Mosaic.

Today my band ‘Gravity Dave’ have made available an early mix of one of our original songs, ‘Mosaic’.

Now, I can sit here and tell you why you should listen to it, that it ‘rocks’ and suchlike (it does), but that’s not really what I’ve got this blog for.

So instead, I’m going to use this particular chunk of cyber space to look at the lyrics, do a bit of a self-critique and explanation of the process by which I get lyrics together. Of course this changes from song to song, but some elements remain constant throughout the process.

This may seem a little self-indulgent, but we all listen to and absorb song lyrics every day without giving them too much thought (unless they are particularly strong or controversial) and I would wager that a whole host of music lovers wouldn’t give much heed to poetry while still being able to recite the words to hundreds of their favourite songs. So today is an exploration of the lyric. And to top it all, you can listen to the song afterwards, if you like.

Ever remember school assemblies where the teacher would take the Lord’s Prayer line by line, examining the nuance and meaning of each word? Well, we did, every term. It was interesting (the first time around) and stopped it being a drone of syllables we all strung together in a lazy drawl every morning. Whatever your beliefs, whatever text you are studying are hearing, conscious awareness of the moment, the content and the context is much better than an apathetic wave of indistinct noises passing through you, passing by you.

Funnily enough, that scene, sitting cross-legged in a cold school hall, listening and learning, putting your hand up to be spoken to, taking it all in, forms the basis of ‘Mosaic’, as you can see in the first verse:

Dusty floors, cross legged and cold. Rusted doors, criss-cross windows. You clap and fall down.

                The ‘criss-cross’ windows are those safety glass door windows you get in public places, schools, hospitals and such like, where within the glass pane there is a black metal grid. Clapping and falling down, well, as I remember, there used to be several games like that.

Raise your hand, and comply. Understand, we’re all trying to not let you down my friends.

                Here we start to get the theme of the piece. This song started as an idea about conformity, the lack of critical thinking, the architects of our personalities from cradle to grave, concentrating on the most malleable time of our lives, school. In this case, primary school. Now I’m not saying I had a bad time at primary school, I didn’t, but I want to contrast the very ‘English’ Methodist school upbringing I had against the anxiety I often feel now, the world being as it is. It may have been okay for me, but education was very rigid, very set-in-its-ways, very, well English, I’ll say again.

On a technical note, when you hear the song, you’ll hear that the word ‘trying’ both forms the end of the line and the start of the next, split in half by the syllable’s. I like doing this, it’s fun.

So that’s the first verse. I’ve built on the theme I have in mind with the imagery of my school days. Onto the chorus.

We’d never say it but you are Mosaic, please stand far way and you’ll get the full picture.

                Now we get the first mention of the title, Mosaic. If memory serves me well, this was a natural progression from the preceding ‘we’d never say it’. It’s cool when you can get one word to rhyme with two or more others. Of course ‘say-it’ and ‘Mosaic’ are not true rhymes, rhyming as they do on the vowel sounds of the ‘a’ and ‘i’, but  it’s not tenuous and passes by the ear well I think.

Once I found the word ‘Mosaic’ (a great word, don’t you think?), the rest of the chorus can start to be constructed around it. Obviously, standing away to get the full picture is a feature of mosaic’s – close up they are just a senseless amalgam of shapes and colours.

We’d never risk it a broken statistic, we’ll stick to the past and the pain and the scripture.

You may have noticed that the voice changes in this section too. I’m now speaking as ‘the man’, as it were (such a hippy). This is not to blame anyone specifically, but our education system was provided to us at the whim and prudence of the wealthy and utilitarian. Although there are some great people doing great things to recognise and nurture individuality and critical reasoning, it is hardly the main aim of the system. No, let’s face it, the main aim of the system is to compartmentalise us into an economic unit and classification to enable statistics to be drawn and activities planned on a global scale. That’s just the truth of it, not even hidden. Now more than ever our kids are being ear-marked for their future demographic from the moment they walk into school. That’s why ‘we’d never say’ that you are a complex picture of many aspects, and not ‘risk’ producing a broken statistic (one that breaks out of the prescribed parameters), and we will stick to traditional teaching. The use of the word scripture here is just to reflect the lack of choice we had in our spiritual/religious teachings at school (or exploration of the alternatives). The ‘pain’ is a lyrical liberty, but can mean the net-effect of all these considerations.

We’re trying to reach you, to reach you, to reach you… etc..

This is the hook line of the chorus that I ‘ramp up’ from a chant to a high-scream! It is a mantra of education I think, I hear it a lot in interviews with various ministers. Simultaneously trying to ‘reach’ through and connect with the individual while trying to fit them into a starched curriculum. Onto verse two.

                Afternoon’s, bruised knees and fights, silver spoons, stay out of sight from playground kings.

