Getting to know Kelly Bishop: Editor & Musician

This week, we speak to Kelly Bishop, Musician and Editor at Confidentials about growing up in the North, the women who have inspired her and her favourite places to eat in Manchester. 

Could I start by asking you a little bit about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?

I was born in Lancashire but have lived in Manchester now for nearly 24 years. I’ve tried to leave many times, but it lures me back like a siren every time. It’s truly an addictive city. I’m Executive Editor at Confidentials which is a fun, irreverent, hyper-local lifestyle website covering mainly food and drink but also news, property, events, arts and anything else relevant and interesting in the local area. We have individual sites for Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. We are also just about to launch Confidential Guides which is a curated and super helpful restaurant directory that will eventually cover the whole of the North West. 

I’m also an indie musician and have played in bands for about 25 years. I sing, write songs and play bass and guitar and rudimentary piano. My current band is a fuzzy, 90s alt influences power trio called The Empty Page. You can find us on Spotify.

What are your memories of growing up in the North?

Sitting in the back of my parent’s car driving down to Blackpool in the rain to see the illuminations – all the more dazzling through a drizzle-flecked windscreen at night. Walking, ruddy cheeked in the rolling, cut grass and manure scented Lancashire countryside with my dad and the dog. 

My first visit to Manchester with my mum and being absolutely mind blown by Affleck’s Palace and The Corn Exchange, resulting in a lifelong love of incense, rosewood oil and tie dye.

Hanging out with punks on the monument that used to be on Market Street. Record shopping for hours on end at X Records, Bolton. Many breathless train rides after legging it to catch the train from platform 14 at Piccadilly. Playing some of my sweaty palmed first gigs at The Roadhouse and The Met in Bury and spending half my life in a musty scented rehearsal room plastered with posters of Bob Marley and cult films on an industrial estate in Radcliffe. Almost fainting as I lost my shit about seeing the firebrand Courtney Love in her torn nighty and smeared lipstick with her band Hole (and many other bands) live at Manchester Academy when it was quite a bit smaller. I could go on.

Which women have inspired you as a writer and a musician?

The aforementioned Courtney Love whose intelligence, confidence and massive talent left an indelible impression for life. Kate Bush when I was tiny, listening to my dad’s copy of Hounds of Love and yodelling along. Whitney Houston who taught me to belt my heart out via much hairbrush/mirror practise. Patti Smith whose poetry gives me shivers and whose androgynous cool empowers me. The holy trinity of the 90s: PJ Harvey, Bjork and Tori Amos for their absolute commitment to being their authentic selves. Skin from Skunk Anansie for reinventing what a rock frontperson could be and bringing ballsy political fire into the Dawson’s Creek schmaltz of the decade.

I was also a big fan of Sylvia Plath, Poppy Z Brite, Elizabeth Wurtzel and Margaret Atwood growing up. Later on, discovering Charlotte Perkins Gilman whose book The Yellow Wallpaper massively inspired me lyrically. As far as food writers go, I love Marina O Loughlin’s scathing and sarcastic Scottish tones and who doesn’t adore Nigella?

Do you see yourself as a creative individual?

Yes. I don’t like being too tunnel visioned and most of my life I have had at least two jobs at once for variety and flexibility around my music life. I like to escape as often as possible; few feelings are better than being in a van or on a train heading somewhere, anywhere. That gets the cogs turning. I often write on trains. I was a creative kid that spent a lot of time alone, reading and making up songs. For a long time, I didn’t have the opportunity to utilise my creativity at work, but I definitely do now. Looking after four websites and a large team of writers as well as writing myself as much as possible keeps me busy and allows me to push myself creatively. I try and write non-work stuff at least weekly if not daily too. I think it’s a good habit to be in. Creativity is a really transferable skill in the workplace and should not be underestimated.

How did you first get into journalism?

It wasn’t so much journalism that interested me, more creative writing. What I do now I guess is a light form of journalism but there’s not as much pressure as if I worked for a newspaper and I have a lot more freedom of expression. I had a pretty sketchy CV – because I mainly focused on my music for my 20s and early 30s – but I knew I had writing and creative skills so I started doing a bit of freelance copywriting to show my ability. I actually wormed my way into the place I work now by taking on a minimum wage Xmas internship calling up restaurants to ask about their upcoming January deals. I was in my 30s and working as an EFL teacher at the time. I didn’t enjoy the call-centre type role at all but I slowly got to know the team and kept pestering the then editor to let me do some writing. It’s funny because in my interview I remember him saying, you never know, you might be editor one day. And I laughed, thinking, I’ll be lucky if they even publish any of my writing. Well, the rest is history. 

Did you ever have a mentor or someone to help you get into this field of work?

I didn’t have a journalistic or writing mentor, but I had a few friends that were much more experienced than me in getting “proper jobs”. My friends Sam and Issy taught me how to make my CV pop and how to fill in the gaps in experience or skills by doing some courses or getting a bit of work experience. They taught me that all my transferable skills from doing band stuff for years were really valuable in the workplace. They were basically amazing cheerleaders and helped boost my confidence at a time when I wasn’t feeling too great actually. The best kind of female friends. After that I suppose it was all me pushing to prove myself to myself as much as anyone. 

As Executive Editor of Manchester Confidential, what does a typical workday look like?

Days vary quite a lot, but I usually start work before I get to the office, checking a few emails and Trello and doing some social media posts. At the office, I check in with my core writers and freelancers to see what they are working on and where they are up to, giving them whatever support they need. 

If I have time, I try and do as much writing as possible myself too because I love it. Daily tasks can include brainstorming ideas, editing and subbing writers’ work and giving constructive feedback, making calls about which of the many, many stories that come to our inbox should be covered that week and which ones should be prioritised. Keeping an eye on Google Analytics and other stats. Social media. Lots of meetings. Editing and resizing photos. Several times a week there are restaurant or bar launches to attend – sometimes on the hoof – and we try to get out and about as much as possible to see what’s happening in the city. My team and I also spend time interviewing people that are doing exciting things in the North. Another big part of the job is restaurant reviews which we all do once or twice a month. It’s a pretty varied role to say the least.

What do enjoy most about working in journalism?

I just really love writing, so wherever I get to flex my creative muscles on that front I am happy. I’m also hugely passionate about food and wine (I am Level 3 WSET qualified) so I consider myself ridiculously lucky that a large part of my job involves eating everything from burgers to Michelin tasting menus and drinking everything from coffee to cocktails. 

The hard part of being a critic is that people react really emotionally sometimes in response to reviews and all of our writers have had personal attacks on social media whenever they have published a particularly critical restaurant review which can be hard to process sometimes. But it’s really important to us to be honest when we review a restaurant. We pay our bill, don’t announce that we will be coming and have an experience like any random customer would have. Sometimes, that’s unfortunately not a good one and our readers trust us to give them the truthful lowdown. In a world of endless PR gush, I’m proud that we tell it how it is and that we have high standards of writing that make everything we write entertaining in some way too.

What are you most excited about doing in your new role as Executive Editor? 

I’ve been in this role for four months now so not much is going to change but I am excited that the pandemic is starting to seem like it could be in the rear-view mirror soon. So much of our job is social, it’s been tough not having that side of it for 18 months or so. I’m excited to be able to move around the country a bit more, get over to Leeds and Liverpool more, things like that. What also excites me is finding new, talented writers. I’m always on the lookout for more of those and I love mentoring them to be the absolute best they can be.

Who will you be working with?

A lot of people think Manchester Confidential is a load of dusty old blokes because we have been around for almost 20 years now as a publication and our published Mark Gordo Garner has, shall we say, a strong personality. 

Actually, my current team is largely female. Aside from me, there’s Vicky Andrews who is our Liverpool Editor. Vicky had freelanced for us for several years but when we decided to take on a full time Liverpool editor this year, she was my first choice. I was so pleased she accepted the role and she is absolutely smashing it. 

We also have Sophie Rahnema who was brought in to be the editor of our new Confidential Guides site. She looks after that and also contributes to Manchester Confidential as a restaurant reviewer and feature writer. Sophie is a presenter on our video reels too. She’s doing a cracking job too in such a varied role, nothing is too much trouble for her. A real can-do gal. 

