Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Wearing badges is not enough (reprise)

Wearing badges is not enough

I've always loved badges. Along with event tickets, see my other blog tickets of distinction  for some of these, and records, I guess I have been a bit of a collector. I've recently become the proud owner of three more badges, displayed opposite.
The first reflects the Music Minds Matter project, predicated upon the excellent Can Music Make you Sick study produced by my colleagues at Westminster. A fine piece of work and a fine project.
The second relates to a project I am involved with, Lost in Music, which was launched last month at Westminster Law School. This is a free, open access, resource that hopes to help people navigate the maze of the music industry and we are currently seeking funding to develop this further. The third, rather than  reference to The Smiths' How Soon is Now alludes in fact to the British Academy/AHRC Being Human Festival which takes place this week. There are lots of fabulous events taking place, one of which I might add, somewhat immodestly, is one of ours.
Matt Morrison introduces visitors to the Soho Poly

Yesterday was the first day of our Lost and Found: Disrupting the Everyday series of events. This was sold out and a fabulous event, with Fred Proud, the original artistic director of the space and the poet and our Writer in Residence Mike Garry giving excellent performances. This will followed by a viewing of various materials from the archives and some beautiful, previously unseen, Nobby Clark photos and the premiere of a piece of digital theatre commissioned for the space. More here on this.  As I write this (tuesday morning) there are still spaces for some of the days, and you can even pick up a badge. I've previously written in a different context of how wearing badges is not enough, a phrase I lifted from Billy Bragg's Days Like These. Please take this as a clarion call. Come along and visit the Soho Poly, either this week or in one of our future ventures (follow Matt's excellent blog here for more details), go on to the Lost in Music resource and post a comment or question  and help us make this a vibrant, active space, and support in any way you can, the Music Minds Matter initiative. Because wearing badges is not enough, in days like these.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Disrupting the Everyday: Being Human and the Soho Poly

'St Anthony', artwork created by Derek Power, words by Mike Garry

"St Anthony, St Anthony please come round,
because something is lost that cannot be found"

St Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Given the University of Westminster’s link with the poet Mike Garry , author of the superb poem St Anthony, this year’s Being Human Festival theme - 'Lost of Found' - was something of an open goal for us.

The (AHRC / British Academy-funded) Being Human festival runs in late November, and is all about displaying the hidden stories that humanities research can bring into the light. And once we started digging further into our own University archives, we started to come across more and more extraordinary stories.

Chief among them was the story of the original Soho Poly theatre - radical forerunner of today’s Soho Theatre on Dean Street - which operated out of a tiny basement room belonging to the University from 1972-1990. Many of the country’s best known writers, actors, designers and directors worked here during this time. This secret space quickly became the centre piece of our Being Human project, and, for the whole week beginning 20 November, visitors will be able to come and visit London’s most important ‘lost’ theatre.
Courtesy UoW Archives

Our research also uncovered other inspiring stories of creative endeavour – including a series of public lectures from 1917 given by Louie Bagley, then Head of the School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, on 'Poets and Poetry of Today'. The final name chosen for our event (curated by Matt Morrison of the English Department and Guy Osborn of the Law School) makes reference to both these discoveries: 'Disrupting the Everyday: Found Theatre and Found Poetry'. It offers an opportunity to experience an exciting and various programme of events including a newly commissioned piece of digital theatre, live poetry readings, and an exhibition of rare Nobby Clark photographs. And all of this to be enjoyed in the specially re-opened Soho Poly basement itself.

Book here and come along to be surprised and delighted.

This blog entry is jointly authored by Guy Osborn and Matt Morrison. For Matt's blog see here

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Why Poetry Matters

I was fourteen when The Jam released Sound Affects, an album Weller maintained was their finest. They were already a really important band for me, notwithstanding the callowness of my youth. They had released a peerless run of singles since my first purchase of ‘When You’re Young’ the previous year and I had delved into the back catalogue with relish and found a band to cherish. I’d adored Setting Sons – it introduced me to ideas of class struggle, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the notion of the concept album – although the latter was sadly not fully realised in the album itself.  Sound Affects was different though. First of all, the breadth and variety of material was impressive. Perhaps this reached its apotheosis with The Gift but here were echoes of the many eclectic influences that Weller was drawing upon across the eleven tracks.  For me, however, the reverse of the sleeve was even more illuminating.

 We had of course dabbled with poetry at school by this point. In fact the poem Timothy Winters made a lasting impression on me in terms of its rhythm and imagery; I was delighted years later to see Christopher Ecclestone use it memorably in Bleasdale’s GBH. Its fair to say that poetry had not yet really grabbed me though. The excerpt on the sleeve did however and stirred something in me, awoke me from my slumber you might say. Certainly lyrics can be seen as poetic, and lyrics to great songs such as ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ started off as a poem. Weller’s love of, and commitment to, poetry went further though, creating his own publishing company, Riot Stories, and publishing poetry and other works including ‘December Child’ and ‘Notes from Hostile Street’. In many ways this excerpt was my gateway drug to other things – when Weller mentioned beat poetry, or Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Camelot and the Vision of Albion’, I would go and check it out, much in the way that the Manic Street Preachers would later inspire fans to read Plath and Pinter, or discover Kevin Carter and Zapruder. The excerpt from Mask of Anarchy acted as a catalyst for me, journeying to the library to read the full poem and later delving further into Shelley, including picking up Paul Foot’s ‘Red Shelley’ which I loved. So to see Mask of Anarchy picked up by Corbyn and others during what was an inspirational election campaign was personally very poignant – something that had been a catalyst for me was becoming a touchstone for others, and hinted at a collective awakening.
It hints also at the power of words. This is something I have talked about a lot with my friend Mike Garry, a peach of a poet and who we are privileged to have as a member of our Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture at Westminster Law School. I’ve blogged about the links between law and poetry, and the history of poetry at our institution before, but am now delighted to announce that we have a new initiative starting in November, entitled Poetry Matters, as part of a British Academy/Being Human funded project entitled ‘Found Theatre and Poetry: Disrupting the Everyday’. More details to follow on this in due course, but it draws on the sometimes occluded history of poetry and theatre, and celebrates their power and potential, but in particular pays homage to the power of the word. And that’s why poetry matters. 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

And Ziggy played the Poly

Fifty years ago today (12th May) Procul Harem’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was released  - a seminal record and one which was subject to a well publicised copyright dispute around joint authorship. In fact the victor there, Matthew Fisher, can be doubly pleased as changes to duration provisions in copyright law now mean that copyright in the sound recording now persists to 2037, rather than finishing in 2017. 

Whilst not as seminal, on this date 45 years ago David Bowie played our Law School Building. To mark Bowie’s passing we produced a spotify playlist replicating the set list he was alleged to have played that day and this is available here.  Our Little Titchfield Street site has a fabulous musical pedigree and history, with many bands playing here in the 1960s and 1970s, a selection of posters  from this time, sourced from our University Archives, are on display in the Law School and available on line here. To mark this 45th anniversary we are delighted to present a guest blog from our very own Chris Ellins, Course Leader of the LLM Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster  

The photo for the album sleeve was in fact taken in Heddon Street,
a stone's throw from the University.

 And Ziggy played guitar – at the University of Westminster
by Chris Ellins

45 years ago on 12 May 1972, as part of what became his iconic Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie and his band, The Spiders from Mars played at the Little Titchfield Street venue of the Polytechnic of Central London (which had recently changed name but was still widely known as Regent Street Polytechnic), both predecessors of the University of Westminster. It was the tour that would start his ascent into becoming a global icon. Little Titchfield Street was the home to the student union and a hub of student musical activity at the university and a popular venue on the student circuit. It played host to many bands and singers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cream and early incarnations of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and also was the first place that Jimi Hendrix performed in the United Kingdom.

Bowie released Hunky Dory in December 1971 and in 1972 followed this up with a tour to promote that album and the emerging Ziggy Stardust. The first part of the tour included many colleges on the student tour circuit and the gig at the University of Westminster was part of this. David Bowie was not as well-known or popular at the time as he became, he had only just secured a new 3 album record contract in the summer of 1971 and many gigs were reported not to be full. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album was released in June 1972, was followed by a tour of larger venues and then the USA later in the year and David Bowie the legend was born. On the Hunky Dory album Bowie referred to himself as an actor and it’s clear the gig at the University of Westminster took place at the moment just before Bowie was on the cusp of worldwide fame during which he was consolidating the development of his Ziggy Stardust persona and showed his acute interest in performance and the art of drama and stagecraft, with his stage shows featuring lights, extravagant (for the time) stage costumes  and costume changes, all mixed with his projection of skilled musicianship and ambiguous sexuality – a whole enveloping dramatic and musical experience. One footnote to the show was that the tour featured guest keyboard players. At the time of the Polytechnic of Central London gig this was Matthew Fisher who had played with Procol Harum, in particular on their famous song Whiter Shade of Pale, which had been released fifty years ago and exactly five years to the day before Bowie and the Spiders from Mars played at The Polytechnic of Central London. This song many years later became the subject matter of litigation brought by Fisher concerning copyright authorship and ownership, reaching the highest court in the land, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court).

A review of the show showed all of these elements featured. Described as at “Regent Street Poly”, Rosalind Russell reported that Bowie “camped up his show outrageously”, featured a costume change from the first to second part of the set and that he “posed, postured and pouted for the audience.” “Coloured lights flashed in conjunction with the music, and gave good effect to the short set the Spiders did without David” (presumably during the costume change). It also featured an intimate element when “David and his lead guitarist Mick Ronson sat at the front of the stage, and David sang "Space Oddity".  The set was mix of the old Bowie numbers, covers and the coming Ziggy Stardust new. It was rapturously received and Russell reported that “even after an encore, it was a while before the audience would leave the hall, such was the success of the show

She concluded that “somehow it would be a shame if Bowie was to become a superstar, but I don't think fame would turn his head!”. It was clear the super star Bowie soon after became had emerged and had played at what is now the home of Westminster Law School, its Centre for Law Society and Popular Culture and associated LLM in Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster.

Source: Rosalind Russell May 1972, no title given http://www.5years.com/rrussell72.htm  but probably from Disc and Music Echo May 1972 seehttps://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/rosalind-russell

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

What Difference Does It Make?

'All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known'.

So opened The Smiths' third single, 'What Difference Does it Make?'. To these ears an astonishing clarion call and a fine addition to the canon, although compared against the first two singles undeniably not as strong. Still,  it was an unbridled and unfettered joy to journey to the record shop to purchase, as were all The Smiths releases, at least  until 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'. Morrissey apparently later disassociated himself with it somewhat as he was not keen on the lyrics. The lyrics in fact, allude to a secret. Perhaps even less well known are the secrets of the University of Westminster, notwithstanding the sterling efforts of our Archival Services to rectify this occlusion. To further help remedy this the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, of which Westminster Law School is a part, has announced a festival that seeks to unlock some of these secrets. 

The University of Westminster has somehow always been different. Our predecessors created a place where the public could explore new ideas, view new inventions and learn new skills, and our University Values today reflect this very public aspect of our mission. The first moving images, the first photography studio, Pepper's Ghost; the Regent Street Polytechnic was famous for making such marvels accessible to all. Similarly, our work rehabilitating servicemen injured during World War One is but one historical example of  commitment to  making a difference and having a real world impact.  The Difference Festival hopefully will showcase some of the ways in which we are different, and make a difference. There are lots of events, all free and open to all, that can be booked, including a rare chance to visit the cinema and hear our Compton Organ being played, so please visit the website and sign up. Morrissey's perhaps rhetorical question is certainly relevant to all academics today as we consider why we do what we do and how we do it.   The University of Westminster more than most has a history and ethos that allows us to respond with some positivity to his question.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

I offer up to you this tribute: Billy Bragg and my dad

My dad died in 2000. I've blogged about him before, particularly around the great work of the Stroke Association who provided my dad with great support after his first stroke, and also after I met Edwyn Collins shortly after his own stroke. It's Fathers' Day today. I think about my dad all the time, but particularly on day's like these. I've taken to posting a link to Billy Bragg's Tank Park Salute every year - its become a sort of small, personal act of remembrance. Its a wonderful song, and makes me quite emotional just thinking about it. An excerpt from the lyrics appears below, and a video of Billy performing this appears in the link above. 

'You were so tall
How could you fall?

Some photographs of a summer's day
A little boy's lifetime away
Is all I've left of everything we've done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I'm but my father's son

I offer up to you
This tribute
I offer up to you
This tank park salute'
(from Billy Bragg: Tank Park Salute)

I've met Billy a few times, and he has always been kind and generous. Billy Bragg concerts have been a bit of a constant throughout my adult life - perhaps I will at some point write a piece for my Tickets of Distinction (my other blog, celebrating some of the gigs I have been to over the years) blog about one or two of these, but here I want to concentrate on one meeting, in 2010, at Latitude Festival. Tank Park Salute is of course a tribute to Billy's late father, Dennis. I met Billy by chance outside the poetry tent, and in the course of our conversation I told him about what the song meant to me. Billy was brilliant, and asked me for a hug. In the photo below, pre-hug, Noah, my son, is also telling Billy about how I picked up one of his plectrums at a Red Wedge gig.  

Billy only went up in my estimation that day, and I still remain in awe of his songwriting - Tank Park Salute is a wonderful tribute to his father and a lovely touchstone for lots of us, including this heartbreaking story from Neil Hughes's blog about his daughter. A couple of years ago I met the poet Mike Garry, eager readers may remember some of my previous posts about him
Mike had written a poem as a tribute to his mum, entitled What me mam taught me, which I thought was beautiful. Mike is a firm believer in the power of the word and that we all have poetry in us. we talked a lot about our fathers, both had had strokes, and Mike encouraged me to write a poem about my dad. I've written fragments but its not finished but maybe next year for fathers day I'll publish it. In the meantime, for my lovely dad, I offer up to you, this tribute. x

Friday, 10 June 2016

1966 and all that

I remember seeing this emblazoned on posters around London during EURO '96, and on the eve of EURO 2016 our thoughts turn to not thirty years of hurt, but now 50 years since our last major footballing success. Outside of the triumph at Wembley, 1966 was an important year for all sorts of other reasons. I'm currently reading Jon Savage's book 1966. I am a great admirer of Savage's work, England's Dreaming for example is by far the best account of punk that has been written and Savage's contextual awareness in all his work, Teenage being another fine example, is astounding. Savage describes 1966 as 'the year that the decade exploded', and the first chapter begins; 
'1966 was a year of noise and tumult, of brightly coloured patterns clashing with black and white politics, of furious forward motion and an outraged, awakening reaction. There was a sense that anything was possible to those who dared, a willingness to strive toward toward the seemingly unattainable. There remains an overwhelming urgency that marks the music and movies of that year, counterbalanced by traces of loss, disconnection and deep melancholy'.
I can't vouch for the whole book yet - I have been striving to read the book (which is divided into months) in such a way as to get a sense of the year in real time, 50 years on, so am only up to June, but what the book has illustrated so far is that 1966 is significant on many fronts. At the Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture we are currently considering using 1966 as our theme for Centre events for the next academic year. We have previously used themes for our Film Matters series, and thought that 1966 might work as the motif for a series of events given its significance.  
In terms of the cinema, Roman Polanski's Cul De Sac received its world premiere at our Cinema in 1966 and we are hoping to show that. Other key films released that year included Blow Up, The Battle of Algiers and Au Hasard Balthazar all of which are currently being considered for screenings. Outside of the cinema but still within visual media we have already pencilled in a screening of Cathy Come Home, introduced by Professor Peter Robson (former Chair of Shelter) and chaired by Dr Russell Orr to mark the 50th anniversary of its BBC debut.
Musically, key albums released in 1966 include The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (Centre Member Ken Foster was even at the infamous 'Judas' Dylan concert at the  Manchester Free Trade Hall!). We have previously run Vinyl and Wine events at the Centre where members of the Centre take it in turns to play an album of their choice and might refine this concept for those three albums above. Interestingly there is a far more eclectic soundtrack provided by Jon Savage to accompany the book, the Ace Records' spotify playlist of which is available here.  

Other events are being considered too, perhaps including some celebration of the important House of Lords Practice statement on Judicial Precedent, or even recognising 12 July as the date Tony Macaulay signed his publishing contract that ultimately led to the case of Schroeder v Macaulay. On as more macabre note, 1966 was also the year of the the sentencing of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady (The Moors Murders), and Harry Roberts (The Shepherds Bush Murders), both of which have featured heavily in popular culture.  Any more suggestions and ideas welcome, and keep an eye on the Centre website for news on developments.