Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

What a year! I've done more than I would have thought it possible to fit into a year. Personal highlights included teaming up with Manchester Modernist Society and the Loiterers Resistance Movement for the Manchester's Modernist Heroines project, organising the first Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention (although, at the time, it was so stressful it made me half-lose my hearing for a week!) and being invited on the Under the Pavement radio show on Levenshulme's All FM to talk about the fanzine convention.

I visited for the first time a number of places I'd long wanted to go to – Bradford, Saltaire, Holmfirth, Bournville, New Mills, Helsinki, Lyon and, my new favourite city, Stockholm. I went to Wythenshawe Park for the first time, and also visited Modernist Heroine Mitzi Cunliffe's epic, monumental public artwork on the Heaton Park pumping station (photos can't prepare you for its scale!). I plunged into the (ice cold) sea on the Kent coast over an unseasonally warm easter and swam in three lidos for the first time, ranging from warm – Hathersage lido in the Peak District on a rainy day (heated), to refreshing – the massive Tooting Bec lido, an escape from the London stickiness (unheated), to freezing – glamorous, art deco Saltdean lido in East Sussex (definitely unheated!).

The Shrieking Violet went a bit interview crazy in 2011, and I did my first ever Skype interview with Ancoats Peeps artist Dan Dubowitz, who is now based in Italy. Favourites included Carol Batton, David Medalla, Maurice Carlin, Dan Dubowitz and Anthony Hall. Overall, 2011 has been a particularly good year for film and art, and I dramatically increased my TV viewing in 2011 (it was a great year for documentaries!), but unfortunately I've not been listened to as much new music or been to anywhere near as many gigs as I should have done (I am never missing a Thermals gig again – not going to see them at the Roadhouse was one of my big regrets of 2011!).



I visited two biennials and a triennial in 2011. This year's Folkestone Triennial, which took over the town and opened up normally private places, was excellent, and I enjoyed some of the pavilions at Venice Biennale, particularly Mike Nelson's British pavilion. The Whitworth Art Gallery had strong shows, including Dark Matters, and Manchester International Festival had a refreshing and thought-provoking art programme, especially 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery. I also enjoyed the Text Festival at Bury Art Gallery. It was good to see new galleries open despite the recession, and I visited the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent, as well as Firstsite in Colchester. The latter particularly impressed by the way it showed national and international artists alongside local artists and artefacts telling the story of Britain's Roman capital. In 2011, it felt like every topic I was interested in came back to the Festival of Britain
– fortuitously, it turned out, as 2011 was the 60th anniversary of the Festival and was accompanied by TV documentaries and an exhibition of memorabilia at the Royal Festival Hall. However, my highlights were some of the smaller shows:

Dan Graham, Eastside Projects, Birmingham

This show brought together two of the areas for which Graham is best known his pavilions and his music criticism, combining videos and models of his transparent two-way mirror pavilions and writing on public space with a video of Minor Threat in concert – one of the most unusual and noisiest, but most welcome, exhibits I've encountered in a gallery. Later in the year, I got to inside one of Graham's pavilions in the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm

Susie MacMurray, Islington Mill, Salford

A magical installation on the top floor of Islington Mill, MacMurray filled the loft, accessed via a rickety wooden staircase, with a mass of white feathers which change colour as the light floods in, surrounded by big windows looking out over Manchester and Salford.

Daniel Buren, Lisson Gallery, London

A small show, but one which transformed the gallery space with his trademark stripes, incorporating multi-coloured perspex that caught the light.


Las Kellies, Deaf Institute, Manchester

One of the funnest bands I've seen in ages, Argentinian group Las Kellies are a dance-punk-party band, complete with bright coloured floral dress, sunglasses and an ESG cover.

The Middle Ones, Ace Bushy Striptease, my house

A bank holiday Friday garden gig next to the canal, Birmingham's finest Ace Bushy Striptease blasted away any thoughts of the royal wedding – and attracted a pair of fighting geese – before indie-folk duo the Middle Ones calmed things down with an intimate acoustic set.

Lemonheads playing It's A Shame About Ray, Ritz, Manchester

One of my favourite bands playing one of my favourite ever albums in its entirety – plus some solo, more country songs from Evan Dando.

David Thomas Broughton, Sounds from the Other City, Salford

I wasn't planning to go and see David Thomas Broughton because I'd already seen him so many times, but slipped into Peel Hall during a quiet moment at Sounds from the other City and remembered that, live, David Thomas Broughton's extraordinary voice and stage presence is never less than captivating.

Steve Reich, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

A classical concert that felt closer to a rock concert. Pieces from Reich's long career were performed by young musicians, with an appearance from the composer himself on 'Clapping Music'.

Flamin' Groovies, 229, London

Chaotic but brilliant, Californian power-pop band Flamin' Groovies staggered through a set of rock 'n' roll and surf influenced punk classics. Singer Chris Wilson, who was clinging onto the microphone stand throughout, only fell over once.

Pascal Nichols, Rogue Studios, Manchester

The highlight of the launch of Hiss Heads, Florian Fusco's zine about Manchester's analogue aficionados, was a solo set from Pascal of Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides in the project space at Rogue Studios in Crusader Mill in Ancoats.


Float Rivever – Float Riverer

I haven't been so excited about a Manchester band in years. A boyfriend-girlfriend duo comprising Nick from Beach Fuzz and Kate from Hotpants Romance (one of my favourite Manchester bands), they make great pop songs with a raw, rattling punk sound driven by Kate's Mo Tucker-esque drums, bringing to mind Vaselines, early Pavement and the one hit wonders of Nuggets boxset.


The I Love You Bridge, Radio 4

Park Hill's been in the news a lot this year, but by far the best take on Urban Splash's controversial 'renovation' was a short, thoughtful and near-heartbreaking Radio 4 documentary which went in search of the people behind the famous 'I love you will you marry me' graffiti on one the the building's raised walkways, recently highlighted in neon by the developers.

