So What Is Culture Then?

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Sean Dissington || 6th September

“Culture is what happens when somebody takes your art and feeds it to you”.

I read this quote a few days ago, and I keep coming back to it whenever I daydream (which happens with distressing frequency).

I’ve not been involved in the day-to-day machinations of the bid, but due to some work I’ve done and some of the people that I work with I’ve had more of an insight than ‘the man on the street’ might have done, and one thing has struck me.

Nobody knows what culture is.

We all know what our culture is, but culture, like all aspects of activities that a group of people undertake, is fluid. Do I love wandering through the Tate Modern and stopping for a drink in the members lounge? Yes. Do i enjoy reading a book about Soviet politics whilst enjoying a lovely Chablis? Yes. Do I love binge-watching Castle with a fish finger sandwich and a mug of tea so strong the spoon stands up in it? Damned right. Our cultural isn’t so simple to define as the sum of our education plus where we are on some socio-economic scale. Life experience, travel, our expectations for the future are all part of what we as individuals might fall back on as we try to understand what being a city of culture might mean. It’s a tough time for the city to be working this out, part way through our journey from manufacturing to service economy that started in the 1980s we’ve discovered that there are still elements of manufacturing that we are great at - we’re a city with an identity crisis. We aren’t really the Potteries (not in terms of pottery being our biggest export) but we are still a world renowned source of knowledge about ceramic process. We are so rooted in our past that it threatens our future, like that friend we’ve all had that can’t get over an ex.

It’s against this backdrop that we have to project an image of being ‘cultural’ if we are to succeed in the bid (I’m almost certain that the rules are a little tougher than that), and of course, it’s the sort of time that various agendas get wheeled out. “We should have a marble statue of Robbie along the M6”, “lets have more lantern parades”, “free kittens for everyone’ (I made that one up, and it’s a GREAT IDEA). Lots of people will benefit if Stoke-on-Trent wins the bid, many of them regular people who live and work here - previous CoC winners have seen investment in art, business and infrastructure all of which Stoke would benefit from. These translate in to employment offers, and ease of opening business, or monetising existing hobbies.

If we are to benefit in any way though, I think it should be from learning to ‘think different’ as Apple once said. We are more than Stoke and Vale, more than pot-banks, more than Robbie Willams and more than sodding Oatcakes. Taking inspiration from other cities isn’t denying who you are or where you’re from, it’s recognising that someone else has had a great idea. Just because there has never been a coding academy in the City doesn’t mean that there can’t or shouldn’t. Just like there’s no reason we can’t have an orchestra, a class on the alchemy of making paints and glazes for firing, or a ballet school - if as a city we value aspiration and are willing to work to progress ourselves then the only barriers are the ones we choose to place in our way. Don’t forget that we come from a city that built a fortune on clay. Clay. Just think about that for a moment.

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We’re a city on the up already - Hanley is getting a facelift, and parts of our polycentric city are really starting to have defined roles - allowing them to stand out amongst the five towns whilst still working within the constrains of the city. Investors are writing cheques to build large scale programmes such as new hotels confident that they will get the returns to replay the loans. This sort of change hasn’t happened in Stoke in the 37 years that I’ve been here. We won’t suddenly be thrown in to the dark ages if we aren’t the overall winners in December, to be honest I think we’ve won already.

There isn’t really a snappy conclusion I can write to draw this together, only to plead that the next time you see or hear someone scoff about an initiative that’s intended to improve the lives of people in the city, or your children’s prospects - challenge them on it. Why shouldn’t we have the best in digital training, or languages, or dog-grooming? Who decided that as a city we would settle for second best just because there are no coal mines any more - I know I didn’t vote for that, and neither did you.

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A NIGHT AT WOODSTOKE - KEELE UNI STUDENT BASH!

Leah Hamer

Arriving onto the winding roads of the Keele University campus to be hit with the sound of squealing students and thudding speakers, instantly sends a wave of nostalgia into the heart of this Keele graduate. Having experienced three Woodstokes in my undergraduate life, returning to witness a fourth event as an outsider, is truly a welcomed experience. 

Woodstoke is the Keele University’s end of term festival in which the lairy, young students celebrate the arrival of summer and freedom, with music and entertainment in the biggest forms. This year the Keele Student Union Events Team had coordinated an affair that was set to be their best yet. 

