Saturday, 24 December 2016

Best of 2016


Two of my art highlights of the year came early in 2016. After years of planning to visit, I was finally enticed over to Nottingham Contemporary for Monuments Should Not Be Trusted, a wide-ranging exhibition of art and artefacts from Tito’s Yugoslavia. From dark, Joy Division-esque music videos to punk to dreamy electronica, the exhibition encompassed consumerism, critique, feminism and subcultures. Among the most absurd and surprising were the eccentrically decorated youth batons, as well as the array of bizarre gifts presented to Tito, custom-made to reflect the work of different professions and groups of society. Other highlights included the films of Karpo Godina, particularly the playfully soundtracked Healthy People for Fun.
Another early highlight was a display of large-scale, colourful post-war textiles by Tibor Reich, a Hungarian artist who settled in Britain, at the Whitworth Art Gallery. I went expecting to see textiles, but the exhibition was far more than that: Reich designed his own family home, and incorporated lots of architectural drawings into his fabric patterns. I also loved some of his functional ceramics, such as ashtrays, jugs and salt and pepper shakers, given character and humour by the incorporation of quirky caricatures.

The most compelling exhibition of the year – and the highlight of Home’s programming thus far – was Rachel Maclean’s Wot u :-) About. The central film brings to mind mindfulness and meditation gurus, depicting selfies and desperate grasping for public approval. It’s grotesque and uncomfortable viewing but also topical, contemporary and very much of the now. Elsewhere in the exhibition, the grotesque world she creates steps out from her film in the form of sculpture and installation.

Another unexpected highlight was Vogue 100 at Manchester Art Gallery, which celebrated 100 years of British Vogue by showing cover designs, drawings and illustrations from the Vogue archive, from the magazine’s early years to the classic work of photographers like Cecil Beaton to the present day. Vogue 100 vastly surpassed my expectations: it didn’t just document changing fashions and ideas of beauty but cultural, political, literary, artistic and social change. The exhibition showed portraits of the personalities of the day, from Snowdon’s royals to Thatcher to an impossibly young-looking Posh and Becks to Kate Middleton, as well as the assimilation of movements such as punk into fashion. Highlights included William Klein’s fantastical set designs at Jodrell Bank; Norman Parkinson’s portrait of Jerry Hall astride a giant statue in Armenia in 1976; Lee Miller’s land girls in their Harrods ‘austerity trousers’ (eight vouchers each) and documentation of war damage; Alexander McQueen with a smoking skull, going behind the scenes to offer a portrait of the makers of the fashion; the film-maker John Schlesinger in the studio of David Hockney; Frank Horvat’s aristocratic-looking woman in a tailored wool dress and jacket standing surrounded by children in an alleyway in the wool city of Bradford; and the grunge aesthetic of Stella Tennant’s eyeliner, nose ring and messy crop.

At Liverpool Biennial, the highlight was HFT The Gardener, Suzanne Treister’s beautiful, intricate, colourful quasi-botanical series of drawings at Liverpool John Moores University. Constructing a narrative world involving an amateur botanist/outsider artist, Treister transformed our perceptions of FTSE 100 companies by introducing psychedelic possibilities. The other highlight of Liverpool Biennial was Mark Leckey's video work Dream English Kid at Camp and Furnace, intertwining personal, natural and cultural biography and memory. Also worth seeing were Krzysztof Wodiczko's street installations and interventions at FACT, and Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni's sunset in extreme slow-motion at Open Eye.

At Henry Moore Institute in Leeds I enjoyed A Lesson In Sculpture With John Latham, a show exploring ideas around work, monuments, value and social and natural environments, which displayed Latham’s ‘skoob’ sculptures alongside work by Mary Kelly and strange environmental constructions by Yves Klein bringing to mind the experimental living environments of Buckminster Fuller.

The Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds University gave an interesting insight into Mitzi Cunliffe, the American-born designer of the Bafta mask and creator of many public artworks in Manchester and the North of England. Cunliffe came across as a stylish and glamorous figure, designing her own dress and accessories for the unveiling of the Man-made Fibres sculpture at Leeds University. Another highlight was seeing the door handles and knockers she created for the Festival of Britain.

Out There: Our Post-war Public Art, at Somerset House, was a comprehensive and well-researched survey of public sculpture in Britain, coinciding with Historic England’s listing of key pieces of public art at the start of 2016. As well as the historical context and aspirations surrounding the commissioning of public art, the exhibition gave an insight into the processes of creating public art, with a number of drawings and maquettes on display.

At Hebden Bridge Arts Festival I stumbled across Simon Ford’s Apocalypse Haywain in an abandoned bowls club in the woods. Apocalypse Haywain brought together a collection of charity shop-purchased and subsequently flood-damaged editions of Constable’s famous painting, each slightly varying from the original in colour, quality and scale. Shown collectively, they raised questions around landscape and human and cultural impact, change/transience, value, preservation and collecting.

Barnaby Festival showed me plenty of places in Macclesfield I would have never visited otherwise, from churches to parks. Bedwyr Williams’ video commission was a fantastical tale set in the town, and I enjoyed climbing the steep, ramshackle stairs of the Print Room to see Hondartza Fraga’s delicate drawings of nearby Jodrell Bank, but the highlight was Liliane Lijn’s Moonmeme in Savage Tower, a cyclical exploration of femininity.

I enjoyed the international range of photos, plans, drawings and videos relating to play on display at The Playground Project at the Baltic, Gateshead, exploring the history of playgrounds and their links with new developments in art, architecture and pedagogy.

A late highlight was John Akomfrah’s split-screen video installation Vertigo Sea at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, which brought together art film, documentary and period drama with nature observation to explore the multiplicity of time, life stories and histories. Using archival film and new footage – including striking aerial views – Akomfrah passes through the seasons to depict nature inland and outlying, through close-up shots of birds and butterflies, as well as showing the ways in which man has used the landscape, past and present, through activities such as work and hunting. The film is both beautiful and horrific, politicised through the inclusion of slavery and migration – Akomfrah uses footage of Vietnamese boat people – and topical: time is subverted by the inclusion of constantly ticking clocks. It can’t help but make you contemplate the horrors that are done to humans by humans – and think about bigger human impacts such as climate change.

