Monday, 15 October 2018

Guest lecture, Bradford School of Art, Wednesday 31 October - Woman's Outlook: A Surprisingly Modern Magazine?

I'll be returning to Bradford School of Art on Wednesday 31 October to do another lecture in its Random Lecture series. The lectures take place at 12 noon in the Dye House Gallery; all welcome.

I'll be talking about my research into the twentieth-century co-operative women's magazine Woman's Outlook, published by the Co-operative Press from Manchester between 1919 and 1967, which combined political campaigning and information with domestic tips and knowledge.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Listening to the city: Mapping Manchester’s Quiet Spaces on International Dawn Chorus Day

After a long winter, the first sign I noticed that the seasons were changing was the regularity with which I was awoken at unsociable hours by the dawn chorus in the trees outside my window, loud enough to break through my sleep and punctuate my dreams, before finally waking me fully.

The rhythm and routine of bird call as part of city life, and the way in which it might coexist with or be altered by birds’ close proximity to humans in urban environments, is something that interests artist Rae Story. She has spent nearly a year working with Manchester arts group St Luke’s on a participatory project mapping the quiet spaces of the city; one of her long-held ambitions has been to bring people together to listen to a dawn chorus in a publicly accessible green space.
An appropriate park or garden in which to gather participants safely and discreetly in the depths of night eluded her – until she was introduced to the Parrs Wood Environmental Centre, a hidden green space on the edges of Didsbury. Situated on the southern outskirts of Manchester, where the city meets the River Mersey on the boundary of Cheshire, the site could easily be missed. Although it forms part of a ‘green corridor’ of woodland and riverside paths that provide a pleasant off-road walking and cycling route between Stockport and south Manchester’s suburbs, the entrance is sandwiched between the nondescript architecture of a chain hotel and a huge multi-use leisure complex of the type that often characterise busy arterial routes.
Parrs Wood Environmental Centre has a long history as an educational outdoor space for the city’s children. Founded in the years immediately following the Second World War, and run for many years by the city council, school classes were given their own plots to tend. The site also provided adult education through the Workers’ Educational Association.
Initially part of a country estate, with the former stables, walled kitchen garden and gardener’s cottage still in evidence, the centre is now part of Parrs Wood High School, but continues to offer adults and children environmental education under the guidance of volunteers.
On International Dawn Chorus Day, fifteen of us meet shortly before 4am under a bright lopsided, yellow-tinged moon, sitting low in the sky. Although it’s been a balmy day the grass is sodden with due; my summer plimsolls are quickly soaked through.
We’re led through an overgrown path in the woods to a clearing encircled by overturned logs which double as benches, and invited to forget everything else for the next forty minutes in order to focus fully on what we hear in the air surrounding us.
As the birds call from all sides, under a densely curtained canopy of leaves, it feels like we’re experiencing theatre in the round, in some kind of natural performance tent, the performers unseen. As time goes by, birds enter and leave, and come back; the low-toned call of the wood pigeon is a late entry against a patter of higher pitched trills. Although, we hear the occasional car on the road outside and the rumble of a lone night train, this is the birds’ space and time. Two sirens go past, shifting in and out of the chorus, which continues regardless.
I’m listening intently, in a way I’m not used to. My sense of smell becomes more acute, too; there’s a definite aroma of the warm, earthy smell of horses and, later, the sweet scent of crabapple blossom. It slowly grows lighter; perhaps our senses are adjusting, too.

What I feel most acutely, though, is my own illiteracy when it comes to knowledge of birds or the natural world. I can’t even find the words to describe the calls I’ve heard, in order to ask which birds they might belong to.
Mapping Manchester’s Quiet Spaces is a project by the artist Rae Story with St Luke’s Arts Project. A celebration event, with presentations from the workshops, will be held at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House on Tuesday 26 June at 3pm and 6pm. For more information about this and other events visit

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Transmitting the outskirts: LoneLady's Scrub Transmissions

It's often too easy to conflate place with music, and vice versa. It's tempting to view a city through a lens of its cultural production, to hold on to a static image of past achievements and overlook the ways in which places, and their culture, continue to evolve. It's also easy to reduce an artist to their urban identity, to limit them to an artistic lineage that is geographically - and therefore to some extent always arbitrarily - defined.