On the car park outside of the SU, was a parade of shining funfair rides from Earth Shakers to Twisters- all giving the students a jolt of adrenaline, mixed with a dizzy head and sickened stomach. Alongside this was a line of outdoor bars serving up ice cold Jägermeister, country ciders, hot food and candy floss. Amongst these was The Hippy Hippy Shake stall, with their music themed milkshakes including Circa Custard Whipped Waves and Heavytrakerz Galaxy- all coming with an optional shot of alcohol (Baileys, of course, being the necessary add on). Around the other side of the SU in The Outback, was a giant, inflatable igloo where you could grab your self an icy refreshment and dance the night away. 

The main attraction outside, however, was the glorious KUBE stage. KUBE is Keele University’s student-run radio station and TV enterprise who were proudly hosting the outdoor stage this year. As team members Aaron Godfrey, Tayla Dickinson and Ben Dowle all managed the stage (whilst simultaneously flying around a drone in the sky), it was a great surprise to see their other team mates performing too- including Manisha Chauhan who performed soft, acoustic covers, including Britney Spears’s Toxic, with her endearing voice. 

Later taking to the stage were newcomers Boston Sidecar, a local four-piece playing rough and ready grunge indie, who went down a treat with the growing crowd. They were soon followed by local music giant, John Dhali, covered in specks of glitter. He quickly acquired a sea of young fans, all chanting his name and taking photographs, as he sung his classic happy melodies with tracks like Ballad of a Holy Man, Here and Only One. As well as this he performed some more honest and haunting numbers such as Taste, in which he brought out his ukulele and silenced the audience. Ending on a cover of Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher he readied the whole crowd for the rest of the Woodstoke party to come. 

The time then came to move inside where you were hit with an abundance of options- in the Scruffy Squirrel you could play some pool and have a drink whilst listening to resident DJs mixing away, or you could head to K2 and grab the chance to see Heavytrakerz, Sneakbo or Jay Knoxx on the decks. The most popular choice was to head into The Ballroom, where Ben Malone played house classics in between intervals of other leading performances, including Circa Waves. 

On this gleaming May evening, Circa Waves could not have been a more perfect choice to perform, as the epitome of a summer band. Getting the sweaty crowd all worked up, they kicked off with Wake Up, before moving into their bouncing, happy tracks from their debut album, Young Chasers giving everyone the uplifting atmosphere that Circa Waves always conjure. Mixing in songs from their latest record, Different Creatures, which are significantly heavier and darker, the contrasts between the two albums worked perfectly together and showed off the bands impeccable skill set. As they left their two biggest singles, Fire That Burns and T-Shirt Weather until the end, an army of smartphones soared into the air to record the anthems. Full of energy and charisma, the entire band trooped on through the stifling heat and gave everyone the time of their lives. 

Although my time at Woodstoke was at an end, it was far from over for the rest of the crowd, who would continue on to witness Panjabi MC, a Pendulum DJ set and Nathan Dawe, before the doors would close at a whopping 5am. What a way to see the university year out. 

The Big Feast Returns

The Big Feast returns with a banquet of brilliant activity this August Bank Holiday!

REBEL Editorial || May 12th

Prepare for another amazing August Bank Holiday weekend as Appetite’s ‘The Big Feast’ returns to the streets of the city centre. Make sure you save the dates of Friday 25 and Saturday 26 August, as Appetite shares another smash-hit weekend of world-class music, theatre, dance and more. Two days that promise to be fun for all the family.

Steven Griffiths from Bentilee, a member of the Appetite Supper Club who help program the Festival says, “It’s so exciting in Stoke-on-Trent right now, as things hot up towards the City of Culture Bid for 2021. Appetite have led the way for the last few years by bringing some extraordinary events to our city. This year sees another great mix of entertainment, something for everyone and even better, you don’t have to pay a penny”.

This year, The Big Feast will witness an assortment of entertainment including: an hilarious hitman turned healer offering you holistic services in a taxi; a fabulously fiendish fox (not a real one) playing music; a hip-hop dance performance about football fans and an Urban Astronaut! There is much more to be announced and Appetite will be unveiling what else is coming up during the weekend soon, to keep people’s taste buds tingling.

The Big Feast will also host a ‘DIY Drive In Cinema’ for families, working with Flatpack Film Festival to invite families to build their own drive in car and sit in them to enjoy a series of film screenings suitable for all ages.