Change of Art, Radio 4

Artist Andrew Shoben came up with a great premise for a radio show – retiring out of date works of public art – that was funny, thought-provoking and at times frustrating but always highly listenable and entertaining.


There were several series I really, really enjoyed this year. The year got off to a good start with the return of my favourite TV show, Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys (whatever you feel about the man's politics, he's an amiable TV presenter with infectious enthusiasm). Melvyn Bragg's Reel History of Britain was a good idea, but I found it disappointingly patchy (Bragg's wooden presenting style doesn't help, although programmes on early documentary films about slum housing, and the origins of the National Health Service, were good). Jamie's Dream School was an interesting, thought-provoking concept for prime time TV, but I felt the scale and complexity of the project was too great to be represented in the narrow slots of the TV format. Ceramics: A Fragile History, about the Stoke-on-Trent pottery industry, had its moments, and made me want to explore Stoke-on-Trent, but my TV highlights were a series on Pathe newsreels and Julia Bradbury's Canal Walks, which followed an excitable Bradbury as she tramped across the country along its networks of canals. The star of 2011's TV for me was Tom Dyckhoff, who fronted a short series called the Secret History of Buildings, a highly watchable and accessible look at how the built environment around us affects how we live, work and play. I would watch TV far more often if Tom Dyckhoff presented more of it!

There were also a few one-off programmes I loved:

Alice Roberts' Wild Swimming.

A dreamy look at watery outdoor pursuits around the country.

The Great Estate: The Rise & Fall of the Council House

A timely look at the origins of social housing and what went wrong.

The Golden Age of Canals

Everything about this programme about the campaigners who rescued our inland waterways from dereliction was perfect, from the excerpts of archive footage and range of interviewees to the music and the warm autumn colours it was filmed in.

The Wonder of Weeds.

An intelligent look at the history and spread of unwanted plants, taking in science, control and cultivation, with a welcome appearance from Richard Mabey.


My Dog Tulip

As a social realism devotee, whose feelings towards animals are ambivalent at best, an animated film about a dog is the last film I would expect to be my favourite of a year. My Dog Tulip is warm, funny and beautifully drawn, plus you get to see the best bits of owning a dog – companionship and exercise - without the drawbacks – smells, mess and bodily fluids.

Self Made

Gillian Wearing's film is one of the most involving and absorbing, if at times uncomfortably personal and confessional, films I've seen.


Whilst Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In was a slick, stylish, welcome return, Biutiful was the best Spanish film I saw this year, containing the grit and emotional impact lacking from Almodovar's film. Javier Badem's stunning performance almost made you feel sorry for his shady character.

Utopia London

Manchester Modernist Society screened this documentary about the vision, idealism and buildings of the generation of post-war architects, which took many of the architects, now in their eighties but still full of attitude, back to see their creations.


The red hooded jacket unsettled me a bit, reminding me of Don't Look Now, but Submarine is indie filmmaking at its best – despite their flaws, a film where you can empathise with the characters rather than wanting to hit them.


Merz Man

Manchester's galleries were immersed in all things Kurt Schwitters during the Merz Man festival, a Greater Manchester-wide celebration of Kurt Schwitters, which included talks, exhibitions and events related to the artist, his work and his influence (some more tenuously than others). Highlights included experimental dance teacher Valerie Preston-Dunlop's nostalgic walk up Oxford Road, reminiscing about her days studying under teacher Rudolf Laban, and subsequent talk at the Royal Northern College of Music, facilitated by Manchester Modernist Society.

Say Something Series

For the first half of 2011, Thursday evenings settled into a routine of diverse and inspiring talks at Islington Mill, by artists, curators and other people involved in the art world.

Alan Boyson bus tour

An inspired idea for an outing, Manchester Modernist Society and the north west branch of the Twentieth Century Society organised a coach trip visiting Greater Manchester public artworks from the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Boyson, from ceramic tiles on a shop in Denton to a mural outside a pub in Collyhurst to a listed mosaic on a wall in Salford, the only part of a demolished school still standing. My personal favourite was an etched perspex window in St Ann's church, which touched the vicar in a way he couldn't quite explain.


A View from the Bridge, The Royal Exchange

One of the best productions I've seen at the Royal Exchange, a powerful rendition of Arthur Miller's play with minutely observed 1930s period detail.

The Mill – City of Dreams, Drummond's Mill, Bradford

Freedom Studios' eerie, evocative promenade theatre performance round the empty textile mill, meeting the ghosts of its workers as production gradually shuts down.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

the modernist issue 3 and other publications I have enjoyed recently

Issue 3 of Manchester Modernist Society's magazine the modernist, themed Boom or Bust, is out now, just in time for Christmas. I've been loose with this issue's theme and used it as an appreciation of some of my favourite, underrated 1960s films: Charlie Bubbles (written by Shelagh Delaney, directed by and starring Albert Finney and featuring Liza Minelli), The White Bus (written by Shelagh Delaney and directed by Lindsay Anderson), Mrs Brown, You'e Got a Lovely Daughter, a comedy musical starring the pop group Herman's Hermits, A Kind of Loving, and The London Nobody Knows (starring James Mason).

Whilst some of the films are seemingly slight or frivolous, all share a preoccupation with the new housing projects and changing types of living that were replacing bomb damaged cities and Victorian slums, capturing a sense of optimism and hope for the future that we now know was short lived.

Mrs Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter might come across as slightly cheesy, but I've watched it twice and find it genuinely charming. I found myself singing It's Nice to be Out in the Morning every day when I left the house for weeks afterwards!