2016 was a bittersweet year for the Manchester art scene, as gentrification got real – out goes the ramshackle artists' colony of Rogue Studios, in comes the neon pink-on-chipboard branding of the property developer circling round one of the few remaining undeveloped city centre mills. The end of an era has been marked by artists coming together to respond to the uncertainty of the situation, celebrate the creativity that's been incubated there, and to forge new and overdue collaborations with the small-scale textile producers who also just about cling on – one of the highlights was Sam Meech’s Unique Editions, which created knitted portraiture of the workers at Unique Knitwear, as well as limited edition scarves and jumpers.
Elsewhere in Greater Manchester I enjoyed Castlefield Gallery’s programme, particularly Christian Falsnaes' First, which required the visitors to the gallery to create the artwork, in front of a camera, prompted by a series of requests and questions: it was up to you how much of yourself you put on show. Manchester Left Writers' Launch Pad show, themed around the Northern Powerhouse, was a real challenge but a rewarding experience and an opportunity to try something new and different ways of working and collaborating, including creative writing and performance. The programme at the Holden Gallery also got stronger and stronger in 2016, culminating in From Slow to Stop Stop, a well-chosen collection of photos of videos exploring mobility (or lack of).
I enjoyed Factory at Mirabel and Joe Fletcher Orr’s self-referential show at the International 3, as well as Hannah Leighton Boyce’s installation exploring the sounds of industry at Touchstones in Rochdale, and a screening of Jennet Thomas’s controversial, grotesque and farcical depiction of Thatcher in the Unspeakable Freedom Device at International Anthony Burgess Foundation, organised by the Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books.
I was really impressed by the Bankley Studios open in Levenshulme, particularly Patricia Azevedo and Clare Charnley’s film-work and-and which depicted pairs of hands, challenged to collaborate in a series of seemingly simple everyday activities usually performed with ease by one person. I particularly enjoyed the Manchester School of Art Degree show in 2016, including the drawn installations of Siân Leyson. The textiles section made me want to fill my future home with colourful textiles, and the Mancunian Way magazine, exploring life and history in Manchester, including an issue dedicated to Bradford Colliery, was a thing of beauty.


Room was one of the first films I saw in 2016, and I immediately decided it should win all of the Oscars. The film’s storytelling and performances were exceptionally powerful, making me feel the whole repertoire of human emotions – fear, anger, disgust, sadness, disbelief and despair, but also somehow hope and even a bit of joy.

Room set the standard, but 2016 continued in the same calibre. Icelandic fable Rams, with its portrayal of obstinate and isolated brothers, was another powerful depiction of human relationships, throwing into question individual decisions and moral judgements.

Another tale of obstinacy, deception and betrayal I enjoyed was Australian film The Daughter, with its complication of the already fraught period of growing up and parent-child relationships. Likewise, I thought Julieta was classic Almodóvar, a sophisticated and lingering tale of wrong steps taken and the consequences of decisions made years in the past. Mustang was an eye-opener, combining teenage spirit, sisterly solidarity and tragedy in a patriarchal Turkish family with nascent friendship and desire for freedom.

I, Daniel Blake also had emotional resonance, depicting the futility and pointlessness of the administration of the benefits system, but also the ways in which people pull together for support. In addition to its immediate emotional impact, it’s a reminder that Daniel’s story is just one out of countless private tragedies that take place behind the headlines.

Nostalgia for the Light, by Chilean director Patricio Guzmán, was one of my favourite films of recent years, but I thought its follow-up, The Pearl Button, was even better. The Pearl Button focuses on the Patagonian archipelago and the indigenous tribes who lived alongside the water. It lulls the viewer into a false sense of security with beautiful natural footage, before introducing the oppression that befell them, then following on by discussing Pinochet’s dictatorship and the plight of the desaparecidos and their families. The film is powerful, moving and emotionally charged, and also has space and stars running through it, in reference to Chile’s astronomy programme. Embrace of the Serpent similarly benefited from the spectacular scenery of its Latin American setting, intertwining the history of the people of the Amazon with the story of one man, the explorer and scholar Theo von Martius.

Fire At Sea brought together individual and collective storytelling to explore the impact of the ongoing refugee crisis on the remote Italian island of Lampedusa, focusing on friendship, family, childhood and growing up, as well as the plight of those attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

I absolutely loved Greek film Chevalier’s tense and absurd exploration of masculinity, set around a luxury boat and involving bizarre and pointless tests of one-upmanship. The scene where the underdog character dons a feather boa and unexpectedly breaks into Minnie Riperton’s Loving You in pitch-perfect falsetto was my favourite moment of any film this year. The Coen Brothers’ latest film, Hail, Caesar!, featuring a guest appearance from Herbert Marcuse in a modernist-loving communist secret circle, was also very camp and silly, and made me laugh more than any other film this year.

My favourite animated film was April and the Extraordinary World, a dystopian tale of a girl scientist and her talking cat stuck in a world suspended in the steam age.

I saw lots of documentaries in 2016 but particularly enjoyed In the Company of Joan, a documentary about the theatre director Joan Littlewood shown at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. The film used interviews and talking heads to give a sense of Littlewood’s strong personality, and her links and friendships with figures ranging from the singer Ewan MacColl in the 1930s to young actors. The film explored Littlewood’s Marxist/communist political convictions, and her mission to take theatre out to the people by touring theatres in working-class industrial areas before setting up a permanent theatre in Stratford in the east end if London. One of the best things about the film was the wide range of activity it conveyed: Littlewood’s impact went far beyond theatre to include involvement in bombsites, fun palaces and avant-garde bubble cities.

Another documentary I enjoyed was Huw Wahl's Action Space, which focused on a 1970s collective who set up travelling inflatable play sculptures, believing in the power of art to educate, inspire and change the world.

I enjoyed Nick Jordan and Jacob Cartwright’s Last Acre, a short documentary about the alternative lifestyles of people living on the edge of the world in Barrow-in-Furness. I also enjoyed Clara Casian’s Bird Song – Stories from Pripyat, which revisited the scene of the nuclear disaster with new interviews and vintage film, plus an evocative and understated score from Dutch Uncles’ Robin Richards.

When We Were B-Boys succeeded in depicting not just the early 1980s breakdancing scene in Nottingham but friendship, resourcefulness, eccentricity and family ties – both by birth and those based around shared culture and community.


If more television was like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror I might watch far more of it. Like Rachel MacClean’s show at Home, Black Mirror is excruciatingly of the present-day; much of it is set in a future which could conceivably be just around the corner, creating a sense of unease and horror that stays with you.

Featuring six episodes, from the touching San Junipero to the pastel-hued suburbia of Nosedive, that could have each been a feature film in its own right, the series touched on big ethical questions and topics such as war, otherness, social inclusion/exclusion and punishment and retribution. The relatability of much of the narrative and its characters meant the twists were genuinely surprising.


Beyond Caring at Home was one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. Set in our precarious times, it brought to life the topical issues of zero hour, low-paid contracts and lack of workers’ rights. The small cast were completely convincing in their portrayals of power, desperation and frustration, and small moments of friendship and madness.