Lucy Tomlinson is our News Editor and one of the smartest, sharpest women I know, she manages to balance motherhood (she has two kids under five) with eyeballing Andy Burnham, reporting on societal issues and waxing lyrical about baked goods – we’re so food focused that everyone has to write about food too. Lucy has been a restaurant reviewer for Confidentials for many years and her reviews always make me laugh, without fail. Our office in general is full of big, varied, diverse personalities. We have a lot of fun.

How do you balance your work as an editor alongside being a member of The Empty Page?

To be honest, I haven’t been able to tour since the pandemic started so it’s hard to say how difficult that balance will be now I have more responsibility at work. I’ve always managed by using my holiday allowance to go on tour or play one off shows so not much is likely to change on that front. I’ll just probably be checking emails in the van a bit more than I used to. My employer is really supportive. I’ve been in the recording studio for the past few weekends which has been a massive tonic after a year of not much music action but I do tend to burn the candle at both ends so my main focus is to stay healthy and not completely wear myself out.

Image: © Debbie Ellis/A Supreme Shot

When you’re not working, where can we find you?

At home in my city centre apartment watching John Waters films with my two cats and long-suffering partner. Watching live bands at one of the many cool music venues in Manchester or further afield. Rehearsing or playing live with my own band. Doing a bit of yoga, weights or cardio down the gym. Cooking far too much food on a Sunday afternoon. Having breakfast with my mates whenever we can synchronise diaries. And hopefully travelling the world again when it’s allowed.

In your opinion, where are some of the best places to eat and drink in Manchester?

THAT is a really difficult question because I could list 50 or so easily and because new places are opening every week. I’m a massive fan of Erst’s inventive, perfectly executed small plates, I love Indian food so cafe Marhaba for a fresh naan and old school rice and three or Mughli, Asha’s or Bundobust for something more modern, The Creameries for comfort food and great wine, Tast Enxaneta for a special occasion, Siam Smiles for face melting Thai food, Ca Phe Viet or Pho Cue for restorative broths. But this really is just scratching the surface. There is a preposterous amount of good food here. 

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

You never have to get a normal hairstyle or start wearing grey suits to get a good job – do things on your own terms. Stop dropping out of college, your brain is a great asset and studying is fun if you pick the right subjects. Travel, read, make music, dream and don’t worry about being ‘grown up’, it’s overrated. 

Interview: Jenna Campbell
Band images: Debbie Ellis/A Supreme Shot


Sounds of the Future: In Conversation with Keely Liptrot, Founder of Sass and Snarl

According to Keychange, a pioneering international movement which empowers women to transform the future of music whilst encouraging festivals to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022, only 15% of music labels are majority owned by women. The gender imbalance in the music industry workforce is stark with the gender pay gap sitting at around 30%, and in the US women only make up 14% of the acts on festival stages. 

But things are changing and a number of organisations are committed to the pledge towards ensuring greater balance and openness. Already 130 festivals from across 26 countries have signed up to the 50:50 gender balance pledge and the work of Keychange has inspired swathes of women across the world to lend their voice to the initiative. 

Individuals including 18-year-old Keely Liptrot from Manchester who has founded Sass and Snarl, a platform that encourages self-promotion, supports women in the music industry and provides a place for all creatives to network. Her exciting new project aims to end the gender divide in the music business through virtual events and online campaigns, at least during lockdown, with big plans for live events and networking once restrictions are lifted.

Under a banner of unashamed self-promotion, Keely, who has been running her own music blog since the age of 13, understands the barriers that currently exist and hopes Sass and Snarl will be part of the solution. Features such as her Future CEOs posts, highlighting the upcoming female talent that inspires her, along with her brilliantly curated Spotify playlists, are sure to resonate with followers and play a part in evening the playing field for all female creatives.

We had the chance to speak to Keely, who has recently started her degree in music management, about her initiative and discussed some her favourite female acts and producers and why she wants to help more women celebrate their work and contributions to the music industry. 

Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’m Keely Liptrot, I am 18 years old and have just finished my first year taking a Music Business degree. I am originally from Manchester which definitely gave me lots of inspiration when I was 13 and starting my own music blog.

In May, I launched my own platform Sass and Snarl where I teach self-promotion to young creatives in music. Being so heavily influenced by the organisation KeyChange, we also work to support women in the music industry. This ultimately gives us a perfect opportunity to build our own community, so we are definitely wanting to start some networking events once lockdown is over.

What is the mission statement of Sass and Snarl?

Encourage shameless self-promotion, ending the gender divide in our industry and provide networking opportunities for creatives in music.

What inspired you to create this platform?

Seeing so much talent going unnoticed. Anyone from photographers to artists to copywriters, there are so many creatives not getting the attention they deserve, mostly because they do not know how to self-promote. And also, the amazing work from KeyChange!

Where did the inspiration for the name come from?

Sounds so ridiculous but it is how I describe my dog. He has so much sass, but boy can he snarl. I think it sums up the aims perfectly and I get so much feedback on how people love our name.

Why do you think the music industry still fails to fully represent women?

As I said, I was in the heart of the Manchester music scene when I wasn’t even old enough to go to gigs by myself. I was constantly surrounded by men, my music teachers were all men and still are for that matter, the artists I would interview were all men, the promoters, photographers, managers and other journalists I would work with were all men. It didn’t seem important at the time because I was still working with so much talent but I would sometimes feel like I wasn’t meant to be there and that maybe this isn’t the place for me and now I am in this community of amazing young women, I now know how important and empowering it is.

In the future, I would love to work for a major music company but if I was in the exact same job as a man, I would be payed 30% less. I refuse to let that happen; I know my worth! And for an industry based off talent and creativity, we really do lack diversity, I’m sure we have all seen the festival line ups, they perfectly sum up the lack of representation in the music industry. I personally think it all stems from the perception many still have of women, if women were taken as seriously as men were would we be having a different conversation?

How are you planning to get the concept out there into the world?

So, in July, we will hopefully be starting our virtual events to teach about self-promotion. We are also running a campaign called Future CEOs where we feature a young woman making her own way into the music industry every week.

I have also done some really cool interviews with Priya from @BhamBNails who spoke about building her own business, doing the nails for Little Mix, Mabel and Jorja Smith and even Serena William’s nails for Wimbledon! We spoke to Manchester band, PINS, who have launched their own label and just from a little bit of self-promo and showcasing their talent got them a song with the legend, Iggy Pop! I also interviewed my most favourite Manchester DJ, Shell Zenner and we talked about how aspiring presenters can help themselves get a job at a radio station and also the high school pettiness that some women still have in this industry.

So yeah lots of new campaigns, events, interviews and of course lots of self-promotion, it seems to be working so the only way is up!

What support have you had with launching the platform?

I launched the business all by myself, told everyone about it, gave myself a week to build a website, write the interviews, start looking at branding which was hectic but done is better than perfect in my eyes so it just needed to be done!

I still solely run Sass and Snarl but have had some amazing opportunities to talk about it like with this interview and the chance to co-host on the BBC Radio which was really awesome. There are so many platforms and organisations trying to help women and new talent in this industry in lots of different ways so building myself into that community has been a lot of fun and has helped me out a lot mentally!

What do you hope it will achieve in the long-term?

Ending the gender divide sounds so bold doesn’t it! But it is truly why a lot of us are here, of course Sass and Snarl isn’t going to change the industry solely on our own but being part of the movement that will, that’s a goal!

For myself, I hope Sass and Snarl inspires people to know their self-worth and want to start their own side hustle and build their own business because it really does feel so good!

And I want to do networking events and travel and meet lots of new people! 

Why do you think women find it hard to talk about their achievements?

I think we all find it hard to talk about our achievements, sometimes I think it’s a British awkward thing, sometimes I think it is because we don’t know our worth and sometimes, I think it’s because we care too much about sounding like we have a huge ego and what other people will think! 

I was in a webinar, not so long ago and I remember one of the panellists saying care less and share more and I have honestly had that in the back of mind since.