If you're interested in finding out more about Manchester and Salford on screen, look out for historian CP Lee's talks which take place at the Cornerhouse from time to time, as well as his Hollywood of the North Coach Trip, or visit his sites It's A Hotun and Manchester Film History.

the modernist issue 3 also features an introduction from Shrieking Violet inspiration Owen Hatherley, as well as Eddy Rhead on TV broadcasting from the north, Matthew Whitfield on Liverpool's Brutalist sandcastle, Dan Russell on Liverpool International Garden Festival, Aidan Turner-Bishop on Hornsea Pottery, Morag Rose on Modernist Essex, Benjamin Tallis on Leningrad, Stephen Hale on FIAT's Lingotto factory, Christien Garcia on Canadian Modernism, and news and reviews. For stockists or to subscribe visit

Other publications which have made me happy recently:
  • FEAST is a new food and art journal initiated by Manchester-based curator and writer Laura Mansfield. Issue 1 is out now, themed Indulgence, featuring everything from recipes to an essay on food and film.
  • The latest edition of annual arts journal Corridor 8, which assumes a different form each year, is out now. Issue 3 is divided into three editions, the first of which focuses on commercial galleries across the north of England, containing interviews with their directors on their motivations and the challenges and advantages of operating outside London.
  • Canning is a beautifully designed and illustrated fanzine about the area of Liverpool by writer Kenn Taylor, artist Natalie Hughes and designer Mike Carney that combines creative writing with personal observations on place. Kenn Taylor has also recently written a more in depth book about another part of Liverpool, entitled A Brief History of Edge Hill, as part of the Metal Culture project in the city, designed by Ultimate Holding Company.
  • COPY is a publication compiled by Yorkshire-based Critical Writing Collective. The current issue, titled Unfold, features a contribution by Manchester-based artist Daniel Fogarty. 'In Public' is a photo of a small belemnite fossil embedded in the polished stone of a basin in the toilets of the Bridgewater Hall. Due to certain obstacles (the fossil being in the ladies' toilets), I was asked to take the photograph.
  • During a recent visit to London I bought a copy of art and culture magazine Garageland, which is published by east London's Transition Gallery. The current issue plays with the theme 'Fake'. Highlights include articles on the south Kent coast's 'pluto' houses and the craze for mock Tudor.
I also really enjoyed spending a couple of hours browsing the Archizines exhibition at the Architectural Association in Bloomsbury, featuring architecture zines from all over the world, including the modernist and Preston is my Paris. Other highlights included Block and Matzine from the UK, and a zine which photographed street furniture and public art across Latin America.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Three litres of sloe gin, or a tale of two blackthorn bushes

This sloe gin started life in late-summer 2011 as ripe sloes gathered from two blackthorn bushes: one on the banks of the Ashton Canal, Ancoats and one by the River Sett between New Mills and Hayfield in the Peak District.

The Ashton Canal winds its way from central Manchester to the market town of Ashton-under-Lyne, six miles to the east. It's a remarkable journey that takes walkers, cyclists, boats and geese past the boom and bust regeneration of inner-city Manchester (half rebuilt and reinvented as New Islington, half still rubble and spaces left by ruined mills and factories); alongside Manchester City Football Club's glittering stadium and the slightly less glamorous Eastlands retail park (highlight – ASDA); near the shabby Victorian elegance of Philips Park, Manchester's first public park, leading to reclaimed nature reserve Clayton Vale and the Medlock Valley; and next to Fairfield Moravian Settlement, an island of tranquil cobblestones and Georgian cottages surrounded by suburban Tameside with its canal-side sports pitches and pensioners playing waterside p├ętanque.

We are lucky to have this urban oasis running through the city: the canal would have been closed in the 1960s if the local council had its way. When road transport became widespread, canals went out of fashion. They grew obsolete and expensive to maintain – and it took volunteers across the country long and laborious hours to restore Britain's canal network. These campaigners reimagined a new use for the inland waterways as sites of leisure and tourism – for boating holidays and afternoon walks – rather than toil – horses and boats still hauled coal and other goods along canals, including the Ashton, well into the twentieth century, the purpose for which they had been built centuries before. At Ashton-under-Lyne, the Ashton Canal hits the Portland Basin (home to the Wooden Canal Boat Society and Portland Basin Museum), where canal adventurers head south east onto the Peak Forest Canal to continue their journey through the Cheshire towns of Hyde and Marple and then on to New Mills (a place defined by its spectacular geography; the town rises up into the hills as the rivers Sett and Goyt descend into sunken Torrs below) and Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, where the canal comes to an end.

The second blackthorn bush was encountered along the Sett Valley Trail between New Mills and Hayfield on a rainy yet peaceful bank holiday weekend walk. Hayfield is a picturesque rural village overlooked by the Peak District National Park's highest point, Kinder Scout – a landmark visible back in the city, from Ancoats, where this story starts. In April 1932, Kinder was the scene of one of Britain's most famous protests. Several hundred ramblers from Manchester and the surrounding region, including folk singer Ewan MacColl, led a mass trespass up Kinder Scout to protest that what had previously been common land had been taken over by private interests. It's them we must thank for our rights to roam over Britain's countryside today, something we can take for granted: the ability to explore and reach out from the crowded cities around us, to wander at our leisure.

2012 will be the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Trespass. Find out more at or visit Salford's Working Class Movement Library, which holds material related to the protest.

The Golden Age of Canals, an excellent BBC4 programme about the formation of the Inland Waterways, mass activism to save canals and their changing uses, will be repeated on Monday at 7pm.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The strange stories of sounds — Kinokophone at MadLab

Last Thursday I spent the evening in the Northern Quarter immersed in strange sounds and unusual storytelling. 'Kinokologue 1: Sound spore', a temporary sound art installation in the exhibition space at MadLab, was the culmination of a Cornerhouse/Paul Hamlyn Foundation Micro Commission, followed by Kinokophonography upstairs, a regular listening event which showcases sounds sent in from all over the world.

