Category Archives: Opinion

Getting to know Lyons and La Zel

Given that we’ll soon be hosting this marvellous duo, we thought it fitting that we caught up with them and shared with you, what they do, who they are and why exactly M20 booked them for this FRIDAY 19th gig at AATMA.

So, Lyons and La Zel let the people know what it is you guys do and how you do it?

(James Lyons) Hello!  Léa (La Zel) sings and raps over music created by me beatboxing and playing instruments at the same time.  The majority of our stuff is based around guitar and some of it is flute and harmonica as well.

Tell us a bit about some of the best live music experiences, that you guys have played?

(James)  We did a DIY tour around South East Asia from November 2015 – May 2016 and played just under 60 gigs.  Lots of the performances there were by far the most inspiring and enjoyable as we got to play in some beautiful locations and to people from all around the world. It’s one thing to have support for what you do locally, but to find out that people from all corners of the earth enjoy it is a beautiful feeling! 

lyonsandlazel

(Léá ) We’ve had some really fun gigs at festivals such as Glastonbury, Boomtown, Eden, Solfest etc but a highlight has got to be when we played on the main stage at Beat Herder festival last year to a massive crowd on a big booming sound system. That felt amazing! We’ve also had some really nice times busking to the public in different cites and met some proper characters through that.  

Léá – Who are you top vocal inspirations?

My sister Jules from the band ‘Rumjig‘ has been my biggest inspiration and she has always encouraged me to sing and I love writing songs and harmonising with her. Then, incredible artists such as Sharlene Squire, Aretha Franklin, Esperanza Spalding, Bobby Mcferrin, Nai Palm, Dallas Tamaira, Erykah Badu, Sona Jobarteh, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Marie Daulne and most recently an amazing Swedish artist called Fatima have also massively influenced me. 

James, how and when did you realise you were good at the old beatboxing, to the point that it is now almost your secondary instrument?

My first dip of the toe into music was learning to rap when I was twelve, and I used to hang around rapping with some of my friends and we started to beatbox through this.  I never took it ‘seriously’ until around five years ago, when I started to go out busking.  Through experimenting on the street with flute beatbox and harmonica beatboxing, and the response that I got from it, I started to realise it’s potential for reaching out to people from all walks of life, and how satisfying it is as a musician when combined with playing instruments at the same time.

Are there any running themes in your lyrics, style, musical message?

Musically, we like to experiment and blend together elements from all of our favourite styles, and in terms of lyrics, I think we try to write things that are mostly uplifting and thought provoking. 

What does working and living within the music scene mean for you both?

We’re both very lucky to be able to earn a living from doing what we love which has also led to us meet multitudes of incredible and inspiring people.  As well as playing live, we both also teach music workshops (I teach rap and beatbox, Léa teaches singing), so being able to perform and then pass on the skills to other people, is greatly rewarding. 

lyaonsnlaz

What was the best thing you LAST saw live?

(James) I’ve seen Victor Wooten twice over the last couple of years and those shows are by and large the best displays of music and showmanship that I’ve ever been witness to, he and his band are phenomenal musicians.

(Léa) We saw Fatima play in Constellations 3 weeks ago and she totally blew me away with her powerful yet sweet, fun loving, stage presense. The Eglo band who back her were incredible musicians too and she made everyone at the gig feel empowered and filled with love. It was very special indeed and I can’t recommend her ‘Yellow Memories’ album enough.

Any acts out there that you guys want to give a shout out or pay homage to?

First and foremost we have to shout out to “The Fire Beneath The Sea”, which is the band that we both first played in together, that led us to developing this duo.  Also shout outs to “Rumjig”, fronted by Léa’s sister, who Léa moved up to Liverpool to be a backing singer for.  Both of those bands have new releases out at the minute which we are very excited about.  Massive thanks to everybody else that we’ve played with, jammed with and been inspired by, there are far too many people to list them all here!

Any exciting projects or gigs coming up?

We have a new project in development at the minute that features us both as vocalists, backed by a ridiculously tight, four piece band, playing jazzy, funky hip hop.  It does not have a name as of yet, but we are putting together the finishing touches to our first EP that will be released in a few months time, so please keep an eye on our social media for further news on that.

Where can we see and hear more about you? 

Our main point of contact is through Facebook, which is  http://facebook.com/lyonsandlazel

We have a lot of videos up on youtube, but are currently writing lots of new material that will be going up in video form VERY SOON!

https://www.youtube.com/lyonsandlazel

We are also building a website at the minute which should be going live in the near future, to support the release of our debut EP, which is currently being mixed and will be out in the next couple of months.

For any other enquiries, our email address is lyonsandlazel@gmail.com.

Artist Review: Lucy Mae

We’re always looking to keep up to date with whats going on in the local scene, and picking up on original music cultivation in the area is very much on the top of our list of what we want to support. This originals projects has a sense of revival to it, jazzy blues and swing, and it’s definitely a good thing!

We first encountered these guys via the ol’ social media, whilst looking for acts for our canal street event Live in the Village. Lucy, Luc Phan and Alex Martin of Ask My Bull graced the audience with jazz almost year and a half ago, and even now these musicians who currently go under Lucy Mae and are still on our radar.