How can we change that as magazines, media platforms, communities?

Giving creatives a chance to show it and being excited when they do. People are putting their heart and soul into their work, if you have the opportunity to share it, not only will it help them feel good but also yourself. A huge part of self-promotion that nobody realises is actually supporting others so if you want to promote your brand, promote others too!

A proud Manc, what are some of your favourite spots in the city?

My favourite ever music venue when I was younger was Sound Control which has now been completely knocked down and is being turned into flats, so this is the perfect time to say to help our grassroots venues.

I’m also a jazz guitarist so having Matt and Phreds on my doorstep is amazing.

I’m a lover for some vegan food, so V Rev is a lovely spot! And if you have never been to Flight Club, I guarantee you that it is so much fun!

How has being from the north shaped you?

My mum has the poshest voice being from Henley on Thames. My dad is from Bolton. I have THE WORST Bolton accent you can ever imagine, and my mum always says, “you’ll never do well in a job interview with that accent” but I think our northern charm reigns supreme and for a brand that is all about communication, I can definitely tell you it hasn’t held me back.

I’ve gone down South for uni and I miss that sense of community that northerners have, I think that is why I am so passionate about it!

If you could dispel one myth about the north what would it be?

That our accents mean we won’t do as well in job interviews.

What inspires you on a personal level?

Good music. That feeling of putting your favourite track when you are feeling on top and then putting on that special playlist to help those bad times feel a little bit lighter. Nothing spurs me on more than that!

Which female musicians should be tuning into right now?

Chika! I swear I say this every week! She is a black, gay, plus size woman in the music industry, every single one of those things makes it so much harder for her but she is killing it! Her EP Industry Games perfectly sums up what is going on in our industry, yet it is so empowering and just makes you want to dance, I honestly have no complaints. 10/10!

Follow Sass and Snarl and Keely for more information of how the music industry is changing and how to get involved.

Keychange is an international initiative which transforms the future of music whilst encouraging festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Community Matters: In Conversation with Danielle Heap, Freelance Events & Project Manager

Born and bred in the Saddleworth, Danielle Heap’s passion for gigs and festivals has led her to pursue a career working behind the scenes at some of the country’s biggest venues and event spaces. From London’s Alexandra Palace running sold-out performances for Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, to the coordination of Festival Square at last year’s hugely successful Manchester International Festival, she’s certainly made her mark on the events industry. 

At a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, we spoke to Danielle about her career to date and discussed everything from The Maccabees farewell tour to Manchester’s tight-knit community of party starters and festival goers. As the sector pivots towards online events to engage with new digital communities, we also spoke about the effect of the pandemic on Danielle’s own work and her hopes for the future of events when they resume IRL.

What drew you towards a career in events?

I’ve always loved going to gigs and festivals, the adrenaline you feel when you’re in a crowd watching one of your favourite bands. I wanted to be part of it and help to deliver that excitement, and those memories, for other people. Anyone who works in events will know that months of planning goes into an event which may last just a few hours, but when you’re on site watching people having an incredible time with their friends it makes it all worthwhile. Knowing you were a little part of making that happen drives me to do what I do. 

What was your first job out of university?

My first job out of university was as an Indian wedding planner, very specific I know, I used to get a lot of shocked faces when I told people what I did for a living! For my first job straight out of univeristy it was extremely full-on. In the summer I would be working every weekend, 18/20 hour days back to back, but it’s definitely what made me into the person I am today. You have to constantly be on the ball, being in charge of someone’s big day, and when I say BIG I mean BIG. These were weddings averaging around 600 guests, at venues such as Blenheim Palace and the Natural History Museum in London. The biggest I worked on was a wedding for 1500 people at Manchester Central. It was a job that taught me how to work under a lot of pressure and manage situations, calmly and in control. 

Danielle at Manchester International Festival 2019 (MIF)

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

At the end of the night, when you have worked your butt off for 18 hours straight and you see everyone leaving the event having had an amazing time, there is always this buzz in the air. That is when I know I love what I do. 

You’ve worked on some major festivals and events, which ones stand out and why?

My answer to this is the same every time and it’s super nostalgic. Whilst working at Alexandra Palace I ran the final three nights of The Maccabees’ farewell tour. This was a band I had grown up with, I had all their albums, I loved every single song, and here I was running their last ever gig. The emotions that went through me that final night were electric. There was sadness of the band splitting up but the sheer buzz of knowing I was part of making those final gigs, that so many people will remember forever, happen. There were many tears shed, that’s for sure! 

What is it like to work in Manchester’s events industry? 

I think working in events in London is slightly disconnected – there is so much going on there that keeping up with the amount happening is just not possible. In Manchester everything feels connected. All events, no matter how big or small, work to make the city what it is. Everyone who works in events here does so because they love the city, they want to ensure the talent of place is heard, and they want to bring entertainment to the people of the city because they know how much the people here love it. The events industry here feels like a family, we are all working together to make the city a better place. You feel part of something bigger. 

Can you tell us about your experience working as part of the team behind Manchester International Festival?

My first job when I moved back to Manchester was as the Festival Square Coordinator for Manchester International Festival. It was a nine month contract, which ran from the beginning stages of planning and putting the event together, to managing the site for the six week build on Albert Square, the event itself and finally the breakdown.

Festival Square itself was open every single day for 18 days, hosting up to a thousand people on site each day. It was such a privilege working with some of the top people in the Manchester events industry and the experience I gained from working on such a demanding site in the middle of the city was incredible. My ankles don’t miss the cobblestones though! Working for MIF was incredible for me, not only did I get to run Festival Square but it was the first job I had back in Manchester and really gave me a taste for the events happening in this amazing city. 

As a freelancer, how has the current situation impacted you?

I decided to go freelance last November after my contract with MIF. It took a while to start picking up work. It was a big change to go from being in contracted work, where you can just get on with the work that comes to you, to then having to be really proactive and putting yourself out there. By the end of January, I was in a good place with three freelance contracts – an arts festival, a street food venue, and a series of local wellness-focused events – and loving everything I was working on. Then comes Covid-19 and the events industry is the first one to grind to a halt. I lost all my contracts and none of the government schemes covered me due to only just becoming self employed. It’s tough. 

Have you learnt anything new about yourself during this period?

Being in the events industry you very rarely stop. You are constantly working towards something with deadlines that cannot be pushed back. The event can’t be moved to the next day just because you forgot to do something. You work long hours, constantly on your feet running around – I’ve walked an actual marathon a day running festival sites. For all that to suddenly stop was a massive change to my lifestyle. I love being constantly busy, but this time has shown me that I also need more time for myself, more time to be still. We will see how long that lasts once the events industry is back on its feet though! 

Looking at the events industry more widely, what do you think the short and long-term impact will be?

Collectively, the events industry has moved online for the time being. Initiatives such as United We Stream started by Sacha Lord have been amazing throughout lockdown. I was lucky enough to work as a volunteer production manager for Eat Well Manchester when it took over the United We Stream platform. It was a five hour live stream with celebrities taking part to raise money for Eat Well, which is a collective of hospitality experts who have been providing home-cooked meals to those most affected by Covid-19. Live streaming events seems to be the current solution but it’s not something that can last forever. We are human beings, we crave human interaction, and live events are a massive part of our lives. A picture on a screen could never replace the buzz of the real deal. So, in the long-term they will be back, but with the uncertainty of Covid-19 who knows when that will be. 

What do you think larger scale events will look like in the future? 

Events will most likely face lower capacities, more queue management, more consideration for human contact, but it’s hard to say how long this will last. With the constant changing of government guidelines who knows how this country will look next month, never mind next year. I’m sure large scale events will definitely be back, potentially with restrictions but really that just means more work for the events team to ensure the constant safety of everyone onsite. 

What projects or events are you currently working on? 

I’ve been doing some volunteer work for initiatives which need events or project management support while there’s not as much paid events work around. I’m hoping that once the government allows pubs and bars to re-open that smaller events under 500 capacity could potentially start happening again in the next few months. It’s hard to say, but I have all my fingers and toes crossed. I’m constantly on the lookout for my next project so as soon as things start moving I’m looking forward to seeing what new opportunities there are. 