I took my dad to see Sunny Afternoon at Manchester Opera House as his fathers’ day present. The musical tells the story of the Kinks, telling tales of fraught family relationships and love stories yet portraying them as simple boys made good. Sometimes sweet and often hilarious, it’s a cautionary tale about the perils of fame.

Cycle rides
I’d long wanted to explore the Middlewood Way, an old railway line running through the green Cheshire countryside that is now a cycle route, having been past it on the train line between Manchester and the Peak District. I took the opportunity to cycle to Macclesfield along the Middlewood Way, getting on it in High Lane, where the outer reaches of Stockport meet the countryside. Although the trail itself is flat, it gives views of the surrounding hills, and quaint villages such as Bollington, as well as local landmark White Nancy in the distance. I cycled back along the Macclesfield Canal, a slightly more windy and muddy route, taking in aqueducts, boats, geese, goslings and ducklings, and offering views of another local folly, the Cage at Lyme Park.
Another old railway line, the Lymm line, gave a welcome traffic-free section of cycling to another Cheshire market town, Northwich, and its famous boat lift. The journey was full of thatched cottages and one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever seen, Great Budworth, complete with sloping cobbled streets, a well, village churches, leaning houses, a library in a phone box and even a scarecrow competition featuring Tim Peaks in straw form!
Trips and walks

I visited some more British cities for the first time in 2016, including Nottingham, which feels and looks very much like a city of the north. A visit to Nottingham wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to Beeston to see Owen Jones’ vast, modernist Boots factory, but I also enjoyed walking around the city, from the tree-lined sweeping private streets of the Park, a centrally located community of mansions, to Nottingham University’s lakeside campus. I also went inside a Rough Trade record shop for the first time in several years, and found it to be a very different beast to the Rough Trades I visited as a teenager – far from the cramped, underground Rough Trade in Covent Garden, with layers of competing stickers on every surface, Rough Trade nowadays looks more like a lifestyle emporium, selling not just records but coffee, beer, books, DVDs and clothes, and even containing a novelty selfie booth.

Lincoln also felt like a city of the north, both in its geographical distance/isolation from the rest of the country, and in its cultural distance: it felt like stepping back in time several decades. Lincoln cathedral, with its Duncan Grant murals, is wondrous, and it’s pretty around the aptly-named Steep Hill area. However, my favourite thing about Lincoln is Imperial Teas, a purveyor of exotic and unusual loose leaf tea (I took home coconut tea, black tea blended with big flakes of coconut). It wasn’t cheap, but was worth it: Imperial Teas is the only tea shop I’ve been to that rivals my favourite place to buy loose leaf tea, J Atkinson in Lancaster.
Harlow new town was big, vast, traffic-filled and sprawling, like a more run-down, less glamorous and more spread out version of Coventry that was not kind to the pedestrian visitor. I was one of several visitors clutching a map of the public sculptures of Harlow, and saw a large number of sculptures in the centre, the highlight of which was William Mitchell’s Water Gardens fountains. Such was the scale of the town that I didn’t make it to any of the residential estates. I did, however, visit the outskirts of Harlow for architect Frederick Gibberd’s magical, enchanting, riverside garden. Soon after my visit the Twentieth Century Society ran a tour of Harlow by bike, which makes a lot more sense than attempting to see everything on foot.
Model village Silver End, a little island of modernism deep in the Essex countryside, was worth an afternoon’s wander around its estates of flat-rooved, Crittal-windowed houses. The bigger houses had seen much better days. Similarly, Bataville was planned uniformity for workers in Tilbury, a subtle hierarchy apparent in the semi-detached managers’ houses.

I continued my trips to the new campus universities of the 1960s by visiting the famous ziggurats of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, a landscaped campus that comes complete with its own broad and is full of sculptures.

I finally visited Hungarian architect Ernő Goldfinger’s modernist home at 2 Willow Road, Hampstead. Featuring the Goldfingers’ impressive collection of mid-twentieth century artworks (my favourites being Max Ernst’s painted pebbles), it was well worth the wait for a glamorous glimpse of artistic life in 1930s suburban Hampstead, as well giving an idea of Goldfinger’s interests and practice. Unusually for National Trust properties, the experience was surprisingly intimate and his house, which included a nursery and wooden toys, actually felt like a family home.

In complete contrast, I was absolutely fascinated by the Haven plotlands museum, based in the sole remaining plotlands house at Laindon, near Basildon. Intended as temporary holiday dwellings, whole communities and generations decamped from East London to Laindon in the war and lived for decades on small plots of land, growing fruit and vegetables, keeping chickens out the back and cycling to the train station for work. Eventually, the residents were moved out to the new town of Basildon in the late-1970s. The area was retained as a nature reserve, and the houses were allowed to return to nature. A 76-ear-old volunteer who was born and raised in a plotlands house gave a tour, and pointed out details such as the rag walls and rag rugs.

I loved exploring another old railway line in Lancaster, lined with wild raspberries and cherries, and seeing the river curve round dramatically at Crook O’Lune. Nearby is Halton, with its eco-friendly riverside co-housing development, and a mill co-operatively run as a creative space.
The long trek over to Ashington by train, bus and foot was rewarded by seeing the pitmen painters collection at Woodhorn, documenting everyday life, work and leisure in the north east.

I spent some time in 2016 exploring more of the British coastline, from Ravenglass and Grange-over-Sands up in the North West to Newbiggen-by-the-sea in the North East to the estuarine seasides of Southend-on-Sea and Canvey Island, which felt like part of London, with its sea walls with murals depicting natural life in the Thames estuary, as well as local legends Dr Feelgood.
I’d always thought Kent, and in particular Folkestone, was flat, but a walk up the Folkestone Downs made me realise how wrong I was. It took me years and years to get round to visiting, but now it’s one of my favourite places in Folkestone. Also in Kent, I enjoyed walking off into the marshes at Faversham creek.

Hastings is one of the few places on the south coast I could ever imagine living, and its appeal was increased by my discovery of a wooded, cliff-top country park. I spent a very satisfying two hours rambling to the suburban, nondescript village of Fairlight, past reservoirs and with a detour scrambling down a hillside for a brief for a onto a rocky, secluded, nudist beach.
However, my new favourite bit of coastline is between Seawick, Lee-over-Sands and Colne Point on the Essex coast. This open, marshy space is criss-crossed by creeks and accessed by small lanes from the village of St Osyth. It will appeal to anyone for whom Dungeness is too built-up, accessible and touristy. Home to yet another nudist beach, the sea creates large, oozing banks of muddy clay, and the beach is littered with bricks and broken up bits of old buildings. It floods regularly: one of the most recently built dwellings is a cork-covered space pod on stilts, which inspired my favourite piece of writing on architecture this year, by the Guardian's Rowan Moore.