Gemma Thomas, Appetite’s Creative Producer said, “Each year we work with our Supper Club to select the finest events, projects and performances from the UK and international festival circuits. Our Supper Club is a combined group of local people who come together to help make decisions and select the content that goes into our calendar of events each year. The Big Feast has become a key cultural event for Stoke-on-Trent and it’s now great to see people making the Festival a part of their Bank Holiday plans, choosing to stay and enjoy activity in the city, rather than go elsewhere. I firmly believe festivals such as The Big Feast can be a contributory force towards making the city a more positive and vibrant place to live, work and play in.”

Appetite, led by New Vic Theatre, began in 2013 and four years on has attracted almost 400,000 audience members and participants. This is due to most of the shows being free or at very affordable prices, due to Arts Council England funding and taking places in various locations from hospitals to high streets.

Paul Williams, spearhead for the City of Culture Bid 2021 states the importance of Appetite to the city, “Appetite produce world-class events right here on our doorstep and target audiences who may not think art is for them. It is clear Appetite’s approach is working, making art more accessible and making sure people get to see a diverse range of high quality activity, inspiring the next generation of cultural makers, shapers and audiences. With their fantastic track record, Appetite adds a real strength to our City of Culture Bid, showing the world that The Potteries is one of the best places to be in the UK right now.”

The Big Feast is a member of the Without Walls Associate Touring Network, a group of festivals working together to extend the reach and benefits of the existing Without Walls programme in areas where there is low engagement with the arts, bringing high-quality outdoor work to diverse audiences across England. 

The Big Feast runs on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 August across Stoke-on-Trent City Centre. To find out more about the Festival visit www.appetitestoke.co.uk

"Barnstorming!" : The 86th Newcastle-under-Lyme Festival for Music, Speech and Drama

GLENN MARTIN JAMES

Across two weekends every March the Staffordshire town of Newcastle under Lyme hosts an event which has become a cultural landmark for the region, the Festival for Music, Speech and Drama. Beginning in 1931 this celebration of creativity has a venerable history, and is a major cultural influence in the region. A duel event, devoting one weekend to Speech and Drama, and the following to Music, the festival attracts performers from far and wide and has a team of formidable adjudicators, dispensing much sought advice, and awarding well-earned trophies to the lucky winners.

This is a much loved event, supported solidly, and with enormous loyalty and an admirable warmth shown by performers and fans alike. Many of the performers, individually or in their choirs and orchestras return annually to take part. This event has a following and support which is enviable to say the least, as many of the dedicated team of volunteers who run it took part and competed in the events when they were children themselves. With an unspoken but obvious affection they became involved as adults, taking over from parents to carry the torch onward, and now have adult children and grandchildren looking to do the same thing. The Festival is a part of life here, and as valued as sunshine or a favourite book.

As looked forward to as Christmas, and as anticipated as presents under the tree. There was a real sense of occasion in the air as the carpark filled up with the competitors arriving and the public flocking in for what they knew was going to be a real treat. On that opening weekend, the Speech and Drama heats were held at Newcastle under Lyme College, a huge and well-appointed building with thoroughly modern architecture. It was a wet Saturday in mid-March, cold and gloomy, but the warmth inside the building was perceptible, and noticeable at once. There were groups of children gathered throughout the building, mostly excited or filled with a performer’s Adrenalin, almost bouncing on invisible springs. Some of them had already performed and were filled with energy, having left the spotlight, others were filled with the nervous energy of those about to step up and do their thing. They had rehearsed and rehearsed, learnt their lines, practiced and polished. This was the big day.

Echoing chambers: Newcastle under Lyme College, elegant venue for the Drama and Spoken Word heats of the Festival.

In the media suite a performance has just ended and the applause has only now died down. Again there is that expectant Christmas Eve-like feeling in the air, as the Adjudicator is now writing. The silence when an adjudicator is writing is not unlike that of a library, except for the fact that the room is collectively breathing quietly, and respectfully keeping silent. There is a rapt attention and anticipation from everyone present, all trying not to break the silence in case it disturbs their concentration. There is a good sized congregation gathered in the room, and all eyes are discreetly focused on the pen in Adjudicator Carol Schroder’s hand, almost as if absently trying to read the words as they emerge and the ink marks them down on the paper.

Winning words: Adjudicator Carol Shroder (Far left) at work.