Break-time! Everyone loved break-time right? Unless you were being bullied or what-not, and then it was shit. I went through patches of this. It’s not nice. When I moved to Stoke with my family aged 9, my accent was different. I was sometimes accused of being ‘posh’, which was funny seeing as I had moved further South from Scarborough, my parents were originally from Middleborough and Essex and from a ‘proper’ working class background. But kids are kids. This is just a hark back to the ‘rule of the playground’ where the kids who liked to taunt and bully roamed free, and the rest of us just tried to get on with it. Thankfully, the vast majority of us.

Broken bones, shattered by words, sticks & stones, don’t even hurt, don’t even sting, here comes the break…

Having said all that about ‘kids will be kids’, I’m sure some of you experienced the old ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ line when trying to tell an adult about some nasty piece of work giving you a hard time? I always thought it was a cop-out, I think I still do. Words are one of, if not the, most powerful weapon in our arsenal. They may not have the immediacy of weapons, but without them, there would be no weapons. I can hardly see us grunting our way to the discovery of combustion and ballistics. Language, words, as has been well described before by much greater minds than mine, just chip, chip away, constantly being  rearranged, altered, strung together and stored. Surges of meaning and revelation build over centuries, generations, and sometimes can spark in a moment and change everything. If you think that words can’t hurt, you are not giving them the reverence and respect they deserve. As for the ending line, that’s a little joke, it is both the ‘break’ of bones, and literally signalling the ‘break’ before the chorus.

Which brings us back to the chorus that in true rock/pop style, is a repeat of the first without deviation. This leads nicely into a musical outro that strips back the themes from the song and then builds them back up again into a climactic progression, underpinned by our drummers excellent tribal tom-tom backing.

Well, I enjoyed delving into that. Of course, when I wrote these words, I didn’t sit here and think of all this for each line. Generally, I start with either the theme or an interesting combination of words and then build it up from a mixture of ad-libbing at practice and good old graft with the pen and paper. My words are almost always led by rhyme, set within a context. That’s the challenge. Trying to find a word that fits without distorting the theme. On other occasions the song may be totally led by the sound of the words, purely for aural-aesthetic purposes. This leads to lyrics akin to Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ and ‘Come together’. They are celebrations of words, loosely held together, but more for their own sake. I like this but you can’t do it all the time, not if you want to convey any coherent association of ideas at least occasionally in your art-form. It would be like only ever writing stream-of-conscious monologues forever, which although fun, lack poignancy and depth.

If you read this and enjoyed it, please, please take a listen to the track which all being well, should be posted below here. I am lucky to have such a talented group of guys working on these songs to set my words to. Musically I love this piece but am only responsible for the melody, my guitar parts and maybe the chords of the chorus… (can’t remember right now!) I could write a whole other blog on the musical construct of this song, but maybe I’ll save that for another piece, another time. Also, if you like it, give us a ‘like’ on Facebook (linked below) & reverbnation, there are plenty more songs coming and we gig regularly. Thank you.

Listen here:

http://www.reverbnation.com/gravitydave/song/18135122-mosaic-studio-demo

Like us here:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

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We’re all in this together?

I’m sure you’ve heard the line ‘we’re all in this together’ before. It came from Cameron in 2011 and has since (quite rightly) been used as a stick to beat him with as every new divisive and top-heavy policy has been introduced.

Well I think we’ve been getting our assessment of this statement wrong. I think we erroneously assumed that when he said ‘we’ he meant, you, me, them, everybody, everybody… (cue the music). However, I think it’s much more likely that when he said ‘we’ he meant, the conservatives, the liberal democrats, labour, large swathes of the media and the business community, plus a few billionaire types. ‘We’ are not part of the ‘we’.

I am what you could call a ‘disillusionist’ – that is, I am disillusioned by the whole framework of this country (and others) and believe that to be a legitimate position in itself. Unfortunately there is no place in this democracy for people like me to have our say, as we are by our very nature, not interested in engaging with the people who currently run it and the systems that prop it up. Also, by the fact that our position crosses over with that of anarchists, we are easily attacked and dismissed.

For example, I don’t really want to vote for any party. No-one is saying the things I want to hear, given that I want to see a truly radical overhaul of the way things are done. Therefore, if I don’t vote, I am ‘apathetic’. I’m not. I am very engaged with this country, just not the people and business interests running it.

I want to see true redistribution and an end to speculative and destructive financial practices that benefit a few at the expense of the many. I believe this world has enough resources to support this vision. For that, I am called an ‘idealist’, which apparently is a bad word (probably because it has the word ‘idea’ in it). It may have other definitions, but for me it means that we can and should be better. We have the capacity to be so  much better. But those who mock ‘idealism’ are usually the people running the show, who either can’t or won’t think past the structures and restrictions we have placed on ourselves, and incidentally, do very well out of keeping the status quo.

