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.
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