Do you think you will always work in this line of work or if you hadn’t worked in events, what would you have done? 

I feel like I will always stay project based. I get a buzz from being on site, troubleshooting and seeing things come to life, that’s where I get my drive from. I don’t think I could ever be someone that sits at a desk five days a week, every month of the year. 

If I hadn’t gone into events I would definitely be doing something with animals, anyone that knows me knows I am dog obsessed. I would probably be a dog walker, dog groomer or work at a shelter.

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your free time?

You would think I would have had enough of them but I love going to gigs and festivals, I will never grow tired of them, the atmosphere and buzz you get when you’re with your mates having a great time and listening to some amazing live music. I sometimes get shouted at by my friends for having my events head on though and questioning the management of what’s happening and how it should actually be done!

Any favourite spots in Manchester?

Albert Hall, it’s just the most beautiful venue. No matter how many gigs I see there, it takes my breath away every time. It reminds me of Ally Pally in many ways, these beautiful venues were built hundreds of years ago, and have now been brought back to life. They don’t make them like that anymore, and that makes them so special. 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Gosh, we could be here for a long time…. Ha. 

I think the main one would be to have confidence in the work that I do. I think this is something I have only just started to do, and I still have to remind myself now!

About Danielle:

Behind every great event is an army of people sorting sound, safety and even snacks for performers. For the last decade working as an event manager, Saddleworth-born @daniellelucyheap has worked on festivals, gigs and even tattoo conventions, organising crowd and venue safety to make sure people make memories that will last a lifetime – for all the right reasons. What other job could see you having a Zoom call with Bez, handing an ironing board to The Maccabees, or arranging a private party for Idris Elba? The events industry will look very different in the future – but it’s people like Danielle who’ll be making sure live events can come back to life in a post-Covid world.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Libby Ayres: Painting with synaesthesia

We’re always blown away by the natural talent and original flair of artists, how they’re able to put on canvas an image formed in their mind. Libby Ayres, a freelance artist currently based in Manchester, takes it one step further. Libby has synaesthesia, a phenomenon which enables her to experience sounds as colours; using wax as her medium, she takes songs and manifests them into the physical.

Generally something which enhances her enjoyment of music, Libby’s synaesthesia makes it very easy for her to notice changes in people’s tone of voice, experiencing it with everything from traffic to the tapping of keyboard keys.

For anyone with synaesthesia, it affects each person differently, making Libby’s work entirely unique to her. Here she discusses her painting process, how she formed her signature style, and why synaesthesia makes painting a gift as well as a talent.

Graphics: Hannah McCreath

For those who aren’t familiar with synaesthesia, are you able to describe what you see when you hear sound?

My elevator pitch is that synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where a stimulus to one sense causes a reaction in another. For me, this means when I hear sounds, I see colours.

Although I describe myself as being able to “see” what music sounds like, it’s a bit of a deceptive term and I only use it for simplicity. It’s more accurate to say I know or experience colour when I hear sound. The colours aren’t floaters in my vision and they don’t impede my ability to see. It’s much the same way you know when you’re experiencing deja vu; you know exactly what’s going on and how it fits together, but it’s not tangible.

There are many kinds of synaesthesia, and the strain of it I have is called chromesthesia. Some people get it the other way around, that when they see colours they hear sounds, and some people experience links between colours and numbers, or letters and colours. At art fairs, and online, people often come up and tell me about the synaesthesia they experience. It surprised me at first because I didn’t realise it was so common, but I love sharing stories. I like the way people who experience number/letter to colour synaesthesia talk about it; “Wednesday is red”, “M is green”. It simply… is. For me, sound is colour.

I don’t see myself as an artist, perhaps because I can’t draw or paint things realistically in a traditional manner. But also I see what I do as something closer to a language than a painting, because it feels more like a translation than an interpretation. I am taking what I experience and putting it on canvas, aiming for it to be as accurate as possible.

Did your synaesthesia inspire you to start painting or do you paint as a way to express your synaesthesia?

I think this question is a bit chicken and egg, as the two come hand in hand. The first painting I did was because I had cheap and easily accessible materials, and I wanted to try and put down what I was experiencing, to see if I could make the intangible tangible. At first it was very demoralising because what I painted looked nothing like I expected it to. I’d got the ratios of colours all wrong and I didn’t know how to transpose this impalpable image to a physical canvas.

I struggle to hold all the details of what a song “looks” like in my head. If you play me a song and ask me to tell you the colours on the spot, I could probably only pick out a few. What I like about painting is being able to get those main colours, generally the background, down, so I can turn my focus to the more intricate parts.

What does your painting process look like?

If it’s a song I’ve not heard before, which is often the case with commissions, I listen to it for hours beforehand. The same way you can’t look directly at the sun, I find it incredibly hard to sit down, listen to a song and pick out the colours on a first listen. Not only is the pressure immense, there are also so many small parts you miss on your first or even fifth listen. So I tend to put it on a speaker whilst I’m cooking or working, then listen on headphones, sometimes for hours until I feel I know it inside out.

When I paint, I like to sit down and paint in one go. Because of this, I don’t like to start until I’m confident I’m ready. On bigger pieces, I’ll do a miniature beforehand. So the paint doesn’t drip or run when it shouldn’t, I have to place the canvas flat on the floor and work around it.

I use purchased frames, I don’t build my own, but unwrapping and stretching the canvas is effectively the warm up before I start painting. Finishing is a lot harder than starting; I struggle to know when to stop, when adding more detail is just adding clutter.

When I paint, I have to listen to the song on repeat. If I know it very well I can put it on a speaker, but generally I need to have my headphones on to hear properly over the heatgun. I can’t paint from memory. In fact, very often, shortly after finishing the painting and taking my headphones off, I’ll see it and think, “Hmm, shouldn’t that have been a brighter red?” and I’ll have to listen to the song and remind myself of why I chose that colour.

Using wax sets you apart from many artists. Why is wax more suited to you and your style? 

Except for drawings that got stuck on the fridge when I was a child, I was never into art before I started painting music. I’d only done one painting before I started this project, and that was barely a painting at all. I sellotaped a row of pastel coloured wax crayons to the top of a 9×12″ canvas, propped it upright, and blasted them with the heat gun until all the colours melted and ran down the canvas.

It was doing that painting that made me realise I wanted to paint with wax. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I wanted to start painting as quickly and cheaply as possible, and that piece made me realise wax crayons and a heat gun were a perfectly viable medium.

I’ve tried painting with watercolours and oils and never had the same amount of success. I’m yet to connect with another medium like I do with wax. I quite like that now I have six or so years experience working with it, so I know how it behaves and how to manipulate it in a way I would have to relearn if I changed tack.

Perhaps it’s a bit individualistic of me, but I pride myself on the fact that I’ve had to teach myself it all. There’s no guidebook to melting Crayola until it looks like a song – or if there is, I haven’t read it. For the first few years I didn’t use any ‘professional’ artists’ tools like palette knives to manipulate the hot wax, I used old debit cards and membership cards. Sometimes I still use them but… they also melt, so they can’t get too hot. I only upgrade to traditional artists’ tools when I feel that what I’m using isn’t the best tool for the job, so to speak. The heat gun I use is Bosch.

There is a type of painting called encaustic painting or hot wax painting, where you melt beeswax and add pigment to it, but I don’t know if that definition is broad enough to include what I do.

I see what I do as something closer to a language than a painting, because it feels more like a translation than an interpretation.

Libby Ayres

Every so often someone tells me I “should” be using acrylic paints instead, but I don’t like what I make being seen as inferior because I use cheaper materials. I think the quote unquote world of art is past art being made using the most expensive materials, and it’s now more about the piece itself. I think Tracey Emin’s My Bed reflects that, and it was first exhibited over 20 years ago.

Experimenting with acrylic is certainly on my list, but it’s not at the top. I’m more interested in what I can create with mediums like collage or spray paint.

Which song has been the most difficult to paint and why?