I don’t believe that most, if any, of the wars we have started or supported, at least during my lifetime, have been necessary, and I have a strong suspicion that they have been motivated for the greater part by the acquisition and security of foreign resources for our own needs (and when I say ‘our’ I mean the western central banks, arms and energy trade etc. We suffer for wars, they profit). For this I am called unpatriotic, even though I appreciate the bravery of the armed forces, I just don’t want to see them dying for unjust reasons (or any, ideally).

When I have my ‘1984’ moment and see the mainstream media gradually ‘flip’ the news so that a financial crisis, caused by speculating investors and dodgy hedge fund schemes, turn into a ‘public services structural deficit’ and my reasonable brain starts thinking, hang on, we didn’t cause this, and every major political party seems to be going along with it, and the banks keep on going, and the bonuses keep on flowing, and trillions of currency is taken out of our countries and given to private companies, and we suffer – I am called a conspiracy theorist.

I can’t win really. I don’t want to try and ‘change’ the system from within, and even if I did, I doubt I’m the only person who thinks and feels like this, and I guess there must be a lot of people who have these thoughts and have tried to do this in the past. Where are they? Where are the voices in the system that say, “it’s not about percentages and statistics and interest rates and GDP and immigrants and benefits, it’s about you, it’s about those people who ‘benefit’ phenomenally from the system you maintain and uphold. How is taking £50 quid a week from a family who needs it going to compare to the trillions of unpaid tax sitting in offshore accounts? One persons unpaid tax could be our NHS, our schools. This whole system is corrupt.” – Where are those voices? I hear them in the streets, on the internet, but not in the media, not in the commons. So they either a) Don’t exist (unlikely given the times we live in) or b) try and fail to enter the system or c) try and are prohibited/blocked/blackmailed or threatened out of the system.

Have you seen the party funding from donors? You can download them. I did. (http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/party-finance/PEF-online-registers) Millions of pounds pumped into the parties by individuals and businesses/organisations. How can one person stand a chance unless they are the basically the mouthpiece for a vested interest? Even for the emerging parties, even for the old liberals, it is nigh impossible for them to ever get a majority because of the construct of our democracy. So one person, who has the answers, but doesn’t have the money, has no chance.

So, I just keep on watching, waiting for something I can get behind that doesn’t smack of compromise or appeasement, and actually seems to represent this view*. In the meantime, I continue in this country, this world, much as everyone else does. Yes, there is always someone worse off, but why should we aim for the lowest common denominator? Where is the evidence that this world won’t continue to work without people doing dead-end low paid jobs for their entire lives in order to satisfy some bond-holder or investor? But that’s what we are told needs to happen so that the little green arrow behind the newsreader can point up and we can ogle over some decimal points while all around us the services are being strangled, the poor are getting poorer, the sick are killing themselves to avoid the misery of enforced work or destitution. We are told by rich people to work in poor jobs (spiritually and financially) and live poorer lives than they do, and we take it.

If you are spiritual, then you should aim higher for yourself and others, if you are atheist, then you should live by your mantra that this in ‘one life to be used’ and not accept this one spark of existence to be subdued and dimmed by others. Because we are all in it together, we physically exist in this space and time, and those few people who cling to wealth and power need to be brought back into the fold with the rest of us so that we can move on from this ridiculous situation they have put us in and start looking after ourselves and each-other in a balanced and fair world. And if you say things like that, they call you a hippy. Good. I’d rather be a hippy than a greedy, power crazed bastard any day.

* A common response to this argument is ‘well, what’s the alternative?’ – Well, I honestly believe that it is enough in itself to simply express concern with how things are now, so that people can come together and start figuring out the alternative. Most people don’t have the time and resources to dedicate to writing manifesto’s and canvassing others opinions within the current system, so it is paradoxical to expect them to have done this. Let’s start with the ‘no suitable candidate’ box, or true power of recall for our MPs and see how quickly the system collapses anyway unless they make genuine changes. Let’s start dedicating some air time to the many groups who have devised alternative social models and hear what they have to say first. But to do this, we need first to know that it is us who are in control of our our future, and not the defenders of the old guard, even if the current system has to continue for some time in the interim.

Unearthed Episode 3 – Miners March Choir

I am very proud to present the performance of a choral piece I wrote for the Unearthed project, remembering the tragedy at Lidice and the donations by the Miners of Stoke on Trent who vowed that ‘Lidice shall live!’ and pledged a days pay until the end of WWII to rebuild the village destroyed by the Nazis.

The piece consists of 6 parts, three harmonies constitute the ‘Follow’ line (though the harmonies don’t come in until the end), and then 3 melody lines run over each other after a staggered introduction.