There is a sense of LoneLady trying to break out of these boxes, to get away from a very particular - and often male - Mancunian identity. Yet at the same time, her music is undeniably shaped by Manchester. It's the place where she grew up, on the eastern fringes of the city. It's also where her two albums to date were written, rehearsed and recorded, in largely self-built rehearsal and studio spaces in former industrial units in isolated areas outside of the city centre. Until recent acquisitions by developers capitalising on Manchester's property boom, apparently redundant buildings such as these, surrounded by half-demolished buildings, light industrial activity or red light districts, were available and affordable to artists due to their relative geographical and cultural remoteness. Despite their uncertainty of tenure, artists became used to coexisting with damp, cold, mice and indifferent landlords, fashioning and reinventing these spaces to fit their needs and finding the space and freedom for invention and experimentation amidst physical decrepitude. These were the places where most of Manchester's real creative work was done.

LoneLady both acknowledges this geographical specificity in her work and attempts to break away from it; most recently, she's stretched her wings with a long-term residency at Somerset House in London. As a Mancunian woman, she sees herself not just as struggling for visibility within the mainstream music world, but also as an outsider to the city itself. She situates herself both physically and metaphorically on the edges of Manchester, and outside of the myths manufactured by those who wish to shape our perceptions of it.

LoneLady wants us to share and understand the mundane places and subtle experiences which influence her sensations of the city day-to-day, and her place within it, as a place that is lived in, worked in and travelled through, and as a city that - far from the promotional spiel of business, tourism, redevelopment and economic growth - continues to be uncertain, often difficult and sometimes unwelcoming for those who exist outside of its dominant uses and narratives.

Far from the shininess and spectacle of city centre redevelopment, LoneLady tries to tell us different stories and show us other cultural landmarks. In 2012, she invited us to plug our headphones in and experience her music in the context of 1960s elevated motorway the Mancunian Way, through her temporary installation The Utilitarian Poetic, which embedded a previously unreleased track beneath a flyover on the outskirts of the city centre. TUP drew our attention to a structure that is a permanent presence in the city, yet which is almost always experienced in transit, and a place where few stop to linger. Removing fast-flowing traffic from the city's roads, the Mancunian Way flyover distances motorists from the city at ground level, yet it also creates a constant background hum for those who live and work in the estates and buildings alongside it.
Six years later, LoneLady again asks us to turn our back on the city centre and to venture east to the inner-city neighbourhood of Miles Platting, an area that borders Clayton on one side and Ancoats on the other, on the banks of the Ashton Canal. East Manchester, a former industrial and mining district, where Clayton is situated, remains one of the poorest areas of Manchester, despite the new sporting facilities built for the Commonwealth Games in 2002. By contrast, Ancoats, which borders the hip Northern Quarter area of Manchester city centre, has, in just a few years, become unrecognisable. As derelict former factories and mills have been converted, alongside infill apartment blocks, a previously under-visited area of the city has been filled with bars, shops and restaurants catering to young professionals, and is regularly featured in local and national media as a 'foodie destination'. 

New-build flats are gradually encroaching further into east Manchester, following the improved access to the city brought by the building of the East Manchester tram line. However, in spite of its proximity to Ancoats and Manchester city centre, Miles Platting feels like a different world entirely. Here, we see and hear different uses for the city, which don't fit comfortably elsewhere: families gather in special dress in small sections of industrial units repurposed as places of worship; graffiti artists find ample space to exhibit their work. There's also evidence of others left behind by the city's redevelopment, including rough sleeping and heroin use, on wasteland exposed by the demolition of former industrial buildings.
There's also a atmosphere of openness and space here, lacking in a city centre that is increasingly embracing height and density - of a place that is yet to be rediscovered and rebuilt. Into this left-behind landscape, embedded in a tower of rubble, LoneLady has inserted 'Little Fugue', an unreleased track from 2014. Behind you are the skeletal outlines of abandoned gas towers. In front and to the side are patched up industrial buildings, some missing windows, and subdivided for a variety of commercial and creative uses. In the background, plodding indie rock competes across the canal with band practice emanating from a facing building. Through the headphones, LoneLady's guitar chimes gothically over a synthy, dancey track that both suggests something of her city's heritage, but shows it is possible to do something new and different with it.
Then we hear a voiceover, a story about what this area has meant to her. It concludes by urging us to: "Hear the voices of the landscape, before they're scrubbed out."