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The umbrella of projects is lead vocally by Lucy- Camba-Bermudez. Her voice has an air of arousal, with a rustic edge on a foundation of broken blues. She’s accompanied by a bountiful brass section, Soprano Saxophone (Ed Kainyek) Tenor Saxophone (Caitlin Laing) and Baritone Saxophone (Tom Harris). With Christian Van Fields (Keyboard/Organ), Luc Phan (Guitar), Joshua Cavanagh -Brierley on Bass, and Joe Wood on Drums . The potential of this outfit not to be doubted and we’re keen to see what 2016 will bring for them. The Mudez Project is the latest musical venture consisting of traditional jazz-swing in it’s more modern state; re-instilling the importance of classic musicality.

One track in particular ‘ State of denial‘ encompasses the sound at its most triumphant.

Another of the projects is a duet between Lucy and Luc (see image below), which sees the couple come together in a stripped back acoustic style, that silences crowds. Listen to more here: with this smooth rendition of Portis head’s ‘Give me a reason’.

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These guys have got to be some of the most dedicated and  active musicians in the area and you’re bound to see them on a live music line up in chorlton or the city centre whether its putting on their own music or providing a platform or house band for others. Revivalist, methodical and passionate Lucy Mae are doing what we (M20) like to see! Making music, movements and keeping the live music scene a-thrive!

Click here to watch their latest video “Through You” and check out more about this collage of musicians on their Facebook page.

You can also watch them for real! at their residency at The Lodge at Richmond Tea Rooms every Saturday, it’s an Alice In Wonderland themed bar that’s part of the Tea Room or experience the sound on Sunday 21st Feb at Hold Fast Northern Quarter and many other places for that matter! we’re spoilt for choice.

Catching up with Johnny Sly

Johnny Sly are one of the bands we (M20) have seen emerge and develop over the last two years – and not to sound biased, but we’re very fond of them! We worked with them in their earlier days when M20 were doing regular Solomon Grundy events and local gigs, and they just keep moving onwards, upwards and side ways (quite literally as they get bigger and bigger as an outfit)! It was great to catch up with them on their movements of the last year or so and the Sly journey, thus far.

Tell everyone a bit about yourselves, the story till now…

Jonny: I think the band grew like a plant in that it started with one seed and each new element was a natural progression but also an evolution, so it was organic and no-one feels responsible.

Jack: Jonny started playing and writing music in Brighton when he was lil, and then when he came up here he started playing open mics on his own. Me and Aeve joined three years ago – we used to practice in this little basement room in some upmarket uni halls we sneaked into. It was really echoey and we’d go there at night and get weird. We were a funny lil’ threesome, not quite sure what we were doing, but we managed to get some gigs like Antwerp mansion and open mics.

Aeve: We recorded a video for Mosaic Sessions on this really nice sunny, autumn weekend on Salford Quays. These guys on pit bikes kept appearing on the horizon every time we’d start a take and steadily get closer and louder until all you could hear was engine revs, and we’d have to start all over again. We all look really sad in the video because we were trying to look like serious musicians. But we loved it! Some people in a high rise flat clapped out of their window at the end.

Johnny: Although there are nine of us now it doesn’t feel like an ensemble – it still feels like a family – and that’s because we’ve never really sought out new members, they just seem to come along and it fits.

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You performed on BBC Radio 4, how was that?

Aeve: It was great because they gave us breakfast and I got to play a Steinway. We all got really pissed afterwards in the BBC bar and Jack was flirting with Joan Bakewell for ages. And we gave Jennifer Saunders a CD as a christmas present! It was all very surreal and giddy.

Jack: And we met duke from Tracy Beaker! He was a very flamboyant man, I never knew. I remember we watched back some footage that our friend Arthur had video’d from the sound booth and having this realisation that we sounded so much better than we’d heard ourselves before, recorded really clearly, and together and live. That was where the idea for our new EP came from.

What’s been your favourite gig to date, anywhere?

Jonny: We loved Berlin this summer because we were introduced to lots of interesting, creative people who showed us an inside view of the city. We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful apartment and played a really nice set to an audience of mostly horizontal people. There’s a sense of freedom in Berlin which is inspiring musically. You can drink beer in the street and then put your bottles by the side of the road and people looking for pennies pick them up and recycle them for you. It’s better than some uniformed bruiser tipping your bottle down the drain just because you’re too poor to go to a pub. We saw a rainbow there in the sky with no clouds around it and it looked like the sky was smiling. I have no idea how it did that.

Jack: Also Amsterdam – we felt like we’d dropped into the coolest place to be with these great people that were all creative and cool and way more organised than us. It was inspiring. And sunny. It seems a long way away right now…..

Aeve: Special mention needs to go to Mischief Festival, who booked us way back when we were a three. It was a very strange vibe, really small and everyone looked like gangsters or pirates. At one point we played Deja Vu and the bass from the main stage was bouncing perfectly in time with us. It was a little adventure.

What about in Manchester?

Aeve: We’ve had some really special gigs in the last year or so, it’s so hard to pick a favourite! But one that really stands out is the gig we did at the Roadhouse [R.I.P] before it closed down last January. We put a lot of energy into promoting it, and had two of our favourite Manchester bands supporting us: Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain. Loads of people came down and there was a really great vibe, and we all wore wacky hats on stage which is always a winner! We were all on a massive high after that gig, it was loads of fun.