Where minutes ago all eyes were focused on a youngster in the heat and fire of a fresh performance, they now bask in the following sunset, waiting for the official judgement. And there is a formidable repertoire on display: Shakespeare, Anne of Green Gables, a sequence from Frankenstein, there is an enormous and delicious variety of the best culture has to offer selected for the performance menu, and the talent on display is, quite simply, stellar. These young performers are in love with words, and they do them admirable justice. Youngsters enunciate clearly, project, and a fire of confidence burns clearly behind their words. The works of playwright and author dance from their tongues, and these kids breathe life into Frankenstein and Shakespeare as if it were written yesterday.

It’s hard to believe that nearby Stoke-on-Trent and this area of Staffordshire are areas infrequently bought up in the media because of the issue of literacy. The evidence of bright and eloquent children from all over Staffordshire is hard to ignore, and clearly there is a passion for words and learning which this Festival, in particular, has fueled and cultivated for the best part of a century.

There is an excellent spirit of comradery amongst the competitors, and although each of them has the bright eyed hope that THEY will win, and a passionate desire to succeed, none of them are affected by any negative vibes. This event is not marred by petty rivalries or the spites which can flare up in a competitive hot-house atmosphere. This isn’t a flashy excuse for a talent show, an end of the pier fight to the death like Britain’s Got Talent or The Voice. There is touch of real inspiration here, a touch of the speculating muse, dipping in and out of respective heads, and as such there is a genuine respect between the gladiators.

This is a meritocracy, a festival where striving for excellence is recognised. Some of the youngster have been competing for a couple of years, confident veterans at the age of 12 who have been taking part since they were 6 years old. The youngsters greet each other delightedly in the sprawling terracotta painted halls of the college, cheerfully wishing one another good luck. And the thing is, they really mean it. A lot of the competitors look forward to seeing each other every year as they know they will be taking part together. Some of them are at the same school as each other and happily flag one another down, as well as friends from elsewhere. All decked out in smart clothes and ready for the important moment, hands slightly damp from anticipation and damning up words which will soon burst forwards, they are fired up with confidence. Yet this is wholly inclusive, with newcomers welcomed warmly. This is no local festival for local people, and all are welcomed with equal enthusiasm.

The Festival is dedicated to helping improve literacy, confidence, and the chances for children in life, tying the subject matter which will be performed to the schools syllabus. This of course redoubles the confidence of the performers to pass their exams and to succeed in life and their careers, and the Festival has a proud history of propagating success.

One such dedicated performer is Zagham Farham, a very eloquent 12 year old who has just been elected the member of the Youth Parliament for Newcastle under Lyme. Zagham is a veteran of the Festival, having been competing since he was seven years old, and having won two years ago. The recipient again today of a trophy, and understandably delighted, he gave his thoughts on the experience. “I’m feeling very good, and I’ve found it great taking part again. My teacher Mrs Walker was really encouraging over taking part, and it really went from there. I have to say that the Festival helps hugely with the curriculum and vicea versa, as we can study the same texts for our exams as the festival. It’s a really good experience, just make sure you know what you are doing, and its best if you approach performing as self-assured and confident.”

Winner Zagham Farham

Equally enthusiastic was fellow competitor Daniel Alexander Sidhom, another young veteran to likewise be returning home with a well-earned trophy: “I really enjoyed taking part! It’s an increasing challenge every year! I have ambitions to be an opera singer or an actor, one or the other (or both!) and the festival really helps to move things along. It offers the chance to pursue both goals.”

And his advice was simple and encouraging to anyone else contemplating taking part, “You should go on and do it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win, it’s an excellent opportunity to build your skills, and this is where you start.” Wise words from an experienced hand.

Winner Daniel Alexander Sidhom

A triumphant family win was experienced by the Hood Family, (pictured left) whose sons Tristian Hood (aged 11) and his brother Marcus (aged 6) who both won their heats and returned to their delighted parents with official cups for their performances. Tristian has taken part since the age of six, and his younger brother, having seen what Tristian has been doing and how much he enjoys it, now takes part himself.

Tristian won the “Own Choice” section with a sequence from “Dragons of Autumn Twilight” by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, (and would go on the following weekend to win an additional trophy for a spirited rendition of “The Gasman Cometh” by Flanders and Swan, in the Music Festival heats). Tristian gave a spirited performance of his text, and said “I think this is excellent to take part in, but I didn’t realise I had to do the introduction! I crossed over with my brother as we were learning our texts, and were prompting each other if we needed it while learning.”

Young Marcus (aged 6) added that he “Really enjoyed taking part, and I took part because I really like speaking.” He admitted that at first he was a little nervous of reading in front of everyone, and performed “I’d want to be a T-Bag!”

