Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dancing in the Street

Now tell me that this video doesn't do it for you. It's probably how you think you look when you're on a dancefloor and then how you wish you'd looked when you replay it in your head the next day. (I'm talking from experience.) Videos like this make me adore the internet one hundred times over. Shishi Yamazaki, I salute you.

Monday, September 09, 2013

This is England

One of the cool things about my new job is that I get to spend a lot of time scouring the internet for information about upcoming exhibitions and arts festivals across the UK. Which is sort of an extension of what I do in my spare time anyway. It also means that I'm constantly left wanting to hop on a train to visit some great sounding exhibition in Dundee or Nottingham or Sunderland or Blackpool, and yes, sometimes even London. I hear about new artists and photographers and come across cute little videos or bigger, more serious articles with increasing speed and they all buzz around my head. New tabs grow and spread across my browser faster than an October cold and so in the end it's quite a good job that I have a blog to regurgitate it all into.

As a fan of Martin Parr's eponymous beach-scenes and the familiar black and white snapshots of Bill Owens's suburbia, Tony Ray-Jones's photographs appeal to that same interest in documenting the people of a country or a culture. That style of documenting; like the technicoloured Manhattan captured by Joel Meyerowitz, is now very, very familiar. But like Martin Parr, much of Ray-Jones's work captures something intrinsically British, or at least the sort of 'bygone Britishness' which can be so appealing as a slice of photographic nostalgia. Large ladies on beaches, old geezers in tweed flatcaps and waistcoats, queues at bus stops. People who don't look like the people on the street today; a less diverse crowd maybe, and then people who do; universal images of teenagers touching each others bums or bellies, and small children with skinny legs pushing toy prams.

Given the parallels between their work, it's not surprising that Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr have been paired together in an upcoming exhibition at the National Media Museum in the new year. (That's how I heard of Tony Ray-Jones in the first place; amidst all that cultural calendar hawking.) Bradford, I'm popping you on the list.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Beacons Festival or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boutique

Last month I went to Beacons Festival and I have a couple of confessions to make. I (whisper it) "glamped". I glamped so hard that I even took a small carry-on style wheeley suitcase. In all honesty it was in lieu of a weekend bag which I do not own, because I am not a real adult yet. But still, I like, showered and stuff. And the thing is- it all felt really good. I woke up in the mornings and my hair wasn't sweatily slapped across my forehead. I didn't have to smell the crevices of my own body over the course of the weekend And I only felt about 5% like I was part of some fascist festival club. 

Beacons really showed us a great time and felt like such a hassle-free weekend after the amazing but tiring experience that Glastonbury is. Me and my friend Nanon hopped on the train to Skipton after work and what followed was a fantastic weekend of delicious food and drink, music, arts and crafts, some whiskey tasting and a lot of time spent hanging out in the film tent which was a womb-like haven of sofas and bean bags.  The line-up was really impressive, including short-film marathons, and screenings of The Spirit of '45, Sightseers, The Arbor and a packed-out Shane Meadows Q+A which followed Made of Stone.

Watching The Arbor was probably one of my highlights of the weekend. Based on the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her family it is a mish-mash of oral interviews from friends and family, reenactments by actors on the estate she lived in and archive footage of Dunbar during the time that she was receiving attention for her play Bob, Sue and Rita Too. The unusual form of the whole thing was immediately absorbing and I've been thinking a lot about the film since. A Q+A with director Clio Barnard followed afterwards in which she talked about the 'ethical nightmare' of documentary-making and the impossibility of accurately representing the truth of a place, a story, or the people involved. I've talked about this in previous posts, but it's the same thought process I have in relation to writing diaries or letters and which truths we include, what gets left out and how that impacts the bigger picture. I keep diaries for catharsis in the present but also so that I can enjoy reading over them again later in years to come and I often think about this difficulty in recording an 'ultimate truth'. So it was interesting hearing Clio Barnard's thoughts about this in relation to documentary, especially when the lives she was recording and representing were real ones. 

When we weren't in the film tent, we were grabbing chicken burgers and perfectly peppered fries from Mother Clucker, making new friends in the Whitelock's Ale Tent, watching Bonobo and John Talabot, screenprinting in the Urban Outfitters tent and generally cooing every hour or so about "how nice it was to be at a 'relaxed boutique festival'" like a couple of world-weary festival-goers. 

Beacons looking gorgeous in the sun, the creamiest Eton Mess flavoured ice-cream ever tasted from the Everyday is Like a Sundae van, Vondelpark, the Tipi village, deadpan and gormless (always), a beautiful, blushing bride. 

Another highlight of the weekend was the screening of Made of Stone, the Stone Roses documentary directed by Shane Meadows. If me and Nanon were absorbed by The Arbor then this trumped all as we fell into an entrancing rabbit-hole of bucket hats and endearingly-intense fan-dom. The couple of beers already in our bellies probably helped but the screening was fantastic with a gig-like atmosphere as the brimming tent bobbed their heads along to the songs, and danced on their bums, all crammed in on the floor like some Madchester carpet-time. The film was beautifully shot- in the Q+A afterwards Shane Meadows told us that he wanted it to be a visually pleasing piece that wasn't just another rock documentary, that because the band had asked a film director rather than a documentary maker he felt that was the right approach. 

Hearing Meadows admit that he loves kicking back and watching Tyra Banks to relax was an unexpected bonus. (What??) He was deadly serious. "There's no middle ground. I either want utter cheese like Tyra Banks or something really great." Also hearing his anecdotes about hanging out with the Stone Roses during the course of filming was fascinating. My personal favourite was his story of getting into a lift with the band and feeling like he had finally made it as the cool kid, only to have the weight restriction alarm go off as soon as he got in, and with defeat having to tell the others he'd just meet them downstairs instead. Ah, the never ending appeal of the self-deprecating anecdote. 

A Mother Clucker chicken burger for lunch, and burritos for dinner, the Into The Woods film tent, 'No Shoes, Please', buckets of Yorkshire Tea, the zine library courtesy of Village Bookstore, Leeds.

Nighttime in the 'Space Between' arts field, the Whitelock's Ale tent, pulled pork at El Kantina, the ideal tipi scenario (fyi, we stayed in a slightly more modest bell-tent..) 'New Pals'- embracing the drizzle with Rob and Dave. 

One of the things I really loved about Beacons, was that the festival felt like a celebration of the North; of the brilliant culture, food and drink, music and art that it has to offer. With the exception of a few, the food stalls were outposts from bars and cafes in Leeds, Wakefield, Morecambe, Manchester and Liverpool. The Into The Woods film tent was a collaboration between CineYorkshire, Sheffield Doc/Fest, and Leeds Film Festival and the zine libraries, fancy-dress boutiques and various art collectives had all travelled from nearby cities. As much as I love and enjoy London, celebrating non-London-centric art and culture is increasingly important to me and I think that's why Beacons ticked so many boxes for me, by showcasing this in the foothills of the Yorkshire dales.

Oh hey Shane Meadows, kitsch galore inside the Everyday is Like a Sundae van, ...more ale, our 'Camping Under the Stars' nest, Nanon screenprinting and showing off her bounty from the Urban Outfitters arts station. 

I'd also like to add a little postscript to Charlie at Urban Outfitters and the two Simons at iLikePress who sorted us out with tickets for the festival and allowed us to have such a bloody great time. We didn't need convincing that Beacons was going to be brilliant but we were 'sold' regardless.