When I just started painting, I found every song hard! It took me a few years to be really satisfied that what was on the canvas accurately reflected what I experienced.

Logistically, two stand out. I found Vital Signs by Frank Turner a pain – literally. It was quite a big canvas and it needed a variety of coloured dashes along the diagonal. One of the disadvantages of painting with hot wax is that to make sure the paint doesn’t run when you don’t want it to, you need the canvas to be flat. That meant I spent about four hours squatting over the canvas to get it right. I still hurt the next day, but it was worth it.

The other piece that springs to mind was a triptych of There’s No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake. It was the first triptych I’d painted, and it remains the only one, and deciding both the logistics and how to divide the painting over three canvases was tricky.

Whenever I get a commission to do a song that I’m very fond of, I find it especially hard. A good example is Lua by Bright Eyes, which is from my favourite album, ever, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. I delayed and delayed doing this until I couldn’t anymore. I put too much pressure on myself to get it right the first time. Sometimes songs I love are the easiest to paint, sometimes they’re agonisingly hard.

As a freelance artist, how would you like to develop your art and business?

The problem I face at the minute is that it’s not very accessible. At fairs or online, there’s a lot of preamble to explain what synaesthesia is before people really “understand” the paintings. As you’ve mentioned, painting with wax is unusual and I want to better understand the art of the possible in using it as a medium. I’m trying to get into painting landscapes. Growing up I visited a lot of small galleries in Wales and Scotland where the walls were filled with local artists’ work, almost always landscapes of the nearby coastline or moors. I think that’s a world I want to move into.

Equally, there’s so much I could do with synaesthesia beyond painting songs. I could move into the world of painting people’s voices – or laughter! – or how cities or the countryside appear to me.

Another problem is that the vast majority of people are interested in a specific song for a commission. I can only think of one occasion where I’ve painted the same song twice. That means there’s no substantial market in prints, which have a higher margin. I feel there’s a culture of shying away from discussing money in the world of independent artists, but it’s a tricky topic that deserves light shining on it. We make something and deserve to be remunerated for it, but there’s often a discrepancy between the worth of a piece in the eye of the buyer and seller. Some people tell me I’m charging far too much, some people say I should be charging much more.

At the start of the year I worked with a band, Blood Like Honey, to create the cover for their single Rooftop Beach. The projects I like best are when I get to work with someone on something and this was one of those.

There are many avenues I would like to explore with both synaesthesia and wax. If nothing else, all this time cooped up indoors is giving me an opportunity to investigate some of them!

Interview: Jessica Howell

Getting to Know DJ Paulette: Music Artist and Presenter

As one of only two women to hold a residency at Manchester’s Haçienda, a venue, which at its peak was one of the most famous venues in the world, Paulette Constable, or DJ Paulette as she is better known, definitely knows a fair bit about club culture and the evolution of the 1990s rave scene and growth of acid house. From her residency at Flesh, Haçienda’s legendary queer night in 1992 to residencies across London, Paris and Ibiza, the DJ turned broadcaster and now youth mentor and activist, has never forgotten her roots in the north. In these lockdown times we had the pleasure of catching up with her to discuss her impressive career, women in the music business and her most memorable sets. 

Can I start by asking you to briefly tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?

My name is Paulette – known in the industry as DJ Paulette (I am THE ORIGINAL AND REAL DJ PAULETTE – not the shady Italian namesake). I have been DJ’ing since 1992 and working in the music industry on and off since I was 18. DJ’ing is my main occupation, but I also work as a consultant, a radio and TV presenter, I do voice overs, modelling and I also work as a public speaking coach and workshop facilitator.

What are some of your earliest memories from growing up in the north?

I was born in North Manchester General Hospital – and am one of a pair of identical twins. My mum says we were the best Christmas present she was given that year, but I think that’s largely because she is only 4 foot 11 and we both weighed over 7lbs. It’s a lot of extra weight to carry around at Christmas. I was brought up in Prestwich, North Manchester where I have strong memories of Bowker Vale train station, of losing the tickets at the cinema on Cheetham Hill Road, of playing in the children’s playground, in the paddling pool, on the boating lake and always loved the masses of cherry blossom and rhododendrons in Heaton Park. I used to love sitting on the lions outside Heaton Hall and getting ice creams in the café.

How important a role did music play in your life growing up?

Music is the lifeblood in my family. My mum was a well-known Jazz and Cabaret singer in the UK and she came from a well-known musical family in Jamaica. My grandfather played double bass in his own band, my mum, my aunts and uncles all sang – sometimes on the radio. All my family sing, dance, were taught to play musical instruments and are avid record buyers and music collectors. 

We are all passionate about music and remain actively enthusiastic about everything from bar sets to club nights, live gigs to festivals and radio, documentaries and live streams. My brother Robert was a DJ and I remember him having a sick carrying box for his 7” singles. I have always loved music and find that I lose track of time when I am listening to or working with music. It’s a good sign.

How did you first get involved in music?

When I was little I was always doing shows, dreaming that I was a famous singer and doing ridiculous dance routines. It was always something I gravitated towards, but the path evaded me. Then I got a job working for Piccadilly Radio as a Junior Reporter on a music / lifestyle kids’ show called Saturday Express for two years – I did all the listings, gig reviews and some pop star interviews. Then I sang in bands for years after I left college, wrote songs, did backing vocals and session singing in studios – Spirit in Stockport, SARM and SARM West in London. When dj’ing came into the picture it became more of a reality. Then I moved to London and it became my life.

How have your own music tastes evolved and changed over time?

I remember the first single I ever played on repeat was a Frankie Lymon tune called ‘Up Jumps A Rabbit’ – me and my twin Paula created a dance routine to it, jumping up and down on the furniture so I think it’s pretty safe to say that my music tastes have become broader and more refined.

As the youngest of eight siblings, I pestered my brothers and sisters to sit with them whilst they listened to their music and I absorbed everything then bought bits I liked with my pocket money and paper round pay. I bought everything from disco to pop to glam rock and inherited albums like T Rex, Roxy Music, David Bowie. 

Then when I was 13 I dived into electronic music and punk and bought Kraftwerk, Sparks, Yello, Gary Numan, John Foxx, ABC, Haircut 100, the original Human League, PiL, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, DAF, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo & The Bunneymen, The Associates, Visage, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Southern Death Cult, The Cramps, Psychedelic Furs, Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy – I also bought the The Face, New Sounds New Styles, the NME, Melody Maker and Smash Hits.

I listened to the radio a lot and watched programmes like The Tube, The Oxford Roadshow and The Old Grey Whistle Test and went to lots of gigs so found myself loving Gil Scott Heron, Trouble Funk, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, U2, Prince, The Smiths and Madonna equally.

When I started work I went through an acoustic/ folk phase and I bought up tons of Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Everything But The Girl, Fairground Attraction, Prefab Sprout, Tears For Fears, Deacon Blue. I also loved listening to the Jazz Show on Radio Two on a Sunday (after clubs) so I got into Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Rosemary Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli. At the same time my sisters were going to All Dayers, All Nighters, Southport Weekenders and I got into funk, jazz, jazz funk, soul and electro through them and Mike Shaft and Greg Wilson’s radio shows which my twin religiously taped and I secretly listened to.

I was trained to play the piano and violin (can’t play now) but still love a bit of classical – Chopin, Bach, Beethoven. I discovered Prince, Earth Wind and Fire, Teena Marie and Michael Jackson from my sister Elizabeth. I got mad into Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin, Ashford and Simpson and Diana Ross. I bought Q Magazine and Mojo. Then the 90s brought Acid Jazz and house music – I loved Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Mariah Carey and became a mad Frankie Knuckles and David Morales fiend. 

DJ’ing certainly expanded my tastes further – bringing in the works of Mood II Swing, Pepe Braddock, Daft Punk, Larry Heard, Cassius, Leftfield, Orbital, 808 State, Robert Owens, Junior Vasquez, Mood II Swing, Basement Boys, Roy Davis Jnr, Masters At Work, Underground Resistance, Danny Tenaglia all have their place and it just keeps going, I listen to and buy everything from Yazmin Lacey and Kamasi Washington to Green Velvet, Blake Baxter and Abe Duque. I don’t just buy the music I need to work, I still buy music for the pleasure of listening to and learning new things and I sometimes work random bits into a set if the spirit takes me.

