Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dave Haslam, the 1970s, and me

I have long been of the opinion that the 1970s is the best decade in music, and I reckon I have at least some objectivity since I’m a 90s kid whose favourite band are from the 80s. Six years ago, in my first earnest and naive year of blogging, before Dave Haslam and I became friends, I heard about his book Not Abba. Newly enamoured of Abba’s The Visitors LP and of Taylor Parkes’ magnificent 1995 essay on the band, I felt it was unfair to peg the whitewashing exercise of the 70s nostalgia industry onto poor Abba. It wasn’t their fault, after all, that the egregious I Heart The 70s­ spectacle – in which professional no-names pretend to spontaneously recall loon pants and ‘Night Fever’ as if they hadn’t been prompted to death by BBC researchers who couldn’t be bothered to delve beyond the Top Of The Pops archives – had sieved an entire decade of musical culture down to their five worst singles and outfits. I dashed off a hurried defence of Abba and musical escapism and thought no more of it.

Being a writer, Dave can’t leave an argument unargued and I returned to the blog some time later to find that he had not only read the piece but had responded with a characteristically cheerful and carefully considered comeback which even now I blush to read. The blog entry has since been visited thirteen hundred times (my eighth most popular piece in six years of blogging, stats fans). Some time after this fateful blog incident I was introduced to Dave at a party to celebrate The Art Of Tea in Didsbury getting an alcohol license. ‘You haven’t made your mind up about me yet, have you?’ was his opening gambit.

If you want an idea of how long the backlog of my reading list is, I have just gotten around to reading Dave’s book now. I finished it an hour ago in fact. I haven’t been able to put it down. I wish dearly I had read it six years ago. Now re-christened Young Hearts Run Free (the new title is nothing to do with me, I'm sure), the book has an Intro, an Outro, and a chapter dedicated to each year of the 1970s. Forget about Abba and I Heart The 70s, forget about my blog entry (every point of which was already covered and expounded in the book), forget revivalism and all the rest of it. The book is about life as it was lived in the 1970s, the soundtrack to that life, how magnificently varied that soundtrack was, and how all of it was connected and entwined together. It’s also about the slippery, emotive nature of memory, and of nostalgia itself. ‘We’ve all forgotten a lot,’ Dave writes. Whether it’s the wilful erasure of hard fact, as exemplified by the Watergate scandal of 1972, or the simple fact Led Zeppelin don’t figure on nostalgia shows because they didn’t put out singles and didn’t appear on TOTP, the effect is the same.

The musical insight is exhaustive and a real education, but as always it’s the (extra)ordinary folk that people the story who are the real heart and soul of a history like this. Jayne Casey, a displaced, misplaced youngster, waif of Merseyside social services, is dreaming of like-minded souls, preferably boys in mascara. These arrive in the shape of Pete Burns and Holly Johnson and the musical scene at the legendary Eric’s which eventually spawned some of the best records of the 80s. Gay punk turned disco devotee, Alan Jones adds welts and fake blood to his Vivienne Westwood shirts and dances to ‘Paranoid’ in gay bars. Clover from Withington falls in and out of the burgeoning Rastafari culture, in and out of love, in and out of her parents’ favour. There are moments that, for better or worse, can choke you with pure evocative impact, whether it’s the BNP’s Kingsley Read responding to the murder of a young Sikh lad, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, saying, ‘One down, one million to go’, or John Lydon spinning ‘Born For A Purpose’ by Dr Alimontado on Capital Radio. Underneath all of this, the power goes on and off, bombs erratically tear apart life and limb in the pubs of Birmingham, an increasingly diabolical Met attempt to turn Notting Hill into a police state, and the unnerving voice of Wearside Jack murmurs and hisses from magnetic tape while the real Yorkshire Ripper continues killing women in allotments and car parks.

It’s also about England as it is now, or at least an England I just about recognise; tribal, energetic, indifferent, violent. Just last night I saw a very drunken and shabby guy harassing a girl at Piccadilly bus station, urging her to vote for the racist UKIP party, complaining about how many children the foreigners were having. The girl was too young to vote, too bored to care. As the bus wove its way through South Manchester, the same drunk guy rolled his eyes and tutted and sighed aggressively as a South Asian woman took a call on her mobile phone in her native language, a very ordinary Mancunian scene, but one that caused him bemusement, anger and discomfort. If only somebody could explain to him that it isn’t Asian women on their phones on the bus who have put him where he is – broke, drunk, hating – it’s other white guys, ones with lots of money. What’s changed in thirty-odd years I wonder?

