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If you love the North, then Northern Soul is for you. Written in the North of England by Northern writers, Northern Soul is a celebration of culture and enterprise, from theatre, music, authors and art to heritage, small businesses, food and leading figures, as well as everything in-between.

Talking to people who work, rest and play in the North of England and scour the region for interesting stories, histories, ambitions and events. Want to read a carefully crafted article about an oddball museum or go behind the scenes of a leading institution? You can find that on Northern Soul.

Review: Syria: A Conflict Explored, Imperial War Musuem North

It’s unusual to go more than a few days without hearing about the war in Syria, either in the news or as part of an appeal for humanitarian assistance. But beyond the headlines, I’d wager most of us don’t truly understand what’s going on. Imperial War Museum North (IWM North) is seeking to provide clarity […] The post Review: Syria: A Conflict Explored, Imperial War Musuem North appeared first on Northern Soul.

It’s unusual to go more than a few days without hearing about the war in Syria, either in the news or as part of an appeal for humanitarian assistance.

But beyond the headlines, I’d wager most of us don’t truly understand what’s going on. Imperial War Museum North (IWM North) is seeking to provide clarity on this in its new exhibition Syria: A Conflict Explored. 

The opening words of Syria acknowledge the challenge of describing a live conflict without bias or agenda, but objectively.

And so, to the facts. Wars are often counted in numbers and the stats for Syria are shocking – almost half a million people have died and more than 11 million have been displaced from their homes in a conflict that has already lasted longer than the Second World War.

The exhibition’s introductory video sets out clearly the background to the conflict – the context of the Arab Spring and how what began as civil protest escalated into all-out war. Simple graphics show plainly and clearly who is fighting who and which countries are now involved. In a separate section, visitors can listen to an academic answering frequently asked questions about Syria and the subtleties of the war there.

Syria: A Conflict Explored. General view of Syria: Story of a Conflict So far, this exhibition could be a website or an online resource which is viewed remotely. But IWM North has also remembered the reason people visits museums in the first place.

Museums are places where we expect to see objects – real things. A challenge facing any museum making exhibitions about conflict is the lack of material things available. Wars tend to destroy and, given the security situation, it’s not as if IWM North’s curators can wander the streets collecting stories and objects as they go.

They have, however, managed to acquire and present some objects by working with individuals and groups on the ground in Syria. A lifejacket, a helmet, a street sign and a newspaper have all been loaned to the exhibition. Although only a handful of objects are present, it’s these tangible remnants of the conflict that are among the most powerful – brought from a live war zone to a museum in the UK for us to view.

These things are what make an exhibition different to reading a news story. As museum visitors shift from thinking intellectually about the war – learning who is fighting and why – to thinking more emotionally about conflict. Personal stories from Syrian civilians are presented, explaining how their lives have been affected. The harrowing tales of childbirth during air raids and of family members lost, assumed dead, make for difficult reading.

Syria: A Conflict Explored. General view of Syria: Story of a ConflictImages by documentary photographer Sergey Ponomarev invite us to go even further with this emotional engagement. Instead of a calm, rational explanation of conflict, these photos ask us to confront civilians and armed forces face-to-face. This a war that is shaping lives, right now. Today.

So, while IWM North has succeeded in its task of explaining the conflict in clear and simple terms, it also encourages us to take the next step. It asks us to move from engaging with our minds to engaging with our hearts.

It’s worth noting that, compared to the size of the conflict, this is only a modest exhibition and serves best as an introduction to the Syrian civil war rather than as a comprehensive guide. If you’re looking for an in-depth account of the war, the IWM North’s bookshop has plenty of accounts and tomes that will satisfy the avid reader.

By Steve Slack 

 

Syria: A Conflict Explored is on at the Imperial War Museum North from February 16 until May 28, 2018. For more information, click here. 

The post Review: Syria: A Conflict Explored, Imperial War Musuem North appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Fri, 16 Feb 2018

“I’m really a glorified record collector.” Legendary Manchester DJ Dave Booth talks to Northern Soul.

If you spent your youth dancing at indie clubs in Manchester during the 80s and 90s, it’s possible some of your most cherished nights out came courtesy of Dave Booth, without you even knowing it. As a pioneering local DJ, his eclectic tastes influenced a generation of local music fans, including the major players in […] The post “I’m really a glorified record collector.” Legendary Manchester DJ Dave Booth talks to Northern Soul. appeared first on Northern Soul.

If you spent your youth dancing at indie clubs in Manchester during the 80s and 90s, it’s possible some of your most cherished nights out came courtesy of Dave Booth, without you even knowing it. As a pioneering local DJ, his eclectic tastes influenced a generation of local music fans, including the major players in several key bands. He’s still working today and is about to bring his distinctive style to the Manchester suburb of Chorlton.

Booth’s own adventures in clubland began in 1979. A huge music fan, he’d just completed a City & Guilds qualification in Building Services Engineering at Openshaw Technical College when a very different pathway opened up. Out for a celebratory drink, he put an hour’s-worth of David Bowie songs on the pub jukebox. Booth says: “One of my mates said ‘You’re a Bowie nut, you need to go to Pips. It’s brilliant in there, they play loads of Bowie’. So, the next Friday I went there.”

Tucked away by Manchester Cathedral, Pips was a subterranean nightclub underneath what is now Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Open since 1972, it offers to cover all the bases with four different rooms catering to a variety of tastes. As the name suggests, Pips’ Roxy room was a space in which Roxy Music and David Bowie featured heavily – album tracks for preference, rather than singles. Some observers reckon it can claim to be the birthplace of the UK indie/alternative music scene, way before The Hacienda or The Blitz club.

Booth had found his spiritual home. He says: “After that I didn’t stop going for three years non-stop – Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Eventually Alan Maskell, was the DJ in the Roxy room, said ‘we’re looking for a new DJ. How do you fancy it, Dave? I know you’ve got the records’. I said ‘yeah, cool, I’ll give it a go.’ So that’s where it came from. I’m really a glorified record collector.”
Pips closed up in 1982 so in execution, Booth’s stint in the Roxy room didn’t last too long. “For the last three quarters of the year of Pips, I became the DJ and that’s still my all-time biggest achievement. I’ve done virtually every club that you need to know about – in Manchester, Liverpool, Ibiza, Dubai – and that’s always the one that’s closest to my heart.”

DJ Dave BoothThe turntables might have stopped spinning, but the influence of Pips was far-reaching. Throughout the 80s, the independent music scene flourished, and clubs devoted to it began to spring up all over Manchester city centre, in many cases with Pips alumni involved. Fondly-remembered clubs like Devilles, Legends, Isadora’s, Annabelle’s, Berlin, Paradise Factory, The Venue and Cloud 9, every one of which employed Booth as DJ at one time or another. He even became the first after-hours DJ in the city’s Canal Street, at the seminal Manto bar.

Booth’s success wasn’t just a matter of ubiquity, though. He developed an idiosyncratic DJing style born of a deep love of music and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it. Passing mention of The La’s classic There She Goes inspires Booth to explain his technique. “You may not think this is important, but doing an indie set, how would you get into playing that? It’s a chain. I’d play Mersey Paradise by the Stone Roses to get into There She Goes. Sometimes I get accused of over-thinking, but at all those nights during the 80s, I was the only indie and alternative DJ who would mix records. I’d make a connection. I’d play Primal Scream’s Loaded and mix How Soon Is Now out of it. I used to connect the Happy Mondays with Superstition by Stevie Wonder because I saw no difference. I’d play the Rolling Stones together with The Stone Roses or Jimi Hendrix with Public Enemy or the Stooges with Spacemen 3 or Blur. I’m always looking to get into different genres, but it’s got to flow. It’s no use just playing chunks of different things. There’s got to be that link.”

DJ Dave BoothOne of Booth’s regular gigs was at the Playpen, just off Manchester’s Deansgate. In a former incarnation it was the Slack Alice club, co-owned by George Best. Before long it changed again, rebranded 42nd Street, under which name which it’s still going strong today. One of its most popular fixture is the regular Tuesday indie night, a Manchester institution first launched by Booth in the Playpen days back in 1983.

Of course, a certain other Manchester club opened at around the same time: the now-legendary Hacienda. But as the film 24 Hour Party People depicted, it took around five years to become a hotspot. Initially, it was chiefly known as a live venue with underwhelming acoustics and a weird layout. The club nights were sparsely attended, with many of the punters getting in for free on the guest list. Booth says: “I can remember going to the Hacienda to see what it was all about because we had a night off. Chad Jackson was DJing to about 25 people. On a Friday night!”. Even later, when the Hacienda started hitting the headlines, it was never Booth’s favourite club. “Locally, for every Hacienda there’s always that special, secret place that all the ‘in’ kids go to. At that time, it was Isadora’s. The kids left the Hacienda to the people who were coming in from London, Birmingham and Scotland.”

In fact, Booth did end up doing a stint at the Hacienda in 1990. “On the same week, both the Academy and the Hacienda came in offering me three times as much money to do a Tuesday and a Friday night and I left 42nd Street within a week to do them. To tell you the truth, the Hacienda was probably the worst DJ move I ever made. Within four months it had shut because of the violence.”

DJ Dave BoothBooth feels that the Hacienda has come to dominate the history of the Manchester club scene at the expense of less well-known yet more influential venues. “I’d say that Pips was more important to Manchester than the Hacienda, because of the clientele who used to go there. Everyone used to go to Pips. It was like a collective for artistic people. If you went out on a Saturday night in Manchester in ’79, you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere that would play alternative or indie music. Everywhere played Disco and commercial. It’s not a coincidence that all the major players in the Manchester music scene went to Pips.”

Pressed to name names, Booth says: “Well, it was like a Who’s Who of Manchester. Ian Brown, John Squire and Simon Wolstencroft used to straight from Altrincham Boys’ Grammar to Pips – in their school uniform. Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Mike Joyce used to go. Billy Duffy, too. A Certain Ratio used to go and bug the DJs to play their records. Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris used to go. So did Peter Saville. It was like a collective for people of an artistic bent who wanted to go out and hear the kind of music they liked.”

Later, it was venues like The Playpen that used to draw local musicians as punters. “Someone on Facebook was saying to me last night, ‘I remember talking to Brix and Mark E Smith in the Playpen on a Tuesday night while you were talking to Hooky in the DJ box. It was a kind of spiritual moment for me’.” Booth’s taste in late 60s psych classics appealed to Mark E. “Mr Pharmacist, There’s a Ghost in My House and Victoria were all played at the Playpen before the Fall versions. Now, I’m not saying that it was my idea in to cover those records, but there must have been some time when he heard them….”

Dave BoothWhen the Stone Roses became successful, they would play live gigs without a support act and with a DJ set instead. They knew Booth from attending his club nights, so he became their live DJ of choice. He was there at legendary Roses gigs at Manchester’s International I, Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom and the now-legendary Spike Island show. “Ian was very much into psych as well, so I played stuff like The Misunderstood’s Children of the Sun. Brilliant, fucking brilliant. People still come up to me and say, ‘I remember when you played Love’s Alone Again Or at Spike Island – thank you’. It’s amazing that people can still remember one record from the day.”

In the years since, Booth has stayed busy DJing everywhere from Liverpool to Ibiza, taking in summer festivals such as Shiiine On!, the current ‘kiddie rave’ boom and official after-parties for the Stone Roses reunion shows. Not long ago he participated in a Bowie-themed pub quiz in Sale (“Didn’t win, though,” he laughs). It was there that he met Sean Connors, a local promoter who has launched several suburban club nights including Pretty in Pink and Dancing in the Dark. Connors’ original venture, the indie/dance night Temptation 2000, had been put on the back-burner, but he couldn’t resist the idea of reviving it at Chorlton Irish Centre with Booth at the helm.

Connors says: “When we first started a few years ago, the premise was ‘do you remember the nights we used to go to that Dave Booth did, where everything went, musically?’. Back then we didn’t have Shazam or YouTube. I loved that. It was like a history lesson, but a fun one. So that was kind of the starting point. With Dave we can play northern soul next to indie next to funk next to Motown next to disco. It’ll be 50 or 60 years’ worth of music, but all the good stuff.”

By Andy Murray

(Main Image: Dave Booth)

The post “I’m really a glorified record collector.” Legendary Manchester DJ Dave Booth talks to Northern Soul. appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Fri, 16 Feb 2018

Review: The Almighty Sometimes, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Every so often, a piece of theatre comes along that leaves you astounded. Tackling one of the most pressing issues of our time, The Almighty Sometimes takes a stark look at the crisis surrounding children’s mental health. 18-year-old Anna craves independence. During what her therapist suggests should be “the most exciting time of her life” […] The post Review: The Almighty Sometimes, Royal Exchange, Manchester appeared first on Northern Soul.

Every so often, a piece of theatre comes along that leaves you astounded. Tackling one of the most pressing issues of our time, The Almighty Sometimes takes a stark look at the crisis surrounding children’s mental health.

18-year-old Anna craves independence. During what her therapist suggests should be “the most exciting time of her life” – where her friends are going to university or beginning to carve out lives away from the family home – Anna is stuck. She has been prescribed a cocktail of pills since the age of 11, when her mother, Renee, became increasingly concerned by her daughter’s erratic and aggressive behaviour and sought a diagnosis. Since then, Anna’s life has been stifling.

The opening scene is commanding. Mixing humour and wit with enough tension to slice a knife clean through, we are immediately catapulted into the domestic life of Anna and Renee. In a sweet, intimate exchange, Anna is flirting with Oliver, a boy she knew from her school days, when Renee enters the kitchen and immediately begins to ask questions. It’s clear from the outset that this isn’t simply your typical embarrassing mother/moody-teenager dynamic, but rather something that looms much larger.

Julie Hesmondhalgh plays Renee wonderfully with skill, poise and understanding. We feel both sympathy and frustration for Anna’s long-suffering, overbearing mother and that balance is by no means an easy feat to sustain during such an emotional piece of theatre. Renee often exists on the periphery, watching Anna, stepping in when she believes she is needed.

RET The Almighty Sometimes - Norah Lopez Holden (Anna) - Image Manuel HarlanSimilarly, Norah Lopez Holden is magnificent as Anna. Medicated her entire life and, on the cusp of adulthood, Anna begins to question who she might be if she were to cease treatment. Concerned that the heavy medication – and how it might react with her body – is smothering her creativity, she takes matters into her own hands and, against the advice of her psychiatrist, Vivian (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) – she begins a ‘personal experiment’ with disastrous consequences.

Kendall Feaver’s An Almighty Sometimes – winner of a Bruntwood judges award in 2015 – is a stunning piece of writing which explores what it’s like to grow up with mental health issues. As a debut, it’s extremely impressive. Feaver manages to walk the tight-rope between mother and daughter without slipping up or taking sides, and portrays the fragile relationship with great observation.

RET The Almighty Sometimes Julie Hesmondhalgh (Renee) - Image Manuel HarlanIn her director’s note, Kathy Rudd states that in working on the play, the team met with many young people growing up with mental health issues, their families and healthcare professionals. “For many people on medication,” she writes. “The dilemma of “what is me and what is the medication?” seems to be a recurring question.” While she highlights that Anna’s story is not representative of any one person, she hopes that “it will shine a light on families coping with mental illness” and encourage a conversation. She has certainly succeeded in doing so. 

If this all sounds too heavy, well, it is. There’s no getting away from the serious subject matter but it is also an incredibly human story. As with all tragedy and trauma in life, there are periods of humour and warmth. The end scene is particularly poignant, but these moments typically appear during exchanges between Anna and Oliver (Mike Noble) in the initial stages of their romance. However, Noble is more than the comic relief (although his comic timing is on point) and there’s some suggestion that his own home life is difficult.

RET The Almighty Sometimes L-R Julie Hesmondhalgh (Renee), Norah Lopez Holden (Anna) & Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Vivienne) - Image Manuel HarlanAt times the action becomes hard to follow, particularly when Anna begins to retreat further into her illness, but this adds to the production rather than takes anything away. We cannot understand what Anna is experiencing because it is her own private battle. This is reflected in Rosanna Vize’s set design. While wonderfully simple and domestic – beds, a kitchen table, children’s toys in the psychiatrist’s office – it’s also visually stunning with a beautiful blue-swirl floor and, later, a sort-of cage which imprisons Anna. It’s a truly great metaphor for how trapped Anna feels by her illness – and her life.

The Almighty Sometimes is a stunning piece of theatre and the cast were thoroughly deserving of the standing ovation they received.

In an age where mental health statistics are at a staggering high, the Royal Exchange have made an excellent decision in choosing to stage a production which seeks to open a dialogue about what it’s like to exist within a label, and how our society chooses to look after our young people with mental health problems.

By Emma Yates-Badley

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The Almighty Sometimes is on at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre until February 24, 2018. For more information, or to book tickets, click here. 

The post Review: The Almighty Sometimes, Royal Exchange, Manchester appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Fri, 16 Feb 2018

Photo Gallery: Of Flesh and Stone, HOME, Manchester

This March, as part of the HOME Projects series, Manchester’s HOME is hosting an exhibition of new drawing from artist Tom Baskeyfield and photography from Mario Popham exploring the complex landscape of North Wales. Of Flesh and Stone explores how we have shaped and been shaped by stone with some stunning imagery. Forming the second […] The post Photo Gallery: Of Flesh and Stone, HOME, Manchester appeared first on Northern Soul.

This March, as part of the HOME Projects series, Manchester’s HOME is hosting an exhibition of new drawing from artist Tom Baskeyfield and photography from Mario Popham exploring the complex landscape of North Wales.

Of Flesh and Stone explores how we have shaped and been shaped by stone with some stunning imagery. Forming the second part of the artists’ project Shaped by Stone, the exhibition highlights the relationship between the post-industrial landscape of North Wales and the urban rooftops of Manchester.

(Images by Mario Popham and Tom Baskeyfield, from the Flesh of Stone series)

[See image gallery at www.northernsoul.me.uk]

 

Of Flesh and Stone is on at Manchester’s HOME from March 9 until April 29, 2018.

The post Photo Gallery: Of Flesh and Stone, HOME, Manchester appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Wed, 14 Feb 2018