'Kinokologue 1: Sound Spores' was an interactive collection of sound specimens arranged as 'spores' embedded in different objects. Spores were tucked in drawers and filed neatly in a cabinet ready to be opened, or presented as threaded images, interpreted by embroidery artist Akiko Yanagimoto, framed in glass as if in a collaged scene. At the same time as vintage objects were reused and reinvented as listening posts, everyday sounds plucked from their context took on a new meaning as part of a growing sound archive. Listeners were invited to borrow headphones, wander round and get ready to listen closely, then help classify sounds by suggesting categories or turning dials to bring sounds together into compositions and writing down instructions based on successful combinations for future visitors. Although samples included recognisable sounds and even those we might conventionally call music — the meandering of a violin, piercing whistles — the most exciting sounds to explore were those that did not have an obvious source. Burbling water and crunching leaves are atmospheric, but more elusive sounds such as faint 'put-putting' or vaguely familiar scraping are the most interesting as, rather than placing you directly in a scene in your head, they make you listen again and again to try to remember back to the situation in which you've heard them before (if at all).

The origins of the word 'kinokophone' are drawn from both cinema ('kino') and sound ('phone'), and it's easy to build a mental story around each spore. Some sounds stand on their own
— such as the simple, repeated onomatopoeia of the Japanese word 'nyokinyoki', but the recordings presented on the night were not heard in isolation. Contributors either introduced their recording in person or sent a description and context for their sounds, whether a reminiscence about a visit to the dentist that brought about a recording of a dentist's drill and suction — "my pain is your listening pleasure", an anecdote about the conditions in which the recording was taken — conjuring up the exposed, windswept discomfort of hanging around on the side of the mountain to record a pile of rocks, or more technical descriptions about how the sound was achieved — as in 'Growth of reverb', a recording taking advantage of the effects of footsteps on the acoustics of a stairwell at the University of Manchester, a place that was well known to some of the audience. Even those recordings that feature the presence of people are disorientating once stripped of their context: you wouldn't have guessed the setting for a conversation between young people unless told it took place at a goth festival in Whitby.

Sitting in a room of neatly arranged rows of chairs listening to recordings might seem like a strange concept for an evening, but the host described it as a way to "find out about the world by listening to what's around". Whilst my expectations of what an ice berg in Australia would sound like (sparse, barren, windswept) were confounded (it actually sounded bubbling, watery and alive), the recording of a busy, noisy, early morning in Mombasa sounded as if it could have been taken from any urban dwelling or office block with the window open on a summer's day. Recordings such as the Amazon rainforest, taken from the British Library, with its variety of sounds and array of natural wonders (including a bird whose recurring call descended a scale in a way that was almost comical and another bird whose insistent brilling made you wonder if it was the inspiration for the telephone's ring), and an amazingly evocative amplification of tree roots creaking in the wind like groaning wooden furniture, achieved in Lithuania using contact mikes, were beautifully observed. However, my favourite recording was of a sound so ordinary you would not normally think to stop to listen to it. A recording of the shaking of a tin roof on the Manchester University students' union, caused to move by the reverberations of the bass and drums-dominated practise session of a heavy metal band, couldn't help but make me smile.

Find out more about the work of the Kinokophone collective at

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Quick answers on photocopying, being free and the 'aesthetics' of fanzines

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a Manchester-based design student named Jenn Trethewey who is currently doing research into self-publishing, with a view to producing a map charting the overlaps between different types of formats in self-publishing. She asked me a number of questions about photocopying, the Shrieking Violet being free and the aesthetics of self-publishing. You can read her questions, and my answers, below:

JT: Why, when you started the Shrieking Violet, did you choose to photocopy and have a free fanzine?

SV: I'm afraid I won't really give you any passionate, ideological answers, as the way I publish mostly comes down to laziness and convenience.

I started off photocopying the the Shrieking Violet because of the immediacy – I could go from finalising the content to publishing and distributing it almost immediately. As there was no waiting around for printers or anyone else to deliver a finished product, it was all up to me.

It is very important to me that the fanzine is free so that it is accessible. Having a cost on it – even a small one, is a barrier to the casual reader picking it up. Also, if there was a cost, selling it would have to be regulated somehow – I wouldn't be able to leave it around to be picked up. Again, the process of distribution would lose its immediacy if some kind of transaction had to take place – it would limit where and how it was available.

The Shrieking Violet was conceived as an alternative guide to Manchester, as there are number of free city guides which are left around the city – in hotels, cafes, bars and other attractions. It seems that most of them are sponsored by big business and are very unimaginative – they mainly recommend shopping, or visiting the big city museums and galleries if you want some culture. I wanted to offer an alternative to that which was also free and could just be picked up in some of those public places, but gave a guide to things in the city which were free.

JT: Why, sixteen issues in, have you kept it that way?

SV: I would love to publish a fanzine on lovely paper with staples and make it a nice object to hold. There are a number of reasons why I haven't, most of which come down to laziness:

1. There are always mistakes and typos in the Shrieking Violet, however hard I try to proofread it. It doesn't matter quite so much so much if it is just photocopied, as a photocopy feels like a temporary object, but a properly printed publication would feel much more 'permanent' and I would want everything about it to be perfect.

2. Photocopied fanzines are quick, cheap and easy to reproduce – if I got a fanzine printed professionally it would be limited by print run and it would be harder to produce extra copies as and when needed if I ran out.

3. As i'm not really from an art and design background, I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the choice of different papers and qualities and ways of printing as I have never had something professionally printed before, but I do know how to use a photocopier. I grew up around my dad's collection of early 80s punk/indie zines, so I knew that photocopying was a long-established way of making fanzines!