At the end of the book we peer momentarily beyond the end of the 70s, through the dark door of the 1980s to March 1984 when the miners have just begun their epic doomed struggle. By a pure fluke the majestic nine and a half minute version of ‘The Power Of Love’ byFrankie Goes To Hollywood comes on my stereo, a Number One single in December 1984, the year I started school, the year ‘the miners fought the law, and the law won.' As I read and ponder the strike, the heartache, capitulations and police beatings, Holly Johnson sings, ‘When the chips are down I’ll be around,’ and for a minute it’s all a bit much and I have to stop reading.

I’d still fight for Abba, of course I would (okay, maybe not ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’) but only in the knowledge that there’s never just one story worth telling, and there are no happy endings either, not least because it’s not over yet. That’s what this remarkable book is about.

Coda: I have, of course, made a playlist to go with this blog entry which you can listen to on Spotify by clicking here. It’s not chronological or exhaustive, but all the songs are name-checked in Dave’s book and so it is at least wildly or widely representative of an astonishing ten years of music.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A London marathon

There’s nothing like going to London and overdoing it. On Friday night I put my second Off The Hook party on at Vogue Fabrics. It was a busier affair than my first party there, and a whole different crowd too I think, but just as much into the music, if not more so. Song of the night was ‘Overdose’ by Ciara. Very apt… I can not / will not leave that tune alone right now. I aim to move RnB away from ‘guilty pleasure’ to just ‘pleasure’ with this party. So many brilliant songs to play. I had a great guest DJ this time around in the shape of Mr Sina Sparrow who runs a terrific Bethnal Green party called Debbie. I’ve been a fan of Sina’s illustrations for ages. It was lovely to meet him in real life at last (and now I’m off to see him for coffee in Chorlton..!). You should check out his work here.

Saturday morning never happened. Instead we drag ourselves out of bed third thing in the afternoon to face a gorgeous sunny Clerkenwell day and take restoratives at Workshop Café. I recommend this place endlessly. Gorgeous coffee / staff and a beautiful living wall in the back. Try the corn fritters and whatever’s on the aeropress, it never fails. Next comes a chance meet-up with dear Anna at the Coach and Horses in Soho and her lovely friend Derek who is currently living in a converted school near Hyde Park and paying a pittance for it. I just adore London stories like this, the lucky devil. I Facebook a photograph of us from inside the pub and my friend of twenty-something-years Andrew, a West-end Wendy, currently working on what he refers to as ‘The Irish play’ (The Commitments, ha-ha!) only goes and recognises the pub from my photograph and nips out of the theatre to come and find me and say hello. Pints of Hopspur and a five quid (!!!!) cake in the patisserie next door then it’s back to Dalston for Long Island Iced Teas and Korean food and onto to Debbie at the amazing Resistance Gallery where I immediately run into a succession of friendly Manchester faces. By this point Oisín and I have all but lost our speaking voices. We manage an hour of dancing before we have to call it a night. It’s a great party and you should get it on your list, stat.

Sunday is another glorious day so we head to Potters Field Park for a street food festival with live music, both of which turn out to be great. Venezuelan wraps and South London rap and actual warm sunshine beating down on us. Oisín runs into a friendly face from his Limerick days thus proving that London is in fact a village of 200 people as suspected. From where we are we can hear the London Marathon runners passing over Tower Bridge and the crowd cheering them on. We head over to the bridge to give our support and it’s so unexpectedly moving that the pair of us have a little spontaneous cry. We see the oldest runner in the race pass by, followed by a wheelchair user, powering away with his incredible shoulders, and a guy dressed as a tiger, and we’re off again blubbing. I am re-inspired to do my own modest bit for charity, and if you’d like to help me raise funds for the Neo-natal Unit at St Mary’s, you can do so here! We walk down the north side of Thames, which I’ve never done before, occasionally crossing paths with the runners, the cheers and whistles floating in and out of our ears with the breeze off the Thames. London is truly magic on days like this. We meet up with Ted who takes us to the rooftop of ONE NEW CHANGE which is a grim glass shopping mall but the rooftop allows you to look eye to eye with St Paul’s and is breathtaking. I am singing ‘Feed The Birds’ of course and getting teary-eyed. We sink a rum and coke in the sun and it’s time to head home to Manchester. We don’t want to leave of course, but we are back in just a few days for this, so hurrah! See you soon London…

Thursday, 10 April 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #28 Bren

'It was an enchanted place and although no longer as it was, the vintage fittings and humidor cigar counter long gone, replaced by rows of Pot Noodles, I still visit in my mind’s eye.'

What’s your name?

What do you do?

There is something delightfully, incurably wrong with my head, fuelling a compulsion to create, dream and conjure the most ridiculous and absurd of activities, events and installations. I am powerless to resist the flow of ideas. In other words, I do stuff. I make things. I ask people to help me out and very often they do. On paper, I am a producer, curator and artist-maker, currently the Visual Arts Programme Manager at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester’s international centre for cinema, theatre and contemporary visual art. My background is in a mixture of arts production, including ten years at the BBC. In my day job I support an international roster of emerging and mid-career artists, covering experimental film and video, installation, live performance and public participation.
         It’s been a bumpy but incredible eighteen months following the relocation of a close friend to the lure of sunny Oz, coupled with an abrupt finish to a relationship. There’s a term I use, ‘raft building’, to describe the process of lashing myself to an all-consuming project to carry me through rough waters, when swimming isn’t enough to keep from floundering. Fortunately, it was at this exact moment I was asked to produce my first feature-length movie. Jamie Shovlin’s Rough Cut is a hybrid of fiction and documentary capturing the process of recreating/reimagining a 1970s horror movie that never actually existed. I even appear in it myself, as a polo-necked villain, and as a pair of hands inside a fog-wreathed cabin in the woods…

The project was reviewed in the leading cinema press – from Sight and Sound to a full-page feature in the Guardian Guide to Empire and Total Film – and selected for the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and continues to screen on the international festival circuit, most recently in New York. I’m exceptionally proud of what we achieved, and the memories of tramping about the Lake District, doubling for Argento’s Italy and slasher-camp America, will stay with me always: plagued by clouds of razor-fanged midges, clambering through quarries and caves, blowing up scale models on the moors and slathering a giant, monster worm with buckets of sexual lubricant for slime.
         I also squeezed in some projects of my own, including That Dame Upstairs, a noir-styled monochrome life drawing class and performance with The Sisters Gorgeous, and Nicho Nativity, a Mexican-themed Christmas grotto in the basement of Oklahoma, the latter thanks to a grant from The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. I kicked the year in the nuts with a sell-out 300 seat screening of my recurring Scratch and Sniff Cinema series, this time for The Wicker Man, with odours ranging from village orgy (crushed rosemary) to burning virgin (roasting meat). I did say I was compulsive…
         All rafts sink by the nature of their transitory purpose, so there always needs to be another one waiting. Before I reach The Other Side, I’m aiming for a personal best score. We only get one attempt at this game. There are no start-agains.

Where do you live?

