co-operative News, also published by the Co-operative Press, for years) – I chatted to her on the phone for over an hour and it was a brilliant way of getting a sense of what it was like to be part of the Women's Guild, and what it meant to members, even in the 1950s and '60s when the Guild was an ageing organisation and membership was declining. Pat recalls that the Guild was “mostly elderly people” when she joined, and that “some of the elderly women were so active”, but that a new group came in of about six women in their twenties and thirties. Pat attributes the Sale branch's success to an “exceptional leader”, and remembers that branch meetings attracted around 30 members. There was also a branch in nearby Altrincham. Membership was made up of “all sorts” and “all ages” of women, from teachers and proofreaders to MPs' wives, although Pat recalls that many of the women were poor and bought secondhand clothes. 

Co-operative identity 

What really struck me was how strongly Pat identified as a co-operator. She explained that “the Co-op was always part of what you were”, adding that “the divi meant a lot” to members and that the visiting Co-operative insurance man “became quite a friend” . This meant, she said, “we were very loyal to the co-operative movement” – members wouldn't have dreamed of going to a non-co-operative competitor. She also said: “It meant something to be in the Women's Guild. We were very proud of it.”

An alternative education 

Pat emphasised just how important the Guild was as an alternative education for its members, saying: “It was our learning group and our university. This was the great thing about the co-operative movement. It widened women's access to society.” Many of the older members would have left school at 12 and 13, although Pat describes these women as “far-reaching” despite their lack of formal education: “They had very little education but knew what was right and what was wrong.” The Guild, says Pat, was “an opener for so many women”, and a “forerunner in everything”. She said the Guild was a way of “learning what was going on in the world”. Pat remembers that her branch talked about subjects that were taboo at the time such as domestic violence and homosexuality: “It got rid of all those taboos.” Branch educational activities included talks on jobs and other issues and guest speakers were invited to speak at meetings, from university lecturers to a Lord. Pat highlighted that they were also there “to listen to us too”. As Pat said: “Not only was it social, the meetings were interesting. We were active politically as well as socially.”

Campaigning and issues 

Members of the Guild felt empowered by their activities. As Pat says, “we felt we had a say” and “we were recognised as not being frivolous”. This was important because at the time, says Pat, “the co-operative movement was very much a man's thing”. She explained “You can get votes for women but it doesn't mean you are going to be taken seriously or that businesses are going to put you on their boards.” The Guild enabled members to tell directors of co-operatives how they felt about the way co-operatives were being run at that time, and the Guild encouraged its members to become members of boards of co-operatives. She explains: “We were interested in the running of the shops and the way the co-operative movement was going. We went to all the meetings of Co-op food stores and we all asked questions. Our questions had them quaking!”

Another important aspect of the Guild's work was to tell MPs how members felt about certain issues. Pat remembers that “it was a very interesting time”, saying: “There was always something going on. I can't remember everything we did but we were always very busy!” Campaigns undertaken by Pat's branch encompassed working hours, equal pay for women, the colour bar, anti-Apartheid, and banning additives in children's food. The branch also boycotted South African food. Pat remembers that one protest, calling for equal pay for women, involved going on an open lorry from a co-operative shop in Sale to one in Manchester, and that the women were shouted at by men in the street to get back to changing nappies! It seems that the members' opinions were sometimes taken into account by those in authority, though; Pat remembers that the Branch was consulted by the town clerk on the building of a new council estate, and asked what facilities were needed.

Each Guild branch was connected to the wider co-operative women's movement, and Guildswomen had a chance to meet up every year at Congress. Pat remembers voting on what was coming up at Congress, and attending one congress in Blackpool. She remembers it fondly as a social as well as a political event: “We all believed in the same thing. It was almost as good as going to the Labour Party conference!”

A social organisation 

The Guild also ran social activities such as autumn, Christmas and Easter dinners and theatre trips. Pat gave the impression of a supportive and close-knit group of women; she still sees members she was friends with in the 1950s. Pat also remembers that many of the branch members were very good at baking – in those days, “you didn't go and buy a scone or a cake, you made one”. Guild members had their own speciality, such as pastry, and “people passed on things”. She says: “There is nothing wrong with learning to be a good cook and a good manager – it's all a part of a woman's life.”