4. Cost – it's important to me that the Shrieking Violet is free, and if I got it printed professionally I would need the money to do so, which would probably mean applying for funding, or asking for people to advertise, which would be another stage in the process of making the fanzine that would hold the process up.

So, in answer to your question about why I continue to photocopy the Shrieking Violet 16 issues in, it is about momentum – I decided momentum and keeping the project going (firstly as a monthly zine then bi-monthly, now quarterly) was more important than worrying about improving the print quality.

I would love to produce the Shrieking Violet in colour, but I have struck a balance by having a pdf version online which is in colour – and the vast majority of readers are online, important as it is to have a paper version as well.

JT: I'm looking at the boundaries of different self-publishing formats and how we define them, so I'd be interested from a zine creator's point of view, what do you think makes a zine a zine? Would you say this sort of aesthetic and free distribution is part of what a fanzine is? Or is it the content and motivation behind the publication which you feel defines it?

SV: Regarding content and motivation, I like to think you could call the Shrieking Violet either a fanzine or a magazine. The distinctions between fanzines, artists' books and magazines are often a lot less clear than is made out. I would prefer for the Shrieking Violet to be defined by the content and the quality of the writing inside it rather than how it is delivered. The content and standard of the writing and range of contributors is always the most important thing and not the format it is made in. Just like blogs – I feel they should be judged by the quality of their content just like any other website and not by the medium in which they exist.

I don't know if I can define what makes a fanzine a fanzine as they vary so much. I'm not sure there is an 'aesthetic' that can be linked to fanzines as they range from the very, very basic – handwritten and photocopied – to more 'crafted' artists' books. I have thought about this a lot over the past couple of years, and I have come to the conclusion that 'self-publishing is a far more helpful word/concept than 'fanzine' because it is much broader and encompasses many different types of publications and many reasons for publishing, but the thing that often unites them all is autonomy and the freedom to be your own editor and maker.

Jenn's blog:

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Shrieking Violet issue 16, Manchester Blog Award and recent inspiration

Issue 16 features Bert Jansch, Manchester's typography, city quarters, Esperanto, Belle Vue, smokey beans, creative writing, poetry, embroidery and illustration.

I have been thinking about the different types of quarters that seem to be appearing more and more, not just in Manchester but in other towns and cities I have visited.

Nija Dalal is a writer and radio producer, and has just finished an MA in Anthropology. She's radio obsessive, cooks and crafts and sews, and keeps a blog about it when she remembers. She grew up in the American South, in a bizarre immigrant household, though no more bizarre than most immigrant households. She says "y'all." Currently in Manchester, she's lived in Sydney and Atlanta, and she's looking for a job in radio (do you have one going, by the way?)...Nija has condensed some of her Masters thesis findings into an article about the anthropological implications of Manchester's typography.

Bill Chapman, who has been speaking Esperanto since 1967, got in touch with me offering an insider's perspective on an article I wrote about the Esperanto for the modernist issue 1. During our subsequent exchange of emails, he sent me a photo of the Manchester Esperanto society in 1948 (motto 'Obstinately onwards'!) and told me about the adventures Esperanto has enabled him to have. Esperanto celebrates its 125th anniversary next year, and I asked Bill to expand on his stories in article form for the Shrieking Violet. Bill is a magistrate in north Wales and has worked for many years in education and training, most recently in the field of lifelong learning. He is enjoying being a grandfather.
Long-time contributor and friend of the Shrieking Violet Rebecca Willmott describes herself as 'a self publisher with a specific writing interest in revisiting the circus with a needle and thread'. Her favourite things are: pumpkins, clowns, embroidery hoops and running writing and book binding workshops with children and sometimes adults, 'but children are more curious'. Manchester's Belle Vue circus holds a particular fascination for Rebecca, and she has written and embroidered an article on it. Rebecca has just moved to London to start an internship at textile magazine Selvedge.

Louise M. North wrote her first story, about a blue apple, aged 5. She likes writing about the odd, the weird and the wonderful and, if she can manage it, the odd, weird and wonderful all in one story. Louise has combined the odd and weird in a story about a recognisable Manchester locale, with an illustration by Alex Boswell.

Cyrus Amini, who has contributed a poem to issue 16 of the Shrieking Violet, has previously been an independent video producer and broadcast professional. He now develops property nicely but mainly concentrates on enjoying himself.

Mr Jacket's smokey beans recipe came to the Shrieking Violet via Morag Rose of the Loiterers Resistance Movement. I have tried and tested it and recommend eating hearty helpings on top of toasted, buttered rye bread for dinner on a winter's night, with the leftovers for lunch the next day.

The cover is by Manchester-based illustrator Bryony Jackson. I'm really pleased as I have long been a fan of Bryony's work and have been asking her to design a cover ever since the Shrieking Violet started back in August 2009!

Daniel Fogarty, an artist and designer based at Rogue Studios in Ancoats, kindly assisted with the design and layout.

Remember, this publication is best read whilst listening to guitarist and singer Bert Jansch, who died of cancer last month.

Read issue 16 online here:
Download and print your own copy of the Shrieking Violet here.

Very badly photocopied copies will be left around various places in the city centre this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon, including Piccadilly Records, Good Grief! shop (in the Soup Kitchen), Koffee Pot, Oklahoma, Nexus Art Cafe, Cornerhouse.

To request a copy in the post (free) or to contribute to future editions email or join the Shrieking Violet Facebook group.

Manchester Blog Award

The Shrieking Violet won Best Arts and Culture Blog at the 2011 Manchester Blog Awards which took place during Manchester Literature Festival, after being nominated for the third year in a row. It was good to hear readings from other blogs at the awards ceremony, and to hear the winning entires in the Real Story competition, including Shrieking Violet contributor Nija Dalal! It was a shame that I was rushing off to the Jens Lekman gig at Band on the Wall, on the other side of town. Many thanks to anyone who read, nominated or voted for the Shrieking Violet.