In leafy Old Trafford, the nearly-Chorlton but most definitely not-Hulme neighbourhood where you get more square foot per butt. It’s close to the city and I prefer old Victorian housing stock to charmless, city-centre shoeboxes, plus I’m around the corner from the Hong Kong Chippy. They make the best chips and gravy in South Manchester with a free side of highly personalised criticism delivered in Cantonese.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I’m from here, raised in Rusholme and Salford, though no one seems to believe me. I lack the requisite accent (even though my vowels are distinctly Northern) and right from the playground I was accused of being ‘posh’. What this actually meant was that I loved to read, and because I was partly raised by my surrogate television family (Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths, Johnny Ball, Fingerbobs, Bagpuss) I unconsciously imitated them, particularly when called upon to read aloud, or at bedtime, hence ‘posh’.
         Somewhat incredibly, I’ve been attending Cornerhouse for over twenty years. This attendance was initially prompted by an older woman – we’ll call her Sylvia – who drove a Porsche and had a husband stashed in the attic. Sylvia befriended me at the video rental shop and would drive my friend Moira and I to watch French people shout at each other and have miserable sex (which describes about 80% of independent cinema, then and now). I last saw Sylvia when, as an asexual young adult, I was turned out of her house when her husband accused us of having an affair. ‘You’d better go,’ she urged, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow’. To my relief she never did call.
         Around this time I took a self-funded gap year to work as a teacher in Varna, on the coast of the Black Sea, which wasn’t as edifying as I’d hoped, underscored as it was by a diet of stale bread and Nutella. On returning to England I moved to Newcastle to study literature, working at Northern Stage as an usher and spending summers with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Office. From there I went to Belfast, a lonely period in which everyone seemed to return to their hometowns at the weekend, leaving me to wander around Belfast Zoo where more frequently than not I would be pursued by a rogue Pelican that took a dislike to me and would wait, hissing, around the corner of public footpaths.
         I’ve been back in Manchester for a long time now, and I think if I were to relocate again, I’d make it a big one – across the sea and far away. But Manchester will always be the soil that clings to my roots.

What’s great about this city?

It is a city in its truest sense, indifferent to human suffering or achievement, built on opportunism, greed, poverty and wealth, the unremarked-upon lives of the many, and marble-hewn egos of a few. It is an ill-planned, clumsy, mismatched patchwork of pre-war Victoriana and post-war concrete, dotted with boom-and-bust glass-walled hives of hipster drones. There are enough ‘quarters’ to create more than one whole, no skyline to speak of, and we are baptised nightly in bodily fluids as the populous knock back their over-priced cocktails and finish with a bollock burger on the way home. Despite, or because of this, Manchester is at the very least authentic; an ugly truth, a beautiful lie, and so forgivably flawed. It is a city of human scale that refuses to stop playing and come in for tea.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

There’s an unassuming shop front in the warrens of Rusholme that will always be a symbolic beacon for me. It’s my parent’s old newsagents, which I lived above as a child. The last time I paid a pilgrimage there it was dilapidated and near ruinous… the windows plastered with discounted phone card adverts. But the refuse sacks that litter the adjacent streets appear, to me, like a black-capped fairy circle, hinting at the residue of magic within. It was the late 1970s when we lived there, before the rash of supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres, when corner shops were also the local toy store, and the stock changed according to season; rows of eggs at Easter, monster masks at Halloween, and ‘Standard Firework’ selection boxes in the run up to Bonfire Night. At Christmas I would sit on towers of Quality Street tins, reading about the application of natural yogurt as a cure-all in the problem pages of Just Seventeen. It was an enchanted place and although no longer as it was, the vintage fittings and humidor cigar counter long gone, replaced by rows of Pot Noodles, I still visit in my mind’s eye.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

My twin sister, Katie. She would never turn her back on me, nor I her, no matter our documented attempts to kill one another (the first when we were two years old, and I maintain that she pushed me down the stairs first). We have a shared memory as infants of a lampshade swinging between our beds, seemingly by an invisible force. Read into that what you will, but cross us together at your peril, and beware sewing needles that mysteriously appear in wet facecloths. Come the apocalypse we will stand back to back, wielding kitchen knives, making a detour into All Saints for slimming survivalist fashion, all the while arguing furiously about who is having the harder time of it.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

There’s a small swimming pool where I swim most lunchtimes that I’m not prepared to promote the existence of, for fear it will be invaded by people with better bodies. But I’ll happily give the thumbs-up to Fred Aldous, The Briton’s Protection, The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, TwentyTwentyTwo and the Ray Harryhausen-like mural and statue of a terrifying, anorexic Christ in St Augustine’s Catholic Church, built of WWII bomb debris… and really, who can live without Stitches off Deansgate for swift clothing alterations?