Swimming in Southend felt like swimming in the Thames, with the traffic of the river going past. Another swim with a spectacular view was at Dovercourt, with its two antique lighthouses, overlooking the huge container boats and cranes of Harwich.

Also in Essex I swam in the muddy, seaweedy sea at Brightlingsea and next to the piped pop music and gaudy rides of the pier at Clacton, underneath an abandoned museum to pirate radio.

In the quiet Kent hop town of Faversham the lido seemed to be the busiest place, with its fake rapids and impromptu diving contest.

The sandy, shallow waters of Pickmere were a welcome break on the cycle ride to Northwich, but down the road I stumbled across my new favourite lido, the elegant, cold pool in the middle of wooded Marbury Park.

Indoors, I visited the shabby, eccentric, wiggle-shaped pool in the basement of Sunlight House, with its mural giving the impression of being on a retro cruiseliner, and pools in old mills/warehouses in Sackville Street and Broadstone Mill, Reddish.


My favourite song of the year was Up to Anything by the Goon Sax, jangly indie-pop that I could just listen to over and over again all day.

Every time I heard Charles Bradley’s world-weary You Think I Don’t Know (But I Do) it made me stop and wonder where I’d heard it before – which I think is the idea. This sounds familiar both in its classic soul sound and the experiences behind it.

David Bowie kept on reinventing himself until the end: I kept hearing Blackstar on the radio and thinking it was by Scott Walker. With its stately, muted, strange, restrained vocal over ethereal, beating, synthy electronica, Blackstar also brings to mind Kid A, Radiohead’s foray into dance-pop.

Hope Sandoval, one of the greatest rock voices of the 1990s, teamed up with one of this decade’s most distinctive voices, Kurt Vile, for Let Me Get There. Sandoval’s smooth, sultry, sexy, frail otherworldliness is placed next to the rough and rasping, down to earth, countrified tones of Kurt Vile, and it works – like all good collaborations, each enhances the other. The swirling organ, tremolo guitar and woozy chord changes of the Warm Inventions makes Let Me Get There feel a little like an updated version of the romantic languor of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon which is, coincidentally, one of my favourite songs of all-time.

I also enjoyed the day-glo powerchord pop of Taco Cat’s I Hate the Weekend, a bratty sentiment I can definitely agree with, Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’s raw, rickety, straightforward, catchy, feel-good punk, and the bouncy, bleepy electronic fun of Go Ahead by Pillow Person.

Requiem by extraordinary Swedish six-piece psych-folk band Goat is a full-on, multi-layered collage of tribal drums, polyrhythms, field recordings, hand claps, reverb, nursery rhyme-esque melodies, flutes and twisty, spindly, bagpipe-esque guitar solos. It’s a complicated, messy noise, but it’s pop. One of the highlights is Union of Sun and Moon, with its chanting and deliberately untuneful (and thus life-affirming) recorder duet.

Whyte Horse’ Pop Or Not is sassy, full-bodied retro-pop in the vein of Broadcast. Highlights are Promise I Do and the French-language La Couleur Originelle.

I enjoyed the portentous, theatrical, flamboyant marching post-punk pop of Tim Presley’s the Wink – and one of its quieter moments, the Big Star-eque Morris.


Meilyr Jones played the part of the pop star at Sounds From the Other City in Salford, hiding in and out of the nooks and crannies of beautiful St Philip’s Church.

Electric 50, an eclectic 50th anniversary tribute to Bob Dylan going electric at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, with highlights including Thick Richard, Vampire Dub and Vocal Harum, was a special birthday treat.

Manchester band Pins covered the Bunker in Salford in tinfoil and played Velvet Underground covers in a cage in a tribute to Warhol’s Factory: there was an illicit, underground and very arty feel about it.

Sitting on a tree stump in Range Road Community Garden in Whalley Range on a late spring/early summer’s night, eating home-made chilli, was a perfect venue for the avant-garde folk and country of Joshua Burkett, Crystalline Roses, John Collin and the Gamecock.

On the other hand, the Albert Hall always oversells its gigs, resulting in a venue that is horribly, stressfully crowded. Goat just about made it bearable, with two gold-caped singers jumping around like animals and tall feathered headdresses. With Grace Slick-esque singing, and the use of percussion such as agogo bells, they stay just the right side of prog.


JD Taylor’s travelogue Island Story, an epic journey surveying the country and its inhabitants and trying to understand its political and cultural inclinations, made me want to set out on my bike (read my review for Manchester review of books here).

Nick Dunn’s Dark Matters: A Manifesto for the Nocturnal City, captured the distinct pleasures of urban walking in poetry and prose, rendering the familiar places of Greater Manchester remarkable and the ordinary extraordinary (read my interview with Nick here).

Owen Hatherley’s Ministry of Nostalgia brings together a series of critiques of the ways in which the aesthetics of the post-war period – or a certain nostalgia for it – influences twenty first century culture at a time of austerity. Hatherley shows how history is written to suit our own narratives, portraying Britishness as a powerful composite of imagery and symbols.

I expect I’m similar to many people in that hearing the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy for the first time as a teenager was an arresting, transformative moment that changed what I knew and felt about pop music. Paula Mejia’s Psychocandy is the latest in supremely nerdy series 33 and 1/3, in which writers take on seminal albums in academic detail. Mejia’s in-depth analysis of Psychocandy convincingly sets the scene for the album in the Reid brothers’ home town, bleak Scottish new town East Kilbride, eight miles outside Glasgow yet seemingly of another world, at the same time as drawing out the links between their wall of noise and pop precedents such as the Ronettes. It’s also interesting to read an American’s take on post-war reconstruction and rebuilding, and the political and economic context of Thatcherism and miners’ strikes.

Artist Tirzah Garwood’s autobiography Long Live Great Bardfield, republished by Persephone Books in 2016 more than 60 years after her death with a new introduction by her daughter Anne Ullmann and illustrated with photographs and etchings, is a weighty and satisfying read. Born in 1908 and brought up in an upper-middle-class family in genteel Eastbourne, it’s a glimpse into a different time, when middle-class women’s main role was to marry well. Often snobbish in her descriptions of those she meets, and strange and apparently naïve in some of the ways she looked at the world – for example, Garwood was keen to have children in order to stop the monthly inconveniences of menstruation – at other times Garwood writes about sex and relationships with a surprising frankness, even going as far as to liken the birth of her third child to orgasm. She also writes honestly and maturely about her husband, Eric Ravilious’ love affairs. The book is made poignant not just by Ravilious’ loss in a plane over Iceland in 1942, but by Garwood’s documentation of operations for recurrent breast cancer, from which she eventually died at the age of 43, leaving behind three young children. Though Garwood writes little about her practice as an artist in her own right – she was too busy being a wife, mother and lover – her autobiography places her at the heart of an artistic circle that included the Great Bardfield group of artists in Essex, as well as the friendship group based around Peggy Angus’ country cottage the Furlongs in East Sussex.