The end of the Sale branch 

The Sale branch, which met in an old co-operative hall, had to find a new home due to redevelopment of the area. There were attempts at starting a branch on a council estate, but Pat said these failed when women stopped going out at night because of concerns over safety. She also admits that, for many women, who were increasingly going out to work, the Guild had outlived its purpose anyway. She said: “It was great, and it did what it needed to do at the time. Things have changed for women and co-operative women have had a lot to do with the change. Today, more women are educated. Women don't have time for things like the Women's Guild now.” However, Pat would like to see more women's groups today: “Women on their own are better. They've got their ideas”

Monday, 8 October 2012

Between Two Rivers review

Where the wide Ohio river meets the vast expanse of the Mississippi stands the city of Cairo (pronounced Karr-o), Illinois. You would expect a settlement near two rivers to thrive and for a time it did, as a steamboat port, its prosperity reflected in its fine colonial-era architecture. Cairo could have become one of America's biggest cities, yet today it is derelict and all but abandoned by its population.
Between Two Rivers, a new documentary by Manchester-based filmmakers Nick Jordan and Jacob Cartwright, sets out to tell the story of how Cairo has become a city whose only viable option for the future may be as a museum for a forgotten industrial past. In 2011, during the course of filming, Cairo made the headlines as the US army blasted holes in a Missouri levee, controversially drowning fertile farmland in a bid to save the city from destructive floodwaters. The film ponders on what in the city is worth saving, reminding the viewer that Cairo may have been spared this time but that its future is still far from certain.
It is no surprise to learn that both Jordan and Cartwright are painters; Between Two Rivers is a painterly, poetic film, evident from the misty opening shots of silhouetted trees, submerged in a desolate river, to languid images of ruin and urban decay. But the film is far more a visual metaphor for the death of the American dream (as in the aestheticisation of the ruins of Detroit); it uses both interviews and archive film, such as footage of 1960s racial tensions in the city, to question the social, economic and moral order that has prevailed in Cairo and expose the inequalities of the American experience. The film also challenges the reliability of memory, and the tendency to hark back to a golden age which may never have existed – or at least not for certain sections of society.
Cairo is like an island, a gateway between the American north and south that sits comfortably in neither. The city has historically attracted migrants from the margins of society, acting as a holding place for those who are too poor to move on elsewhere. There's a sense that Cairo's precarious situation cannot be attributed just to acts of nature, but that human attitudes and actions have contributed to its decline.
The filmmakers spent four years making Between Two Rivers, and getting to know a range of interviewees, from a former senator and congressman to members of a local soul band and a purveyor of fresh fish (who suggests she provides a lifeline to those subsisting on welfare). The most striking aspect of the film is the pride expressed by those who call Cairo home, and the hope they cling on to for the city's future, despite all odds. There are some people, at least, who are not going to give up on Cairo too soon, and Between Two Rivers goes some way to explaining why.
Between Two Rivers is currently screening at film festivals. To keep an eye on upcoming screenings visit www.betweentworivers.net.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Sound and vision: Hythe's acoustic mirror

On the roughs above Hythe in Kent, on Ministry of Defence land, stands a 30 foot high concrete ear. Borne on a frame of umbrella-shaped iron rods, the disc is angled towards the sky, ready to catch any sounds that come its way. The sound mirror looks out over the flat expanse of Romney Marsh, and miles out to sea (France is just 23 miles away), once assigned the task of monitoring the sky over the English Channel. In 1923, when the mirror was built, it was hoped that in the event of an attack it would pick up the engine noises of enemy aircraft out at sea; an improbable yet innovative early warning defence system. The sounds of the plane would bounce back to the focal point of the mirror, where a waiting operator would be alerted the the presence of planes. Picking up sounds up to 15 minutes before the unaided ear, this bought crucial time for anti-aircraft defences to be activated. This stretch of coast had long been on the frontline of defence against invaders, and the mirror overlooks the remains of the solid, brick-built Napoleonic Martello towers which stud the coastline below; the nearby Royal Military Canal, similarly built to withstand the threat of French attack, is just out of eyeshot.