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do for your city. There’s far too much white noise nostalgia for times past, coupled with a lot of ‘what-if’ but very little direct action. I love what the Manchester Modernist Society and Loiterers Resistance Movement are doing, aiding interpretation and facilitating engagement, not placing the past underneath a bell jar. They should be championed as civic superheroes, instead of marginalised as black sheep. There’s also a growing, infuriating trend towards ghettoisation amongst audiences for live events of any kind, sticking to one venue or scene instead of getting out there. I’ve had people complain to me that they didn’t know such-and-such a thing was happening because they were not directly invited via Facebook. People need to seek out and support a wider cultural ecology with exposure to new ideas and unfamiliar disciplines. It is each and every person’s responsibility to make your city a better place.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Give that guy who works at Cornerhouse the keys to the little shuttered-up shop under a railway arch facing Monroes, beneath Piccadilly Station, and allow him to use it rent free as a sit-and-drift reading room, along the lines of the Prelinger Archive in San Francisco. There would be books, photo albums, VHS tapes, music mix cassettes, redundant media players, records, part-completed Panini sticker albums and shoeboxes filled with the ephemera of others, curated and rotated with the sole intention of encouraging the mind to wander. A bank of cubicles with curtains would allow privacy for those who needed a little cry for whatever reason, with a 50p sob box on trust to help pay for the electric. Outside, a neon light installation and quote from Shirley Conran’s Lace would read, Which one of you bitches is my mother?

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Sharon of Sharon’s Flowers, next to Big Hands on Oxford Road, but you’d need to enter backwards holding up a mirrored shield. Do not look into her eyes.

Bren’s next project has been commissioned by the North West Central Film Hub, part of the British Film Institute Film Audience Network. In his first outing as director, a cinema audience will be plunged into total darkness for a filmic experience without visuals, instead wearing wireless headphones using binaural audio, a specialised method of audio capture that creates a 360º spatial soundscape, best described as a form of aural ventriloquism. The unfolding tale is that of a classic haunting...

Friday, 14 March 2014

Time for a change: Part 2

Back in the lovely café in Dublin. (Clement & Pekoe, by the way). It’s my last day in the city and I’ll be very sorry to leave… The girl opposite me right now is discussing whether she wants to settle in Dublin or Melbourne. Oh Melbourne! Melbourne is a similar type of place to Manchester, insofar as it feels like you could make anything happen there. Or at least that’s how Manchester used to feel. Melbourne is clean, warm, friendly, fun… did I mention clean..? If Manchester has everything except a beach, Melbourne has the beach. It was hard to leave but great to come home in time to host our first New Year’s Eve Drunk At Vogue, which if I do say so myself, was epic fun. We have these parties down to a fine art now, they are simply nights of magic.

Suddenly it was 2014. Before Christmas I had done a ton of DJing to save for Melbourne. It’s an expensive city for sure but if you’ve spent any time in London or the Nordic countries in the last few years you won’t die of shock there. In the end I actually came back with spending money. Coupled with the fortuitously timed savings I mentioned earlier, I suddenly had enough in the bank for my best case scenario: I gave myself January off work. Utter extravagance on the back of a three week Antipodean jolly I know, but I don’t have a strong Calvinist work ethic or anything, I will never be able to combat my debt through working anyway, only through a huge and unlikely windfall, and I actually might never get the chance to do this kind of thing again, so January was the present I gave to myself after fourteen years of office work.

(Some thoughts on working in general: I don’t think work is the best way for people to exist. I’m from a working class family where for the most part work has been insecure, hard to come by, combative, stressful, obligatory. I have no love affair with it. Socialism 101 teaches you that most late-capitalist employment has to be invented and perpetuated to justify capitalism, that salaries are mathematically established to place a life you think you can have forever out of your reach. That’s if you are allowed a life at all, if your work doesn’t kill or maim you, if you are even given the chance to work in the first place. I have and haven’t worked very hard in the past, have and haven’t had job satisfaction, have and haven’t cared much about it, but I’ve always been acutely aware of the position of privilege I am in to be able to work, to have access to the opportunity, albeit one opportunity that I rinsed for over a decade.)

Here’s what I did with January instead of working: sorted out my belongings (chuck, keep, recycle, charity), organised all my photographs and music (epic tasks both), got back into training for the 10K, spent time with my family, replied to all my emails and contacted old friends, cooked loads of great food, let my beard grow, lost weight, discovered loads of new music, read books, tried yoga, learned loads about gay history, hung art on all the walls and made the place beautiful, turned our spare bedroom into a study.