Other winners included Shrieking Violet issue 10/Manchester's Modernist Heroines contributor Hayley Flynn, who won Best City and Neighbourhood Blog with Skyliner. David Bailey, who designed the cover for the Shrieking Violet issue 10, won Best Personal Blog for Food Legend.

Recent inspiration

I've been dipping in and out of the artist Ryan Gander's book Catalogue Raisonabble Vol. 1. My favourite bits of the book are his writing, especially extracts from his 'Loose Associations', interesting essays which flit from topic to topic in 'loose associations'. These led me to a brilliant magazine called Dot Dot Dot, produced by Stuart Bailey of Dexter Sinister, in which some of Gander's Loose Associations appeared. I've been reading issue 19 of Dot Dot Dot, which compiles editions of a newspaper called THE FIRST/LAST NEWSPAPER which was issued from Port Authority for three weeks during November 2009. Content is a mixture of archive material and contemporary articles written by different international artists and writers, some fairly short and others more in-depth, quite often concerning the media, the history of the press, the evolution of publishing and mass communication.

I recently watched this lecture from 2007, which has contributions from Stuart Bailey, as well as Michael Bierut from the website Design Observer. I really enjoyed hearing about how Dot Dot Dot started and developed as a magazine, and how it received submissions of content that was not what you would expect to find in a graphic design magazine but the editors published it anyway to change conceptions about what 'should' be printed. I was also interested in Michael Bierut's talk about how Design Observer started and grew, and attracted readers despite the length of its posts! He made some observations about comments on blogs and blogging 'communities'. I am often discouraged that there are few comments posted on the Shrieking Violet (especially negative comments) and the lack of discussion or debate around anything I write.

How many quarters make a city? Clue: it's not four

Birmingham has seven designated city quarters1, Sheffield eleven2. In Manchester, the well-known Northern Quarter (and slightly less well-known Green, Civic and Millennium Quarters) will soon be joined by a co-operative quarter (although the Co-op Group hopes the public will take to its official name, NOMA, speculated to be a reference to its geographical position just north of the city centre3) and another, a Medieval Quarter, is proposed. Add to that other well-defined areas of the city which are not officially designated quarters, but could be seen as such – Canal Street and surrounding Gay Village as a gay quarter, Chinatown as a Chinese quarter, a university quarter around Oxford Road – and there are a lot of slices that make up Manchester.

There is a bewildering away of terms for dividing up the city into convenient chunks: corridors (the area around the universities and university hospitals is packaged as the corridor, Manchester's “economic and knowledge powerhouse”4), gateways (Southern Gateway, a new residential and business district in an area which had suffered from "a lack of identity and economic purpose"5), an urban village (Ancoats), the UK's first Urban Heritage Park6 (Castlefield) and even a curry mile. The language and concepts used to describe quarters is similar to that applied to these other corridors, gateways and urban villages, and they share many of the same attributes and aims – rejuvenating an area through mixed-use developments that will attract business and investment to the city and help raise its profile beyond the city boundaries.

Quarters often reflect the aspirations of a place, and are used as a way of conveniently packaging and marketing the different types of activities that make up the diverse life of a town or city. If a town or city has a well-defined creative quarter, for example, a hub of cultural industries, it will not just attract creative people but will also catch the eye of tourists and shoppers eager for an alternative retail or leisure experience. This provides customers for other facilities such as hotels and transport, and therefore acts as an incentive for business investment. Likewise, a heritage or tourist quarter puts a city's attractions conveniently into one place for visitors – and attracts the sort of retail or dining experiences that go with it.

The use of quarters to define areas of a city is nothing new. Think of Paris's quartiers – meaning living quarters. Cities have long had designated areas based on ethnicity – Jewish Quarters being a widespread example – and Birmingham, to name just one city, still has Irish and Chinese Quarters. Other quarters grew up around shared characteristics uniting the people who lived or worked in an area, such as speaking a common language (Latin around the universities in Paris' famous Latin Quarter, during the Middle Ages, a name which struck). Other quarters were named after the industry that was prevalent in an area, for example Birmingham's renowned Jewellery Quarter, catchily marketed as 'Birmingham's Gem'7. Or they may simply be descriptive of what's there, like Altrincham's Market Quarter, or what goes on there, such as Leicester's Business Quarter. Others are defined in geographical terms, including Manchester's Northern Quarter, which also goes by the postcode N4, or based on obvious physical attributes, such as Stoke-on-Trent's Canal Quarter. Others reflect the type of people the area has come to attract, or wishes to attract, or tells members of a certain demographic they will find likeminded people there – for example Liverpool's Gay Quarter. They can also be a tool in conservation, if a number of noteworthy buildings are clustered in one area.

Manchester's Civic Quarter, outlined in 2009's Civic Quarter – Manchester Central Regeneration Framework, aims to use Manchester's heritage, including some of its key buildings – the town hall, central library, Manchester central and St Peter's Square – as well as its transport links and infrastructure, to attract business and institutions to Manchester in “a new meeting place in the city centre”. Its goal is to extend both the city centre and business district and: “Bring together the values of civic pride and civic leadership, with international trade and commerce, world class innovation and research, at the heart of an entrepreneurial community.”8It also acts as a link between the various other districts that comprise the city centre: Spinningfields, the corridor etc.

The proliferation of quarters all over the country today, some based on a logical connection with an area and some more tenuous, often coincides with redevelopment and regeneration. Manchester's Millennium Quarter (there are also Millennium Quarters/Villages in London) refers to the redevelopment that took place around Manchester Cathedral after the area was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1996. Its name reflects that rebuilding took place in the lead-up to the Millennium as well as the fact it incorporated one of a number of national projects funded by the National Lottery through the Millennium Commission9.