I also enjoyed Modern Futures, which brings together personal and creative engagements with modernist architecture and Jonathan Hoskins’ Own De Beauvoir!, a semi-fictional account of gentrification, protest, regeneration, creativity and untold histories in one small area of North East London (read my review for Manchester review of books here).


I enjoyed Bob Dickinson’s bewildering Three-sided Football on BBC 4, exploring the game’s Situationist roots as well as the teams that still play it today.

Katie Puckrik’s Power Pop on Radio 6 Music played lots of shiny, radio-friendly power-pop hits, playing some of my favourites at the same time as introducing me to lots of previously unknown bands.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Sugarloaf Hill sloe gin

The hills of the Folkestone downs – Sugarloaf Hill, Castle Hill, Hoywell, Cheriton Hill and Round Hill – rise out of the gently undulating Kent countryside like green bowling balls, left by some giant en route to the channel. If they were to crouch down, survey their target, flex their arm and roll them across the flat landscape they’d hit the cliff-top town of Folkestone, which diffuses out from the sea in dense avenues of former redbrick mansion blocks and neat semis, rarely letting up to allow in parks or open spaces.
From a distance, the blueness of English Channel intensifies. The steps of an ancient earthwork ripple like the sea below; a more contemporary artwork, the white horse of Invicta, spreads out across the downs. It’s Folkestone’s answer to the Hollywood sign, a bit of modern-day branding for a town which has for many years seemed relegated to a comfort break on the side of a motorway, a stop on the train line between the coast and the capital. Folkestone was hit hard by the twentieth century decline of domestic tourism and the closure of its ferry and hovercraft links.
From up on Sugarloaf Hill the town’s former grandeur as a tourist destination is apparent in a way it might not be at street level. The Grand and the Metropole hotels are lumbering redbrick footprints teetering at the edge of the cliff like non-identical twins. The high-rise offices of the town’s newspaper, the Herald, rise above the empty shops of the town centre. The premises of an insurer that’s long since left town – now a curry house – offer a rare bit of streamlined modernist glamour. A tall Victorian railway viaduct tiptoes across terraced houses, bringing daytrippers in and connecting commuters with better-paid, higher status employment outside. Up high are wartime ditches built to defend the south coast. Below, two Martello towers represent an earlier era of threatened invasion, one pristine, one overgrown. Close up, the town becomes more anonymous, a familiar scene of grey out-of-town retail sheds and the teen haunts of drive-thru fast food joints. Then, the landscape begins to empty out, towards the eerie remoteness of Romney Marsh and Dungeness in the distance.
Straight ahead, the French coastline hides behind a hanging mist or smog, but it’s only a train ride away: Eurostar speeds past, trains and wires sloping across the countryside. Trains no longer stop at the Folkestone Harbour train station, stretching out into the sea like a tentacle feeling its way to the continent, but visitors are now greeted by a text work by Ian Hamilton Finlay at the end of the harbour arm, a legacy of the Folkestone Triennial’s attempts to reinvent and inject some poetry back into the town.
Sugarloaf Hill and its neighbouring rotundas feel like the countryside, but it’s an illusion. Highway cattle roam woods and scrubland, fields of wheat, hay and wild marjoram, and thick passageways of blackthorn bushes, but the motorway's hum is hard to ignore. We pass through these hills in polluting metal boxes – an A-road on stilts goes in at Folkestone and comes out at Dover – and drink its water, from hidden reservoirs. In summer, runners puff up and down and young lovers picnic in relative privacy. Sugarloaf Hill is both of the town and a place to escape from it, to watch it from a distance, to bring a bit back with us, as sloes to mix with sugar for winter sloe gin.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Shrieking Violet at Manchester & Salford Anarchist Bookfair, Islington Mill, Saturday 10 December

The Shrieking Violet will be sharing a table with small press Fold at this year's Manchester & Salford Anarchist bookfair.

The bookfair will take place at Islington Mill, Salford, from 10am-7pm on Saturday 10 December.

A limited edition black and white reprint of He's Leaving Home: The Shrieking Violet Guide to Hearty Vegetarian Cooking on a Budget will be available, as well as the Shrieking Violet Guide to the Public Art of Central Salford.

Either publication would make an ideal Christmas present (to buy direct send £4 to via Paypal with your address). Feedback on the first (sold out) print run of He's Leaving Home included:

"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

Fold will be selling intelligent, thoughtful pocket-sized publications bringing together essay on topical political and cultural issues, by authors including Steve Hanson and JD Taylor.

For more information about stallholders and talks visit

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Reclaiming the streets: An interview with Nick Dunn about his new book Dark Matters: A Manifesto for the Nocturnal City

One of the first pieces of advice given to students moving to a city – particularly young women – is to avoid walking the city streets at night. If it’s absolutely essential to do so, you’re told to stick to a large group and “always walk towards the oncoming traffic”. Are the streets really fraught with fear, potential menace lurking around every corner? Are they places to be passed through as quickly as possible, potentially hazardous passages to be navigated from work to bar to club to home?

In his new book Dark Matters: A Manifesto for the Nocturnal City, Nick Dunn suggests that walking after dark is not just a means of getting from A to B, but an experience that can itself be rich in interest and stimulation. When he started to regularly walk around Manchester at night, Nick says, “I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.”

“Walking is so natural to humans,” Nick tells me. “It is calming, meditative and therapeutic. It’s about wellbeing and a connection to the world. It’s an escape and a welcome respite, allowing you to be in a time and place in a way you can’t be in your daily life.”

Night time changes expectations, patterns of movement and encounters; places, shapes and materials shift in form, appearance and function. “Years ago people thought darkness rose out of the ground and might even kill you if you touched it,” says Nick. “We don’t think that any more, but it’s still immersive and sight is not that much use in a lot of areas by night.”

Walking at night activates the imagination, raising questions about what it means to be productive and creative. “Walking can be subconscious and you don’t really have to think about it – you can percolate other thoughts whilst walking,” observes Nick. “I’m not a luddite, but so much of life nowadays is mediated by screens, and we’re losing touch with the things that make us human. People would much rather live through proxy. Walking can allow you to give your attention to things. It’s an inscriptive practice.”

