Sunday, 19 May 2013

Swandown DVD review

I was recently asked by the Cornerhouse if I would be interested in reviewing the DVD release of Swandown, which was one of my favourite films of last year (it premiered at the Cornerhouse as part of Abandon Normal Devices festival). As a big fan of both canals and director Andrew Kötting, I was happy to take up the chance to watch the film again.

Swandown review

In autumn 2011, writer Iain Sinclair and film-maker Andrew Kötting set off on a 160 mile voyage from the seaside town of Hastings, East Sussex, to inner-city Hackney in east London, site of the 2012 Olympics. Neither are strangers to the ripe themes of English coastal towns or epic journeys: Kötting previously directed the experimental coastal travelogue Gallivant, whilst Sinclair, who resides partly in Hackney, partly in St Leonards-on-Sea (next to Hastings), is perhaps best known for his book London Orbital, a pyschogeographic exploration of London's M25 motorway. What made the journey remarkable was that it was made by the two men in a cartoonishly oversized craft, a swan pedalo named Edith in honour of poet Edith Sitwell, liberated from Hastings' seashore-facing 'Swan Lake' in the name of 'releasing a trapped soul of the sea'. The resulting film, Swandown, is a dreamlike, fragmentary evocation of their unlikely, ambitious journey and the two men's friendship, as seen from 'silly little canals and creeks and horrible English muddy places' (Sinclair) in the closing light of an Indian summer.

The film-makers admit that Swandown is the 'black swan in the tradition of narrative cinema', and the film offers an impressionistic rather than linear depiction of their adventure. Jem Finer's ethereal score floats hazily over the film amid fragments of loosely connected archive film and voiceovers by Sinclair and Kötting musing on the mythology of the swan. The pair bob up and down, 'awash and reckless', on the English Channel (a journey that almost fails to start), glide up canals and rivers encountering fishermen, cows, dog walkers, paddlers and pleasure craft – the 'invisibles' not normally revealed in officially-sanctioned or popular imagery of the waterways – and, absurdly, get a lift up the River Thames on a tug. The film is a reminder of how much of a presence water is in the English landscape, from calm, bucolic rivers shaded by trees to the industrial waterscape of the Thames, a workaday, working river where boat traffic is overlooked by fast-flowing cars on the Dartford Bridge, and the ubiquitous inner-city canal confetti of bottles, cartons and balloons. Waterways are presented as being ripe for exploration, backwater viewing points into the secret lives of English towns and cities.

As Edith makes her way towards her destination, however, there is a growing sense of unease and a sense of the impending curtailment of physical and creative freedom. Not only are Sinclair and Kötting running out of time as Iain has to abandon Edith for the plane, a faster and more practical form of transport, needing to reach an appointment in America, but the journey is increasingly fraught with potential danger and obstacles, from health and safety to the tight security of the Olympic site, sealed off from canal craft by a vicious-looking fence. During the journey Sinclair expresses the hopelessness he feels when contemplating the huge enclosures of the Olympic site and, indeed, the whole project is positioned as an antidote to the pomp and excess of the Olympics. Hauling the pedalo up riverbanks and over muddy fields, spending a whole month in the same clothes and being able to wet themselves whenever they want to, an image of personal sacrifice akin to the more-celebrated figure of the marathon runner, Swandown is as much a spectacle of physical impossibility as the athletic feats which go on in crowd-lined sporting arenas.

Released in the year of the Olympics, as part of the so-called Cultural Olympiad, yet existing in a parallel universe to the competitive, corporate nature of the games, Swandown puts poetry back into the act of endurance, a timely, touching and irreverent acknowledgement that perseverance, as much as inspiration, is integral to the act of creativity – and vice versa.

To purchase the film on DVD visit

Photos copyright of Anonymous Bosch.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Shrieking Violet talk in Bradford, Tuesday 14 May, 6pm followed by DIY discussion with Black Dogs

I've been invited to repeat my talk about the Shrieking Violet during Bradford Zine Week (Monday 13-Sunday 19 May) at the Bradford Baked Zines Pop Up shop, 13 Market Street, as part of a series talks, events and workshops.

The talk will take place on Tuesday 14 May between 6pm and 6.30pm, and will be followed by a discussion on DIY culture featuring other self-publishers, including locally-based artists' collective Black Dogs, whose work I am a big fan of, from 6.30pm-7.30pm.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Music and photos from the Victoria Baths Fanzine Fair

Manchester musician and fanzine maker David Carden sings about the dirty (recycled) water swimmers might once have encountered, during his 'musical tour' of Victoria Baths. When Victoria Baths opened,  swimming was segregated both by sex and by class, and water was first used in the first class males' pool, then pumped into the second class males' pool, then finally reused in the (smaller) female pool!
David Carden sings about famous Channel swimmer Sunny Lowry, who was associated with Victoria Baths for many years, during his 'musical tour' performance in the female pool.
Other songs included a story of poolside romances inspired by the hundreds of memories donated to the Victoria Baths archive, and a zombie epic.
David also drew 5 minute portraits of visitors!

Karren Ablaze reads from her recent book The City is Ablaze, discussing her motivations for starting to make fanzines as a teenager in suburban Sale and Altrincham in the 1980s – it provided a way for her to communicate – hanging out in record shops, waiting around to interview bands, getting an angry letter from Morrissey after a messy gig at the Free Trade Hall, links with other Manchester DIY initiatives of the time such as a cassette tape radio station, and practical issues regarding how her zines were funded.

John Mather, author of the self-published Pictorial Guide to Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools, shares the story of his journey around Greater Manchester's swimming baths for an audience of swimming enthusiasts upstairs in the superintendent's flat, discussing the role of these buildings and facilities in the social life of the region's diverse local communities, and the area's rich history of nurturing and producing swimming champions.

Helpyourself Manchester film screening; there was also an exhibition of original gig fliers featured in the film in the gala pool:

Manchester author David Hartley reads from his work.

Making a new edition of Victoria Baths' own zine 'the Vicky' with Pool Arts.

More photos from the event:

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Victoria Baths Fanzine Fair, today (12-4pm): what's on, stallholders, times!

The sun is shining for today's Victoria Baths Fanzine Fair, which coincides with its May bank holiday open day today (12 noon-4pm).

Running order:

1pm - Film screening, Helpyourself Manchester, cinema space (off the sports hall)
- Talk by Karren Ablaze! (superintendent's flat)
1.30pm - Choir performance, Ordsall Acapella Singers, in the Gala Pool
2pm - Musical Tour of Victoria Baths by David Carden
2.30pm - Talk by John Mather on the Pools of Greater Manchester (subject of his hand drawn Pictorial Guide)
3pm - Film screening, Helpyourself Manchester, cinema space (off the sports hall)
 - Choir performance, Ordsall Acapella Singers, in the Gala Pool
3.30pm - Reading by David Hartley (superintendent's flat)

Helpyourself Manchester (1pm and 3pm) tells the unsung story of Manchester's DIY music promoters, followed by a Q and A with the directors, Castles Built in Sand collective. Additionally, there will be an exhibition of original gig fliers featured in the film.

Manchester-based illustrator and zinester David Carden will give a lively musical tour inspired by the history of Victoria Baths (2pm), with songs about the ladies pool, channel swimmer Sunny Lowry, a couple meeting in the Baths and the building's beautiful stained glass, and will also be on hand to draw your portrait in five minutes (for a small fee!).

See original artwork and hear from John Mather about his Pictorial Guide to Greater Manchester Public Swimming Pools during his talk at 2.30pm upstairs in the former superintendent's flat.

Listen to readings by Manchester author David Hartley (3.30pm), including from his new book Threshold, and hear Karren Ablaze! read from her recent book the City is Ablaze (1pm), about her experiences of making zines in Manchester and Leeds in the 1980s.

Dip into a hands-on zine-inspired activity with Pool Arts throughout the day, who will be asking for your help to produce VB's very own fabulous fanzine, The Vicky. 'Bring Back Baths' will use team effort, collage, lino printing and on-the-spot reportage from the fair to compile some articles about why public wash baths should be making a comeback! The first issue of The Vicky appeared during 2003 with occasional issues ever since. Bring your old comics, your sense of humour and your glue sticks! Original copies of the early issues will be on sale on the day!

The event will be soundtracked by a choir performance by Ordsall Acapella Singers in the Gala Pool. Guided tours of the building will also be on offer, including a 'behind the scenes' tour.

Also in attendance will be the interactive Left Leg Gallery.

Listen to the Shrieking Violet talking about the event on All FM's Under the Pavement Radio show here:

Read a preview of the event, linked in with a feature on zines and DIY culture, in the Skinny magazine.


Emily & Anne
LOAF (Catherine Chialton and Jimmy Edmondson)
Kristyna Baczynski 
Knives, Forks and Spoons Press 
David Carden
John Mather
Salford Illustration Department
Castles Built in Sand
Within Six 
Becky Kidner Diary Drawings 
Loosely Bound Zine Collective 
Young Explorer/Today Zine
Twigs and Apples
Sugar Paper
Laura Brown Word
Tommy Eugene Higson
Knickers for Bonnie
Karoline Rerrie
Vapid Slackers (Vapid Kitten)
David Hartley
Joe List 
Megan Price Mr PS
Paul Murray and Kat Smith
Marco Brunello
the modernist
Karren Ablaze!
DNYLNE and Adam Jacques
Lottie Pencheon

For more information visit, email or phone 0161 224 2020.

Facebook event.

Please bring everyone you know!