Tag Archive | Music

Songs from a City

Giving local independent music promoters the chance to put on what they consider the best new acts, Greater Manchester’s second city – Salford – plays annual host to a one-day music festival called Sounds From The Other City, now in its 8th year. A dozen stages are located in venues that include churches, clubs, pubs, and even (for some lucky raffle winners) a phone box. Last night we went down to Islington Mill, a hugely atmospheric 6-storey venue which used to spin cotton but which now operates as an artists’ studio, Art Academy and club. I’ve been through Salford once or twice but have never really stopped to look around; so for me it was all the more exciting to go and take a peek (especially after getting into the mood with another afternoon band rehearsal. Update: we now have a drummer!). Anyway, the professionals we went along to hear were organised by promoters Now Wave and the stage was a decidedly female-dominated one with a line-up including Black Belles (US garage Goth and darlings of Jack White), Keep Shelly in Athens (down tempo but upbeat electronica from Greece), and the retro-sounding Manchester-based Pins, who combine simple sporadic guitar riffs with faded pop-punk vocals, strong insistent drumming, and tons of distorting effects.

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I guess it’s a shame that I only managed to make it along to one of the SFTOC venues; but at least most of the music I managed to catch was strongly delivered and really pulled me in – whether on the rock/post-punk side or the layered/dreamy soundscape side of things. Apologies: I’m not great at describing music. Whenever I try I find myself remembering Frank Zappa‘s immortal: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Hey, at least it’s a good excuse for my poor reviewing skills! And yeah, I know that we can’t be sure it really was Frank Zappa who said that but it’s always nice to give a legend a name check. Check the bands out online if you don’t already know them. At least I am able to provide some decent photographs. 🙂 Black Belles and Keep Shelly in Athens are pictured above.

Musical Interludes

Doing a PhD is intellectually stimulating and at times can (believe it or not) even be fun. To be frank though, it sometimes feels mechanical and repetitive reading and writing around the same topic. You pick up another book to incorporate into your lit review only to find that inspiration deserts you; your mind disengages, and your eyes feel the strain of constantly surveying Word documents and websites. It’s then that you know you’ve earned a break. Actually, having ways to get out of the “PhD mindset” is conducive to better writing, greater confidence, and genuine progress. But sometimes you simply need to be free from the restrictions of academic thought-styles; and regardless of benefits to your research process, it’s always important to keep your creativity and your imagination alive!

As a teenager, I always loved playing my modest but impressive Yamaha acoustic guitar. I never managed to get particularly good at it. Rather than any real talent, it was enthusiasm and an excellent music collection that fuelled my efforts. I’d put on a record or a CD, try to figure out the chords, sing along with the lyrics, and drift away with my humble little version of rock n roll. Skill didn’t matter, it was fun…a chance to connect with something far richer than the then-routine rhythms of schooldays and the suburbs. I guess this probably sounds familiar to a lot of people! It’s probably the way most people start. Even Eric Clapton was a “bedroom strummer” once, right? So why did I give up playing? Living with a succession of scarily talented guitarists made me feel too shy to carry on in any vaguely public way, and starting University provided a million new distractions. I ended up selling most of my records too when money was tight. 😦

My first and current and lovely guitar

Now has suddenly emerged as a perfect time to get some confidence back and start playing again. I’m hanging out with a couple of good friends in a yet-to-be-named band; still with the same guitar and still with more enthusiasm than songs. We’re all really excited about playing together and mixed (even eclectic) musical tastes and abilities keeps things interesting and dynamic. We’ve been getting pretty good at our rockier version of Bang Bang – Cher initially performed this track but myself and Ana (joint guitar + vocals) like the Nancy Sinatra version and Gözde (on bass) is a fan of Paul Weller’s. We might recruit a drummer and keyboardist at some point but for now, our wee living room jam sessions are an excellent way to break out of routine.

Feels like Summer

Suddenly it feels like summer – and not a UK one – here this weekend. Temperatures are up to 26°C and beyond although it’s not, as the Huffington Post are keen to point out, an “Indian Summer”. It certainly seemed like one this afternoon. Gorgeous sunshine and everybody wearing the light colourful clothes they thought would be getting packed away for another year. So why am I now suffering from a cold? The girl behind the counter at Waterstone’s told me everyone is down with one at the moment. Including her flatmate who (believe it or not) is a was last year’s student rep for MMU PhD Students. Hmm. Who says cities are anonymous? Everyone is so friendly around here. It does feel a little like a “University village” at times.

While in Waterstone’s I finally bought a copy of Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” which I started to tear through straight away as I ate homemade tomato soup in the lovely bookshop café. I have read quite a few rave reviews of the book but they do seem to be justified rather than being just hype. I couldn’t resist taking a sneaky look ahead at what may be the deepest (and conversely, the most amusing) use of PowerPoint slides that I have come across. Believe me, I have seen (and put together) a fair few PowerPoint shows over the last four years! So it’s wonderful to see some of the familiar “SmartArt Graphics” being used by Egan to convey intricate relationships, family connections, and heartaches. Interesting too to realise that PowerPoint’s designers have influenced this particular artistic usage by providing graphics that, after all, were always intended to aid compact and illustrative data representations. Yet while Iggy Pop and (Edinburgh-born) Ricky Gardiner are credited for the use of lyrics in the book’s front pages, I can’t see any mention of Microsoft. Well, maybe they thought it was worth it!

Thursday was the last day of MMU induction activities and, after too much free wine, I found myself talking (briefly) to an installation artist associated with the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design about New Media. MIRIAD research students were also involved in the week’s induction activities although they are far more concerned with practise and “studio time” than us “library time” HLSS folks. Although he uses digital objects, sounds, and YouTube videos within his work – as well as making use of Open Source technologies – this guy said quite matter-of-factly (and almost as though he has heard too much hyperbole on the topic): “New Media. The way I see it, it’s just another medium, isn’t it?” He may incorporate or make use of it if it seems appropriate, or if it lends something to what he wishes to represent. However, New Media are primarily like any other possible means by which to convey: tools that join the “old media” kit of paints, clay, analogue recordings, and so on. I suppose it makes sense that an artist would have a particularly interesting slant on NM (and indeed, participation).

The modest little CD by Rory Charles. I'm not sure if it has a title...

Speaking of which. The reason I am blogging (well, apart from the fact I am hiding away with my Lemsips in a bid to protect my flatmates from this bug) is that I want to tell you about a wonderful busker I heard performing at St. Anne’s Square. A guy called Rory Charles, who stopped me – and a crowd of others – in our tracks this afternoon. Impressive vocals and a delicate but strong guitar style. I won’t attempt a review except to say that if you like Neil Young or Damien Rice you will probably like him. Here are some of the “sounds” he has made available on the SoundCloud site. Also: a picture of the album that I bought from his assistant. Sorry if it looks a little like an eBay listing photo. I sadly didn’t have my camera with me earlier on. Hope you will appreciate the link!