Scrub Transmissions went live on Sunday 18 February and continues until the battery runs out (duration dependent on weather conditions!). For map and further information, visit

An accompanying 'zine by LoneLady is available from the Peer Hat and Piccadilly Records in the Northern Quarter.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

'Woman's Outlook' book chapter in 'Women's Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period'

I'm really delighted to have a chapter about the twentieth century co-operative women's magazine Woman's Outlook in the new collection Women's Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period, published by Edinburgh University Press (I'm also really pleased that the book features an image of Woman's Outlook on its cover!).
This blog is one of the places where I have explored my interest in Woman's Outlook, a magazine for the campaigning women of the co-operative movement, which was published by the Co-operative Press in Manchester between 1919 and 1967 and combined information about political and social issues with domestic tips and advice. The chapter is based on research into the magazine in the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester, which holds a complete set of the publication.

To find out more about the book and other contributors, visit

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Guest lecture, Bradford School of Art, Wednesday 31 January - Bradford’s brutalist masterpieces: William Mitchell’s murals in Bradford, Bingley and Ilkley

I'll be returning to Bradford School of Art on Wednesday 31 January to do another lecture in its Random Lecture series. The lectures take place at 12 noon; all welcome.

Bradford’s brutalist masterpieces: William Mitchell’s murals in Bradford, Bingley and Ilkley 

Born in 1925, the artist and industrial designer William Mitchell’s work can be seen in towns and cities around the world. However, it does not hang on the wall of art galleries, but is an integral part of the buildings in which it is found. These range from everyday places such as schools, libraries, pubs, subway underpasses and the foyers of post-war towerblocks, to flagship buildings like Harrods and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool.

The talk will give an overview of Mitchell’s work and career, focusing in particular on three artworks by William Mitchell in the Bradford area which demonstrate his post-war work in municipal and civic contexts as well as for corporate and commercial clients. Using innovative techniques and working in media such as moulded concrete and fibreglass, all three murals are distinctively of Mitchell’s style, yet take different stylistic approaches, from abstracted pattern-making to incorporating elements of the history of the area in which they are located.

It will explore a series of concrete murals in Bradford’s Kirkgate market, built in 1973 to replace a previous Victorian market, and carried out by Mitchell or one of his associates; thirteen fibreglass panels, commissioned for the former Bradford and Bingley Building Society headquarters in Bingley in the early 1970s and depicting the architectural and engineering landmarks of the area; and a large mural for the Ilkley Wool Secretariat, completed in 1968, which explores the history of wool manufacture locally.

These case studies will be used to highlight wider changes in attitudes towards post-war architecture, and the ways in which these types of artworks are regarded: whilst a new home has been sought in recent years for the Bingley murals, which were removed as the highly unpopular building in which they were situated was demolished, Mitchell’s Ilkley relief has been widely feted and was celebrated with Grade II listing by Historic England in 2015.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

'He's Leaving Home' cookbook now available online via Cracking Good Food

Are you looking for new recipe ideas for 'veganuary', but lacking inspiration or feeling intimidated by vegan cooking and ingredients?

I'm delighted that my cookery book, 'He's Leaving Home: The Shrieking Violet Guide to Hearty Vegetarian Cooking on a Budget', is now available online via Manchester-based social enterprise Cracking Good Food, who offer a range of cookery courses around Manchester to brush up on your culinary skills and learn new ideas and techniques.

'He's Leaving Home' offers a vegan twist on hearty everyday classics, aiming to use affordable, accessible ingredients.

Now in its third print run, feedback includes:

The cookbook is great! Cheap, vegetarian and and all simple/practical. I was surprised how many recipes you included also." James, Berlin

"Brilliant present, thanks!" Ed, Kent

"Just used your recipe for roast potatoes, was delicious - used the rosemary we found last night on a bike ride near Salford Quays. Can't wait to try the baked beans pie! Could I order one of your recipe books for my friend please? she's vegan too and is moving back to Canada soon so would make a great leaving present to remind her of English food!" Rae, Salford

Buy online for £5 (copies are also available in the bookshop at Home in Manchester) at: