Category Archives: Writing

New Year, New Inspiration

Miles From Home

Miles From Home

I don’t know about you but I’m not really feeling the New Year, New Start thing at the moment. I never normally take New Year’s resolutions too seriously, like a lot of people I think that if it’s worth doing then anytime you feel motivated is a good time to do it. Admittedly the New Year can be a good motivator but it’s not the only one, and for some reason, especially not in 2013. What I need is inspiration, and that’s one of the reasons I took myself off on a short holiday over Christmas – for escape! And some nice time to myself.

While I was away, I was surprised at how easily my thoughts started to flow once I allowed myself some time to do so, and to write notes, to explore my ideas. But now I’m back I want to capitalise on that momentum, and work out how I’m going to use my time to make sure I don’t lose it again, and have enjoy writing again too.

So I’ve been mulling over some thoughts about inspiration-based plotting since I’ve been back home, and considering a “2013 list” of sorts. I want it to be achievable though, so there’ll be no ambitious targets – I’m trying to avoid being run ragged! I rather like the spirit of my friend Veerle’s Annual To-do List, so at last – here are my goals for the next twelve months (more or less…)

  1. No more crap TV, including repeats of mediocre stuff. It’s a massive soul-sucker. I shall turn on my radio or put a CD on for company instead in future (it feels cosier anyway), and find something to do from my to-do list. I shall also seek out wildlife and anthropological documentaries.
  2. Keep on top of the housework. Clean house, clear head!
  3. Cook properly once a week. This involves either a recipe or using my oven. Or both.
  4. Keep up with the gym twice a week
  5. I’m going to try and see a film at Hyde Park Picture House at least 8 times this year. Hyde Park is my local art house cinema (for want of a better phrase) and it’s a lovely building with lots of original features with a great atmosphere perfect for watching unusual films.
  6. Read more. I have a TON of auto/biographies and travel memoirs on my table, all half-finished, plus god knows how many recommendations I should probably crack on with. I shall do this by going to bed earlier and reading before going to sleep.
  7. Write more. I have a list of ideas of things to write about, but I need to learn to keep looking for those ideas so I don’t run out So I shall USE the notebook I keep with me at all times! I must also learn to keep blog posts to one or two ideas, and not witter on quite as much – additional ideas go into new blog posts – post count dynamite!
  8. Following my trip to Trakai and remembering how much I love exploring by train, I shall be scheduling at least one foreign rail adventure and/or one trip away alone annually (thanks to my friend Sara for that latter suggestion)
  9. I am going to join more things. There is a fortnightly crochet club starting at the new Outlaws Yacht Club “bar-slash-hangout” in town (I popped in yesterday after shopping and had some LUSH Bailey’s Hot Chocolate and sparkly carrot cake. Lovely laid back atmosphere). I can’t knit so have never been interested in the knitting stitch and bitch type nights that have cropped up, but I used to crochet loads as a kid so I’m quite excited about this one. I shall keep going to jewellery class, but start planning projects before I turn up instead of just turning up with some sweets and hoping things will come together. And I also want to have a go at something new, perhaps printing techniques – a few preliminary enquiries reveal there are quite a lot of courses in Leeds so I think I’ll ask around and look into starting something in April or May once I’ve got my head round all this other stuff…
  10. [edit] I forgot to add brush up my German! Really need to de-rustify it, so I’m going to brush up on vocab & Grammar, and with any luck finish off with a trip to Hamburg for the Reeperbahn Festival with my friend Joachim.
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Filed under Craft, Inspiration, Writing

Negative Networking

I love the atmosphere at Airwaves – I’ve been telling Jamie how friendly everyone is and fortunately they’ve lived up to my rambling expectations. I’ve met up with old friends – Mark from Iceblah (whose recommendations for what to see at Airwaves should be taken as gospel, he’s never let me down!) and Elzio another journalist from Brazil who I met here last year. While I’m here I’m also attempting to track down as many artists as possible who might want to take part in A Negative Narrative, and actually this is much easier than in other places as everyone’s so approachable – you can wander past Jonsi and FM Belfast in a cafe and no-one bats an eyelid. I’ve pounced on three so far, although I shall keep their identities top secret (mainly in case they lose the bits of paper with their allocated questions on that I shoved in their stage-sweaty faces)!

Bob & Ben

We found Iceland Bob in his natural habitat of dark and dingy Reykjavik music venues, hobnobbing with the stars and reviewing Airwaves gigs for the Grapevine. He’s brought his brother Ben along this year too who seems to have a knack of bumping into us everywhere too!

Impostor-Hellvar play Hemmi og Valdi

The ever delightful Veerle, who I spent a lot of last year’s festival with and later met up with when I went to Brussels, is here too, staying with her Icelandic friends in the band Hellvar. She is doing some PR for them this year and we managed tried to catch one of their 7 airwaves sets at intimate off-venue Hemmi og Valdi, although caught instead a beautiful-sounding band who (I thought) introduced themselves as Hellvar, but must instead have been telling us to stick around for them. I must learn Icelandic soon.

Klara is here too, a friend who I met through another friend and who coincidentally works in the hostel we’re staying in. I’m looking forward to catching up with her properly when she is less busy – not easy when there are 5 or 6 bands playing in the hostel foyer every day this week as well as the usual guests to look after but I’m sure we’ll manage it!

We have also managed to track down my two friends Gabriel and Ilan, who I’ve not seen for ages and have come over from Israel for the festival, and in particular Björk, and of course we’ve already bumped into Yunioshi. It’s starting to feel like home!

Fabian & Jamie enjoy some beard time at Hellvar

But then there’s all the new friends we’ve met and are hanging out with round town – Joachim from the Bjork queue, and Fabian and Rebecca one of the couples we met in Vik. They’re ace to hang out with and we’ve been investigating many of the same gigs. Although Bob at off-venue Dillon wasn’t the hilarious half hour of legendary excitement we’d secretly hoped for!

Bob Justman plays off venue Dillon

There is a bit of a twitter crew here, mainly from Katie’s neck of the woods in London, but it’s been great to finally meet Bngddrd, NickBason and PamHutch who are all lovely (and who all had Bjork tickets for Wednesday, grr!). And later thanks to Mark, I finally met another Twitter/Iceland buddy Paul, a writer, photographer and finger-in-interestingthingspie-er whose brains I’ve picked many a time (thanks Paul!).

And wandering down Laugurvegur (back to the hostel to pick up more gin) we found Caroline & Jorge, who we also met in Vik, and yep, it was great to catch up with them too. Iceland is a small place and it seems to attract people with the same sorts of interests and attitudes so I guess it’s inevitable that everyone is so much bloody good company.

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Filed under Europe, Festivals, Iceland, Music, Other Blogs & Articles, Travel

Latte-tude

Sheep & Festival Flags

Four days before  a lazy weekend at home in the middle of last month, I got a rather exciting email, which, to cut long story short, resulted in me instead packing up my tent and wellies again for festival two of the summer, Latitude. Now I was doubly excited about this, partly because I’ve wanted to check out Latitude for a loooong time and have never made it, and partly because I was going to be writing about it for Clash Magazine, who I’ve only ever done small gig reviews for before. Big assignment for me!

Punting on Latitude's Lake

I guess I hadn’t really thought much about what to expect the festival to look and feel like – I’ve got used to just turning up at these things armed with my usual festival bits & bobs and then just finding out what’s going on once I’m there. The site is indeed lovely, and the line-up eclectic (there are plenty of arts & spoken word tents as well as music, but more of that later). And of course don’t forget the iconic spray-painted sheep.

Happy as Larry the Lamb

But it took me a little while to warm to the site. For a start it was bigger than I had imagined, at about 35000 people (not that I’d realised I’d imagined a size), and it felt a bit – constructed. I think that’s probably to do with the fact I’ve been spoiled with very small festivals of 3 – 8,000 people like Moorfest, Beatherder and Kendal Calling, which feel a lot more intimate and have grown up organically over the years, nurtured by a team of passionate individuals who also have day jobs.

Main Stage, Main Stream

Latitude of course is the brainchild of Festival Republic, so there are noticeable aspects that follow the tried & tested FR formula, and because of the finances available, it’s been comparatively large and well-structured right from the start. But there are lots of differences too (there really is no need for another Reading or Leeds), and Latitude is clearly aimed at the well-heeled middle classes who want to enjoy a civilised festival (whatever that might be). I’m sure the permanent 20-person long queue for lattes and americanos at Costa is completely unrelated…

Costa Queue

The toilets (although the word on the ground is there’s been an improvement on previous years) have several flunkies patrolling them keeping the queues moving and making sure they’re stocked with bog roll, which is nice. If you wander round the site in the evening you could see performance art over the lake, but while this was stunning to see (mid-air acrobatics performed suspended by nothing but a really gigantic hot air balloon was the highlight), it still had the feel of “ooh what great things can we pay for to make this unforgettable?” rather than “ooh, what can we make ourselves to make unforgettable tons of fun?”. Nothing wrong with either approach, especially when you consider that the performers have to make a living through bookings like this, but I guess I’m just a DIY girl at heart.

The line-up musically on the two main stages was what we might term “safe”, and with some oldies, some goodies, some newies and some beauties: everyone, but everyone I spoke to found the idea of Paolo Nutini headlining ridiculous, and he was accompanied by a few other mainstream insipid crowd-pleasers on the main stage. But then there were the guilty pleasure bands – Adam Ant’s Good the Bad and the Lovely Posse, and Suede‘s continuing festival comeback (LOVED Adam Ant; Suede were great but Brett, although looking great, seemed so wired there was little connection with the crowd, and in fact I much preferred Eels‘ performance which was a proper professional show and a half). Villagers were absolutely sublime, really endearing & totally exceeded my already-high expectations.

Cerebral Ballzy

But if I’m honest I spent most of my time at the new music stages, and caught some great stuff, and nothing more hilarious than Brooklyn hardcore punk band Cerebral Ballzy(who I’ve been meaning to see for ages) have their moshpit physically stopped before it started by two I’m sure well-meaning, but definitely over-zealous and/or panicked security guards. The perplexed expression on the kids faces as they were forced to “tone down” their dancing for the first song, and then the guards’ perplexed expressions as the kids realised they could just move further back to continue being boisterous, was absolutely priceless. In fact it was so funny that hardly any of the crowd watched the band, all eyes were on the kids. Which fortunately didn’t seem to bother the singer too much as he climbed the stage scaffolding and repeatedly drawled he wanted everyone to enjoy the party (He was so zoned out, I’m not sure which drugs he’d had, but I think it was all of them). So yeah, I probably need to see Cerebral Ballzy again to enjoy them properly.

moshingisfun

I didn’t get much chance to check out the non-music arts as much as I’d have liked, which was a shame as there was so much happening. But I had my music brief from Clash, and I was enjoying the challenge of writing my reviews of each day and filing from the festival site, as well as tweeting from the festival for them, neither of which I’d done before. Extra organisational points not to have to write up notes after a festival too! And if I’m going to be cheesy it was really nice to be able to work the festival with my other half Jamie who was shooting it for DiS. A lovely way to meet other press bods to hang out with, especially photographers, too. Which makes Elly perfectly happy ta.

One non-music thing that I’m really glad I caught was Mark Thomas’ Extreme Rambling account of his potter along the Israeli separation “wall”. If you’re not familiar with Thomas’ work, he’s an investigative journalist & comedian with a penchant for bear-baiting big corporations & exposing corruption, and making you piss your pants while doing so. I will be going to catch the full performance when it comes to Leeds, and thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

I won’t bore you with news of the other bands I saw, (or myself; I’ve already written about them), but you can read what I wrote for Clash here:

the Sunrise new music stage on the Friday, including Fools Gold, Grouplove and The Phantom Band

Saturday with Villagers (wow), Adam Ant (clearly still a bit bonkers but a brilliant entertainer) and Fight Like Apes (go see them!)

Scandinavian themed Sunday when I went to see Treefight for Sunlight (totally delightful, with a jaw-dropping falsetto), Lykke Li and my first (and possibly last if they are indeed going on hiatus) time with the wonderful Eels (who aren’t Scandinavian but never mind).

Despite the uneasy feeling I had about the corporate overtones, I had a really lovely time at Latitude, met some lovely people and saw some great performances. Yes, there is the element of highbrow, yes the food is lots more expensive than at other festivals, but it’s chilled out, there are no idiots, and you can see some really pretty cool stuff, and if you’re not used to summer in the fields then you’ve always got easy access to a Latte to make you feel at home.

Check out the Suede Photo gallery from Latitude on the Clash website taken by Jamie’s good buddy Al de Perez.

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It’s Festival Time!

Beatherder Festival 2011 (taken by Jamie)

I still have tons to write about Kenya, but what with starting a new job recently, doing a bit of music scribbling for other sites (these are over on my portfolio), and a higher than usual number of my friends getting married this year, there’s not been a lot of spare time.  I’ve got notes about it everywhere so they will appear online soon, I have promised myself!

Wedding Disco (taken by Jamie)

But I do have another excuse too, and that’s the start of festival season! As those of you who know me have cleverly managed to work out, I do like a good live band, and so festivals to me are like a giant pie to a fat kid. As if squeezing in 7 festivals last year wasn’t enough, I have decided to ignore the tiny voice in my head telling me to have a weekend off once in a while, and am looking at crowbarring 8 into my diary this year, and I’m a little bit excited!

I’m lucky enough to be able to reduce my costs by working for magazines & websites at most of the festies I have planned in, and 2 festivals in, I’m really enjoying fitting into the reviewing side of things rather than just being a punter, so much so that I think I might get a little bit bored if I didn’t have to think about what I’m doing at a festival.

Alt Track at Beatherder (taken by Jamie)

Jamie & I covered Beatherder festival at the beginning of July. It’s a wonderful mini festival tucked away in the Lancashire Dales not far from where I grew up (which was in Yorkshire for those of you counting). It’s a proper grass-roots affair with no commercial input whatsoever, and it works. My write up is over here on Counterfeit Magazine, along with Jamie’s photos. For me, working these festivals over the summer is a chance for me to develop my writing and I’m loving it. I took a different angle on Beatherder this year, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It looks like other people were too because we’ve been getting tons of great feedback on it and loads of hits, so thanks if you gave it a read!

I’ll blog about my second festival of the year, Latitude, during the week. Watch this space!

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Filed under Counterfeit Mag, Festivals, Music, Writing

Concrete Blocs

Brasov Rail Station

Aaaaand we’re on a train again. I’m actually really sad to be leaving Brasov and especially our host Angi. Even though three days isn’t enough to know what somewhere’s really like, the time we have spent here has been very welcoming and a welcome change from the capital cities we’ve been to so far.

Dave’s instax of Angi – she says: “Still trying to get wiser”

But it’s time to move on to the next leg of our journey, and head for Veliko, the ancient capital of Bulgaria. As we’re now going straight from Brasov and not Bucharest, we had a quick look to see if there was a more direct way to get there than changing in the Romanian capital, but it turns out not. In fact type into google “how to get to Veliko from Romania” and you will get a host of forums urging you to avoid the daily Veliko train from Bucharest (actually the sleeper that goes right through to Istanbul) and take the bus instead – apparently it’s quicker, more frequent, more comfortable and less full of undesirables (no prizes for guessing which ethnic group gets the blame for this).

Very very early Bucharest ticket

So filled with a bit of doubt about the train but blessed with a couple of hours in Bucharest (due to leaving Brasov at the ungodly hour 0526, the only train to get us to Bucharest for any of our connections – you can imagine my horror!) we decided to give the coach a try, which would also mean we get to see a little bit of Bucharest. We checked the coach times and the connections, got Angi to check it as well, and got an early night for our stupid-o’clock start.

CFR coach to Bucharest

There wasn’t much to report from the early train to Bucharest, apart from a genial taxi driver, a grumpy lady at the Brasov ticket office, and waiting on the platform for our “daytime coaches” (with seats not beds) to arrive at the station and be coupled up to the Bucharest sleeper train we were going to be part of. Inside the carriage is functional, and looks like it was made in the 1980s. We share it only with 2 others, who the ticket lady has  has decided to book into seats next to us despite an otherwise empty coach.

Kinda greeny brown…

We are on the slow train so our journey takes us nearly 4 hours (as opposed to the 2.5 hours by express). We are at each stop for between 2 and 10 minutes though which gives us the chance to see locals in casually walk through industrial estates, across the railway tracks and up the train steps – and gave the locals the chance to hop off the train for a crafty fag.

Concrete industrial chic

Along the way the scenery becomes ever more industrial-looking with grey/green/brown manufacturing plants, yards, and grubby 60s pre-fabbed flats (although that could have something to do with the murky diesel film that coats the train window). We also see clusters of ramshackle corrugated-iron-roofed dwellings interspersed with richer, newer and freshly painted homes in pinks, yellows and oranges, about the only bit of colour we’ve seen on our train journeys since leaving Austria.

As we near Bucharest, we return exclusively to buildings with the regulation concrete colour stereotypical of the communist regimes. We take the tube to the square, Piata Unirii, where our coach goes from, but when we arrive, we realise this isn’t going to be easy. It’s not just one square but a network of 4 huge squares each with 4 or 5 lanes of traffic; the Unirii Boulevard bridge across the Dâmbovița river, leading up to the still-unfinished Palace of Parliament, or People’s House; and huge imposing concrete-coloured 8 storey apartment buildings – basically looking like pre-fabs but with strange attempts at ornate balconies made from concrete apparently bolted onto the frontages. Have an explore here – it’s the biggest square in Bucharest.

All in all, Piata Unirii is a pretty overwhelming place, especially when you’ve been up since 4 in the morning, all you want to do is work out how to get to Bulgaria, and you can’t find the right bus stop. The hotel the coach was supposed to go from knew nothing about the service, neither did tourist information next door. In a last ditch attempt to combine breakfast, a toilet break and some useable transport information, we ended up in MacDonald’s (never, ever my restaurant of choice but we were lost and knew we wouldn’t look conspicuous there). The manager was very helpful and tried his best to find our coach stop for us, but with no luck, so with 45 minutes left to get back to the rail station for the dreaded Veliko train, we legged it back onto the M1 metro.

Line M1 in Bucharest is one of the cleanest metro lines I’ve ever seen, but this may have something to do with 2 burly security guards, armed with substantial looking truncheons, who patrol each train. I’m not sure whether to be reassured that they are there to prevent unrest, or worried that there is enough unrest to warrant security. Or in fact that the regime is so paranoid about unrest that they employ such visible security guards for show. Reassuringly though the M3 line trains were crammed and covered in graffiti – I can only assume fewer dignitaries may use that particular line.

Our compartment to Veliko

With relief we made it onto our Bulgarian train, and guess what? It’s very nice! We had an 8 seater compartment shared it with a very pleasant Romanian gentleman in his late 50s/early 60s from Giurgiu (on the southern border). Again the coach is functional, but it’s comfy and cosy, with space for our luggage, and Dave and our new friend, who we eventually work out is called San Dubretto, have two hours of entertainment as Dave tries to learn Romanian and Bulgarian from him. No mean feat as we have only translations for yes/no/please/thankyou, lots of gesticulating, and lucky guesses with a smattering of Italian and Spanish.

You’re now leaving Romania…

Out of the window I can see small tree-like crops in the distance, but little else (unless you like flat brown farmland) – but I’m hopeful these are vineyards and look forward to sampling their produce. As we near the border, San points out his hometown of Giurgiu, where we say goodbye to him. Then it’s just a 15 min passport check, cross the majestic Danube river, and next is our penultimate country – Bulgaria!

The Danube between Romania & Bulgaria

Days since leaving the UK: 9

Kilometres travelled so far by main train journeys:  2586+166+72=2824

Countries travelled through so far: 7

Cities visited: 7

Weather: Still quite chilly. And grey.

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Filed under Bulgaria, Europe, Railways, Romania, Travel, Writing

Farmyard Fun and other gigs

Strictly speaking the “farmyard” in title has come from an evening I spent at the Cow & Calf rocks in Ilkley, watching a performance by Jez Colborne and the Mind the Gap entitled Irresistible. Mind the Gap are a theatre company based in Bradford comprising tutors and professional actors, and provide theatre studies courses for people with learning difficulties. My brother (who has Asperger’s, so he has more of an issue with “getting” certain social contexts rather than the media-peddled stereotype of a person with low IQ and “special learning needs”) has just started at the company and is loving it. He and his fellow coursemates were also taking part in the performance.

Jez is inspired by sirens and the setting for the performance of music inspired by sirens (air-raid and indeed the Greek variety), inside the quarried out centre of the Cow, was breathtaking, especially as the rain misted in and was caught by the lights. Animated projections backlit the performance, and although there were fewer siren sounds than I’d been led to expect, it was still an enjoyable and very different night. You can read Jez’s blog and see photos from the evening on the Mind the Gap website.

Foals - (c) Danny Payne

Animal related fun continued as we dashed back to Leeds for Foals at the O2 Academy, which I was reviewing for Clash Mag. I do really love Foals’ latest album (Mercury nominated Total Life Forever) and I’d only seen a couple of their songs live before, so I was looking forward to it. The sound where we stood wasn’t amazing unfortunately (the grapevine informs me there may have been some over-zealous amp cranking from the band), but the atmosphere was pretty electric, which made a nice change from the all-too-commonly disinterested hoards that seem to be attracted the the Leeds O2. You can read what I thought on the Clash website, with photos from Danny Payne.

Delphic - (c) Jamie Boynton

Not content with two events in one evening, nor a quick 8 hours at work, next stop was Manchester’s the Warehouse Project (not forgetting a quick stop for pizza obviously). It was Delphic‘s turn to curate the Warehouse Project,  and if it wasn’t for the over-boisterous crowd I would have enjoyed them immensely playing their hearts out to their home fans. Do peruse the reasons for my unconvincedness at the concept of crossover clubbing/gig nights on Counterfeit. Pictures are from FictionalFuture.

A quick stop at a Halloween Burlesque night (and I hope what was a suitable fishnet, hotpant and basque related outfit), I had a day off then was back at the Academy to review Ellie Goulding, again for Clash with Danny taking the photos. Much girlier than my usual choice of musical entertainment, I was pleasantly surprised. She really does do a nice line in catchy arm waving numbers. Read the review at Clash online.

Ellie Goulding - (c) Danny Payne

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Filed under Counterfeit Mag, Gigs, Leeds, Music, Photography, Writing

Everyone Loves The Brudenell

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Places I Love on theculturevulture.co.uk

It’s true. Everyone does. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. I even wore my Brudenell t-shirt to Iceland Airwaves and used the happy fact to bump into a fellow Leeds-er.

To cut a long story short, The Brudenell Social Club is simply one of, if not the best gig venue ever. To not cut the long story at all, I spoke to Nathan who runs the place, with dedication and passion, about why he thinks it’s so special, and I think between us we’ve managed to put our fingers on what makes so many people get excited about the Brud. I wrote the piece for Culture Vultures, so please head over there to have a read.

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