Tell us about the New EP then

Jack: The EP we released last year, Lost Thoughts, was all recorded in my bedroom, with all the parts laid down one by one. It was a cool process, and one I’m really proud of in retrospect, but at the time it felt frustrating. Sometimes the parts just didn’t move together and mixing it all felt like tricks. That’s why we wanted to do this new one live. For me it’s a mystical thing – I just think you can feel the magic of it all being played together, in the pauses and the lifts. And this way we didn’t spend hours getting each take perfect, we had the weekend, and at the end of that weekend the product (and then Andrew Glassford spent two months mixing it… Thanks Andrew!)

johnny sly lost thoughts.jpg

(Artwork for the Lost Thoughts EP released Nov.2014)

https://johnnysly.bandcamp.com/album/lost-thoughts-ep

Jonny: We recorded videos of the live tracks, which we’re releasing one by one. They were stressful at the time but there was a real sense of focus and emotional energy, and although we were all worrying about the little details, I think we took for granted that we were playing a set that had been honed over many months of consistent gigging in Manchester. Our bodies knew what they were doing and the pressure just added to the ‘pizazz’….

Do you have a favourite Johnny Sly tune?

Aeve: I am really in love with White Light, White Lies from the new EP. It’s just got such a lovely groove and makes me go ‘mmmmm’ inside. I’ve always been drawn to chilled music though so I think the feeling of this one just connects with me more than some of the others.

Phil: Totally agree with Aeve. Also really digging our latest song ‘Tryer’ but it’s not yet on record, so you’ll have to join us for a gig to hear that.

Oli: My fav is probably Remember, from the new EP, cuz it’s f****** epic and ends with a bang and I like bangs because I’m a drummer!

How do you guys write your music?

Aeve: Jonny has always been the songwriter, because of the way the band has grown from his solo project. Essentially, he writes his guitar parts and vocals, and then we all mainly write our own parts. But there is always lots of collaboration and discussion: someone will have an idea for how I could play a part on the keyboard, or one of us will find a harmony for someone else, or Jonny will already have an idea of what he wants someone to do in a certain part of a song. So it starts with Jonny’s parts, then is just a process of trying out different things and sharing ideas for the rest of us!

Who are the biggest influences of the band?

Rosalie: Each other! We all have such varied influences and we share them all.

Any local inspirations, bands killing it in the scene (or off the scene)?

Jack: We’ve already mentioned our band brothers / sisters Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain, they are both great in different ways. Pareidolia – they’re a bit like us if we were cooler and less weird. John Ainsworth and Rosalie 23 are honestly two of the best and most original musicians I’ve ever seen. And honey feet. I saw Honey Feet play after us at The Hotspur Press once and they were amazing, upbeat fun, with a mama-jama, diva of a front woman with an insane voice. Further afield Cousin Kula are releasing some insane live videos of their new material at the moment – its Snarky Puppy meet Syd Arthur meets Riot Jazz. And The Mouse Outfit, they have some freshhhhh hip hop sounds that I can’t quite believe are from where I’m from. Gigging and attending gigs can be exhausting and sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have seen and heard musicians like these guys. And Arctic Turn, our bassist Phil’s solo project. I feature on a track of his called Bait and he’s got it on the Tom Robinson playlist on 6 music. Great work Phil. We’re going to record a music video where we throw gross stuff at him in slo-mo and he plays the song. I’ve got a cameo in it but I don’t know what to wear… (video now released see below).

If you could describe Johnny sly as an animal what would you say?
Phil: Some kind of flying iguana mongoose. Next question.

See and hear more of Johnny sly on any of these below links

http://www.facebook.com/johnnyslymusic
BUY their new EP here: https://johnnysly.bandcamp.com/

 

Local Literature: #HumanityWashedAshore

Inspired by the media outcry regarding the death of Aylan Kurdi and his family, this piece interrogates Britain’s response to the world’s immigration crisis. Specifically it questions why David Cameron only acknowledged the situation after it was too late

 Last night on the shore
harsh realities washed up with their sons,
some say they got lost on the way to Canada,
others say Cameron drove them there.
A Daily Mail poll reads “SHOULD BRITAIN AGREE TO TAKE MORE REFUGEES?”
YES:NO
1:3
ALIVE:DEAD,
three quarters of a family taken whilst
gasping for hope:

1:3
Father: Abdullah, servant of God;
forsaken by a godless nation
forced to suffer by politicians
who’d rather play god than help Him save them.

3:1 Mother: Rehan, a flower;
desperate for a chance to bloom in
safe nations,
safe havens.
Places to take refuge with those who condemn:
modern day colonialists not ready to pay their
overdue overdraft
with added interest.

Son: Galip, the winner;
maybe he was trying to win the race,
someone should have told him
in England, the only race worth winning is White.

And then there lies Aylan,
face down in the sand,
becoming a national symbol for change
because Cameron couldn’t stomach it.

3:1 NO:YES
David, the beloved,
beloved assailant of those who
made his Britain great.
How much more will he take
leaving innocents to pay the price?

He raises Aylan as a promise for change.
The Metro tells us
“as a father,
he felt deeply moved by the sight”
well David,
as a human, I felt disgusted by your Conservative resilience.

When will you let it wear down?

by Alex Webb

Do you have something to share about our current global situation? why not submit a literary piece and share your feelings to: them20press@gmail.com

Local business news: ManKind Male Grooming

Alex Webb reports on the services provided by local business ManKind Grooming.

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Rachel and James make up the team of Mankind Male Grooming, a Withington-based barbers. This duo have never failed to give me a haircut I have been completely satisfied with as soon as I leave. Whilst you’re sat in their chair every step of your haircut/shave will be explained to you giving you confidence in what the pair are doing. When I was speaking to James he said that he joined the Mankind team because it has a focus on craftsmanship as opposed to getting you in and out as fast as possible. Knowing this, I knew my hair was in safe hands (literally), something that is a god-send when you are looking to change up your style or just update a cut you’ve had for years. Before you start, the upkeep that my style would need is explained which means you are not left with a haircut that requires more effort than you can afford to give.