I wrote this piece not knowing if we would have a full choir or just a handful of volunteers. As it happened, we ended up with the excellent Stoke 6th Form performing arts group and additional volunteers.

It is my first composed and performed piece for harmony voices, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, especially considering how little time the guys had to learn, practice and choreograph the various entrances and routes of the melody groups that entered from three different angles to eventually join the backing group on stage.

I wrote this to be simple for each individual part, but when everyone is singing together, it is hard work to keep your ear on the beat, not waiver from your melody, and project. But they all did a fantastic job and I was so impressed when I heard it on the day.

I had the added honour of joining them for the performance, and that really helped me appreciate how well they had all put this together when I was fretting about my key, stage position, movements, projection!

The song is based on the poem I wrote ‘Barnett’s few’ – each verse is a melody. In the end due to time constraints, we didn’t include the final couplet outro, and opted for a unison ‘Follow, Follow!’ after a section of hummed melodies. This was worked out by the group themselves and I thought it was really effective in the end.

Anyway, please do take the time to have a watch and listen and if you enjoy it, visit http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk and make your pledge to remember the story of Lidice and have your initials included on a new sculpture to be unveiled later this year in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, by the Victoria Hall where MP Barnett Stross first vowed that ‘Lidice shall live!’.

For more on the story that inspired this, visit the Unearthed website. The lyrics (poem) that I wrote for this (before composing the music) can be found here:

https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/barnetts-few/

 

Lidice Shall Live: How Stoke-on-Trent helped Lidice recover after Nazi Invasion

Inspired Film and Video

Lidice-Shall-Live

The destruction of Lidice, a village in Czech Republic, by the Nazis during World War II is an important, but little known part of European history. In 1942, Hitler ordered the arrest and execution of Lidice residents, and sanctioned the destruction of the village. Of the 488 Lidice natives, only 17 children survived, having been placed with German families. News of the Lidice tragedy spread, and inspired Stoke-on-Trent city councillor, Sir Barnett Stross, to enlist the help of local coal miners to rebuild Lidice. Stross worked with the miners to launch the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign, to raise funds for survivors to rebuild their village. Despite the strain of war-time recession, the city of Stoke-on-Trent raised £32,000 (the equivalent of £1 million in today’s terms) to help restore Lidice.

Although the story is an inspiring, key part of Stoke-on-Trent’s history of internationalism, it remains relatively unknown. It was a piece…

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The Napoli.

Continuing the theme a little from last week’s blog about Leek (see https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/totally-leek/), today I am going to try my hand at restaurant critique, having finally visited Leek’s new pizzeria/bar, The Napoli (http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)

As usual when I stray into a new area, I have to point out that I am not a food/restaurant critic, however, I do have a mouth, tongue and digestive system, and eyes and a brain, so I think I meet a good deal of the qualifications one actually needs to talk about such things, though I may be lacking a little in arrogance. In all honesty, I am a ‘food fan’ (who isn’t?), I enjoy food from all corners of the world, I like to try new things, I love the experience of new tastes and appetising presentation, and I like to cook a bit too. So I suppose I do have a little foodie inside me, I mean, I do watch Masterchef, so I must be almost as qualified as Greg Wallace.

I’ve known about the impending arrival of this new eatery for some time. As I’ve walked by on my way from/to various engagements in Leek I’ve peeked through the glass fronted old registry-office on the high-street, wondering what would be installed next (it had a brief stint as a local co-operative during 2012). As I saw various grey igloo looking elements being installed, and the familiar framework of a bar start to take shape, I was more than happy when I heard it was going to be an Italian with “one of them Pizza oven things” as the centre-piece and unique feature.

After patiently waiting for The Napoli to open, and then for some reason taking three weeks to find a suitable excuse to get up there for a meal, I can finally now report back  on my findings. I’m going to take this one step at a time, just like I did last night as I walked over with my family party of 6 to our 8pm booking.

As you enter, there are a few things that immediately draw your eye. Firstly, the huge pizza oven in the back-centre of the room. The chef’s around it are building and firing pizza’s for the already busy service underway, which at 8pm on a Wednesday night, shows great promise. Next my eyes float over the tops of heads to the large bookcase at the far end, stretching from window to partition, stacked with what looks like an interesting array of literary fun. I imagine that for a more casual day-time visit, this feature must make a relaxed lunch or coffee more engaging for those of us who like to read, but aside from that, it makes a great rustic feature as a backdrop. So from the bookcase the eyes pans left to right, back across the oven, to the bar and seating area by the street-side window. A few hand-pumps and stacked bottles hint at the promise of interesting beer, and the cosy corner looks inviting.

We get sat down pretty quickly, greeted politely and already expected. We are sat by the window, half of the party looking out, the other half looking back, with the pizza oven in their sight. It took me a while to realise why the eyes of those opposite me where slightly glazed and to the right of my eye-line: They were watching the fire, like men around a barbecue, fascinated by its dancing flames and glowing coals. This soon passed however as we settled down and our drinks orders were taken and menu’s delivered.

The menu’s were two sides of A4, nicely presented but more importantly, simple and not convoluted. We’ve all seen enough episodes of Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares to know that less is more, and it makes me more confident as a punter. So there is a choice of four pizza’s, about half a dozen main meals that are not pasta based, and about a half dozen that are pasta based. Nice, easy. There are also a selection of starters and side’s, so if you really wanted, you could construct a whole meal in the traditional Italian fashion of anti-pasta, meat course, salad course, pasta etc… but they options also allow for the more British, starter/main/dessert order of things. Also, nestled between the bookcases, a specials board offers a few tantalising additions that already have us talking.

“What’s Puttanesca?” we ask each other, on the off chance that one of my family members may have a secret and extensive knowledge of traditional Italian dishes.

After a quick word with ‘Mr Google’, we find the literal meaning is “Whore-style spaghetti”, hmmm, spaghetti whore. I’m sure this is lost in translation somewhat, and the important thing we find is that it is a salty, spicy pasta, usually made with olives and/or anchovies and chilli. The combination of which wins over my step-Dad.

Also on the specials board, ‘Tagliatelle Carbonara’. I discovered the joy of Carbonara not long ago when I finally bought myself a pasta maker in a frenzy of post-Masterchef kitchen ambition and managed somehow to make the most beautiful Carbonara with home-made Tagliatelle and had one of those “where have you been all my life?” moments. It seemed my brother shared the enthusiasm for this dish, so two more orders were in the bag.

Thankfully my partner went for the fungi-pizza option, so I knew I would be getting to try that out myself (not that I eat food from my partner’s plate or anything… (I do)). There was also a mushroom tart and ravioli ordered, and that was our main’s sorted.

For starter’s the cold-meat platter was popular, served with an olive oil-balsamic dip and fresh bread side. Two of us (including me) went for the chilli and garlic bruschetta, which had just the right heat of spice and crunchy fried texture. A garlic bread on a wonderfully thin base and a nice little portion of sautéed potatoes (with I guess rosemary/garlic) finished off the starter’s. From all accounts, all starters were well received and quickly demolished.

Not long after starters where cleared away, a good length of time to enjoy the after-glow of the first morsels and whet the appetite for the follow up, out came the mains. The Puttanesca kept my step Dad enthralled for every mouthful, which is a wonder for a man who favours curry above all else. The olive and spice must have done it for him. Mine and my Brother’s Carbonara was made with fantastic pasta, broad, thick and perfectly cooked. It’s hard to tell with dishes like this because they vary so much from region to region, country to country, as they travel and get adapted in cultures, but this was not a ‘runny’ Carbonara. The cream and egg had just about cooked around the pasta, making it more of a textured affair. Whether this is more traditional or a mistake I don’t know or care, because it tasted amazing.

I leapt in to rescue my girlfriend who was struggling to finish the plate sized, thin crispy pizza. The slices I had were amazing. I love pizza like that, thin base that both cracks upon biting and has a little give in the dough, a fresh tomato sauce, naturally sweet and soaked ever so gently into the base, and mozzarella and mushrooms to top the whole thing of, but not layered on in sickly slabs ‘USA’ style, just nicely balanced and each a feature in itself. Yes, next time I go, as lovely as the pasta was, I’m having one of them to myself, oh yes.

From what I was told, the ravioli and tart were also equally wonderful. So, after we finished our well-portioned mains (no belly-busting here, good balanced, taste-packed continental portions), we turned to the dessert menu.

Now, I knew about the dessert menu in advance, seeing as three quarters of it is provided by my good friends at ‘Miscos chocolates’ (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) whom I have rather a lot to do with, being as they are wonderful people who also just happen to make the tastiest luxury Belgian chocolates you will ever eat. Especially for the Napoli they have devised three desserts. First we have the ‘chocolate cake to end them all’… this really is a treat. A flour free, almost soufflé like chocolate cake that will turn cake-haters around and send cake-lovers to some near-transcendental state of being. It truly is a great bit of sticky, moist, deep chocolaty slice of heaven, and along with a bit of soft ice-cream, it is the perfect end.

But that’s not it! You also have the choice of two ganache-filled chocolate cups, served with a liquor of your choice. My brother and his girlfriend went for this option, and they marvelled as much at the sight of them as they did the taste. And finally, from the Misco options, Panna cotta, with a choice of a raspberry coulee or honey, Tuaca and Hazelnut topping. Now I tried these in the development stages, and I went from Panna cotta ignorance, to Panna cotta bliss. They are smooth, sweet and refreshing on the palette after all the other wonderful flavours of the evening. Again, all the deserts were balanced, neat portions, as they should be. I should mention there was also a range of ice-creams available.

So, after the desserts were thoroughly obliterated (not a crumb or fleck left on any plate I could see), we finished our drinks (some nice trad ale’s available, though the name of the brewery escapes me at the moment), our bill was sorted and we meandered off and away through Leek to finish off the night in the Roebuck for yet more nice trad ales, which I can say with certainty came from the brilliant Titanic brewery.

All in all, it was a great night, with great food, a great atmosphere and timely service. There may be a few little things that as the business matures will tighten up a little here and there (could do with a beer menu, maybe some complimentary olives and bread when you first arrive), but for a pretty busy service I think they did really well for a young business in its first month and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’m going again, next week, this time with my former work colleagues, and this time, I’m having a pizza, all to myself.

Totally Leek

Image

(Take a bow Marc…!)

For those of you who don’t know, I have strong connections with a sleepy little market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands, at the foot of the peak district, called ‘Leek’.

I worked there for about ten years in my former life at a building society, I lived there for three years, my band ‘Gravity Dave’ (www.facebook.com/gravitydave) are based there, I ran a music festival for the last 4 years (www.leeksummerjam.com – unfortunately on hold for 2013 while we take time to consider our options), and best of all, I have good friends there.

So I have taken an interest, I am a Leek ‘fan’ if you prefer. I may not live there any more, but I am there every week for rehearsals, and often on other odd days for gigs & visits. Nowadays, I live in Longton with my partner, and as nice as it is, well, it’s just not Leek.

I try and explain this to people when I talk about how much I miss the place (even though I’m often there). The usual explanation goes something like,

“You can just walk out of your door you know, and it’s nice, just being able to ramble round the shops, maybe see a few familiar faces. Have a pint. Oh, and it’s great when there’s a market on…”

Because that’s what you get in Leek, a proper yet inclusive localism. Maybe it’s just because I’ve joined the ranks of the self-employed, but I know so many traders, musicians, artists and skilled people who live and work there. And maybe that’s why it was so nice to see the opening of Leek’s first ‘pop-up emporium’ last Thursday (04/07/13).

It’s bitter sweet in a way, because the good people of the unique gift-shop ‘Colloco’ (http://www.colloco.co.uk/) have decided to wind up their high-street presence, but luckily for the rest of us, the driving force of the ‘Totally Locally’ campaign in Leek (http://totally-locally.co.uk/leek/), Colloco’s Marc Briand, has decided to allow other traders in for the final couple of months of the tenure, to road-test Leek’s first pop-up.

And so it was, on Thursday, while taking a swift break from a gruelling day of setting up recording equipment for a Gravity Dave session (and it was gruelling, there are about 5 sets of stairs to our lofty practice room, and they wind and turn like an Escher painting), I decided to nip out for some grub before the big push. Our fantastic volunteer producer (another Leek talent, a man who knows everything there is to know about recording and is a talented musician to boot) asked if I could pick up some biscuits from the health-food shop, but alas, it was closed. So a quick call later and I was asked to grab “a nice Tartlet from Pronto”. Pronto is the gorgeous little Deli, which handily for me, is also directly opposite the newly opened Pop-Up shop.

So, clutching my bag containing my ‘nice tartlet’ and other goodies, I wandered into the waiting crowd at the official opening. There were lots of smiling faces and a vibe of energy running through the place, as producers, customers and local dignitaries gathered round to browse, chat, promote, network, and nibble on the free snacks (also provided by Pronto).

Once the photos were done and the ribbon cut, we all filed back in to the sound of Dominic Morgan (the hardest working musician in the North from what I can tell – check out his fantastic acoustic numbers here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dom-Morgan/411516972218221?fref=ts), and continued our joyful perusing.

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First stop, for multiple reasons, was the wonderful Miscos chocolates stand, (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk). I say multiple reasons because a) I love their chocolates and wanted to bag myself a salted-caramel cup, and b) because ‘Cisco’ from ‘Miscos’ is the bassist in my band and I wanted to let him know how the set up was going, and c) because Meg & Cisco from Miscos are very good friends of mine and I’ve watched them build up this amazing business, and helped out where I can. The fixture looked amazing, as you can see:

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After that, I started my quick scanning of the rest of the wares. I’ve spoke to Marc about the whole set up before, hoping that if it continues long enough I may well start my own book-stand to sell a few of my upcoming self-published titles. He told me about the many and diverse local producers in the area that he has discovered thanks to the cooperation that has emerged out of the ‘totally locally’ campaign. That was certainly evidenced here, and this is only the first brave batch of traders to have a pop at the pop-up format.

From clothing (I particularly like the ‘Choose Leek’ range, see below), to jewellery, haberdashery, a great range of craft cards and gifts (I bought myself a modest little notebook and badge set from the fun and cheerful ‘Crap Cat’ range, below) and even the odd bit of local publications and art from the ‘Borderland Voices’ group (http://www.borderlandvoices.org.uk/). Plus a whole lot more that I had neither the time or memory to list here for now. Just go and see it, that’s the best way.

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So, after my quick browse, purchase, snacks and salted caramel cup (yes!), I left them to it so I could walk back along the historic market town  of Leek to my practice room and get on with the job of recording. It was perfect timing. Our producer relished his tartlet, I got to see the pop-up shop, and a great evening of recording lay ahead of me.

These kind of days happen in Leek all the time. You pop out for something and you see something else. It may be one of the many Markets (the fine-food market every first Sunday is a must…), or the local, independent restaurants, cafe’s, pubs and shops that are working together to show what high-streets can and should look like. They are defying the odds when you look at the topography of Leek only to see it is surrounded on all sides by massive national/global supermarkets, all trying to turn every town into a boring carbon-copy vision of a generic shopping-hell future, undercutting prices and sapping character from every corner of the country. But not in Leek, not yet, and hopefully not ever. Not while we have the cooperation and enthusiasm of the local producers working with each-other and the council (when possible) to stage events, offer local discounts, start pop-up shops (hopefully one of many to come), put on amazing markets and generally just be a cool place for a day out, or (if you can convince your fiancé to move there, which I’m working on), a life lived.

Where else can you… (in no particular order):

  • Grab a slice of stone-baked pizza over a continental larger… (The Napoli. http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)
  • Try the rare-bread meat’s, artisan bread, chocolates, and local brew beers on your way through town (Fine food market)
  • Drop into a few antique centres, just for the fun of it if you like, they’re always interesting places, full of little treasures (the many antique centres)
  • Freshen up with a Belgian beer or two (Den Engels Belgian Bar)
  • Drop in and browse a selection of wares from local producers in a friendly and colourful atmosphere (totally locally pop-up – https://www.facebook.com/TotallyLocallyLeek)
  • Grab a posh-oatcake and choose from dozens of real ales from the good people of Titanic brewery (The Roebuck)
  • Have a coffee, see an exhibition, or catch a few bands in the historic ‘Foxlowe’ community arts centre (http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/) (The Situation – original music nights every month at the Foxlowe, amongst other events, https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815?fref=ts).
  • Pop into a wine tasting evening (http://www.wineandwhisky.com/), drop in to the Deli for a ‘nice tartlet’ and wander over to the beautiful park for a sit down, drink and a snack…

These are just a few things that spring to mind, there are lots more, and it’s only a small place! I know other towns also do or are starting to do this kind of thing, I just hope they all follow through on the experience and bring this laid-back yet skilled and productive continental style brand of localism to the whole nation. (I secretly cheer a little inside every time I hear of another multi-national chain store going into administration. That model is broken and if we keep up with doing it ourselves and supporting local producers, maybe even the MPs will take note and start reducing the over-inflated business rates fixed by the mass-buying power of the faceless corporations… you never know).

So another great day in Leek. If you’ve not been, visit. If you want to know about the ‘Totally Locally’ model, feel free to contact the guys through the links provided in this article, they are all about best practice and idea sharing, and maybe you can make a Leek of your own, in your own town, supporting your neighbours and local traders, providing skilled and independent jobs, making the high street a nice place to be again.

Well done Leek. Keep it up.

A Guest Blog by Tipsy McElroy.

This week, as I am rather busy, I have decided to allow a guest blogger a spot on my blog. May I introduce to you, Tipsy McElroy, the home help guru.

Home tips, by Tipsy McElroy.

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We live such hectic lives now, don’t we? I know I do, and technology, far from being the shiny robot help that was promised to us in the 1950s, has turned out to be even more of a distraction. It’s hard to get anything done for the barrage of tweet’s and facebook’s, ever demanding of your precious time and energy. It’s a wonder any housework gets done at all, but don’t fear! Tipsy is here to show you a few tips that can help elevate your day by blasting through those tiresome chores in super-quick, fibre-optic speed! And, for all you planet-lovers out there, it’s organic!

Tip #1. How to clean an oven in super-quick time, with a potato.

Tired of spending hours scrubbing away at the greasy blackened carbon coating of an over-used and under loved oven? I know I was, until one day, I accidentally forgot to put the oven on when making a baked potato family (for those who don’t know, a baked potato family is when you pick two or more potatoes of increasing smaller sizes and bake them all together – it’s a great way to get kids eating healthy potatoes! Who wants to eat mummy-potato? Me! Me!) Anyway, when I returned to my oven, two hours later, guess what? It was as clean as the day I bought it from the police auction.

So get your spuds out, pop them in, and wait for the magic to happen!

Tip #2. Blocked drains? How to get that waste moving again, with a potato.

We’ve all been there. Covering up the smell of our blocked drains when entertaining guests by constantly having to pretend you’ve broken wind. It’s no wonder nowadays, with all the saturated fat in our poisonous food, dripping down the plug hole when we wash up, oozing out of our pores and into the bath tub.

I used to wait hours for commercially available bleach to do its work, literally just watching it slowly erode the fatty deposits though a series of small camera’s installed in the plumbing (a great buy by the way – ‘STV’ (sewage TV) – available for as little as £1000 from most Russian embassies). But not anymore! Imagine my surprise when after having my usual ‘mash and a shower’ session (one of my guilty pleasures), I accidentally slipped and dropped my bowl of mashed potatoes down the sink-hole. Oh dear, I thought, best get the plunger and go fire up the control room to track its movements. But when I switched on the monitors, what did I see? The most gleaming, capacious network of pipes and u-bends since they day they were first installed by that lovely man we found by the pub bins that fateful evening in ‘84.

So, if like me, you enjoy taking a little shower and eating mash potato at the same time, why not try dropping a little down that blocked drain, and you’ll smell the difference!

Tip #3. Cats at the furniture again? Mucky dog paws on the recliner? Rat hair? Try a potato.

There’s a reason the phrase ‘couch-potato’ exists, and I can tell you, it’s not what you think! I have three cats, half a dog and a number or rodents. As much as I love them, they do make a mess of my three piece! (we’ve all been there). Once upon a time, much of my day was spent sponging and rolling the furniture for cat/dog/rat hair and muddy footprints, only for it to all happen again when the automatic timed locks in the laboratory would open up for exercise hour.

So it was that one day, after an unusually large shipment of potatoes from the Korean ambassador (his little way of a thank-you, bless), that 7pm came along with the familiar hiss of the airlock and the scampering footsteps of my genetically modified brood as usual, but then, something wonderful happened. Instead of the normal scratching at the windows and trying to eat the sofa (and each other), they all curled up together for an adorable little sleep on the spud sacks. And so it has been ever since.

So, simply leave a few sacks of plutonium grade spuds lying around your living room and watch the little darlings relax – leaving you free to get on with contesting that niggling court order you’ve been meaning to get around to!

Tip #4 – Money problems? Try a potato.

My last tip for today is one that not only will save you time, it will save you money, so two big ticks for this big tip!

I discovered this tip one day at Hyde park, awaiting my weekly transaction with Red Eagle (not his real name of course! That would be telling!). As I sat with my briefcase ready on my lap, my GPS sensor chip burning away under the thin layer of skin behind my right ear, I reached into my pocket for a small snack, and what did I find? A wad of unmarked, used £50 notes! Well, I soon realised that it was meant to be in the case with the rest of that month’s bribe, but before I put it back, I reached into my other pocket, and pulled out the snack as originally intended: A glorious raw, average sized potato.

As I sat there, £5000 in one hand, an average potato in the other, I found something quite startling. They weighed almost exactly the same! Don’t worry if you’re not very good at guessing weights, take my word for it, my cybernetic implant takes all the hassle out of that sort of thing. Anyway, this happy accident made me realise that for anonymous money drops, you know, the one-off extortionists who rarely look inside the package and are probably too weak to follow up on the threats, the simple use of an average sized potato for every £5000 of notes in a briefcase is just the right weight to fool them long enough for hubby to get in a good shot as they walk away.

So next time you’re being bribed by some jumped up whistle-blower or Cyborg hunter, don’t waste good cash on the possibility that the set-up might go wrong – trick them with a potato! Remember, one average sized potato is £5000 in used £50 notes. For new season crops, adjust to one large for £2000 in £20’s. Do not use chips.

So that’s it for now folks! I hope you’ve found this helpful, and thanks to Garry for allowing me to use his blog. I’ve never met him, nor am I likely to. We don’t mix in the same circles, and I’m usually very heavily armed, and from the look of his blog, he’s a bit of a hippy pacifist. Peace not war and all that ideological anarchy. Bless. And don’t forget, the dead will rise! Be prepared!

Tipsy.

About the Author

Tipsy McElroy is the author of “1001 Ways to Hell” and “Good Housekeeping for the Digital Age”. She is a regular guest on ITV’s loose women, where she uses her skills as  a character actor to portray most of the audience. To contact Tipsy, please leave a comment, or if you’d prefer, £50,000 in used £50 notes in an unlocked briefcase by the Churchill memorial bench in Hyde Park (or approx ten average winter potatoes / 25 large new season).