The last albums I bought online were Lonnie Liston Smith Expansions, Paul McCartney, Wings Greatest Hits, Yazmin Lacey, Billie Eilish, some August Darnell and old Earth Wind and Fire early releases and a lot of Donny Hathaway. I fell out of love with vinyl for a while after a lot of my collection got stolen as I left France.

Then I lost 2,500 pieces of my prime personal collection to flood damage in Ibiza but happily this lockdown has given what is left of my vinyl collection a new lease of life. I’m not sure if my tastes have matured (as in slowed down a bit) . I still love a good rave up or a silly sing along into my invisible mic. I’m not a snob over vinyl and digital – either will do for me (even though I do get why people are snobs and there ARE some records I want that are only available on vinyl). To me it’s either ‘great music’ or ‘not-for-me music’. It’s all just a matter of personal taste.

You’ll be familiar with the narrative that surrounds The Hacienda years and how the role of women in this era has been typically underplayed, why do you think this is the case? 

We live in a patriarchal society. Women’s roles are criminally underplayed in practically every discipline from teaching to training, from politics to psychiatry, from rocket science to domestic science, from acting to art, from maths to music production, sound engineering, events organisation – all creative industries art, music and media. It’s sadly the norm and not specific or unusual to nightclubs. As the grand tenet of second wave feminism cites: ‘The personal is political’.

Which women do you think were fundamental to this period and more generally the music scene in Manchester?

Lucy Scher (RIP) – A Bit Ginger Productions (together with Paul Cons – the team who created and produced ‘Flesh’); Ange Matthews – Haçienda Sue Langford – Boardwalk; Carol Ainscough (RIP) – Manto’s / Paradise Factory; and Kath Mc Dermott (Flesh, Homoelectric).

I think what strikes me about you, is that you completely own your success, you are aware of how much you have contributed to the 90s rave scene and that confidence and acknowledgement  of your own contribution is very inspiring, if you could say one thing to women about having pride in what you do, what would it be?

I say the same thing to women as I say to everybody. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. No one is born knowing how to do whatever they choose to do as a career – no career or job is gendered – if you want to do something, go ahead and learn how to do it. Then make it your own. Be prepared to and keep learning for the rest of your career, be confident in doing your own thing, don’t take no for an answer and be ready to bang your own drum if no one else will bang it for you. And when people do say no (because 99% of working in the creative industry is taking the blow of ‘no’ and carrying on regardless) remember Anthony H Pike’s advice, ‘you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea’. It reminds me not to take things too personally and always keeps me going.

United We Stream has just launched, how did you get involved and what do you hope people will get from it?

When the service was launched, Sacha Lord (Manchester’s Night time Tsar) posted a tweet asking which artists people would like to hear on the UNITED WE STREAM platform. One of my followers, Stephanie Fox sent Sacha a beautiful tweet saying they should book me because I was ‘the Queen and the best female DJ in Manchester’. I will never know whether it was coincidental or if Steph’s tweet was the catalyst but Sacha DM’ed me himself, explained the project and asked if I would like to take part within seconds of her tweet landing. Thanks Stephanie – that was serendipity indeed.

I hope that people will adopt United We Stream as their ‘go-to’ isolation party streaming platform for as long as the lockdown lasts and for as long as it runs. If it continues past the lockdown then I hope people will work it into their social calendar as an addition and an alternative to live gigs and clubs. More importantly, I hope that people will donate as much as they can afford and continue to give once the lockdown is lifted, since the platform has been created as a fundraising vehicle to support the people in the night time whose livelihoods were incinerated when the night time economy ground to a halt. It also benefits the cultural venues that have been closed and will require aid to get up and running again and the local charities that desperately need our help in order to continue supporting the vulnerable in our community.

Outside of music, you are also busy with youth work, activism and mentoring, why is it important for you to give back and what do you get from these experiences?

I do it because I care and because it comes from personal experience. Even though I was academic and always did well at school and college, I was also one of those teenagers that could have achieved much more with a sharp mentor who cared enough, gave me the right encouragement and who asked about and understood my situation.  This lack of support I received through school has had a huge impact on my work personality and working life. I’ve travelled and learned a lot and if I can help someone to realise their potential through a project or by creating something unique and if they can somehow benefit from and be inspired by that experience then that’s a beautiful result. It’s a wonderful shared moment when the lightbulb switches on in someone’s head and the ideas start to flow.

I suspect you may have been asked this a fair few times, but for you, what makes Manchester so great? 

My roots. Love. My family. The history. The people. The possibilities. The music. The sport. The accent. The politics. The humour. The water. The past. The present. The future. The weather…Oh, and we don’t take any shit from anybody.

This question may be slightly trickier under lockdown, but how do you like to spend your free time?

I have always enjoyed gardening and the lockdown has me enjoying every aspect – weeding included – as a source of ultimate zen. Even the grotty jobs are a blessing now. I have a selection of plants in pots at my front door and am blessed with a tiny jewel of a garden at the back both of which I am enjoying giving my full attention to. I also have a lot of houseplants that are enjoying being fully nurtured again. I cook every day, I listen to lots of music, watch bits of TV (I have to be really gripped by something to watch TV, films and documentaries – TV’s not my favourite pastime). I meditate, do a little yoga and make sure I get around 2 hours exercise (inside – yoga, light workouts or outside – skipping (ten minutes is enough), walking, dog walking) per day. I also write poetry, lyrics, songs and occasional columns – look out for something from me in the relaunched Faith Fanzine. I talk to family and friends – A LOT.

Kris Humphreys Photography

We talk a lot about how location or stereotype should not hinder women’s potential, what is your advice for Northern women who are currently pursuing careers in music?

Embrace who you are, how you are and always take pride in where you come from. Love how you look, sound, feel – your accent, sexuality and all. Never make excuses for it or play small to the disappointing stereotypes or low expectations you will encounter. Be you, do you, make yourself a beautiful and brave focal point and be your own unique selling point.

 Finally, what is your favourite thing about the north?

Blood. Water. Fire. Earth. Air. Spirit. It has all the best elements.

Paulette’s most memorable club nights, residencies and festivals over the years:

London 1995 – I drove back from my residency at The Zap Club in Brighton for my debut at the Ministry of Sound. I was playing in the bar area when the dj booth was upstairs where the VIP is now. The decks were suspended on chains that swung backwards and forwards as you played and you had a view from the front to the back of the bar area. I still have a very blurred picture of that in a photo album somewhere. Great night.

Solidays Paris 2005 – it was the first outdoor party I had ever played in Paris and I was on the bill sandwiched in between Etienne De Crecy and Bob Sinclar. I was given a police escort through the streets of Paris to the start of the street parade and the attendance was around 30,000 people. I will never forget the moment when I played the white label of Mason’s ‘Exceeder’ just as we turned up the Pont Neuf and there was just a sea of people jumping and screaming to my set. Unforgettable.

One Night With Paulette – every Friday at Mix Club, Paris 2005 – 2009. Four of the most important years in my dj career were spent as a resident at the biggest club in Paris. I played weekly on Fridays, once a month on Saturdays and special events throughout the year with guests. My party unleashed underground bubblers and superstars like Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso on the Parisian public (they played at my 40th birthday party), Laidback Luke, John Dahlback, Noir, Afrojack. There was always a queue around Montparnasse Station which had to have steel barricades and people were crazy – I topped and tailed the party and had to take pictures  and sign autographs with people for an hour each night. Once a month I played the whole session from 10pm till 5am – that was always a lock in.

Technoparade – every September in Paris there was a street party called Technoparade where the best djs in city (and then around 2009/10 the best djs in the world including David Guetta, Afrojack, Laidback Luke, Benny Benassi joined the roster) played in an all day street parade that rolled through the key streets of Paris. I played every year from 2007 to 2012. The route took in the key landmarks of Paris. There are still a few clips of my performances online on Youtube and DailyMotion I believe.