Over the past couple of years Nick estimates he has spent a couple of thousand hours in total walking at night, sometimes walking all night until dawn. “I’m only doing what you see lots of couples and families doing on Sundays!” he points out. Despite the boom in interest in psychogeography and walking as art practice, however, for many people cities are still not an obvious place to walk. “With a lot of British cities, you go into the city centre as a pleasuredome, to consume,” says Nick. “I’ve always loved walking around cities, but it has usually had a purpose – to see friends, to go to gigs.” 

Cities might be places to live, work and socialise, but there’s an expectation that if you want to walk you get the train to the hills or drive out to the countryside. “On the rare occasion friends have come out with me they’ve been bored and underwhelmed by the city’s ordinariness,” says Nick. “Some people expect entertainment and engagement – they’re not very good with silence.”

Nick’s spent a lot of time walking in London, an oft-trodden literary path, and many other cities, but Dark Matters turns its attention closer to home, to the particular experience of his native city. “I love Manchester but it’s not a 24-hour city,” says Nick. “Apart from the little bumps and grinds of clubs and stuff, Manchester dies at night. It feels like a completely different city. It’s not like London and doesn’t hold the imagination in the same way; it’s surprisingly quiet. Manchester still has massive pockets of quiet, whereas London is teeming with life 24 hours a day. Manchester is also very, very compact – you can walk around the centre, the area contained within the inner ring road, in twenty minutes.”

Much of Nick’s time has been spent on the edges of the city, in semi-rural environments such as the river Mersey, and in suburban south Manchester. These places, familiar to many of us and replicated over and over again throughout the city and its outlying towns, contain a “certain set of houses which are identifiable” and offer a glimpse into a “deeply personal diorama of family living”. At the same time, they’re unfamiliar, rendered “eerie, odd and uncanny at night”, and often empty apart from the occasional speeding car.

Night walking in inner-cities, meanwhile, can throw up “problems and things that don’t stack”. For example, says Nick, Manchester is not an age-friendly city. Its centre isn’t multi-generational. “I look at the future of cities in my day job [Professor of Urban Design at the University of Lancaster] and it’s very pertinent – cities at night is a global problem. The response is usually to make them safer and to use surveillance, often at a huge ecological and environmental cost. There are other ways to approach the nocturnal city.”

No two nights are the same, but Nick has done different walks in the same place, cross-hatching paths which “overlap in a big waggle dance across the city centre”. Small written snapshots of these walks featured in the recent exhibition Loitering With Intent: The Art Politics of Walking in Manchester and Beyond at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. They were presented alongside photographs capturing the invasive, uneasy orange glare, the “strong glow of LEDs and lighting” that pervades the city at night, contributing to a collage of nocturnal experiences.

Nick also led a night time wander alongside the exhibition, showing “there’s so much variety so close to the city centre”. Over a couple of hours it took in canals, elevated motorway the Mancunian Way and its half-finished slip road that hangs over the city like an ellipsis, the landscaped calm of the 1960s UMIST campus, now emptied out and partially demolished in favour of a new-build, high-rise campus elsewhere in the city, the bubble of affluent housing that is Piccadilly Village, which arose from the dust of the almost uninhabited city centre Manchester in the early 1990s and whose private canal basins are hermetically sealed off from the red light district with high security gates, and the former industrial areas of the gentrifying inner-city area of Ancoats, half-abandoned and half-reinvented as a place for living, working and consuming. The walk finished with the “beautiful compressing experience of the passageways leading to St Ann’s Square”.

It might seem odd to organise and collectivise something so inherently spontaneous and so often done alone, especially now that everything from graffiti to drinking to smell is packaged as a city tour, an experience to be purchased and consumed, but Nick’s night walk wasn’t just an architectural guide or urban walk – it was a challenge to participants to do something different. “What I get out of walking is different to someone else; walking with others is a very different experience,” says Nick. “People came as it wasn’t something they’d do on their own. You’re asking people to pay attention to their surroundings and enjoy the city – the texture, smells, sense of enclosure and sense of openness.”

Dark Matters was prompted in part by Nick’s participation in the Royal Academy's Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition in 2014, where he spoke at a seminar and got really positive feedback about his work on the nocturnal city. He acknowledges that he’s not the first person to think about walking or cities or night, or walking as a spatial practice, or to connect it with capitalism, contemporary politics and social critique – but says he wanted to go beyond walking, to sensing.

“Lots of books have been written about walking and night and cities, from sociological and geographical perspectives,” Nick explains. “I didn’t want to do that, or to generate hundreds of words of footnotes. The book is more open, and more of a framework and way of thinking about things. It’s a series of short ideas that ultimately says just go and do it. It doesn’t reduce itself to nuggets. It glories in being unfinished and starting the conversation and asking questions.” Nick also notes a tendency for walking in literature to be “very solitary, male, macho and heroic”. He admits: “I hope the book has vulnerability, uncertainty and openness to it.”

Despite a long gestation period, Dark Matters was written in a short space of time, giving it, says Nick, a sense of urgency and propulsion, a “call to legs”. Academic musings are interspersed with quotations from poems and vignettes giving the reader a distilled impression of the city by night. As an architect by training and a “designer of things”, Nick experimented with drawing and mapping his journeys, but he realised “words work best – a photo never does justice to the thickness of the night, but it’s amazing how rich and potent memories are and how quickly they come back to you”. Rather than “fuzzy photos”, then, the book uses creative non-fiction as prompts; descriptive interludes convey the idea of what Nick felt and sensed, but “don’t lead by the hand”.

Music also pulses through the book. In particular, LoneLady’s 2015 album Hinterland provides a mental soundtrack. “LoneLady’s second album is very insightful about landscapes, and desolation is very set up in the rhythm of what she does,” says Nick. The jerky, restless, funkiness of Hinterland is part of a distinct northern musical lineage, drawing on post-punk and industrial music like Cabaret Voltaire, whilst remaining resolutely of the contemporary city. It’s frail, fragmented and spidery yet flowing and robust. It’s mechanistic and human, sparse and worldly yet at the same time a product of Manchester and its restrictions, frustrations and opportunities. Ultimately, it’s a pop record. LoneLady was also part of the Loitering With Intent exhibition; a series of opaque clues, teasingly familiar yet just beyond touching distance, led visitors on a treasure hunt of the city that made even the most intrepid explorer and active gatherer of arcane facts question their knowledge and understanding of the places around them.

Dark Matters contains a strong element of critique and, as the title implies, a call to action. “It’s getting increasingly difficult to walk around the city,” says Nick. “The amount of landscape accessible is diminishing. The city is foreclosing and we are constantly being told what we can’t do. We mainly think about it as an arena for consumption, and as cities as having to attract investment – Manchester sometimes believes too much in that story.”