One of the best things about Mankind is the incredibly reasonable prices, especially their students and over 65 rates which offer 20% off. For students, £13 got you a haircut and a clipper shave/trimming! I have only seen prices this good in discount hairdressers where speed is often the priority, instead of quality. At Mankind you can have a quality haircut in 30 minutes and the damage to your wallet is still minimal!

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Above: Before

What has kept me coming back to Mankind is the lack of pretense that often comes with barbers, I felt comfortable being gay here and just being myself whilst the whole room spoke together. Rachel also made a point to note that she would happily work on girls’ hair that she felt confident cutting, mostly shorter styles. This emphasises the fact that everyone in the barbers is invited to be part of the huge conversation going on meaning that it feels like hanging out with friends more than an appointment. Another thing I loved about the shop was Rachel’s and James’ willingness to accept what they excel in. Rachel excels at blending hair smoothly and creating styles that involve contrasting lengths and textures. With Rachel any style you want will be expertly sculpted around your head shape and hair colour. James is the expert in facial hair out of the two, and when I sat down with him he explained different approaches to shaving which again gave me confidence in what he was doing. I left the barbers with a shave that looked even all over but was in fact 3 different levels, something James has perfected to leave beards looking smooth.

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Above:After

This barbershop is ideal whatever you want, whether you are a student looking for a haircut that is fashionable with minimal upkeep or a full-time worker who needs a quick, enjoyable shave leaving presentable for their workplace. This place is one to watch out for in the new academic year, for any freshers needing a new hairdressers since leaving home – look no further. Rachel and James have you covered in their more than capable hands.

Enquiries: MankindMGenquiries@gmail.com

Website: http://www.Mankindmg.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MankindMG

If you;d like to submit news on the independent business of the M20 area submit an email to: them20press@gmail.com

City with a Crisis

M20 Collective are back with another live music event fundraiser in conjunction with some local organisations who are fighting to support the living and housing issues in Manchester. Phil Marzouk, our good will envoy, explains what’s going wrong in our city!

Manchester is a city with a crisis. Last Tuesday, I walked  the 0.4 miles between Manchester Piccadilly and Piccadilly Gardens, and passed 7 of the city centre’s 43 estimated rough sleepers. This number is only increasing. Since 2013, the number of people sleeping on Manchester’s streets has risen by 79%. However, these figures are calculated by council officials over one night, simply counting the number of rough sleepers. This is in fact a huge underestimation and doesn’t account for the city’s ‘hidden homeless’: those not found due to taking refuge in air raid shelters and caves or overlooked during the counts. Manchester’s Booth Centre, a day centre where homeless people can get free advice and support, state they currently see around 170 people a week.

homless ness

However, even in the face of these rising numbers, Manchester City Council refuses to adequately engage with the city’s most vulnerable. Since April 2015, Homeless Rights of Justice Manchester have been setting up camp throughout the city centre in order to raise awareness of this issue and finally get the Council to act justly. The Council’s response was to seek injunctions against the camp rather than establish a dialogue. Due to the intervention of St. Anne’s Church, the camp currently resides safely on Church owned land in St. Anne’s Square, yet the Council pursues an injunction even here.

Blame does not lie solely with the local Council and is indicative of the issues that government cuts are causing for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, with benefits cuts contributing greatly to these rising numbers. In the wake of severe austerity measures in Westminster, Manchester City Council have had to cut their homelessness budget by £2 million right when the crisis is at its worst. Somehow, money is found to install anti homeless spikes within the town centre. Homeless Rights of Justice Manchester were denied legal aid in order to fight the Council’s continuing evictions, which reflects the national cuts of £350 million from the legal aid budget. You need only walk the streets of  Manchester to see how the cuts are destroying the lives of those who need help the most.

anti hom;less spikes

So it’s time to start taking action. In conjunction with Coffee4Craig,one of Manchester’s leading homeless support charities, we’ll be hosting a fundraiser on the 13th of August at the Castle hotel with live music, a raffle and talks from local charity representatives and housing campaign group Generation Rent. Come down and find out how you can get involved. It’s time to stop letting our nation’s most vulnerable be dehumanised and abandoned.

Phil Marzouk

Ray Martin – Artist

I managed to grab a few words from fantastic local painter Ray Martin on his journey with art and his inspirations.

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                                                 (Above recent work by Ray)