Typically, quarters incorporate new or improved public space (Cathedral Gardens, check), retail (Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, the Triangle, check), leisure (the Printworks, check) and residential opportunities. Often, refurbishments of traditional buildings sit alongside eye-catching new builds. The Millennium Quarter acknowledges Manchester's past, containing some of its most historic buildings (the cathedral, Chetham's Library), but it also contains new flagship development such as Ian Simpson's Urbis building, which was conceived as a museum for the city.

Soon, the area could have another quarter, currently dubbed the Medieval Quarter10 by local media, that will straddle two city centres, linking to the Greengate development in Salford. Plans include a new cathedral square, as well as a redesign of Cathedral Gardens, new memorials to the anti-slavery movement, the suffragette movement and firefighters. A statue of Oliver Cromwell, currently in exile in the suburbs, could also be moved there.

Just down the road is NOMA – colloquially dubbed the Co-op Quarter to reflect the fact that the Manchester-based Co-operative Group is redeveloping a huge, 20 acre site11 near its new headquarters. The £1 billion plan, funded by the Co-operative Group with some investment from the Council, will see the makeup of the area fundamentally changed to attract new up-market shops, offices and cafes, potentially generating thousands of jobs. New public spaces will be created and the inner ring road will be moved. The Co-operative Group will be hoping that the quarter can be seen as a physical manifestation of its values, which include commitment to community and environment.

Quarters can create a sense of place. Put a name on it and people can feel an affinity with a place and identify with the characteristics associated with it. As people are increasingly encouraged to live in city centres as opposed to the suburbs, residing within a distinct quarter makes it a lot easier to see yourself as part of a neighbourhood. When asked where you're from you might no longer have an area such as 'Chorlton' or 'Withington' on the tip of your tongue, but being able to say you live in 'the Northern Quarter' or 'the Green Quarter' helps whoever you are talking to identify a more specific locale than the more general term 'city centre', which encompasses a wider geographical area.

The advantages of this for developers are clear: from 2004 onwards, the Green Quarter was created just outside of Manchester City Centre, referring to the largest ever housing development in the city. Developers Crosby Homes promised a “self-contained urban oasis, combining 10 cutting-edge apartment blocks, business accommodation, hotel, leisure and retail facilities set against the precious commodity of lush landscaped open green space”. Sold on its close proximity to Victoria Station, the MEN Arena, the Printworks and leisure and retail opportunities, the developers highlight “the convenience factor of a lifestyle on their doorstep”. They tempt: “Are you addicted to city living, yet yearn for more than a splash of greenery? Do you enjoy the buzz of the urban social whirl and the spark of metropolitan business, but would relish having a haven to escape to?”12The green part? It was envisaged that more than half of the area would be public open space with lawns, tree-lined walkways, water features and landscaping.

A common example of the adoption of quarters as a regeneration strategy can be seen in cathedral quarters, which are found in towns and cities around the country, including Sheffield. Blackburn's town centre strategy13 works with “the inherent and distinct uses of existing areas”, including the cathedral quarter, which has “one of the most established identities in the town centre”, to “encourage a unique sense of place”. Heritage quarters are being established in towns and cities including Gravesend and around the harbour in Sunderland. University quarters include Stoke-on-Trent's catchily-named UniQ, a partnership between local education providers that aims to raise aspiration and increase skills in the town.

One of the most prominent types of quarters is the creative, or cultural quarter, which can be found in towns and cities around the country including: Southampton, Brighton, Folkestone, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leicester, Oldham, Liverpool, Stoke-on-Trent, Doncaster, Boston, Colchester, Leamington Spa, Wolverhampton, Bedford, Bury and Warrington14. The Local Government (LG) Improvement and Development Group put together a guide to cultural quarters, which it defines as “an existing cluster of creative and cultural industries, or the desire to create a cluster of creative and cultural industries”15. Quarters give creative people the opportunity to “work, live and socialise in one environment”, and the LG foresees the associated networks and facilities growing up around them. In Folkestone, Kent, the Creative Quarter was initiated by a charitable Trust buying and refurbishing, then letting, empty properties to creative businesses and artists, supplemented by events such as a book festival and art triennial16.

Whilst there is debate over how desirable it is to set out to create a creative area, as opposed to letting it evolve naturally over time (and there are also concerns about the knock-on effects of 'gentrifying' an area, including pricing out its previous occupants), Manchester's Northern Quarter, which was one of the first cultural quarters in the country along with Sheffield's Creative Industries Quarter, is seen as a successful example of what a cultural quarter should be and do. As the LG site observes, “the most successful examples of cultural quarters usually had some longstanding cultural activity or venues”. The Northern Quarter became established as an alternative to mainstream shops such as the Arndale Centre, its lower rents attracting a mix of cafes, bars, vintage clothes shops, independent book shops, record shops and galleries. It also has a distinctive nightlife, with a reputation for alternative gigs and club nights. Its proximity to the city centre shops, as well as transport interchanges such as Shudehill and Piccadilly, means the Northern Quarter is described in the Northern Quarter Development Framework Report of 2003 as: “A key piece in the city centre jigsaw, an area different in character and function to any other part of the city centre and of great strategic importance to Manchester as a city of distinctive quarters.”17

Increased investment in and focus on the Northern Quarter as an area came about after Manchester City Council commissioned a Northern Quarter Regeneration Strategy in the mid-nineties. This set out a vision for a mixed-use area, including increased residential space, as the Northern Quarter's role shifted from housing traditional industries such as textile manufacture to incubating new creative industries. The Northern Quarter Association was formed, a voluntary body comprising residents, representatives of trade and users of the area, and various environmental changes were made such as commissioning public art to make clear the area's identity as a cultural hot-spot. Around a decade later, the Northern Quarter Development Framework Report observed: “The individuality of the N4 remains – it is not currently a ‘corporate’ location, a place for large firms or for retail or leisure chains. It is the place for the independent sector, where residents of Manchester and visitors can buy high quality, unusual products and soak up the atmosphere of a truly ‘working quarter’.”1