The mirror worked on a similar concept to the modern TV receiver, except with sound waves instead of radio waves, and was the latest in a series of attempts by the military to harness the potential of sound. Experiments had started during WWI, when the possible dangers of devastating airborne attack was realised, and similar technology included sound ranging to detect enemy guns as well as listening wells. A 1916 account of tests of a sound mirror considered the invention to be a success: “A man 100m distant, reading a newspaper in a low voice was heard perfectly. Airplanes were heard up to distances of 8 kilometers.”1

Precursors to the concrete mirrors were cut directly into the chalk of the Kent hills, and there were experiments with acoustic mirrors at Hythe before the 1923 mirror; an earlier 20 foot cast concrete mirror had been built alongside a building lab, workshop, store and provisions for technical assistance to live on site. An acoustic research station was also built at nearby West Hythe.

When the potential of the sound mirrors was proven – it was claimed that they could capture up to ten times for sound than unaided ears – plans were made for lines of discs to be erected around the coast. A 30 foot high mirror was built at Abbots Cliff near Dover in 1929 and a 200 foot mirror at Denge, near Dungeness, with microphones positioned on the forecourt to capture noise, was completed in 1930 (two, smaller mirrors had also been built at the site beforehand). Building materials were carried along the coast to the latter by the miniature Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, a passenger train which was itself later put to military use during the second world war.

For one reason or another – the inconveniences of wind and rain, increased noise and the advent of faster planes – the sound mirrors never saw action (like the Martello Towers and Royal Military Canal before them). They were abandoned in the 1930s in favour of radar, and orders were made for them to be destroyed.

These orders were never carried out. Today, the Hythe sound mirror has faded into the Kent hills, camouflaged into the landscape and rendered nearly inaccessible by a thicket of head-high thorns and nettles, overrun with rabbits. The mirror is slowly crumbling into the hillside and now resembles a part-eaten biscuit, with a chunk taken out of the side. The structure might have been abandoned and the technology made obsolescent, but the most striking thing about the site today is its extraordinarily rich sonic landscape. The entire hillside hums as breeze sweeps through the trees and long grass, the thistles creak in the wind and grasshoppers rub their legs together. Birds take turns to fill the air with their coded langauge: from high peep-peeps and chchchs to the woo-woo-wooing of the wood pigeon. Sheep intermittently baa in call and response. This natural background noise is occasionally punctuated by the rumbling of a distant, out of sight plane, the distant bark of a dog or the brief revving of a boy racer and sirens on the coast road below.

1. Quoted in Echoes from the Sky: A Story of Acoustic Defence, Richard N Scarth (Hythe Civic Society, Hythe, 1999), accessed in the Local Studies Unit at Hythe Libary

This recording has been submitted to the Field Recording Archive, a new initiative based in Manchester.

For more information on sound mirrors, including sound mirrors at other locations around the country (particularly on the North East coast) visit the website of Andrew Grantham.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Shrieking Violet on A Wondrous Space

The Shrieking Violet has been asked to guest-curate a page called A Wondrous Space for a week as part of the Northern Spirit theatre project, which celebrates life in the north.

I am the third in a series of guest bloggers drawn from Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, and I have chosen to focus on my favourite northern food experiences; namely pie, peas, and more pie. I have contributed recipes for Eccles cakes and blackberry buns, together with a mini-celebration of Eccles the town.

My posts will appear this week, starting on Monday 17 September.

Read each curator's posts at http://northernspirit.org.uk/category/a-wondrous-space.

Find out more about the project on the Guardian blog The Northerner.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Shrieking Violet issue 19 (and third birthday party!)

The Shrieking Violet is three, and issue 19, a bumper edition, can be read online now! The printed version, printed by marc the printers (b/w with f/c cover) will be launched at a special birthday party at Atelier[zero], Manchester's pop-up canalside Olympic village, at 2pm on Saturday August 11. Come along for rowing boats, a ball pool, a 'library with no books', purple (Angel Meadows blackberries) cake and more! Event invitation.