Physical fences and boundaries are mentally reinforced by our own expectations and inhibitions about where we go and where we don’t go. “Roles and routines are deeply embedded”, says Nick. “To move too oddly in a city, to dance through a space, to move too quickly or too slowly is to bring circumspection on yourself. You’re quickly made to feel unwelcome if you’re not spending anything. For example in Piccadilly Gardens, you self-identify as ‘other’ if you’re not about to get on a bus, or on your way to somewhere. Your motives become suspicious and attract attention from not just police and security but from other members of the public. You’re conditioned into how you expect people to behave in public.”

In spite of this, says Nick: “The urban landscape can be an amazing and wonderful thing. To walk is to read the landscape beneath your feet. The whole thing is underscored by improvisation. You hear voices behind a wall, see something that catches your eye. I make it up as I go along. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and you don’t need to be instructed – anyone with the will can do it.”

As Nick says, walking in the city is “about finding the extraordinary and fascinating in the everyday”. Everyday life sometimes seems fraught with danger, but it is also be full of beauty and wonder. As our society, culture and politics are increasingly overhung by a cloud of fear and suspicion of the unknown and the other, perhaps it’s time to embrace risk in search of freedom, understanding and even adventure.

Dark Matters: A Manifesto for the Nocturnal City is published by Zero books on 25 November costing £9.99. For more information visit

Thursday, 29 September 2016

William Mitchell in Harlow: chapter in Modern Futures book

I've written a shortish reflection on my pilgrimage to the 'sculpture town' of Harlow, a mid-twentieth century new town in Essex, earlier this year, focusing on the redeveloped Water Gardens in the town centre and the architectural sculptor William Mitchell's gargoyle fountains, as a chapter for the new Modern Futures book.

Modern Futures, which is published by Uniformbooks, is edited by Hannah Neate and Ruth Craggs and is an outcome of the Modern Futures research network, which brought together academics, writers, artists, photographers and practitioners for a series of events and workshops around the country exploring questions around changing perceptions of the experience, appreciation and preservation of modern architecture. The book brings together contributions prompted, explored and developed through these events, as well as reflections from a few familiar projects from Manchester such as Angela Connelly and Matthew Steele's Sacred Suburbs survey and Manchester Modernist Society.

The book can be purchased online for £12 at

An informal launch for the book, featuring brief introductions to the chapters by some of the contributors, will be held at King's College London on Wednesday 16 November from 6.15pm-8pm. The event is free and can be booked at

Monday, 8 August 2016

Modernist Heroines tour, People’s History Museum, Thursday 18 August

Five years on from the joint LRM, Manchester Modernist Society and Shrieking Violet project, Manchester’s Modernist Heroines will be revisited in a free walking tour for the People’s History Museum at 2pm on Thursday 18 August.

Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011, Manchester’s Modernist Heroines celebrated ten overlooked women from the twenty and twenty first-centuries with connections to Manchester, from the architect Rachel Haugh to the geographer Doreen Massey to the Egyptologist Rosalie David and the sculptor and designer Mitzi Cunliffe. It culminated in a psychogeographic walk around Manchester, responding to sites significant to Manchester’s Modernist Heroines, and a publication bringing together creative and critical responses to the women by contemporary Mancunians, from interviews and essays to poetry and drawing. Read online:
The Modernist Heroines tour will be led by artist, researcher and activist Morag Rose as part of a series of events running alongside the People’s History Museum exhibition Loitering With Intent, which celebrates ten years of the LRM and brings together new contributions from writers, artists and activists as well as items from the LRM archive. For more information and to book visit

Loitering With Intent continues until Friday 14 October.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Social Science Centre Manchester seeks members, scholars and funds

A new Social Science Centre (SSC) for Manchester will provide affordable co-operative Social Science Higher Education (HE) in the centre of Manchester this autumn. SSC is now seeking members and scholars, alongside funds to get off the ground.

Run as a co-operative, and owned by its members, the SSC Manchester will eventually be self-sustaining. The first Social Science Centre, in Lincoln, has successfully offered free, co-operative higher education since 2011, and granted approval for the new Manchester branch at its 2016 AGM in May. SSC Manchester will begin with exactly the same model and constitution as SSC Lincoln, and it is hoped that it will be the first of many more new SSC branches.

The 2016-2017 term of SSC Manchester will take place each Monday evening, from 6pm-8pm, at the Friends Meeting House on Mount Street, beginning on Monday 5 September. This area is saturated with radical history, including St Peter’s Fields, the location of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.

SSC is currently fundraising to cover the costs of room hire for the first phase, September to December 2016, and printed materials. Contributions can be made at

Dr Steve Hanson of SSC Manchester commented: “The new HE white paper clearly places Higher Education in the market, and as a servant of the market, although no-one inside has been naive enough to think it anywhere else for some time. HE will not be miraculously liberated from neoconservative policy in the near future. There is no point relying on a long wait for internal change.

“It is time to create new values: a more flattened hierarchy, no fees, a message that all of us are ‘scholars’, a Higher Education co-op. SSC Lincoln were the first to do things differently after the Browne Report of 2009 and the Millbank Riot of 2010, and we will be extending this to more people with the establishment of SSC Manchester. If you believe in an alternative to the current neoliberal model, please help, either by making a contribution to our start-up costs or registering as a scholar or member.”

To find out more about SSC Manchester, and sign up, visit

Twitter: @sscmanc 

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Shrieking Violet interviewed by Mark Reid

I was recently interviewed by playwright Mark Reid for his new project The Rudiment, which has the intention of interviewing a range of creative practitioners in depth. As I feel most contented and comfortable when walking and exploring, I took Mark for a walk along the River Mersey from East Didsbury to Stockport town centre, a route I often walk.

To read the interview, which discusses the practice of writing and interviewing, inspirations and motivations and my engagement with various creative projects, from Manchester Left Writers to Manchester School of Samba, visit

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

He’s Leaving Home: The Shrieking Violet Guide to Hearty Vegetarian Cooking On A Budget

I’ve written and designed a new, very limited-edition publication called He’s Leaving Home: The Shrieking Violet Guide to Hearty Vegetarian Cooking On A Budget. It’s a cookbook for my little brother, who recently left home for the first time, and aims to give ideas for cooking and eating for those who live and eat alone, using everyday ingredients.

The emphasis is on the classic, hearty, simple and solid - think potatoes, pulses, pasta, pies and spices - although unfortunately I've had to leave out anything containing mushrooms or sweet and savoury flavour combinations (both of which I love) as he hates them. The book's also lacking in curries as I felt it was too rich an area to do justice to in this volume ...