Cocoon, Frankfurt – 2009/2010 – this was concept clubbing par excellence. Conceived, designed and run by Sven Vath, Cocoon had two restaurants (Silk – which was Michelin-starred and Micro exceptional comfort food and both beautifully designed), multiple rooms, a main room built in the round with a DJ booth like a pulpit in the middle. Pods built into the walls surrounding the main room where small groups could sit privately and adjust the volume of the music. DJ booth with a tech spec of dreams, plus a private toilet and a vip seating area of its own. I really miss this club.

Pacha & Space Ibiza – playing for the Ministry of Sound 2000, 2001. In the days when Pacha had a Global and a Funky Room and Space terrace was on the ground floor. So many memories. Just about …

Miami – Nervous Records Denny’s Diner and Armani Exchange street parties – 2000 / 2001. Legendary sessions playing with people like Terry Hunter, Kenny Dope, Louie Vega …

Montreal – Black and Blue Festival – headlining this pivotal event in the LGBT calendar two consecutive years 2009/2010 – in the Stade Olympique in front of 28,000 people and both times nearly getting thrown out by security for dancing on the stage in front of my decks because they thought I was a randomer without authorisation to be there. The last year I was body painted by Zilon Laser (the Canadian equivalent to Keith Haring) which was surreal. I couldn’t get the paint off because the lights had baked it on. I bought out Pharmaprix in order to clean it off.

Homebird Exhibition, The Lowry Art Gallery 2018 – creating and curating an exhibition of my roots, life and career in Gallery B (the permanent LS Lowry collection occupies Gallery A) was an amazing pinnacle. It has been captured for posterity online in a section of my DJ Paulette website – where you can browse all 15 walls at your leisure and for free.

Janelle Monae – Castlefield Bowl, MIF 2019 – opening for Janelle Monae in front of a capacity, sold out crowd of 8000 people was a mega buzz. House of Ghetto tore it up with the vogueing on stage, I kept the crowd dancing and meeting Janelle at the end was a rare treat. It’s a gig that I still keep getting stopped in the street about.

Bluedot Festival, Jodrell bank 2019 – opening for Derrick Carter in the La Discotheque tent and smashing it. I was worried that I would have an empty tent as my slot coincided with New Order headlining on the main stage. I had no one to start with but I just kept my head down and played- after 20 minutes I looked up and the tent was rocking. Derrick gave me the biggest hug when he arrived. Good times.

United We Stream, which broadcasts Greater Manchester’s unique, world-leading culture to homes around the region and the world continues this weekend.

On Saturday, Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub will come alive again, albeit digitally, for a second instalment of its virtual party initiative. The event follows the club’s stay at home rave that took place on April 11. DJ Paulette will join an A-star line-up of former Haçienda residents including Graeme Park, Jon Dasilva, Allister Whitehead, Peter Hook.

Words: Jenna Campbell

Imagery: Glitterbox shots – Printworks – London 07/03/2020: Kris Humphrys

The perfect first opera: The return of Opera North’s La Bohème

La bohème is one of the most popular operas of all time, and it’s back at Leeds Grand Theatre this month. Opera North’s take on Puccini’s heart-wrenching opera was originally conceived by Phyllida Lloyd – who went on to direct Mamma Mia! and the Oscar-winning The Iron Lady. She transports the action to the smoky cafés and garrets of 1950s Paris where we witness the tragic love affair between two impoverished bohemians, seamstress Mimì and poet Rodolfo, who meet one freezing Christmas Eve.

NRTH LASS caught up with Lauren Fagan and Eleazar Rodriguez who play the ill-fated lovers on opening night (there are two casts alternating over the course of the run). They are also performing at the company’s first dementia-friendly performance on 24 October. Henry Neill, who sings the part of Rodolfo’s friend Schaunard, and revival director Michael Barker-Caven joined the conversation.

NL: Tell us more about La bohème. What's it about? 

L: It’s a story of beauty, love and, ultimately, tragedy. Life and death basically!

M: As you watch it, it’s like going from a big evening, feeling that life is nothing but a party, to discovering that the morning after can actually be a place of terrifying shadow. You didn’t know that, of course, when you were dancing the night away and believing life was just joyful and fun.

H: I think people will find it really familiar. We’ve all been there, especially students. We have the mate who’s the joker, we have the mate who’s the intelligent guy, so immediately that’s something that’s basically straight from young people’s lives, and then the story is born out of that.

M: Everything feels like you’ve been there, seen it, done it. That’s what’s remarkable about it. Anybody who’s never been to the opera, this is the place to start because you will come and learn that great opera is about you.

NL: What's this particular production like?

M: I’m reviving a piece that was first done in the early ’90s. It’s stood the test of time, so the pleasure for me as a director is not messing it up basically! It’s set in a world that people will recognise: the young people have motorbikes, they’re drinking out of bottles, they’ve got leather jackets on, things like that. There’s also a modern art element – a visual homage to the Jackson Pollocks of this world, the Hockneys, all those artistic icons. You get this commercial pop art world beginning to come through juxtaposed with the harshness of real life.

What’s really exciting about this production though, is that it’s young people who sing this extraordinary, vibrant piece of work. Every bit of it is gripping to watch and that’s all credit to these wonderful casts. They’re bringing their lived experience into it and making everything come alive.

E: I think for us the challenge is that we know what’s going to happen in the opera, but we have to keep it really fresh in every phrase we do. Everything we sing, everything we act, it has to be like it’s the first time it’s ever happened.

NL: Why are you doing a dementia friendly performance and how will it be different?

H: Research consistently shows that music can be an incredibly powerful force for people with dementia, so we hope this will make a real impact on them and their families. We’re looking forward to it as singers, because the lights will be on we’ll be able to see a bit more and the auditorium should have a very different feel.

E: For me, it’s wonderful to make opera accessible to anyone. Inclusivity is one of my favourite words!

NL: What kind of
music can people expect? 

M: If people are going “I wouldn’t like opera – it’s all that weird screeching”, then they should experience this. It’s full of melody, it’s full of the most beautiful tunes, it’s full of this extraordinary playfulness. It’s so fresh. In fact, the paradox is that it feels like it’s been written by a young person, and yet it’s written by a mature genius. The skill and the originality are simply breath-taking.

La bohème opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 12 October and runs until Saturday 26 October before touring to Newcastle Theatre Royal, Nottingham Theatre Royal and The Lowry at Salford Quays. £10 tickets are available at every performance for under 30s.

Photo credit: Richard H. Smith 

Person of interest: Angela Chan, Producer and Musician

Words by Sarah McManamon

NRTH LSS had the pleasure to get to know the very talented producer and musician Angela Chan.

Coming to Leeds to study a degree in classical and contemporary music, and a master’s in music production, Angela tells us why she stayed up north as she built her eclectic musical career around her distinctive “fuzzy” sound. Angela also shares some foodie recommendations for the noodle lovers amongst us.

Angela has an impressive discography, including her work as a touring band member of alternative rock group Placebo since 2017, her creative involvement with indie rock band Lanterns on the Lake since 2014 and, more recently, her time on tour with Kyle Falconer of The View.

NRTH LASS: Tell us about a typical day on tour. What are the highs and lows of tour life?

Angela: There’s not much routine to touring. There’s a lot of travelling and packing and unpacking things – vans, boxes, bags, cases. I love the camaraderie of it all especially on the smaller tours where everyone is mucking in. There’s always plenty of chat, jokes and silly games to pass the time. Apparently I sleep a lot too. 

Image: Hello Cosmos

NRTH LASS: Would you say that you have a signature “sound” you find yourself returning to?

Angela: My viola and reverb! Other than that, I don’t think I have much of a signature sound … but I do love playing around with other instruments, pedals and getting geeky with tech. I try to mould my sound to fit each band I play with – orchestral strings, dirty fuzzy noise, ethereal soundscapes, synthy pads. I rarely use the same pedalboard setup between bands. I can get really weird with the sound and people often think they’re hearing a guitar. It’s not. It’s a viola!

NRTH LASS: What’s it like being a woman in the music industry? Have you met any gender-based barriers in your career?

Angela: I’ve never felt like I’ve encountered any gender-based barriers, but it’s something that is being talked about a lot at the moment. I went to a “Women in Music” conference recently to try and learn more and after hearing about others’ experiences, I started to think about my own. There are sexist attitudes but it’s very rare that I come across them. On the whole, I find the creative world quite progressive and open. There are many sides to the industry that I’ve not experienced though, so I can’t speak for all women.

NRTH LASS: Tell us about your work as a producer. How does it compare to performing live?

Angela: Performing live is about being in the moment, playing my instrument. In the studio, it’s about crafting and creating. It’s more cerebral, not as automatic, and I’ve got a lot to learn. I like making music for performance art (dance, theatre) and moving image (sound design, film, digital art). I love the relationship between sound and movement. It’s easy to get lost for hours once I get stuck in.

NRTH LASS: What was it that kept you based in Leeds for all these years? Were you ever tempted/encouraged to relocate?

Angela: Leeds ticks a lot of boxes. I came here to study and met lots of people doing exciting things. There’s a lot going on. It’s not an expensive place to live. I found a supportive community and I’ve been well nurtured by it. I lived in Newcastle for a bit and I’d like to go back there in the future. London doesn’t appeal much to me as a place to live. I’m a northern lass.

NRTH LASS: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Angela: Spending an evening trawling through Gumtree ads and finding the people who became my mentors, best friends and first proper band. I’d recently learned what a pickup was, acquired the cheapest one I could find on eBay, blue-tacked it to my viola and turned up to meet these strangers. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get laughed out of the room. I learned almost everything about playing in a band from them. They even equipped me with my first ever pedal. Before them, I never knew what a pedal was. Imagine that.

“Performing live is about being in the moment, playing my instrument. In the studio, it’s about crafting and creating.”

NRTH LASS: How do you balance your personal life with your career? Do you ever feel that you’ve had to sacrifice one for the other?

Angela: If music wasn’t my job it would still be a huge part of my life. Music is very personal to me and through music I’ve made close friends, learned valuable life lessons, travelled the world, experienced adventures and misadventures. It’s not a conventional life, but convention doesn’t excite me. I’ve been told that to sacrifice is to give up something for a greater something else, and if that is the case, it’s not the worst position to be in.

NRTH LASS: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or any piece of advice you wish you’d received? 

Angela: I’ve had a lot of good advice and yet I can’t recall a single piece right now. All I can say is: surround yourself with good people. They will provide you with all the advice you will need.  

NRTH LASS: Finally, and most importantly … where can I get the best noodles and dumplings in Leeds? 

Angela: Haha! So you’ve spotted I’m a noodle enthusiast. Well, I’m a big fan of Bánh and Mee for Vietnamese, Noodle House for Hong Kong and Malaysian, and Noodlesta is a recent opening for Northern Chinese hand-pulled noodles. Couple of OK dim sum spots too but I’ve not found a place for proper good dumplings yet. Let me know if you find one.

Pizza for the People: we all want pizza!

Written by Sophie Kelsall

On Friday 24th May, Leeds will once again host the Indie Banquet: a spectacular mash-up of street food and live music founded by Leeds-based live music promotor, Pizza for the People. The aim of Pizza for the People is to provide a platform for upcoming and newly established talent. Now on their 13th Indie Banquet, held at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, this well-established event has showcased a large number of local bands and has been a useful stepping stone for putting these bands on the musical map. These events offer a unique opportunity to enjoy the chilled atmosphere of a festival, without the need for wellies and a tent.

Ryan and Julia

Some of the bands up on the roster this year include: Trudy and the Romance, Ugly, L.A Peach and Celestial Green. VFC and OWT will also be on site to provide some tempting treats to suit all tastes, along with a number of other local vendors. These events are an incredible opportunity for the local community to come together and support homegrown talent.  

After the first Indie Banquet in 2016, the events have only gotten bigger and better, with large numbers of bands now wanting to get involved. Julia King is one half of the brains behind Pizza for the People. With over two and a half years’ worth of experience in co-ordinating gigs alongside promoting street food vendors, Julia was able to share some of her knowledge and insight on event organising with us.

How did the idea for Pizza for the People come about?

The concept of Pizza for the People arose from a mutual love of live music, festivals and food between me and my partner Ryan (the other half of Pizza for the People) and a lightbulb moment in early 2016 when we realised that there wasn’t an existing forum in Leeds and surrounding areas where you can watch live music whilst stuffing your face, like you tend to do at a festival. Our name (Pizza for the People) naturally formed from our love for pizza (!) but equally an appetite for blending our two passions: music and food and giving audiences, bands, independent venues and street food traders an opportunity to come together.

Trudy and the Romance

How has your role changed since the conception of the event?

Prior to forming Pizza for the People, my partner and I had attended countless gigs and festivals but had never managed an event before, so we knew it’d be a learning curve. We researched the market, listened and learned from fellow promotors and immersed ourselves in learning about the music and gigging industry, ahead of putting our first Indie Banquet gig on in October 2016. I’d say our roles have not necessarily changed but have evolved over the past two and half years as we’ve become more experienced and confident of what works and what doesn’t. Equally, we’ve become clearer over time as to what skills we bring to planning, designing, curating and delivering our Indie Banquet shows.

How much has the event grown over the years?

Now on our 13th Indie Banquet, the event has developed a really core audience over time and one that we really appreciate. We’ve worked with a large number of bands, some of which have come back to play for us again. In terms of growth, we’ve worked with a number of different independent venues such as Wharf Chambers, Hyde Park Book Club, Duke Studios and Brudenell Social Club and equally with a number of incredible street food traders such as Pizza Fella, Goldenballs, Dilla Deli, Little Bao Boy, VFC and cannot wait to welcome OWT to our Indie Banquet on Friday 24th May, serving up a seasonal mystery menu.

How important are events like these for getting Northern talent noticed?

I think events like these are incredibly important for getting Northern talent noticed and on the map. The music industry is an incredibly challenging one these days to make a living from, despite it being more accessible, so we think it’s important to not only showcase the really raw and incredible talent across the North but also make sure that bands are paid, treated well and given the praise they deserve at our gigs. Ethics and integrity are absolutely key to Pizza for the People. We’ve seen some really successful stories since our inception, having watched folks like The Orielles (who played our 2nd Indie Banquet) and Drahla (who played our 1st Indie Banquet birthday) blossom. It’s such a lovely feeling to watch all of their journeys.

What is your favourite part of organising these events?

That’s a really good but tricky question! For me, I think it’s two-fold. (A) Designing the line-up and finding new and super exciting artists to work with and (B) The gig itself. Watching everything come together on the night is a wonderful feeling.  

Who can attend PFTP?

Indie Banquets are open to all (over the age of 18). Those who are avid gig-goers, those who love discovering new street food traders, those who like music but are open to discovering new music and new bands. Everyone’s a winner!

What can new attendees expect on the night?

New attendees can expect a tasty, tailored menu of scrummy food washed down with a cocktail of superb bands in a quirky, intimate venue.

How can bands and food traders get involved?

Bands and street food traders can contact us via or via social media (#weallwantpizza) if they’re interested in playing or serving up delights at future Indie Banquets.

For those eager to attend this unmissable event, tickets are available for £9 via Crash, Jumbo, Ticket Arena, See Tickets and Dice. Bring your dancing shoes and an empty stomach!

Great Exhibition of the North’s River Talk

Written by Elizabeth Simmonds

A leisurely stroll along an urban riverbank on a ridiculously hot June day was never going to be an easy sell to two teenage girls, but the idea of a sound walk was intriguing enough to get them to agree, albeit reluctantly, to give it a go. So it was that a friend and I, daughters in tow, experienced Aeons, a new musical journey which takes you on a voyage of discovery along Hadrian’s Wall Path on the North Bank of the River Tyne.

Continue reading “Great Exhibition of the North’s River Talk”

Strength in Numbers

Written by Gilly Piece

Someone once told me that the physical shape of a theatre building reflects the work that happens in it and the people who engage with it.

Continue reading “Strength in Numbers”