This edition's cover is by Hannah Bitowski, who lives and works in Liverpool and is based in artist-led gallery the Royal Standard. She works in a variety of media, with a penchant for screen-printing and mask-making. This illustration was inspired by a selection of themes Hannah currently draws from: masks, the abstraction of portraiture, facial geometry and the cosmos – particularly inspired by Johannes Kepler, a 17th century mathematician and astronomer who was infatuated with the idea of God existing in geometry, with all answers of the universe coming from there. Even though his theory of the platonic solid solar system was wrong, Hannah thinks the theory in itself, and his attempt to fit geometry into all things, great and small, is enough to warrant praise. This piece attempts to merge the similarities between ritual and reality, myth with maths.

Here's what you'll find inside:

Manchester-based filmmaker Richard Howe continues his series on mental health in the movies by looking at Jesus' Son, directed by Alison Maclean. Richard is currently editing the film Realitease, which touches on mental health. Watch the teaser at https://vimeo.com/45743438 and tweet Richard about films @rikurichard.

I visited the National Football Museum to find out how it compares to Urbis, and see what it has to offer a non-sports fan.

Anouska Smith, a crafter and maker with a beady eye for sparkly things at www.junkieloversboutique.com, offers a guide to her favourite Manchester tea-places. Spot her somewhere in the Manchester suburbs finishing up those cups of tea or trying to avoid the puddles on the side of the road.

Simon Sheppard has contributed an article about a very eccentric fellow named Pierre Baume. Following a career change, allowing him to indulge his passion for modern history, Simon qualified from Liverpool University as an Archivist in 2008 having previously gaining a BA Hons in History from UCLAN. Simon hails from Bolton, but is currently living in Manchester, where he spends his spare time partaking in his new ‘hobby’, Real Ale.  To accompany Simon's article, Manchester-based illustrator, musician and DJ Dominic Oliver has imagined what Baume might have looked like...

Liverpool-based writer and journalist Kenn Taylor, who has a particular interest in the relationship between culture and the urban environment, considers some of the implications of the privatisation and fragmentation of our railway system.

James Robinson is a photographer and dabbling videographer. He studied philosophy in Manchester and now lives in London, where he plays bass for indie pop-rock band Being There. James is very proud to provide the Shrieking Violet with its first animal feature. The title, Perros y gatos, was inspired by a sticker album he bought on a school trip to Spain.

Joe Austin has written a tribute to three post-war murals in London and Coventry, by Dorothy Annan, Gordon Cullen and William Mitchell, and highlights the often-uncertain future of public artworks like these. Joe is a qualified architect, originally from the Midlands but a naturalised Londoner for the last 22 years or so. Joe's interests are wide (his blog best illustrates his scattergun mind), but generally revolve around writing, design, architecture, art, culture and history.

Liz Buckley has reviewed Stanya Kahn's exhibition It's Cool, I'm Good in the Cornerhouse galleries. Liz is an Art History graduate living in Salford, and will be starting an MA in Gallery Studies in September at Manchester University.

Godfrey is a rough excerpt from a novel by Matthew Duncan Taylor that may or may not be published next year. Matthew is a journalist who currently works for the Winsford and Crewe Guardian newspapers. He plays in the south Manchester-based bands Former Bullies and Great Grand Suns. Some short stories he has written can be found at matthewduncantaylor.blogspot.co.uk.

Sarah Hill is a Manchester-based artist, and the founder and creative director of Video Jam. Sarah has written an introduction to the project. If you are interested in getting involved, contact her at sarahfrhill@gmail.com.

Issue 19 finishes with a recipe for delicious apricot and poppy seed bread from Shrieking Violet favourite Bakerie in the Northern Quarter.

Read it online here:

Open publication - Free publishing - More architecture

Download and print your own copy here. Printed copies can also be picked up from the Working Class Movement Library on the Crescent, Salford, and the Bakerie tasting store (the Hive building), Lever Street, Manchester and Piccadilly Records.

To request a copy in the post (free) or to contribute to future editions email Natalie.Rose.Bradbury@googlemail.com or join the Shrieking Violet Facebook group.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Talk: ‘Woman’s Outlook: a surprisingly modern magazine?’

I will be doing a talk on the former Co-operative Women’s Guild periodical Woman’s Outlook at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum next year (Thursday March 21), as part of a series of lectures on aspects of co-operative history, and would love to hear from anyone who has memories of reading the magazine between 1919 and 1967.

Working in close proximity to the National Co-operative Archive, I have developed a fascination with Outlook. For nearly five decades it was the voice of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, the campaigning organisation which worked to raise the status of women both in the co-operative movement and in society, and onetime editor Mary Stott later rose to prominence as a longstanding editor of the Guardian women’s page. From its origins in Manchester in 1919, Outlook provided an enticing mixture of articles encompassing both the personal and the political, combining fashion, fiction, features and recipes with advice for working women – not dissimilar to the content of women’s magazines today!

Woman’s Outlook: a surprisingly modern magazine?’ will explore some of the key issues addressed in Outlook, from suffrage and peace to maternity benefits, pensions and nursery education, and look at how the magazine encouraged women to get involved in campaigning for a better world – at the same time as helping prepare them to take on more prominent roles in co-operative societies.

Topics covered by Outlook such as female representation in parliament, equal pay and healthy eating remain highly relevant today, and the talk will end by evaluating whether the type of content provided by 21st century women’s lifestyle magazines has really changed much since the days of Outlook.

I would love to hear from any women who were members of the Women’s Guild in this period, especially those who remember reading Outlook or any other co-operative periodicals, as well as anyone who has any interest in the magazine. If you can help, or can put me in touch with anyone who might be able to help, please email Natalie.rose.bradbury@googlemail.com.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

House gig: Trust Fund, Two White Cranes and Ratfangs, Saturday July 7

Clock Flavour and the Shrieking Violet present:

TRUST FUND (Bristol)

Melancholic yet anthemic electronica – like a bedroom disco for one.
http://trustfund.bandcamp.com

TWO WHITE CRANES (Bristol)

Dreamy folk-pop: wistful melodies and a battered guitar.
http://twowhitecranes.bandcamp.com

RATFANGS (Manchester)

'Manchester's answer to Ariel Pink'...genre roulette for people with hefty attention spans. http://ratfangs.blogspot.co.uk

Saturday July 7
7.45pm Chapeltown Street
Entry by donation 

For more information visit: http://clockflavour.tumblr.com
http://tinyurl.com/clockflavour

Facebook event: www.facebook.com/events/425386704149803

For directions email housegig@dogzilla.co.uk

Poster by Elizabeth Murray Jones

The Shrieking Violet made a guest appearance on Liam Astley (one half of Clock Flavour)'s great monthly podcast Deadbeat Escapement, which plays one song from each of the past ten decades each episode. I picked my favourite tracks from the 1940s, 1950s, and1980s, and one from this decade, and we talked about the gig among other things. Download it here.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Seven Sites: Experiencing the unexpected

At the start of June, a number of conversations took place between strangers over lunch in Kabana, one of several bustling curry cafes in the back streets of the Northern Quarter. Nothing unusual about that – except that each diner had no knowledge of the person they would be sharing the next half hour with. The 'date' was an actor from Salford's Quarantine Theatre Company, and the conversation topics were chosen from a menu of 'starters', 'mains' and 'desserts' (graded either 'regular' or 'spicy'), at times predictably banal and at times unexpectedly frank. The encounters were both lighthearted and cathartic, like a public confession box for the hopes and fears, ideas and experiences which go unvoiced and unheard on a day to day basis, raising questions about how much we are prepared to reveal to strangers, what we will talk about if we know it will go no further, what constitutes intimacy, what it really means to have a 'local' – and why we don't talk to each other more often.

The lunch dates were the final instalment in a series of events, performances and installations that have taken over seven non-art sites across Manchester and Salford since last August. Edwina Ashton hosted a fantastical tea party in a Salford tower block, and local artist Amber Sanchez took performance to the streets of a Salford estate. Imagined narratives were constructed around hotel guests and recounted by Giles Bailey to a small audience in a darkened hotel room, and a radio programme broadcast a new monument for Salford, which existed only as a composite compiled from Amy Feneck's survey of local residents' ideas.

Seven Sites was a collaboration between curator Laura Mansfield, who is interested in artist-led activity, and artist Swen Steinhauser, who has a background in contemporary devised theatre. Swen explained: “Visual arts in general has a fear of theatre. The two disciplines seem quite divided so we thought we should work on bringing them together.” For Swen, Seven Sites was a chance to be on the other side of art production – working on making it happen for artists, and for both it was a way of trying out durational programming – although, as Laura explains, the project has evolved: “It's become something really different and the rhythm has shifted with each piece. We were interested in doing something that's always shifting but still manages to be a programme.”

The pair chose seven places of everyday public interaction, from the Lowry Outlet Mall to an outdated church cafeteria and the overwrought but shabby grandeur of the Britannia Hotel – a task that was harder than first thought, due to bureaucratic hurdles raised by insurance, security and noise. Seven artists (or groups) were invited to each produce a response to a site, primarily those who had not worked in Manchester before and who “weren't so easy to pinpoint and could work in more than one place”.

By presenting art and performance in places where neither are typically encountered, Seven Sites aimed to subvert the genre expectations of both audiences – at the same time as incorporating the preexisting users of these places, and those who were merely passing through. Laura explained: “I felt frustrated with being part of a certain community, and all the announcements of cuts presented an opportunity to do something outside of fixed spaces. The minute you fix something to a place you always get an expectation of a fixed audience. If you shift spaces you get a diverse audience. Two audiences meet with the general public in a place that's not their own.” Swen added: “ If you frame something it really alters your experience of something that's already there. Certain institutions are associated with a certain aesthetic. A gallery is such a safe environment. We wanted to take audiences away from a safe environment and bring people in to see work they wouldn't normally have seen.” Each instalment existed both on its own and as part of a series. Swen explained: “A single site is dependent on whoever comes and it is difficult to get a big audience outside of a tested institution. A series is less dependent on one occurrence of a big crowd. There was very little continuity of audience. Some people came to one or two but still got a sense of it as a series.”

Seven Sites required the audience to take a leap of faith, with each event advertised only with the barest of information – date, time, artist and location, its exact form remaining a secret until it took place. Laura admits: “Some of the audience thought it was some kind of city tour!” It was also a chance for artists to try something outside their usual practice, and for the curators to step back and be surprised, with the shape of the final work left up to the artist. Laura said: “Your expectations of who that artist could be were changed.” Speaking of Antonia Low, who transformed a serving hatch in a church into an idealised but unattainable white cube space, Laura said: “Antonia really put a spin on her own practice and did the opposite of what she usually does.” One of the most daring of the interventions took place during a regular pub comedy night where, unbeknown to the crowd, Seven Sites presented the comedy debut of Sian Robinson Davies – as Laura says, “She didn't have to worry about anyone coming!” Sian didn't want to be seen as an artist but as another comedian – and her awkward yet funny performance was well-received by regulars who didn't realise they were involved in an art performance. Sian now plans to do another comedy performance, in London.

Seven Sites was a reminder of the fantastical that can be found in the banal, the possibilities in the conversations that usually go unsaid, the potential for places to be transformed with a bit of imagination, and what you might find if you step outside your local and give new things a go.

Photos taken from the Seven Sites tumblr.


Laura Mansfield has curated the exhibition Triptych, which will run from 13-16 July at Three Piccadilly Place.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tune into architecture: LoneLady's The Utilitarian Poetic/Manchester's Modernist Heroines walking tour to be repeated

As Love Architecture festival celebrates buildings great and good, one installation is reminding us of an equally important part of the built environment which tends to attract less excitement – the infrastructure all around us, that gets us from A to B.

The Utilitarian Poetic makes a new song by Warp Records' LoneLady, resident in one of the nearby housing blocks that is surrounded physically and aurally by the the hum of the car, available to anyone who plugs their headphones into a temporary socket cemented into a slip road where the Mancunian Way curves down towards the ground. The work inhabits a barren, leftover landscape – battered flowers and trees grow out of an undulating floor of rocks, discarded sweet wrappers and broken glass – where one isn't inclined to stop. It's demarcated only by a lavender graffiti tag, one among several impermanent scrawls. The song, 'Good Morning, Midnight', loops metallic percussion, distant echoes and fade-outs over bassy undertones, constantly on the move; even its rhythmic bleeping could be there to guide you across the next road. The hiss of the traffic continues in the background, audible over the headphones, as cars charge past, cyclists puff and pedestrians scurry home.