Tell us a bit about your journey with art?
I believe art is inherent, although, until nurtured cannot become more than that. There are many forms of expression, from literature, to music production from which any person can choose to pursue, but personally, I am satisfied most by creating visually. That is not to say that I always knew I was going to end up creating the paintings I do now, and that is also not to say that I will be creating the paintings I do now in fifteen years time. Creativity, in my eyes, is very much a journey. An exciting and surprising one at that. I came to art school 5 years ago, fresh and also naive about the world. Art school is a brilliant place, because it has few rules. It gave me the time and confidence to experiment with my creativity, to learn more about the world outside of Chester (my hometown and shell), and to meet wonderful people. It was quite late on in my degree that I started to paint, and although I have always been drawn to, and created 2D images, I felt for a long time that it was less exciting than some of the other things going on around me. I began to work in sculpture, performance and installation in my first years but I wasn’t truly satisfied until I picked up a paint brush. It wasn’t an immediate fit though, there was a lot of frustration and a stack of terrible work but at some point it did click. I remember the breakthrough painting very well, I was sat at my space, surrounded by a huge (and horrific) mural painting I had created from one of my dreams and I was also working on a small board I had primed the wrong colour (a bright, thick orange) at the same time. I was lazy and didn’t cut the board down to the right proportions first, so just masked it off and started putting in a few loose landscape-y marks. I had a group crit. soon after and unsurprisingly the mural was ignored. There was something much more interesting in this small painting that I had approached, unintentionally, unconventionally. My eyes were opened a little bit wider from then. Since then I have been discovering more and more about the technique, the history of and my personal language within painting. Every new painting, or series is an education for myself and I can’t wait for the next time my eyes widen.

How would you describe your style of art?
My paintings place themselves in the middle of different area. They not entirely figurative, nor abstract. They depict the natural landscape but appear very unnatural in their use of hard-edges and overly-saturated colours. Some are the size of a post card, and others I have had problems removing from buildings. It is the meeting of different visual languages that I find most intriguing.

raymartin

Can you name some things that inspire your art, pieces already finished or works in progress?
The landscape imagery I use is found online, in books or magazines I pick up in charity shops. I guess I am initially inspired by these images; the placement of the photo on the page.

Are there any characteristics of Manchester and its scene that inspire or influence your works?
That’s a funny one as my worked actually stemmed from a rejection of Manchester. I don’t deal with the grey weather too well, so my escape came in the form of my resource books. Don’t get me wrong, Manchester has a beautiful, subtle lighting but I’m not one for translating subtleties. It’s also quite hard to find a place to yourself here, it’s a vibrant city. Back in Chester I used to have a few places I’d go to and know that I could have time alone. On top of a 5 story car park, or a mile down the cycle path. At the time, I didn’t know Manchester so well, so felt claustrophobic. I guess that has something to do with why I moved away from painting people and urban spaces. Even though I rejected Manchester’s scenery you cannot help but take influence from small things that surround you. I get a great deal of my colour choices from shop fronts, peoples clothing or posters around the city. My feeling of Manchester have changed since. I’m intrigued to see how this changes my work.

Any artists (of any genre) right now that are catching your attention in the wider culture of arts? UK, Europe or the rest of the world?
I found a really exciting Parisian painter online recently, Matthieu Clainchard. He employs the palette and formal qualities of video test screens into large public and gallery installations. The work is interesting to me, as it highlights how images can manipulate our perceptions.

matthieu-clainchard

(above Matthieu Clainchard art)

Are there any movements, events or projects going on in manchester right now that you would recommend for local aspiring or working artists in the area?
Check out the ‘Real Painting’ exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, on until the 2nd August. I loved it!
“the exhibition emphasizes the essential grammar of painting, considering not necessarily what a painting means but what it ‘does’”…(Castlefield Gallery)

Do you have any particular or personal goals that you are aspiring to right now with your work?
Absolutely, I’ve used what time I’ve had since graduating to really evaluate what kind of artist I am. I’ve had to remind myself that although I may not be in the studio every spare minute, painting, it’s okay. At the end of the day, graduate life is difficult for a creative. Creating a way of working that is sustainable is very important, as I want to be doing this for a long time to come. I am currently researching ways I can be involved in arts education, whilst applying for funding to work on my own practice. In terms of my work I have realised I need to be more delicate with my surface prep, like I was in university as it makes an enormous difference to the quality of work I make. I also need to use more brown. I don’t use enough brown.

Are there any exhibitions coming up that will be showing your work at?
Yes, I have a show at Sugar Store Gallery at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal in November to coincide with the Kendal Mountain Festival.

Interview by Yemi Bolatiwa

Manchester’s Political Youth: An interview with Becky Fox on Sex, health and safety in the city…

This year, the University of Manchester broke the record for the highest turn out for a Student’s Union election in the UK ever. Inspired by how political the University community seems to have become, I sat down with a few of the candidates who were running in the election to ask them what they think about the state of student life and general Manchester politics.

The first candidate I have had the pleasure of sitting down with was Becky Fox, who ran for Wellbeing Officer and came second overall. I asked each of the politicians to describe themselves in a small paragraph and here is Fox’s:

‘I’m a third year pharmacology student from South Manchester with a passion for women’s issues and consent education. I’m a founding member of Manchester Sexual Representation Network  (MSRN)  who do all sorts of wonderful things, with a lot of our focus going on consent education at the moment. I’m currently running workshops at local schools to teach 16-18 year olds about consent and planned to use the platform of Wellbeing Officer to have these workshops for every student. I also love thistle tea, cats, being queer, sewing and singing’.

MSRN

It is clear from this that consent is an issue close to Fox’s heart, and so it should be for everyone. The overall conclusion we made from our time together was that everything, in any kind of relationship, is more fun and rewarding when you have consent. The importance of consent education was a driving force behind Fox running for Wellbeing candidate but she was also inspired by the twice-elected Women’s Officer, Jess Lishak. It is clear that women’s issues and issues with wellbeing are closely linked, especially with the horrendous rise in sexual assault and rape happening in student areas this academic year. When I asked Fox how she would define consent she explained that ‘it isn’t just having permission to have sex, it revolves around having sex, kissing or even holding hands when both people are comfortable’.

The importance of teaching consent was clear when I heard about Fox’s encounter with a 26 year old man, sexually active since 16, who did not know what consent was. That is ten years without knowing what it means to make sure your partner wants what you want. It is ten years too many and it is integral that this changes. Consent is finally being added into the sex education programme but, before this, it was up to society to teach people about consent. Unfortunately, evident from the attacks in Fallowfield this year that is not always going to happen. By not teaching consent we are creating a situation where people see having sex with someone as a right, not a privilege.

ladybarn-1

This need for consent education is the main reason why we are so lucky to have MSRN in our city. They look to teach people about consent, being safe and having a mutual respect for people around you. For MSRN, if we can educate people on safe behaviour the problem will become easier to deal with – knowing about the need for consent and the risk you put someone at by not asking for it is undeniably a major factor in stopping attacks and horrendous, life-changing experiences. When I asked Fox what MSRN thought about Manchester’s safety, specifically their sexual safety, she said that it is not to do with the city, it’s the people in it. If someone decides to sexually assault, attack or harass someone you cannot pin it on the city. This was a refreshing perspective as this year has seen Manchester deemed a threat to females, and understandably so. The way to counter this, as Fox has said, is educating the people as there is nothing we can do to the city to stop this. The closest we could get is demanding more police patrols in Fallowfield. Although, considering some responses when the problem first arose () this may take longer than it should. It is the police’s responsibility to do everything they can to reduce the risk that Fallowfield residents are under. However, it seems that noise pollution (a genuine problem that should be solved) is more of a priority than the mental health and well being of innocent people. You can decide if you agree with the police’s decision, Fox and I do not.It is also important to note that whilst many people see rape as being dragged down an alley at night, 50% of rapes actually happen by someone the victim knows and 60% of women who were raped, were raped inside a building. A third of this figure were raped in their own home – rape is not just anonymous and we need to know how to limit the risk that rapists pose by educating EVERYONE.

Directly related to issues with consent, is the need for accurate, realistic and healthy depictions of sex in the media. Stirred poetry, a fantastic Manchester-based poetry group, and MSRN have taken stands against this, with Fox amongst them, by boycotting Fifty Shades of Grey and offering education on safe BDSM behaviour. It is important to acknowledge that those who enjoy BDSM  (bondage, domination and sadomasochism) safely hold consent and their partner’s wellbeing as their main concern. It is fun having someone’s consent! It isn’t fun making someone feel uncomfortable and trapped – this is why Fifty Shades of Grey is such a poisonous film in our society, Christian Grey does not see consent as a priority and this spreads a dangerous message. It is media like this that MSRN and Stirred Poetry are looking to tackle head on by making their concerns heard.

stirred poetry

                                                               https://www.facebook.com/stirred.poetry

Besides BDSM, sexual wellbeing also comes down to something as simple as contraception, STI testing and education around it. To go and have an STI test you need to know how to get it, why to get it and the risks of not getting one. In my years at school I was never taught about STI testing just the risks that STIs present. The education needed to go one step further and I would not have gone two years of being sexually active without being tested. I felt ridiculous when I found out how important it was and I am sure I am not alone.  Find your local clinic here: http://www.sexualhealthnetwork.co.uk/clinic/. If you need contraception, the Rusholme Children’s Centre on Great Western Street gives free condoms out, you just need to give the gender you identify with, your age and your race. Do not miss out on centres like this! There are also free safe-sex packs in every gay club in Manchester’s Gay Village so it is easy to get hold of, don’t put yourself at risk of contracting an STI as they can cause all kinds of damage. It is also important to let anyone you are sexually active with know your status and to be checked regularly to make sure this is as up to date as possible. I get tested every time I have a different sexual partner and every time I enter into an exclusive relationship with someone. The bottom line is that if you have an STI it is your moral duty to ensure that anyone you have sex with is aware of this to prevent the infections being spread further. There is no shame in having an STI, it happens to most people in their life time! It is just important to deal with them in the most responsible way possible.

On top of consent and sexual wellbeing, ensuring that mental health problems and emotional support are improved and easily available for students was a key policy Fox had. This was one of the main reasons I voted for her in the elections – she is aware of the stigma surrounding mental health, she has experienced it herself as I’m sure many of us have, and she wants to actively try and change how we perceive mental illness. It needs to be treated with respect not scepticism.

At the end of the interview I asked Fox to sum up what she is fighting for in a few words she said ‘better support, consent, happiness and well-being’. I think we can all agree that more of this is never a bad thing and I am hopeful that Becky Fox and the MSRN can help improve Manchester’s wellbeing. In their hands we can hope for a more secure and safe future in the city.

Alex Webb

Manchester’s Fight for Free Education: Saturday 25 April

Alex chats to campaigner and Manchester University’s Education Officer Harriet about the Free Education MCR movement – what free education means, why it affects us all, and their debut event with Akala and others on Saturday 25 April

The phrase ‘Free Education’ has become solely associated with the campaign for government-subsidised university places since the introduction of fees in Higher Education. But it’s not just finances – there are other ways that our learning is restricted in all parts of the education system from schools to community projects. It is these, alongside the fight to scrap student fees, that Free Education MCR are looking to tackle.

What telltale signs can you think of that show us our education isn’t free? The introduction of fees, which transform education into a product that we buy and sell, rather than skills development that allows us to think critically, creatively and practically about how we want the world to be? Or the lesser-talked about colonized education system (for which the Black Minority & Ethnic [BME] students’ attainment gap, explained below, is just one piece of hard evidence)? How about the systematic neglect of arts and humanities education in favour of subjects deemed more “economically efficient”? I sat down with Harriet, one of the key members in Free Education MCR, to find out more about the organisation and their hopes for next week’s all-day community event, Free Education MCR ft. Akala.

“Making education cost has changed the shape of knowledge”

Harriet has spent her recent years as a campaigner and as Education Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, fighting for free education because privatising university learning (asking people to pay fees as opposed to the government subsidising it) has changed both what education is and what it means. Today, education has become a commodity, a product we consume to get a job and fit into society’s plans for us – but this was not always the situation with our education system. Tuition fees were first introduced across all UK universities in 1998 and since then, steadily rising fees have gone hand-in-hand with the transformation of the purpose of education. “Making education cost has changed the shape of knowledge: it has gone from being a tool for collective liberation and reducing inequality to being something people feel they need to buy into in order to secure employment as a ‘valued’ white-collar worker, just because it’s what the perceived majority (white, middle classes) are doing.”

But many aspects of the Free Education MCR campaign are not exclusive to Higher Education, with privatisation affecting all parts of the education sector. Notably, youth and community projects who rely on government support are suffering as they cannot afford to continue without sourcing funding from other private sources. Without steady funding, youth projects all over Manchester are forced to refocus their efforts on securing funding rather than delivering quality youth work. The solution to this so far has been for youth centres to apply for funding from private companies, meaning that community identity is often compromised in order to meet the requirements for the much-needed support. The companies are motivated to fund these centres because of their needs to meet their Social Responsibility targets.

Whilst it is great that youth groups are able to exist at all, these larger organisations mean that long-founded youth centres with a strong community are being threatened because they cannot support themselves whilst offering a free service. These closures are especially harmful because initiatives like youth and community centres are so often set up to support those who are continually failed by the formal education system. Not only do youth and community projects provide alternative creative and practical approaches to learning that are better for certain people’s development, they also deliver the kinds of pastoral support that are not available in schools where students are taught to obey rather than question; taught who to be at the expense of who they are.

Akala, one of the big names speaking at Free Education MCR’s debut event, looks to address this with a discussion about the ban of words like ‘bare’ and ‘innit’ in schools, which he argues is both classist and racist. The idea that there is only one correct way to speak the English language is elitist and, as Harriet (quoting Akala) pointed out, actually counter-creative and -critical. To limit how the language should be spoken to one particular dialect misrepresents what it means to be English and crams it into the American stereotype of British people sipping tea and saying please and thank you after everything. As I am sure anyone who has lived in the UK could account for this is not the reality. The question that arises from this is how can it be justifiable for the education system to value one dialect over another? As Harriet explains this line of critical thinking can be applied to many more aspects of the education system and to the conclusion that the system functions to engender white middle-class, male-stream, able-bodied norms and values. The issue identified here is that those who do not comply to these norms and values are automatically devalued by the education system.

What many like Harriet involved in the Free Education MCR believe is that this devaluation contributes to issues such as the BME attainment gap. However, issues like the BME attainment gap do not have one singular cause. Instead such issues occur due to the existence of a number of inter relating factors. As Harriet went on to discuss currently BME students who achieve the same grades as their white counterparts at school-level are 11% less likely to get a first or 2:1 at the University of Manchester, and as much as 26% in the Faculty of Life Sciences. While devaluation is one factor to consider as research conducted by the NUS Black Students Campaign suggests the gap can also be attributed to the existence of a colonised education system, lacking especially black, but also women academics.

During our conversation Harriet evidenced the abysmal representation of Black people in academia. According to research recently conducted by HESA there are currently 18,000 academics in the UK and only 85 are black . To put it into context that is just over 0.5%. Women’s representation is also concerning. In the University of Manchester only 20% of professors are women and this is not at all a deviation of the norm. Due to the absence of legislation Higher Education institutions have the academic freedom to hire who they want. One of the unfortunate results of this is that the education system remains dominated by white middle class males.

“There needs to be pressure to employ a representative staff and take on a quota of people to ensure that a) we are given equal opportunities and b) all groups have the chance to influence what and how we learn, so that the formal education system reflects the needs of society and not just one group within it.”

Free Education MCR are campaigning for a representative curriculum and support efforts to make history more inclusive in schools. The community event will also feature speakers from Curriculum Enrichment for the Future and The Foundation for Science, Technology & Civilisation who, among other things, teach Indian and Persian histories to supplement Eurocentric schemes of learning. The thinking behind a representative history is that a liberated education is one where everyone can see, learn and live in the ways with which they identify. Your opportunity to hear these groups speak about the issues surrounding a colonised education and any issues discussed here is on Saturday 25th April at Manchester Academy for Free Education MCR’s launch event.

“What Free Education MCR are fighting for is a reinvention of education,” says Harriet. “This involves changing the economic, social and political aspects of education in order that it benefits all of society and enables us to tackle huge social problems like inequality.” Citizens will benefit from free education because it would involve broadening out education to represent and legitimize the learning styles and skills of all people. Free education is not about glorifying academic education and forcing everyone to go to university. It’s about funding a multitude of practical, technical, vocational, creative and critical projects, so that everyone can find something for them. This would also reduce the fear amongst small organisations like community centres that they will have to close, as well as providing thousands of education providers with a steady and secure livelihood.

On top of this, Harriet pointed out that with the reduction of government funds in the education system comes the loss of democratic power for citizens: if you don’t pay, you don’t get a say. This inevitably and disproportionately affects and disempowers poorer communities. “Living in a democracy, something as central to our society as education should be as democratic as possible and with the introduction of fees and privatisation, our ability to have a say that means something gets reduced. This means that those in power are getting more powerful and those who are meant to be catered for in education systems are actually getting less say in matters that directly relate to them.” This is not the way education should be and Free Education MCR are looking to change this for the better by reinstating the power over education to local communities. I am hopeful and excited to see what campaigns and events this group have to offer in the future. They are an important force in changing Manchester’s (and perhaps even the rest of the UK’s) education system for the better.

-Alex Webb and Harriet Pugh

To learn more about Free Education MCR check out their sites:
www.facebook.com/freeeducationmcr
www.twitter.com/freeedmcr

Check out the event and register for your free ticket:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1395395447444900/
(Tickets available at: www.freeeducationmcr.eventbrite.hk)

A BOTCH JOB ASSESSMENT AND THE CASE FOR FREE EDUCATION

Manchester University’s Education Officer explains why a free education system can – and must – work

Three years ago, I got my results for a multiple-choice test in Anthropology on a study-abroad semester in Amsterdam. Going through the answers, I was frustrated to find that I disagreed with the lecturer’s marking and vexed that my opinion could be so easily discredited. Broadly speaking, anthropology is about putting forward a perspective that considers many different and complex understandings of the world; not really about making a choice between A and B. I visited the lecturer a week later in his office and after a pretty fierce debate, he agreed there was a case to be made for many of my answers and increased my grade by 10%.

I always think back to this experience as one which motivated me to campaign for free education because – aside from the fact that I was able to informally argue my way up an entire degree classification, which speaks volumes about the feeble case for an ‘objective’ understanding of society – it is symbolic of many problems with our current education system.

1. If knowledge is for sale, then it is a product for consumption

One way of understanding how it ever became acceptable to assess anthropology by multiple choice – forcing us to learn a particular view of the world rather than encouraging us to create/understand our own – is to look at the way in which the privatisation of education has allowed a particular kind of economic value – individual, rather than social, investment – to determine how learning is managed and delivered. (Another, is to watch this wicked video about how age-old ideas from the industrial revolution still haunt the education system today.)

Since the government transferred the responsibility to pay for higher education from society onto individuals, universities have relied on the income generated by student fees to continue to function. As such, education is now bought and sold as a service by customers and universities compete with each other to sell that service and satisfy those customers; more students, more money.

In part, this leaves the quality and purpose of education as social good of secondary importance to its function as individual investment for those who can afford to pay to have their skills legitimised for employment into big business. Education becomes a customer service, a reserve of the privileged, with which students are more or less satisfied. In the case of my experience in Amsterdam, the need for students to pass exams and therefore demonstrate their eligibility to employers was more important than facilitating a discussion about how anthropology can transform society and empower people to do what they really want to do. To be who they really want to be.

This is problematic, of course, in a capitalist economy where the value of knowledge is determined by a person’s worth to the money machine, rather than as a critical, creative or practical resource for improving society. At this point, knowledge becomes a fixed object for consumption by individuals, rather than a collective tool for liberation.

2. Economic efficiency rather than social democracy: whose knowledge counts?

The decision to use multiple choice exams to assess anthropology was probably driven by the university’s need to cut costs since the withdrawal of government funding: multiple choice assessments require less time to mark. This decision reflects the motivation at the heart of our marketised education system: concentrate on achieving economic efficiency, rather than on encouraging creative and critical enquiry fit for positive social change.

The outcome?

Multiple choice assessment only allows for one narrative – your answer is either right or wrong. And this means that only a particular perspective is validated. But whose answer is right?

The fact that there is a huge dearth of women and black professors in Europe – at the University of Manchester only 22% of professors are women and 8% BME – should expose the ‘danger of a single story,’ (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). This lack of diversity in the workforce is all too often reflected in a university’s curriculum/course material, where non-middle-class/white/straight/male/able perspectives are frequently overlooked.

This may mean – as it did for me in Amsterdam – that the legitimacy of certain identities and the needs of alternative learning styles are systematically disregarded.

We need a more democratic education system, one that accurately reflects the diversity of the nation’s population, where persons from all backgrounds are proportionally represented in all areas of university life – from the student population to the professorship. To get to that point, universities need to take immediate action. Under-represented groups need time and space to disagree with dominant perspectives – as well as encouragement to do so. This may mean that different forms of assessment, with more fluid and democratic means of determining what constitutes a ‘right’ answer are needed; an approach which cannot be realised alongside the further withdrawal of government funding from education.

3. Free and liberated education

It was my experience in Amsterdam that lead me to realise just how much it matters who teaches what. Society and the structures of oppression on which it is founded are (re)produced through the formal education system, so who decides what constitutes legitimate knowledge is fundamental to social change. If we are to build a society where education is liberating and accessible, it must be (a) fully funded by society through taxation in order that it (b) can be democratically managed and (c) delivered by a number of alternative education projects that provide a diverse range of teaching and learning methods that reflect the needs of and legitimise the skills of all people.

Education shouldn’t be about learning to tick the right boxes, it should be about gaining the skills and confidence to draw your own.

Harriet is Education Officer at Manchester University and leads the Free Education Campaign. This blog post was originally printed at freeeducationmcr.wordpress.com. Join us 20th March at Fuel for a fundraiser for the campaign! Watch this space for more details…