Father David Hood made no bones of how he felt, “I am immensely proud of both of them, standing up before an audience. It’s a marvelous opportunity!”

The Hood Family, with winners Marcus (centre and front) and Tristian (centre rear)

The festival has an impressive team of Adjudicators, internationally renowned authorities whose opinion is highly sought, a team including Francis Colyer, Chris Marlowe, Pricilla Morris and Carol Schroder for Speech and Drama, and Daniel Chandler, Dr. Andrew Padmore, and Kathryn Page for the Music competitors. They compile their thoughts after each person completes their performance and deliver their ruling for them collectively before awarding the prizes. They also provide a written adjudication for the performers to hold onto, the advice of which is solid and much prized. When compiling their thoughts the adjudicators wife their opinions with gravity and the silent concentration of a monk at their devotions. Inscrutable as a Cossack and as collected as a statue are they during the process, and only when their pens cease to move and they rise does the atmosphere change to one of expectation and excitement. When they start to speak a pin can be heard to drop. Their words are listened to keenly and their observations noted by everyone present. It is sage advice.

This is a festival of two parts, and the Music Festival was held the following weekend. Lucky enough to have two venues, the Festival moved then to Clayton Hall Academy, a large former grammar school built around a charming Georgian Hall, and with the move to the new venue the sun comes out.

Elegant: Clayton Hall, centre of the academy which has grown around its venerable walls.

The sounds of classical music being played by a sure hand echo out across the lawns, a sophisticated and appropriate melody for such a setting. It’s the first real flush of warm spring weather for 2017, and a ravishing blue sky stretches above the clean white Georgian lines of the hall, and the enveloping arms of the school it has become. The library of the old house is a fitting location for the pianoforte sessions, and a gleaming black ebony grand sits elegantly in the room, whose walls are a combination of burnt orange and white. The bright sunshine gives the place a Mediterranean feel. Firmly settled in its second home, the Festival takes place across two days, the 24th and 25th of March, and both days see the same ravishing weather. The main assembly hall of the school plays host to the larger choirs and orchestras, and a smaller more intimate room is an ideal venue for solo performances and singers in the opposite annex. There is a buzz in the air and all the car-parks are full.

The Music days of the festival have seen a 38% rise in competitors this year, and all the rooms are busy, packed with audiences, competitors and musicians of all ages. This proves to be a busy and hugely entertaining two days, with newcomers mixing with a warm welcome from all. In the assembly hall the orchestras sit together across the rows, holding their instruments close, and waiting for their turns to compete. Smartly decked out in the colours of their respective organisations, this is an occasion of great pride, and self-discipline is evident amongst them all. Going up into the balcony above there is an excellent view of the hall below, well and truly filled with an expectant audience, and the Stafford Grammar School Orchestra are just about to play. Just as I reach the very front of the balcony and lean on the rail to look down, they strike up a medley of James Bond themes, beginning with the famous Roger Moore version notable for its brass section. A good piece of music like this played well should make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle and the rendition they play does so with avengence. This is a performance that Ian Fleming and Cubby Broccoli would have applauded unreservedly, and it proves to be the first of a series of virtuoso performance by the orchestra in question, the Stafford Grammar School Orchestra.

Bond theme: The Stafford Grammar School Orchestra with a medley of Bond themes.

They were followed by the University Hospital Orchestra, playing Jerry Brocks themes from “Fiddler on the roof”, and another barnstorming turn by a practiced and passionate orchestra which made the hair stand on the back of your neck, and sent a tingle down your spine. Dressed in black tie they cut an elegant and appropriate sight in the environs of the house and looked utterly at home in the setting.

Festival Revisited: The University Hospital Orchestra in the grounds of Clayton Hall Academy, looking very elegant.

The venue is packed and constantly busy, with new groups arriving by fleets of cars or in single coaches, making their way into the hall. There is a constant traffic too and fro, but much like the previous week, there is the same camaraderie amongst all the individuals taking part. Rival choirs or competing orchestras cheered loudly and sincerely for the winners in exactly the same way that the youngsters had a week before with the speech and drama competitions.

Nowhere was this camaraderie more noticeable than in the library of the Hall, the chosen room for the piano recitals. The competing maestros all knew one another very well, and were on friendly terms with the Adjudicator Katheryn Page, so much so that there was a feeling of genuine affection in the room, and almost an air of an annual homecoming. But again, newcomers were welcomed with a genuinely convivial warmth, and accepted into the throng. The skills of the respective pianists were quite breath-taking, and yet they took it in turns to sit beside one another, turning the pages of the music scores to assist whomever was playing.