As I stand, a lone listener plugged into a wall for five minutes, no-one stops to ask me what I'm doing, or comes to have to go. They're all plugged into thoughts and sounds of their own. But it made me think: if our roads are part of the physical, utilitarian infrastructure, then music and dancing are part of a cultural infrastructure that's no less necessary; an unofficial, after hours route to escape where dreams are dreamed, connections are made, friendships are forged and networks come and go.

A pamphlet on The Utilitarian Poetic, including a location map, can be purchased for £1 from Manchester Modernist Society's pop-up shop in the Royal Exchange until Sunday June 24, 1pm-8.30pm. The installation runs for the same period (or as long as the life of the battery!).


In other news, the Manchester's Modernist Heroines walking tour, an outcome of a joint project between the Shrieking Violet, Manchester Modernist Society and the Loiterers Resistance Movement, will be repeated on Thursday June 21 as part of the Love Architecture festival.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Help Save Library Walk!

Neither building nor public square, park nor plaza, a small public passageway left by a gap between two buildings has become one of the most contested spaces in Manchester after the council announced plans to turn it into a gated, semi-private space. The designs, which were announced last month, would see a well-loved and much-used footpath, Library Walk (which is currently closed as neighbouring buildings undergo refurbishment), blocked by a glazed box by Beetham Tower architect Ian Simpson, which would be closed at night via gates at one end.

Library Walk, a curved walkway nestled in between EV Harris's Grade II* listed Central Library (1934) and the Town Hall extension (1938), has long provided a convenient link between the municipal heart of the city – Albert Square and the Town Hall – and the busy public interchanges of St Peter's Square and Oxford Street. In an area dominated by continual tram traffic, busy roads with one-way streets, bus lanes and taxis serving the large hotels that face onto nearby streets, the lone pedestrian can feel outnumbered and overwhelmed. Library Walk is a rare place that prioritises the pedestrian, providing a calm, convenient walkway that cuts through the jumble and avoids having to go round the bulk of Central Library or the Town Hall. It is the quickest, simplest route from A to B.

While part of Library Walk's appeal is practical, it also has a value which is indefinable, arising not just from its beauty and elegance but its atmosphere. Unlike in many buildings and urban landscapes, here you can lose yourself in your surroundings and be enveloped in the communion between two buildings reaching for the sky. We can all appreciate how Central Library looks from a distance, but it is equally impressive close-up: by following the contour of its curves we experience the architecture too. It's possible, for a moment, to be overtaken by the place and forget where you're going or why, but feel part of a shared heritage and cityscape that exists on a grand scale. Library Walk is a place that is unlike any other in Manchester.

The argument against altering Library Walk is also symbolic. If Library Walk is gated, we lose not just one footpath, but a significant right; the right to control where we are allowed to go in the city. Public safety arguments in the planning proposal cite a rape which took place in Library Walk, and the tendency of people to urinate in the passageway. Ian Simpson, quoted in Building Design, called Library Walk a 'dangerous place', saying: “It needs to be a managed space.”

While any rape is horrific, it is unrealistic to design out all risk from the city. It is impossible to try to police every public space – but it should be possible to provide education, with the aim of creating a culture in which respect is the norm, and facilities such as public toilets. Making artificially sanitised spaces, and designating some places safe and others unsafe, hides the wider issues around where and why acts such as rape take place. Furthermore, when some people take the attitude that women should not be surprised they attract unwanted attention if they walk alone at night, the public safety argument helps perpetuate notions about what is 'sensible' behaviour for women, stipulating where and when they 'should' and 'should not' walk.

The plans for Library Walk are unnecessary – not least at a time when services such as libraries are facing spending cuts. Ultimately, there is no need to seek to 'fill' Library Walk, or give it a function other than as a thoroughfare. The current absence of a structure on Library Walk does not mean it is lacking in purpose, or a place with unfulfilled potential.

The Heritage Statement on Library Walk says: “As a potential tourist destination, Library Walk is not a pleasant public space for visitors to the Civic heart of one of the largest cities in the UK.” I beg to differ. In its own, unassuming way, Library Walk already captures the public imagination, as is evidenced by it being one of the most photographed views in Manchester. As prominent photographer Aidan O'Rourke, who has snapped most of Manchester's buildings, puts it: “It's perfect as it is.”

For practical suggestions on how to register your objection to the plans, visit http://manchestermodernists.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/do-you-object-to-the-proposals-for-a-glazed-link-between-manchester-town-hall-extension-and-central-library.

