Thursday, 27 November 2014

Virtual Books and Library Twickets: The Collection

I recently spent a week as writer-in-residence at Manchester Central Library for the Everything Everything Chaos to Order residency.

I took the opportunity to undertake a modest, highly enjoyable digital art project using the simple tools of library books, iPhone and the Manchester Central Library Twitter account.

The concept, to quote myself, was as follows:

‘In a modern library you’re just as likely to leave with a laptop full of information as a rucksack full of books. I wanted to find a way to symbolise the evolution from paper to data that emphasises the importance of both.’

The project turned into a way to showcase printed treasures from around Central Library; exciting, mundane, beautiful, forgotten, well-loved. Each book was reduced to a single image and a piece of quoted text and sent as a Tweet – a digital artefact if you like – to Central Library’s thirteen thousand followers.

Below is the full collection sent over the duration of the residency from start to finish. Armistice Day fell in the same week so I opened the collection with an image from the First World War and finished with an entry from a compendium of Army names from the Second World War, a soldier named G. Thorpe.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Queer Forum

My friend Siobhan and I have started a venture called The Queer Forum. Inspired by the TED Talks, we are hosting irregular get-togethers in which we invite half a dozen LGBTQI/Queer-identified people to give an informal talk to a friendly audience about something of importance or interest to them, and/or to our community. We might also show some short films, time permitting. It's not-for-profit, community focused and aimed at bringing queer folk together for education and fun.

We held our first event during Pride weekend and it was a really lovely, warm, eye-opening and well-received event. We learned about the film critic Vito Russo, about being a visiting covert lesbian in Bolivia, about gay erotic art, LGBTQI Muslim life, and more. You can see videos of some of our talks at our Vimeo channel.

Our next event is on Sunday 7th December at 6pm at Bangkok Restaurant on Princess Street, Manchester.

If you want more of a taste of what we're about, here's the Introduction I gave to our first event:

Hello. Thank you to everyone for coming to our first ever Queer Forum event. A special thanks to Rachele and the team here at Bangkok for giving us this lovely space to work in, and for including us in the Queer We Are program of events. Rachele approached myself and Siobhan separately to do an event here and, because great minds think alike, we both came up with the same idea; to do something like the TED talks that was for, by and about LGBTQI people. We both feel strongly that making yourself heard is an important thing for queer people. Stephen Beresford, who wrote the movie Pride, which no doubt you’ll all be going to see next month, said the other day how hard he’d found it as a gay man to make himself heard about anything other than sex; and that’s as a middle class white guy. There are voices everywhere that should be heard and we want The Queer Forum to be one of the places you’ll hear them.

Of course it’s no good making yourself heard if there’s nobody to listen, so this project is also about bringing people together, for support, for sharing, and to bear witness. We should be able to come together and share ideas in an environment that’s fun and intellectual, and that’s not just about partying while Rome, or indeed Paris, burns. Laverne Cox has said that it’s important to always remain teachable in the face of ignorance; including your own. So let’s all promise ourselves to remain teachable. It takes a lot of courage to talk in front of an audience and I know you’re all going to be supportive and welcoming. I hope you’re inspired by what you hear today; perhaps inspiredenough to come and be one of the speakers at a future event.

So, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, andbe today’s warm up act and give you a selection of great quotations from queer people:

Join us as we explore Manchester’s Gay Village. It’s meaning. What is it saying to us? Is it a powder keg of the avante-garde?
The Divine David Hoyle

Straight people aren’t the enemy. Gay people aren’t the enemy. Ignorance is the enemy.
Anonymous dancer from Flesh at The Hacienda

The only ‘queer’ people are those who don't love anybody.
Rita Mae Brown

It is a rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another, precisely one, the gender of the object choice, emerged from the turn of the century, and has remained, as THE dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of' sexual orientation.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

I think God is a callous bitch not making me a lesbian. I'm deeply disappointed by my sexual interest in men.
Diamanda Galás

My name is Martin Boyce, and in 1969 I was a drag queen known as Miss Martin. I remember on that night, when we saw the riot police, all of us drag queens, we linked arms like the Rockettes and sang this song we used to sing: "We are the Village girls, we wear our hair in curls. We wear our dungarees above our nellie knees." And the police went crazy hearing that, and they justimmediately rushed us. We gave one kick and fled.
Martin Boyce

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
Alan Turing

I remember much of it as if it were yesterday. It is difficult to celebrate when one has such potent, painful tragic memories. We held so many of each other in our arms. One never forgets love like that. Make no mistake, AIDS was and is a terrible tragedy that need not have escalated into a worldwide plague. There were 41 cases when I started. There are 75 million now. It takes a lot of help from a lot of enemies to rack up a tally like that.
Larry Kramer

The dead are still here holding our hands.
Jackie Kay

Monday, 17 November 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #31 Oliver

'Lorenzo offered to walk the elephant back to Manchester, which he did in ten days...'

What’s your name?

What do you do?

I’m an artist. I write and draw comic books about landscape and walking. They sell about as well as that sounds so I’ve also had a long career as a barman in south and central Manchester – Maine Road Family Stand, Free Trade Hall, Robinski’s, The Drop Inn, Velvet, Matt & Phred’s – before finishing up with seven years as a manager down The Temple. I get the odd illustration gig as well, like two Elbow album sleeves and animation, for instance. The comics are making money now though, so I’ve been bar-free for a while.

Where do you live?

Old Trafford.

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

I’m a party baby. Or more specifically a 'cult party baby'. My mum was living in an ashram in Withington, next to St Paul’s Primary (which I later attended) as part of a worldwide cult. Told she couldn’t have kids, she had one nonetheless. Grew up, just the two of us, in a Fallowfield flat. School in Withington then Didsbury. The Didsbury school was a strange mix of working class Burnage and middle class Didsbury. Hated it. Failed most everything and did retakes and such in Heaton Chapel.

I really wanted to study archaeology, but couldn’t get the grades. I took ‘Classical Civilisations’ for GSCE three times, getting, in order, D, D, E – so Indiana Jones was a no go. I wanted to study something though and so I fell onto an art foundation course. Two and a bit years into an art degree, I fell for art. Moved out of my Fallowfield home at 18 into a Fallowfield student house. Standard fare. Then sublet a one bedroom Northern Quarter apartment whilst courting my future wife and working in Velvet and then Matt & Phreds. It was an illegal let, which would have been okay, but a census was done at the time and there’s only so long you can ignore the door to those guys…

I moved into a Chorlton share with my girlfriend and some numpties who would only ‘let’ us in the front room at certain times of the day. Fucked them off and got our own place, – a flat in Whalley Range. Due to an accident my girlfriend had enough for a deposit for a house in Old Trafford. A year later we got married in Las Vegas in a chapel who said, ‘You just tell us, on the day, whether you want God there or not’. Our son, Hunter, was born five years ago. We were married nine years. She’s no longer my wife but we’re great mates in a ripe-for-mockery ‘North Chorlton’ co-parenting team.

What’s great about this city?

Viewing the city with ‘single’ eyes, it’s a different world out there: terrifying but ever so much fun at the same time. I walk everywhere if I can. It’s cheap therapy. I can be in town in less than an hour and Chorlton in ten minutes. You can walk across the whole town centre in less than twenty minutes, with your beer jacket on. Every parent around treasures the museums. I hope they’re not taken for granted and that everyone chips in on their way out.

One of Oli's beautiful Elbow sleeves.

What’s not so great?

I could fire off many a missive about our misfiring trams. Packed single ones at rush hour and empty doubles during the day. The public transport system as a whole is pretty embarrassing when you talk to other Europeans. ‘What, you mean you can’t use the same ticket on all the buses?’ 

The London Road Fire Station situation is shameful.

Fallowfield has been shat on, bit by shitty landlord bit, over the years. With the students now more likely to live in the centre of town, they’ll have to fill the houses somehow and a once appealing neighbourhood will just get worse.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

Central Library, before they gave it a veruca.  The stretch of Whitworth Street, from Palace Theatre to Piccadilly Station looks like a parade of gargantuan gateaux. If you lived in India House or worked at the Palace Hotel, you’d get nothing done, as you’d have your head out the window eating icing all day.

Oxford Road station is the best in town. Love the roof and their stubborn refusal to sort out a lift for years. The egg and toast rack in Fallowfield would have to be up there actually. The residential houses of Whalley Range deserve an illustrator’s attention. I’ll get round to it at some point. Still some grand houses in Fallowfield if you can see past the flyers.

I enjoy running. One favourite route is around Trafford Park, with the warehouses and industrial bakeries, glimpses of The Lowry and a bridge over the quay.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Lorenzo Lawrence. He worked at Belle Vue zoo in the late nineteenth century. The owner of the zoo travelled to Edinburgh, with Lorenzo, to buy a load of animals. The plan was to get them back by train to Piccadilly but the elephant they bought kicked off and smashed his carriage. Lorenzo offered to walk it back to Manchester, which he did in ten days. But the elephant was already trained and had been used to carriages for years. Once Lorenzo had got it on the train that would have been that particular gig over for him. So, a skilled trainer, he somehow gave the elephant a signal to panic. Thus blagging himself an extra ten days work. I’m working on a comic book about the whole thing now.

I worked in Velvet for a couple of years and there was a character, Tony Dean, who used to write poetry for his favourite bar staff. I’ve still got a load now. He wrote a short story about a beauty spot on my cheek. He made me a spoken word cassette (both sides) of him reading sonnets called ‘In Celebration of Oliver’. He was fun.

Bumping into Guy Garvey is the highlight of any day and honourable mentions for Steve Manford, Carol Batton, Emma Jane Unsworth, Hannah Thomas and me Mam.

One of Oli's public wall pieces.

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

My homing instincts always take me down to The Temple (of Convenience). It’s a hole, it stinks, the staff are surly, it’s a nightmare on Saturday nights, but I love it. Having worked there for seven years, off and on, I’ll always find someone down there with whom to over-share. That, and its older sister, Big Hands, are the only two real rock and roll bars in Manchester. Being newly single means I’ve had to broaden my horizons beyond these two, for it not to get too incestuous with the bar staff.

Fletcher Moss Park for nostalgia reasons (mainly sticky fumbles) and the Mersey that runs round to Chorlton and Stretford, via Northenden, which is good for running. Longford Park as I used to take the boy there every day, reading a book while I pushed him around.  He would make his first steps in the avarium there.

As for restaurants I have some pretty ingrained phobias about eating, so anywhere where I can order, it comes quickly, and I can pay and leave while still chewing, works for me. This ‘n’ That, where I go with the boy before Bolton Wanderers home games is great. The Mexican stand in the Arndale food market does a massive burrito, a bottle of decent beer and a shot of tequila, for a tenner. Top way to start off a hung-over Saturday.

Rage Against The Machine at The Ritz is always up there as one of my favourite gigs. Used to go to Dance Yer Docs off there as well. It’s a great venue with buckets of sweaty nostalgia.

Whenever tourists would come down The Temple I’d always tell them about The Briton’s Protection. As good as pubs get in Manchester. Ask me again when I’ve been single for a year and I’ll know more places.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?


If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Panic. I’m totally unqualified for such a position. But until I was found out I’d get shot of that Simpson character. The architect who keeps getting every gig going in Manchester? Yeah, I’d do away with him. I’d make The Temple and Big Hands rent-free forever more. I’d sort out the road above The Temple so it didn’t leak all the time.

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

Steve Manford. Filmmaker who works at Afflecks.

All of Oliver’s books can be bought from
Forbidden Planet International on Oldham Street but, if you can live with the shame afterwards, they’re also available on Amazon. He also has a website, a Tumblr where he posts process pictures and inspiration, and he also does a bad job of hiding his anger issues over on Twitter.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Virtual Books and Library Twickets

As part of my role as a writer-in-residence for Chaos to Order, I’m executing a small-scale digital art project that utilises library books, photographs and the Manchester Central Library Twitter account.

In a modern library you’re just as likely to leave with a laptop full of information as a rucksack full of books. I wanted to find a way to symbolise the evolution from paper to data that emphasises the importance of both.

To that end I’ll be rummaging around the many shelves of Central Library, unearthing books that appeal to me in some way, and reducing the physical item of a book down to a single photograph and a single Tweet. That’s one digital image and 140 characters to capture the essence of a book.

I will then check the book out of the Library ‘virtually’ via the Central Library Twitter account. The book will be sent out into the world as a small digital artefact that will represent a combination of the contemporary and the traditional library.

You’ll see me check in and out of the Manchester Central Library Twitter account from time to time over the next few days, sending virtual books into the world.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Fiona Ledgard goes drive time on All FM

If you live in Manchester and you love your music, chances are your path will cross with Fiona Ledgard’s sooner or later. A compulsive gig-goer, champion of new music, radio DJ and more, when I speak to Fiona she’s just back from seeing Bob Marley's band The Wailers. (‘Moving and inspiring!’ she enthuses.)

After graduating Manchester University’s ‘Music, Culture and Society' BA, Fiona made a trip to Berlin, returned to the city, volunteered at All FM and has been broadcasting eclectic quality music to south, east and central Manchester ever since. All FM is Manchester’s community radio station and has been soundtracking the city for over a decade now. As well as quality broadcasts, the station offers radio training and other unique opportunities to everyone from the city’s unemployed, to Mancunians experiencing mental health issues, to students in musical training programmes. The station’s remit is all about community and diversity, and for that reason alone it’s a credit to the city.

Fiona’s own commitment to music and culture has seen her interview a crazy range of people, from punk geniuses The Slits to queer icon JD Samson, from fellow DJs like Mary Anne Hobbs and Dave Haslam to radical performance artistes like David Hoyle and Justin Vivian Bond, plus more bands than you can shake a tambourine at.

As of this week, Fiona is taking over the coveted time slot of 5-7pm. That’s’s right, she’s going drive time! Her show will hit the ground running tonight, including three brand new features: Is it 'anging or is it banging?, Rappers Delight and Thank You For The Music. Tune in to find out what exactly they're all about. You're going to hear something that will perfectly kick off another tremendous weekend in Manchester.