Caressing the ivories: Pianists extraordinaire (from Left to right) Richard Abel, Anne Collard, Mrinalini (Minnie) Chakrabarty, Rebecca Bazlov, April Victoria Durnin, and Ian Roy.

Young Maestro: Competition Winner Naomi Bazlov and Adjudicator Kathryn Page, at the piano with her trophy.

Elegant skills: Winner Anne Collard receiving her trophy from Adjudicator Kathryn Page.

Not afraid to test themselves or stretch themselves in what they could achieve, all of them tackled fiendishly difficult pieces by Prokofiev and Chopin, Bach and Debussy, equating themselves with skill and jaw-dropping dexterity. Particular stars being youngsters Naomi Bazlov (aged 14, pictured above) and Rebecca Bazlov (aged 8) who’s skill at the keyboard was absolutely breath-taking, in a room filled with formidably skilled peers. And a continuity was refreshed with this keen youngster being informed, with a warm smile, that someone present today had won this same Ridgeway Memorial trophy in 1969 and was here to see her receive it today. The Adjudicators had a decidedly tough job.

And so the weekend gradually wound to a close, with the bright early sunshine beating down on the hall and making a welcome touch of promising spring greet everyone emerging into the light, to enjoy their lunch outside in the warm. There was plenty of fresh homemade cake on offer and a full on range of refreshment which gave the whole event a welcome festive feeling, and which was much enjoyed by all. In the closing stages there was a really triumphant moment in the main hall when the prize for winning choir went to the University Hospital Choir, a decision that raised the roof with glee on the part of everyone present, especially, it was a pleasure to note, by the other choirs which had been competing against them. There was a genuine joy in the air at this great achievement, and a few delighted tears shed as the trophy was collected. This encouragement, this sense of achievement, and this great hearted support by your peers is what the whole thing is about, and the Festival drew to a close for another year with something of a real flourish. There was a sense of accomplishment in the air, and a real tangible happiness.

Festival Champions: The winning Choir of the 2017 Newcastle under Lyme Festival of Music, Speech and Drama Festival Trophy, The University Hospital Choir.

It was over for another year, but there was not a sense of loss in the least at it being concluded, rather a very strong sensation amongst all concerned that they were hugely looking forward to NEXT year’s festival. In his final remarks after awarding the Trophy to the University Choir, Adjudicator Dr Andrew Padmore thanked everyone for taking part, as their participation was what made the festival happen in the first place, but then he gave a hearty thank you to the volunteers: because the Festival of Music, Speech and Drama is organised and ran by a dedicated and very hard working team of people, who devote their time and effort to making the whole thing happen. There was a solid and appreciative round of applause from the hall, which was well and truly packed by this point, for a group of quiet individuals gathered at the rear of the room, unobtrusively listening to the Adjudicators remarks. Not a word was said amongst them during this round of applause, but the pride in their eyes at what had been staged across the last two weekends spoke volumes. And I, for one, was very proud to count myself one of them, for it was a proud accomplishment, and a fine 86th Birthday for a laudable event.

Born to the Purple: Talented youngsters the Young Lions Brass Orchestra.

Both I and my wife Angela are volunteers with the festival, and as professional author’s we work with children in schools all the time, stoking and building the fires of literacy and performing. Both of us have always held that those creative fires, and that passion for words and love of music are well and truly alive and burning bright in Staffordshire. The Newcastle under Lyme Festival for Music, Speech and Drama has championed this understanding, and given it a stage, and a platform to heard, and build on accomplishment, for almost a century. In staging another absolutely barnstorming Festival for 2017 they have raised the roof proudly in the best possible way, and all I can say is here is to the next 86 Years.

Glenn Martin James 2017

If you would like to compete in next year’s festival, or become involved, check out the organisations website at http://newcastlefestival.org

Your City Festival

It Wasn't All About The Music...

Sean Dissington || 26th April

So Your City has been and gone. A free music festival organised by people for no other reason than they love music, and want to share what the area has - and what better reason to challenge those who claim there’s nothing to love about Stoke than to waterboard them with culture?

Nearly 100 separate acts, eight venues, three days - No mean feat at all, and a credit to the team that organised it. Live music wasn’t all that the festival was about, we are lucky to have some talented wordsmiths amongst us, and I went to Airspace on Saturday evening to see Martin Gooding, Richard Redwin and MURDOK make spoken word performances, before I moved on to the exchange.

Martin Gooding is starting to make a name for himself locally, his impassioned pleas sit next to defiant shouts as he talks about the struggle of the working class and the manner in which he feels the political classes look upon ordinary people. Whilst at times in his performance on Saturday it was clear that he was trying hard to be “in character”, there is an underlying honesty and humour in Martins’ work that is endearing. He called out one piece as being a pure invention, and it worked the better for it, delivered in a fashion that took spoken word as close to a hip-hop delivery as you’re ever likely to hear on Broad Street on a sunny evening.

Next up was Richard Redwin, a man who came here to study and never left (like so many other creatives that we are fortunate to share our home town with). Like many spoken word artists Richards’ prior performances have had a lyrical, almost melodic quality about them - so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he was backed up by a PC running Ableton and jumping over the fence to a musical/spoken performance. If I was only given two words to describe Richard’s performance I would say utterly authentic. He speaks in measured tones, holding back the passion and determination until he delivers raw, visceral lyrics in a manner that completely demands your attention. This was the first time I’ve seen Richard performing to music, and he was clearly not relaxed to begin with - but the musical composition worked perfectly with his prose, delivering another dimension to powerful and emotionally disabling words.

Finally MURDOK, the balaclava wearing man who once shouted through a Sunday next to a riot-packed shipping container. Introduced by Martin wrestling death in the form of a skeleton - a humble and hilariously abstract performance, MURDOK delivered with his usual eloquence, humour and style. The smoothness of his prose matching his pace, intonation and subject to make for an utterly captivating performance about modern life, death and what comes in between.

If you think poetry isn’t for you, think again. These three men have stories to tell, and through a variety of styles that are uniquely personal they deliver in a way that is compelling, amusing and truly captivating.

POP-UP SPOONFULL CAFE RETURNS IN MAY

Martin Gooding

REBEL contributer Martin Gooding interviews the force behind Spoonfull Cafe Becki Kremer

What is The Spoonful Cafe?  

The SpoonFull Cafe is a local seasonal, themed pop-up cafe, where the meals incorporate donated food waste from various sources. Our next event is Spring-time themed and is on the 6th of May.  

The SpoonFull events are open to all members of the public, young people, homeless shelters, refugees, community groups, charities, families, and the elderly. There is amazing, acoustic musical entertainment and live performances, as well as arts and crafts activities. All the food is handmade from scratch by our team of volunteers, and is veggie/vegan friendly. 

We work with, and are supported by some amazing local organisations, including: The Salvation Army, B-Arts, Brighter Futures, The YMCA, Sanctus St Marks, Tsp, Boston Brothers, City Urban Farm, and many more. 

What inspired you to start it?  

I wanted to put on this project for a really long time, as there were several things that inspired me to run something like the SpoonFull.  

I worked at a temporary homeless shelter in London a few years ago over Christmas, and they had essentially converted a school into a place where people could come to relax, do art, get basic IT skills, eat hot food, and meet other people.  

Everyone was encouraged to socialise, and not pass judgement on anyone's background. One of the things that struck me were some of the amazing stories that the residents had, and how they didn't normally have anyone to talk to about things they had, or were, going through. There was no 'us and them' mentality that is often pushed on people by the media when it comes to how we're told to view homelessness, and it made me want to recreate that environment at a different event. 

I was also lucky enough to go to Aubervilliers last year to work on a lantern parade in the city centre, and part of the procession involved a huge community meal that was intended to feed about 200 people and was all made from food waste. It was wonderful to work with the other volunteers, and see how they all came together in the kitchen and food prep area to make something so amazing happen.  

It just showed me how much we can achieve when we come together to do something big that provides for others, and it truly inspired me to do something similar in Stoke. 

What is the aim of the project?  

The main aim of the cafe is to provide an environment where people can come to eat together, meet new faces, overcome social boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and be able to help others.  

We also want to use food waste to challenge our relationship with what we consider to be disposable food, and instead use it as a talking point, or an ice breaker. 

We aim to work with some of the most vulnerable and dis-empowered communities in Stoke on Trent (i.e. the homeless, refugees, vulnerable young people, people suffering with mental illness) as they can often feel very isolated from their community, or don't have a creative outlet.  

This is just as much their city as it is ours, so we want to give them a way of expressing their creative talents, engaging in social interactions they normally wouldn't have, and involving them in volunteering opportunities.  

It's so important, especially in the current political and social climate, for us all to come together to provide for those in need, realise that we're all not that different, and make sure that no one feels left out of their community. 

How can people get involved? 

We are still looking for volunteers on the 4th, 5th and 6th to help set up the venue, prepare the food, decorate, perform, and serve the meals, so if you are interested in volunteering please do drop us an email: spoonfullcafe@gmail.com or visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/spoonfullcafe. If you know of any community groups that would be interested in getting involved, or have any residents who may want to attend then please get in contact, as we're happy to have 

everyone come along. We're also collecting donations for Brighter Futures and the Salvation Army, and are in need of: art supplies, books, shower gel, music, sanitary towels, and socks. If you can provide any of these donations, please drop them off in the foyer at B-Arts on 72 Hartshill (ST4 7RB) 

If you can't volunteer or donate, we'd love to see you at the event! Tickets are only £6 in advance, and £7 on the door, and some of the proceeds will go towards Brighter Futures. The event details are: 

DATE: 6th May 2017 

TIME: Doors open at 2pm 

LOCATION: 72 Hartshill Road, ST4 7RB 

TICKETS: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2916438 

EVENT PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/events/1492050317493124/ 

Please also support, and check out the amazing work that is done by Brighter Futures, B-Arts, and the Salvation. Army.  We look forward to see you at the event, and celebrating Spring with you!

SpoonFull Cafe To Bring Winter Wonder To The Disadvantaged Of The City

Sean Dissington || December 14th

The SpoonFull Cafe is a Christmas-themed pop-up cafe on Hartshill Road, where the meals are partly made from donated food waste. The SpoonFull is open to all members of the public, community groups, homeless shelters, refugees, families, and the elderly. It is a pay-as-you-feel cafe, with all the proceeds from the day being donated to Sanctus St Marks, and Brighter Futures. The aim of the cafe is to bring people from all walks of life, all backgrounds and cultures together to celebrate Christmas spirit, and to give hope and a welcoming atmosphere to those that have noone to share the festive season with.

The event page is https://www.facebook.com/events/1695530977428446/ and the café is open on the 17th December from 14:00, meals are provided on a pay as you feel basis, there is no obligation to pay for a meal if you’re unable to do so, but if you are, it supports the operation of the café.

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I met with event organiser Becky Kremer today to chat to her about her motivation for the café, and how people can get involved if they want to help.

“It’s about making people feel that they are part of the community, and making people realise that homeless people, they are people too – sometimes people are like ‘oh it’s all junkies on the streets, they’ve done it to themselves’, but that’s not always the case. These are real people, with stories, some used to be professionals, but they all deserve respect and recognition”.

I whole heartedly agree with Becky, many of us are fewer paydays away from losing our home than we think, and several life events happening at once could be enough to make a lot of people struggle to keep a roof over their heads. The SpoonFull café is about recognising the humanity in everyone, whether they be a community member, a rough sleeper in need of a hot meal, or someone who just needs a reminder of the kindness of strangers.

This is the first of hopefully many SpoonFull café events. I can’t wait.

Stoke-Con-Trent 2016

Iconic Event Back For Fifth Instalment

REBEL Editorial || September 30th

Stoke Con Trent is back on Sunday October 2nd for its fifth event at Staffordshire University. At previous conventions they have brought over one hundred household names to Stoke including no less than three Doctor Who's, fifteen Star Wars actors and five Game of Thrones stars.

It's always an eclectic mix of TV and Film stars and this time they have Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Mike Fielding and Dave Brown (Mighty Boosh), Hugo Myatt (Knightmare), Terrence Hardiman (Demon Headmaster), Robert Llewelyn, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf) and an Allo Allo reunion plus loads more guests and attractions.

Co-organiser Terry Bossons said: "it takes months to plan and booking guests is such a prices but still fun. I speak to around two hundred stars and thirty make the cut. Others may be asked to future events and I would love to tell you some of the Hollywood stars I have spoke to only to be put off by their huge fee haha".

"People ask who my favourite guests have been and that's a tough question. If I'm being honest, I do sneak in loads of my childhood heroes but try to make the line up family friendly with someone for everyone. Feel free to request guests, loads have and it has happened."

Tickets are still £12 which is a great price to meet your screen heroes.