To find out more about how to involved in a campaign against the proposals, join the Save Library Walk! Facebook group.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Three zines and two films from the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention

Thanks to everyone who came another packed and inspiring Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention and browsed and bought fanzines, talked to self-publishers about their work, watched the film, came to the talks and asked questions, studied Melanie Maddison's poster exhibition, made pages for the giant Victoria Baths fanzine and helped sell out Deerly Beloved Bakery's stall of vegan delights!
Visitors and self-publishers of all ages came from all over the country, showing the diversity of the publications encompassed by the term: from an artist's book responding to oranges to poetry and avant garde objects, from a new, alternative guide to Manchester to a zine inspired by growing up in crap towns. One zine named after a cat called Elvis got on the train all by itself at Newcastle and was picked up at the other end in Manchester!

Watch Wild Bees Productions' short film, made throughout the Fanzine Convention, which sums up the day beautifully:



A number of new zines were made on the day, including a giant, collaborative Victoria Baths fanzine compiled by visitors who took part in lino cutting/relief printing, button book binding and collaging workshops in the former superintendent's flat.

Visitors dived into the history of the building and were inspired by its beautiful decorative tiles and stained glass windows, as well as their own feelings about swimming, to each produce a page for the finished zine, which was stitched together at the end of the day.
 
Photocopied images and memories from the Victoria Baths archive were available to cut and paste. Swimmers associated with the building, such as members of the South Manchester swimming club and channel swimmer Sunny Lowry, who trained at the baths, feature highly, along with old-fashioned signs!


View the Victoria Baths fanzine below as a PDF:

Open publication - Free publishing - More archive

Ten year old Louis D. Rogers from South Yorkshire wrote 5 Futuristic Machines, a zine about 'a future space war, but written in the past tense as a history book'. The zine was duplicated using Footprint Workers' Co-operative's risograph machine which had made the journey over from Leeds for the day. The risograph looked like it would be defeated by the stairs, but made it up to the balcony with the help of four strong Future Everything volunteers! Merrick from Footprint demonstrated how the risograph works:

Read 5 Futuristic Machines online:

Open publication - Free publishing - More fanzines

Meanwhile, feminist duo Vapid Kitten invited visitors to help make a special edition of the zine at their stall around the balcony area, in a workshop entitled Vapid in a Day!

Contributors on the day were joined by international contributors, who sent their work in via email. View the finished PDF at:

Open publication - Free publishing - More kitten

Elsewhere at the Convention, visitors found out more about self-publishers and their motivations with a screening of Salford Zine Library's 2011 film Self-Publishers of the World Take Over in the former committee room.
Orla Foster and Peter Martin, formerly of Rotherham Zine Library, talked about their new publications inspired by found material and their Closed Caption project.
PhD researcher and writer David Wilkinson brought back memories for Mancunians of a certain age with his talk on post-punk countercultural publication City Fun. He described how publications like City Fun and record labels like New Hormones were "very much the more politicised yet actually more lighthearted underdog to Factory Records in post-punk Manchester".

David started his talk by playing New Hormones band Ludus's brilliantly catchy pop song Breaking the Rules, which he feels epitomises the spirit of City Fun as being
"political yet whimsical, and outsider yet collectivist...the perfect song to accompany a talk about co-operation and an irreverent, amusing, politicised post-punk fanzine run by two gay women". Linder Sterling from Ludus was managed by City Fun's Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll (as Crone Management) and also designed some covers for City Fun.

Later, Cazz Blase, music reviews editor of Shrieking Violet favourite The F-Word, talked about the significance of zines to the punk and riot grrrl movements.
Visitors flocked to Melanie Maddison's poster exhibition around the balcony of the female pool, comprising 80 posters of inspirational European women taken from the zine Shape & Situate, including some of the makers of the posters!
Technology enthusiasts and zine-makers Chris Watson and Logan Holmes from Sheffield's Shift Space collective piloted the use of an augmented reality app which allowed people to explore the local area and point their smartphones at the building to receive visual and audio content, for example visitors could view how the baths looked in the past, in the exact spot where they were standing, just by holding their phone at eye level.


More photos from the day: