Mar 31, 2011

The Greenroom must be saved: thoughts from a humble gorilla

The Arts Council England's decision to cut all of its funding to the Greenroom is the equivalent of grabbing Manchester by its hoody and kneeing it in shakermaker.

The Greenroom, snuggled beneath railway arches near the Cornerhouse cinema, is an unusual mix of theatre space, studio room, cheerful bar and balcony gig zone-type-area. It is unique even in Manchester and it has seen out Thatcher, Madchester, the Hacienda, the IRA bomb, the Commonwealth Games, D:Percussion, Manchester's noughties retail revival, Anthony 'Mr Manchester' Wilson and Frank Sidebottom.

But now, a government intent on an ideological stripping of much that is valuable about Britain has forced the fickle finger of the Arts Council to flick this amazing venue off its books.

I spent many hours in the Greenroom helping build its Greenroom United archive site by interviewing friendly punters and artists of all different shapes and colours, from Graham Massey to Lip Service to Franko B. Editing the audio of those chats late into the evening gave me an awesome sense of history about the place.

I also became part of an exhibition called We Were Spending Precious Time, in which I gave my own walking tour of Manchester. You can see me featured in the first video on the Precious Time site (that's me at the very start).

I played a gorilla at the Cabaret Formerly Known As Bucket, which still rates as one of the greatest performances by any actor, living, dead or future.

The Greenroom is part of me in several ways, then. The Financial Times called the cuts a "surprisingly bloodless affair". My blood is boiling. I'm going to set Frank B on 'em.

This decision stinks of an arts body playing it safe in the extreme. The Greenroom is an awkward, gangly 28-year-old and not the Latest Big Thing. I like awkward, gangly 28-year-olds.

The thought that the Greenroom's future may not be so rosy fills me with horror. There is no organisation in Manchester that will take risks with performers on the same scale, with the same support, and with the same acceptance of failure and success as sides of the same coin.

The Greenroom's future must be secured.

Greenroom director Garfield and his staff face some crucial decisions. One thing is certain: the Greenroom has lots of friends it can call on. The picture at the top of this post is my gorilla character being led by cabaret host Gareth Cutter, and overlayed over that is the name of every artist whose story was told on the occasion of the venue's 25th birthday.

There are so many names, you can barely see me emoting gorillaness like the actor that I am.

See the full list of people here. See a larger version of the picture on Twitpic.

Now get onto the Arts Council and complain.

See also: thoughts from The Drunken Chorus; thoughts from Cutteruption. If you have also defended the Greenroom on your blog, let me know in the comments and I'll link it here.

Mar 29, 2011

There goes the hear: Manchester has enough gigs

Manchester has the best music scene in the UK, according to a poll by Music Week.

3,000 people were asked if they had enough live music gigs in their area. Manchester scored the most yes results, followed by Newcastle and Nottingham.

A PRS spokesperson contends that "Manchester has always been a hot contender as music capital of the UK," and this will no doubt be hailed as a victory by the likes of Now Wave, Islington Mill and so on.

However, look at that survey question again: "I have enough local gigs in my area.”

Now imagine you are a city centre resident who has had one too many sleepless nights from revellers kicking bus shelters and screaming in a drunken haze at their partners in the street. How would they answer the question?

I reckon they'd think there were enough gigs too.

Manchester's response should be as surprising as it is simple. We have enough gigs. Manchester is full up for gigs. No more gigs, please.

Let's have a moratorium on live music in Manchester. Just temporary, for about ten years or so. Not a string strummed, not a skin drummed, not a tune hummed. Let a terrifyingly silence descend on this city like an audio shroud.

It will be awkward. Musicians will either leave town or get a job with the Co-op. Historians will refer back to this time as the Dead Years, with Market Street buskers slumped by empty hats and clubbers crying into their spliffs in Sankeys.

But, my friends, it will be worth it. Think of Liverpool's continual guitar-jangling efforts to escape their Merseybeat past, or Southend's gothic rockers trying to drown out the memory of Procul Harum.

In the meantime, Manchester will lie in a holy silence, resting, planning, storing its energy until 2021, when suddenly and without warning, every musician from every corner of this Bezforsaken city will burst into a cacophonous and all-encompassing wall of music that will devastate every other music scene that has ever existed.

It's the only way forward for the best music scene in the UK.

Just a caveat, though: if we are going to do this, can we wait until I've seen Kylie on Saturday? Thanks.

Mar 27, 2011

This blog is jenerally only bothered with blokes with the initials JB

James Blunt

Blunt is arguably Britain's greatest living vocalist, treading a fine line between sounding like Mick Hucknall from Simply Red and a home counties Jimmy Krankie. He was once unpopular, but then his mum went on radio and controlled the listening public with her mind rays. James Blunt has won Never Mind The Buzzcocks a record 27 times, beating Lee Ryan from Blue, Dappy from N Dubz and Cliff Richard from Cliff Richard.

James Blake

Blake is arguably Britain's greatest living vocalist and continues a long tradition of doo wop in the electronic music sub-genre known as dubstep. According to the 2011 Guinness World Records, he is the smallest known recording artist, but that is no surprise considering his tender age of four. James Blake plays many of his gigs during the daytime because sub-bass frequencies travel less well in the dark.

Justin Biebpipe

Biebpipe is arguably Britain's greatest living vocalist alongside fellow YouTube stars such as Chocolate Rain Guy, Keyboard Cat and Stephen Fry Sings Pantera. His babyish good looks are the result of post-accident plastic surgery following a rollerblading collision with a balloon full of hot oil being towed by a ferociously drunk David Hasselhoff. Justin Biebpipe's natural physical state is one of entropy and desolation.

Jeff Buckley & John Barrowman

Although Buckley and Barrowman are arguably Britain's greatest living vocalists, their famous cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah will be remembered as one of the worst duets of all time. Buckley's delicate soul voice and his wan physique sat fairly well with the song, but it was generally considered a mismatch with John Barrowman's show tune style and his insistence on ending every line with "well, howdaya like THAT!"

Jeff Beck & the Jonas Brothers

Beck and the Brothers were once known as arguably Britain's greatest living vocalists. It was a tragedy then that they were all killed in a landslide of emotion following the death of James Brown. Brown's tragic demise struck a strong emotional chord with the public and for weeks following his death, newspapers ran repeated headlines speculating about his Sex Machine theme park, his nine masked children and his relationship with his doctor, Mr Shipman. After he became ill, James Brown sued himself for writing I Feel Good. Jeff Beck & the Jonas Brothers were 63 and are survived by two husbands and six children.

John Barry

Barry (pictured above) is arguably Britain's greatest living vocalist and shares a passion with people called JB. In 1926, he married folk singer Joan Baez and was instrumental in her being jailed after he encouraged her to poke a police officer in the eye with a violin bow. Following their divorce, he wedded legendary r 'n' b singer Jocelyn Brown, although the marriage didn't last after he encouraged a violin bow to poke a police officer in the eye with Jocelyn Brown. The much-missed John Barry wrote music for Jason Bourne or something.

Jungle Brothers (the Jive Bunny remixes)--- okay, that's enough - ed.

Mar 17, 2011

Four massive things that don't go bleep: open mics, exhibition, two competitions

You may know me as an electronic music guru made from silicone, cryogenically frozen Moog synths and deep fried Orbital loops. But I have four more strings to my bow lyre*.

The first string is my umpteenth reading for the Bad Language open mic night at one of Manchester's pubbiest pubs, The Castle on Oldham Street. At past readings, I have imitated Yorkshire men imitating American schoolgirls, talked about the gutting of dead tooth fairies and peeled the text of a story off my reddened chest. What gimmick shall I masquerade as serious literature at the next Bad Language? Come along and see, on Wednesday March 23rd.

And while I'm twanging that first string, you'll also find me performing at the Manchester Twestival at NoHo on March 24th. The Manchester Twestival is a localised version of a much bigger global mission to raise cash for charity through social media. I'll be at what's called a 'pop up literary salon', which sounds like a hairdresser made from cardboard but it is not. If you do buy a ticket, you can raise money for the Wood Street Mission too.

My second string is coming up very shortly, and that's an art exhibition starting tonight. Surgery of Dreams is an otherwise-respectable composer and musician Michael Mayhew scalpelling out the innards of antique books and replacing their guts with found objects, such as shotgun cardtridges, skulls (check the amazing skull on the website) and, gulp, the cast of a vagina. Which I poked with my finger the other day. Gently. The launch is in my bookshop tonight, it will be hosted by me and you should definitely come. The exhibition runs until April 20th.

My third string (hurrah, we have a chord!) is a short story competition I have cobbled together with the original protagonists of the so-called Beatoff Generation. Except now, we are respectable because this is part of the Chorlton Arts Festival. The Flash Mob Writing Competition (see here the Twitter page) is asking for stories of 500 words or less by April 29th, which is otherwise known as That Bloody Royal Wedding Day. All the rules and requirements can be found on our funky red Flash Mob website. This is the Festival's first ever flash fiction competition and all shortlisted entrants will get to read their tales at a special reading and awards night on May 26th with little old me and my chums.

My fourth string has somewhat snapped, only because it naturally sounds of sadness and failure. The F1 Losers League is back once again this year. It's a unique competition which flips the usual fantasy league formula to celebration of the stragglers and also-rans in the world's most high-tech sport. The F1 Losers League will close to entries in the early hours of March 26th, at the beginning of qualifying in Australia. So to take part, you need to get your entry in pretty sharp-ish.

So then. Exhibition launch tomorrow night, Bad Language on Wednesday 23rd. Manchester Twestival on the 24th. F1 Losers League entries before March 26th (winner announced December 1st). Flash Mob Writing Competition now and until April 29th, with the main event on May 26th.

*altered due to comment, below

Mar 13, 2011

NASA-bass p-funk synths bark like slow motion dogs: some recent(ish) 12"s and EPs

S>>D whiffs more than a little of Autechre, what with the ominous chords drizzling themselves over fuzzed-up snares, but I'm not complaining when the 33 EP cooks up delicacies like Protovision, a track which takes a vanilla breakbeat and drags its bleeding corpse across Satan's kitchen floor before funneling it into a pit of echoey, gooey melancholia. Lovely, even though it's left me with confused cookery metaphors.

Starkey's Space Traitor EP is the sound of this Philadelphia boy having an immmense amount of fun with the science fiction movie score that must be running through his brain all the time. NASA-bass p-funk synths bark like slow motion dogs. Ital Tek is among the numerous remixes, but best track is one of his originals - Holodeck - which also has a vocal sample that sums up this whole enterprise (yes, that was a sci fi pun): "the sounds of man in space." Roll on Captain Starkey's next mission.

Record of the week / day / hour / shake of a lamb's tail must go to the first in a series of collaborations from All City Records called, wait for it, Collabs #1. In this opening slab of electronic goodness, wafer-thin drum & bass exile Martyn (pictured above) gets his dubstep on with Lucky Me's son of a jazzman Mike Slott. It's housey but it's good house and is the sound of two brilliant producers dancing a dense fandango.

Photo adapted from one taken by The End.

Mar 9, 2011

A helpful pie chart to summarise Fat Roland On Electronica

Welcome to the various new bloggers I met at last night's Manchester Blogmeet (#mcrblogmeet).

Fat Roland On Electronica [June 2016 edit: the old name for this website] is a murky old water in which sardines come in their millions to die. I hope the pie chart (above) helps explain a little more about what goes on around here. Click for bigger.

I'll thrash together a blogmeet write-up in due course. Huge thanks must go to I Love To Love, who sponsored the meeting and infused the whole enterprise with the aroma of quality leather (one of my childhood-memory smells, along with bike oil), to Common Bar for being helpful and jovial hosts, and to Manchizzle for getting the whole thing up and running before being struck down with a lurgy caught from her (very cute) wee bairn.

Meanwhile, here's my new favourite band. Enjoy.

Mar 6, 2011

Hammer time for Fatty Bumchops: how to blog properly

The best developed, most cohesive, and most robust blogging scene in the UK.

These were the words, carefully prefixed with 'arguably', scribbled by the Manchester Blog Awards last year. With the next Manchester Blogmeet nearly upon us (this Tuesday!), I thought I'd give a few wibblings about my little corner of the blogging scene in 2011.

I find myself in a very different position from this time last year. I always saw myself on the edges of blogging in the same way I played around on the edges of DJing. A few blogmeets and awards later, I'm somewhere near the somewhat crowded centre. Of one of the many centres.

What started as a way of plugging my DJing activities became, well, a scene in which I hang out with bloggers (retro gaming the other night), perform with bloggers (at the Bad Language events), get consulted about blogging (websitey people asking for advice) and help other bloggers connect (having a hand in the Manchester Blogmeet, for example).

Part of this is graft: I gave up my telly for these paragraph's you're currently smooching with your eyes. Part of this is also my belief that blogging has to be about connection in this proper physical world of real things. It has to make a difference, even if it's just someone in a shed in Preston giving encouragement to a struggling writer sweating it out in a birdhouse in Portsmouth.

What I love about Manchester's blogging scene is the rag-tag jumble of blogs of different shapes and sizes: the SEO-heads, the musicistas, the foodies, the hyperlocals, the poets or the whimsical neither-here-nor-theres.

And everyone's so busy all of the time. It's a well-developed and professional scene that is strong enough to say to companies wanting to capitalize on our content or ideas: "thanks for your interest, now give us some money."

The nice thing about the Manchester Blogmeet is it brings everyone down the same level and it humanises what is often a solitary pursuit. I'm not going to spool off a rollcall of recommended blogs here, although this post has inspired me to ditch and re-start my Fat Friends in the right-hand column of this site.

What I would say is if you run a blog and you're in Manchester, be encouraged. You're part of a bustling scene of tapped-in letters in darkened rooms, whatever the focus of your blog.

I thought I'd finish with some advice. People often ask me about blogging because they think I know stuff. It always goes like this:

- Hey Fatso, should I publish my blog in 150 different languages and reduce the text to six-point?
- Don't do that. People might not read your blog.

- Hey Fats, should I smear my blog page in crusty lobster paste?
- Don't do that. People might not read your blog.

- Hey Fatty Bumchops, should I ditch the tired old media of computers and fire my blog out of a tube instead?
- Yes, definitely do that, then everyone will read your blog.

I like being asked, so here are few basic pointers about running a blog the Fat Roland way, concentrating mainly on sins I myself have committed on these very pages.

Fat Roland's ten blog tips

1. If you want a wider readership, make your blog about something. I deliberately put 'Electronica' into my title to Ronseal this whole dang operation. I hope I've proved you can be specialist and still be accessible.

2. Most of your hits are probably very casual browsers. You want them to stick around, right? Then don't splash eye-pain all over your blog. Start by getting rid of that black background.

3. As for your content, edit, edit, edit. Write a sentence then halve it. Use short paragraphs. Short sentences and not ones that go on so long you've lost track of how the sentence started in the first place because you didn't read my advice about writing a sentence then halving it which is what I just wrote in a previous sentence which, entirely non-ironically, was twice the length before I edited it down unlike this one which has gone one so long you've lost track of how the sentence started in the first place because I didn't read my advice [breathe!] are definitely better than long ones. See?

4. Check your facts. Pressing 'publish' and hoping you're right is not good enough. And reading something on one website is not fact-checking. Learn to do proper Google research.

5. Collaborate. Don't type in a vacuum. Contribute to other people's blogs, leave comments, link generously and meet other bloggers (starting with the blogmeet this Tuesday).

6. Post regularly. I've really struggled this past month to keep up with my blogging  and I think my sites have suffered as a result. Set yourself a target and stick to it (mine is 120 posts a year).

7. A bit of design wouldn't go amiss. My blog is a pretty recognisable Blogger template, but I've added a bit of extra visual goodness. All of my design, apart from my masthead, is done using Microsoft Paint and a crappy picture editing programme called Piknik. Even a five-year-old sandwich could use those programs.

8. Give up your telly. No, really. If you're watching Corrie when you know you should be blogging, then you have decided that watching Corrie is more important than your blogging. Smash it in with a hammer. The only danger then is, if you are smashing in your television with a hammer instead of blogging, you have decided that smashing things in with hammers is more important than blogging. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

9. It's not about the stats. People should be able to find your blog in any way they see how, and if that means parallel Facebook posts and letting people read the full text on Google Reader, both of which I would assume takes away clicks from your actual site itself, then so be it.

10. It's only a blog. Lighten up. Jeez. Why are you even reading this? Turn off the computer. Get out. Go for a walk. Let the wind furrow into your brain-hair. You'll be a better blogger producing better content with a mind clear of cobwebs.