Councils are honing in on quarters and creating visions and plans for areas at postcode level, but quarters are part of a bigger strategy to put cities like Manchester on the world-map. Ensuring certain quarters cover specific functions ensures that Manchester is seen to possess everything you would expect to find in a world city. The Northern Quarter Development Framework Report explicitly states of the Northern Quarter: “This non mainstream offer is important for any ‘global’ city.”19

Cities change and evolve up over time. The name 'Northern Quarter' entered popular use because it referred to an area which already had a distinct identity and role in the city. Few people outside those who live in the Green Quarter refer to it as such (or would even have reason to think about it as a 'place'), and it remains to be seen whether the other quarters, or even the name NOMA, will enter popular conversation as place-markers.

Quarters have been at the back of my mind for a while as something I would like to know more about. Above is merely a collection of things I found interesting about them. If I had had more time and space I would have liked to have also thought about the creation of Spinningfields as a 'luxury shopping quarter', and thought more about other concepts such as urban villages and had a closer look at the overlap with quarters and the language that is used to define and sell them.

1 For a list of the seven city quarters outlined in Birmingham's Big City Plan see

2 For a list of Sheffield's eleven quarters see

4 For more on Corridor Manchester visit

9 For more on Millennium Projects, including Urbis, see

11 See for more information on what's proposed.

13 See for more information on the town centre strategy.

17 Northern Quarter Development Framework Report, 2003

18 Northern Quarter Development Framework Report, 2003

19 Northern Quarter Development Framework Report, 2003

There are some great videos on Glasgow School of Art's Vimeo channel, including a lecture on culture-led regeneration, which looks at creative or cultural quarters in Manchester/Salford, Sheffield, Newcastle/Gateshead and Glasgow:

There is also a good lecture on the idea of creative cities and creative classes, and the differing experiences of big cities and small/medium size cities:

Friday, 14 October 2011

Self-publishers of the World Take Over! Salford Zine Library exhibition and film at Salford Art Gallery

The Shrieking Violet was interviewed over the summer for a film compiled by Salford Zine Library which will be shown during a new exhibition at Salford Art Gallery. Craig Barr from Salford Zine Library interviewed self-publishers across Manchester, including OWT Creative, Vapid Kitten and Manchester Municipal Design Corporation, and invited zine makers from all over the world to send in short films of themselves. Also on show will be items from the Salford Zine Library collection, usually based at Islington Mill, Salford.

Watch the trailer, starring artist, actor, Hotpants Romance member and the Shrieking Violet issue 11 contributor Lowri Evans, which has music by Maria and the Gay:

Watch a short chapter from the film here:

And another here:

The exhibition and film will run from October 15 to January 29 at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Park Crescent, Salford M5 4WU.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Issue 16 of the Shrieking Violet will be dedicated to Bert Jansch (1943-2011)

The Shrieking Violet issue 16, which is currently in production, will be dedicated to (as in I will recommend that people listen to his music while reading it) Bert Jansch, singer and guitarist in Pentangle and notable folk musician in his own right, who died from cancer earlier this week at the age of 67.

It will be the third issue of the Shrieking Violet to be dedicated to the memory of a musician who soundtracked my teenage years and passed away prematurely: Issue 8 was finished in April 2010, coinciding with the death of my musical hero Alex Chilton (Box Tops/Big Star) at the age of 59, and Trish Keenan of Broadcast passed away just as I was finishing issue 12, aged only 42.

One of the most compelling arguments for owning records (or books) in a physical format is that you never forget how you came into possession of those that sum up certain stages of your life.

As a big fan of folk and blues guitarists like John Fahey, I’d heard a lot about Bert Jansch but it wasn’t until a trip to Ireland after my A-levels to meet the editor of a fanzine I had been contributing to that I bought The Best of Bert Jansch (along with Fakebook by Yo La Tengo and a Hank Williams boxset, both of whom also became major musical obsessions) from a cosy, crowded record cum bookshop in Dublin. The record came to define the end of that summer, the changes in my life as I moved away from home to start university, and the passing of the days into autumn; there’s a darkness and sadness to Bert’s music behind its delicate, fingerpicked beauty and I have always thought that Bert’s was a music for the drawing in of the days, falling of leaves from the trees and the brief intensity of autumn light.

What makes Bert’s music for me is his warm, personal voice, which is one of the most distinctive and recognisable I’ve come across. As well as being one of my favourite guitarists, he’s also one of my favourite singers: his voice is plain, unadorned and unaffected. Bert’s is singing how it should be, unflashy and unshowy, complementary to rather than distracting from the guitar melodies which are at the centre of his songs.

As a shy, awkward teenager, when I started university my love of musicians like Bert Jansch helped me make friends. A fellow guitarist lived in my flat in halls and we traded CDs, introducing me to Bert Jansch’s 1968 album Birthday Blues.

This summer I stumbled across The Pentangle’s absolutely magical 1969 LP Basket of Light for £1 at a car boot sale at the end of my parents' road in Kent, a record I had long coveted on vinyl. Returning home, I rushed to put it on the stereo. My mum, who was lucky enough to be teenager during punk and post-punk, protested loudly and turned it off; she couldn’t stand it. In a reversal of the usual parent-child relationship, my taste in whimsical, gentle, introspective folk music made me a rebel!

Recipe callout

I am currently looking for a vegetarian/vegan recipe to include. If you would like to contribute a recipe, with photo of the finished dish, email