My last day in a real office was December 9th. I’m three months along the road now, which doesn’t sound much, but if you’ve only ever counted time in terms of monthly paydays, it feels like a lot. So far I am making my money from DJing and club hosting, designing book covers, copyediting books, and doing academic re-writes. Those worlds are sufficiently removed from one another to complement each other nicely. Hopefully the variety of work will continue and even increase. If I could do ten different jobs at once I would, but my main aim now is to get paid for something that I write. I’ve done it before but I've forgotten how it feels.

I have taken to working from home very well. I was up working by 7am yesterday and worked twelve hours. Some days I only work four hours. There have been five days when I did NOTHING AT ALL but watch GIRLS and DJ for myself. Bliss. I might go for a run in the afternoon if it’s get bright, I might run at 8am. All I can say is, everything gets done. I am sick to death of routine and I will never ever miss it.

So, four months in and I am going to start dishing out advice for you:

Learn about being self-employed, get a UTR and start keeping records from the start. Just do it. Millions of people do it successfully every year. The HMRC website is dead easy to use. Don’t forget to look at what you can claim for against tax too, such as a portion of your heating and internet if you work from home. I am going to claim for my office chair and a pair of headphones. Seriously.

Have some emergency money. I don’t have any. Who has emergency money? But you should definitely have some.

Get support, even if it’s just moral support. Get some advice, from anywhere, find out who in your circle is self-employed or can give you accounting advice or who knows about any work going that full-timers can’t do, but you can.

If you have favours outstanding, now’s the time to call them in.

Stand your ground and prepare to be ribbed by people who still work in offices. After working hard one morning (and before I got my office chair) my back was aching so I put on comfy pants and tried a yoga routine for bad backs. My friend came by afterwards, assumed I had just got up and made the typical sarcy comments about watching Jeremy Kyle in my pyjamas. I don’t own a TV. My friend hates his job and his boss. He is forgiven. I went back to work after he left.

Be vulgar and talk about money when you need to. If you need to make some cash urgently, say that you need to be paid promptly. If you need more money when you’re doing the work, say so when asking for your fee. Be fair to yourself and your client with your fees and be really good at what you’re doing.

Be strategic about favours and what you do for free. At this point in my life if I had charged for everything that I’d ever done for free – editing, re-writing, design work, promotions, DJing, advice – I would be typing this on a yacht. If I’m DJing, don’t offer to pay me in beers. If you have money for the beer, pay me for the work I’m doing. I don’t want to write for you for free for ‘exposure’. It doesn’t work. Seven thousand people visited my blog in February. I’m exposed. I want to write something that somebody wants to pay me for because it’s good and because it’s work.

Be prepared for bad luck, and good. I’ve had some of both: I bought myself a cheap but (I thought) reliable laptop to DJ with (recorded as a business expense of course) because it was getting too damn troublesome using the same laptop for DJing in clubs and writing/editing at home, in terms of software, disk space, insurance, safety, everything. Then, while I was out DJing on Valentine’s Day, our flat was burgled. They took my work laptop (where I did all my writing) and my partner’s Mac (where I did all my design). We weren’t insured. Then the new DJing laptop turned out to be faulty. Several laptops and complicated returns and horrible computer shops and borrowed machines down the line, and I am back on my feet. Your computer is your life, look after it. My friends had a whip-round for my birthday and raised the money for a new laptop. It is fast and smart and I love it and I love them.

Cultivate amazing friends who might do something like the above for you in an emergency.

Okay back to work.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Time for a change: Part 1

I am writing this blog post in a lovely café in Dublin. It is a Friday afternoon. There is nowhere else I should be at this moment. How did I get here? Let’s find out…

Symptoms I’ve been bothered with in the last few years that my doctors potentially attributed to stress:

Reduced attention span
Bad temper
Recurring sore throat
Strep throat
Chest infection
Skin infection
Eye infection
Post-viral bronchial hypersensitivity
Nasal drip
Globus sensation
Beard alopecia
... and hypochondria

Things that have made me stressed at various times in the last few years:

Money worries (twenty years of…)
Feeling lonely
Feeling antisocial
Being too bored
Being too busy
Being both at the same time
Feeling overstretched
Feeling like an underachiever
Not knowing what I want to do when I grow up (except be a writer which hasn’t really worked out…)

These circumstances were, to put it mildly, unsustainable, so I decided to make a positive step towards change. If this post starts to read like a self-help book; good, that’s what I want. I read one of those things for the first time recently and it was the absolute worst kind of tosh. I can do better. I think only people who are unsuccessful should write them anyway, that’s much more fun.

I was having no luck with the conventional method of looking for a new job (let alone any enjoyable or rewarding employment). By ‘no luck’ I mean literally no response at all to dozens of applications over several years, and certainly no interviews. On the day I went to collect my Masters certificate I did the sensible thing graduates should so and I spoke to a careers advisor. I was something of an unknown quantity: in my mid-thirties, working in publishing, minor advertising experience, DJing and event hosting on the side as a poorly-paid but successful labour of love, but ultimately craving to make my living as a writer. The advisor was honest. ‘I don’t know much about this whole world you’re in, really,’ he admitted, referring to the ‘jack of all trades’ banter I had given him. ‘But it strikes me that hosting the launch party for an international festival should probably be on the first page of your CV and not under ‘Other achievements’.

In the end I came away from the meeting with two important ideas in my head:

1.     I should have a skills-based CV, not a regular employment CV. (I’d never heard of a skills-based CV before).

2.     I should stop looking for a job, and start looking for work.

The idea of freelancing presented itself, and there followed a series of happy and fortunately-timed events that brought the possibility closer to reality:

I finished paying for my MA.

I finished paying for my BA (fourteen years after graduation).

I moved in with my partner after living alone for six years.

My bank loan was due its annual holiday.

My partner gave up freelancing and took a full-time position worthy of his talents.

Crucially though, the fear of whether I could make a go of life as a freelancer was outweighed by the stress of carrying on as I was. We had already booked to spend Christmas in Melbourne. Figuring there was no better way to book-end a big life change than by going to the other side of the world, I gave notice on the job that I had said yes to in April 2001, and packed my suitcase.

Monday, 10 February 2014


When it became apparent that half the music I was listening to originated from the Nordic countries (Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland) I decided to make a proper playlist of my favourite songs from that part of the world because I’m organised and because I’m an anorak. Confession: Husky Rescue had passed me by until just now and are the only Finnish entry but I will now embark on a stint of Finnish music (recommendations?). The list is two hours long and has a very extensive range of sounds and some of it is old and some is very new but I think each and every song is genuinely outstanding in its way.

Naomi Pilgrim

Hanne Kolstø – One plus one makes one out of two (NOR)
Jonas Alaska – In The Backseat (NOR)
Frida Hyvönen – Terribly Dark (SWE)
MØ – Pilgrim (DEN)
Robyn – Dancehall Queen (SWE)
Lemaitre – Continuum (NOR)
The Cardigans – Fine (SWE)
Kaja Gunnufsen – Au (NOR)
Sigur Rós – Ísjaki (ICE)
Emilie Nicolas – Pstereo (NOR)
When Saints Go Machine –Mental Shopping Spree (DEN)
Here Is Your Temple – So High (SWE)
Ine Hoem – When We Collide (NOR)
Naomi Pilgrim – No Gun (SWE)
Abidaz and Robyn – Nitti5 (SWE)
Husky Rescue – Sunrider (FIN)
Lykke Li – Breaking It Up (SWE)
Jenny Wilson – Autobiography (SWE)
Annie – Chewing Gum (NOR)
Kashmir – Miss You (Slight Return) (DEN)
Ane Brun – Do You Remember (NOR)
Shout Out Louds – Illusions (Prins Thomas Diskomiks) (SWE, NOR)
Oh Land – White Nights (DEN)
The Concretes – You Can't Hurry Love (SWE)
Björk – Who Is It - Bell Choir Mix (ICE)
Choir Of Young Believers – Action/Reaction (DEN)
Susanne Sundfør – Walls (NOR)
Winhill/Losehill – I Leave You 'Cause I Don't Care (SWE)
Lindstrøm and Todd Terje – Lanzarote (NOR)
Abba – When All Is Said And Done (SWE)