I was inspired by a remark that my brother (who really enjoys cooking) made a while ago that he would like to eat less meat and cook more vegetarian food, but lacked inspiration. For ages I planned and thought about writing down all the recipes I make on a regular basis as a birthday present for him. I spent the first few months of this year finally doing that, alongside compiling a list of store cupboard staples I always have in to make sure I am never in the position of having nothing to cook! I have no idea if he'll like or use it, but I find the idea of giving and receiving material goods for the sake of it quite problematic, and would much prefer to share and receive time, interest, ideas and experiences.

Writing it has also been quite a therapeutic and cathartic process. A few of the recipes were developed in collaboration with Daniel Fogarty (baked bean pie and peanut butter jam tarts), and he also introduced me to ground rice pie. I spent last year cooking and cooking and experimenting and experimenting and perfecting recipes, as I was so determined that if only I looked after myself well enough (and ate enough spinach!) I could make myself feel better.

Everything I cook is vegan, but I've purposefully called it 'vegetarian' and used generic words such as 'milk' and 'butter' rather than 'soya milk' and 'vegetable margarine' as I know how alarming some people find the idea of vegan cooking ...

Read online:

A paper copy can be found in Salford Zine Library at Nexus Art Cafe. It’s for my brother, but it’s also for anyone else for whom cooking for one is a chore rather than the pleasure it can and should be.

For optimum results, the recipes should be followed whilst listening to the song 'Bedsitter' from the Soft Cell album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, which I have come to regard as one of the high points of 20th century British culture.
BEDSITTER by Soft Cell from paulvernon on Vimeo.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Diagonal Noise exhibition, Castlefield Gallery: read the Shrieking Violet in the reading area

A small selection of past issues of the Shrieking Violet will be available to read and browse in the reading area of new exhibition Diagonal Noise, which opens at Castlefield Gallery on Thursday 26 May (exhibition continues until 17 July).

The exhibition brings together five artists based in Belgium, Tiago Duarte, Joke Van den Heuvel, Vijai Patchineelam, Adrien Tirtiaux and Floris Vanhoof, to exhibit existing, new and site-specific work.

Diagonal Noise will also include a reading area displaying publications by Posture Editions (Ghent, Belgium) and the exhibiting artists, alongside publications by artists and organisations based in and around Greater Manchester, including the Shrieking Violet.

In addition, a brand new, limited edition print copy of The Shrieking Violet Guide to the Public Art of Central Salford will be available to buy at the Gallery for £2.

For more information about the exhibition and accompanying events visit

Monday, 2 May 2016

Castlefield Gallery Launch Pad: Powerhouse Liberation Movement exhibition

Manchester Left Writers have been selected to undertake an exhibition as part of Castlefield Gallery’s ‘Launch Pad’ series, chosen by Jerwood Charitable Foundation Director Shonagh Manson.

The Powerhouse Liberation Movement will bring together film, installation, music, performance and a new publication. MLW core members Natalie Bradbury, Bob Dickinson, Steve Hanson and David Wilkinson have been searching the city (dubbed the “economic powerhouse of the north of England” by Manchester City Council) for ‘free’ spaces: spaces where notions of commonality, free expression and liberation are discoverable and can be accessed by all. MLW have recorded their exploratory journeys across the city, from the Gay Village and ancient earthwork the Nico Ditch to the satellite towns of Stockport and Rochdale. This has resulted in a series of lo-fi ‘Notebook Films’ documenting places, encounters and experiences. These will be displayed alongside maps, notes, photographs and objects found and made during the process of making the films. MLW have also commissioned a critical essay by Dr Gavin Macdonald, Lecturer in Art History at Manchester Metropolitan University.

During the public preview on Thursday 5 May (6-8pm), and repeated for Museums at Night on Thursday 12 May, MLW will perform new poems to accompany the work on show. In addition, the quintet Vocal Harum (of which MLW writer Bob Dickinson is a member) will perform a set of a cappella songs about buildings. MLW will also discuss and answer questions about their work and the exhibition at a public event on Saturday 14 May. The exhibition continues until Sunday 15 May. For more information, including times, visit

Facebook event

Friday, 15 April 2016

Postcard from Manchester: Seeing your city through someone else's eyes

I was recently invited to write a travel piece about Manchester for Marco Travel International, as part of their 'Postcards' series. I was inspired to write this by my experiences of showing my friend Jenny around when she visited from Granada, Spain in March, sharing my life and city with her for a week and seeing it all over again through someone else's eyes.

Read online at:

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Postcard from Essex: Jaywick

Jaywick Martello tower is one of many defensive structures built along the eastern and southern coasts of England to keep out Napoleon's forces in the early 1800s, inspired by similar structures on the island of Malta. Those on the southern coast were built first, and the eastern Martello towers followed a couple of years later, with hundreds of thousands of Kentish bricks transported to Essex by barge. Now renovated and open as a tourist attraction, Jaywick's solid brick tower tells the story of these defences, as well as hosting changing exhibitions. A text work by poet Julia Bird encirlces the building in concrete, and her poem 'Watching the Red Arrows from Jaywick Beach', installed onto the windows of the rooftop viewing area, incorporates the thoughts, hopes and desires of local residents. Given their fortress-like appearance from the outside, the Martello is surprisingly light inside. Many are empty, but some of the Martello towers in Kent have been converted into homes; there's currently one for sale in Clacton as a business premises for £220,000. Jaywick Martello is adjacent to Jaywick's notoriously run-down 'plotlands' estates (temporary housing intended as holiday homes, but settled permanently after the Second World War). Jaywick is regarded as being the most deprived area in England - see Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope's film Jaywick Escapes, which gives voice to some of the residents and captures the isolation of life lived on the edge of a receding coastline, and at the end of the bus line. A couple of miles along the coast, past sand drifts and rows and rows of offshore wind turbines, is the sprawling seaside resort of Clacton, complete with amusements and a pier; a plaque is the only reminder of the large Butlins holiday camp which stood there until its demolition and replacement with housing in the mid-1980s. On a drizzly, windswept day, this is the English seaside at its bleakest.

Postcard from Essex: Silver End

Deep in the flat Essex countryside is a model village built for the employees of Crittall Windows. Housing was built in a variety of sizes and styles, from terraces and semis to large detached houses. Facilities were provided by a village hall, tea room and memorial gardens (and originally a department store, which burnt down in the 1950s). The Crittall factory in the village was demolished in 2008, although production continues at nearby Witham. Today the houses are in varying states of repair, from well-kept to run down with smashed windows. Although many of the houses have replaced their original steel window frames (in some cases adding bay windows over or in place of the original windows), new-build housing has adopted styles and details from the original Crittall houses. The village is celebrating its 90th anniversary this April with a variety of activities exploring life through the decades.