Posts Tagged ‘riot grrrl’

Ablaze! coverKarren Ablaze! launched the long awaited issue 11 of her fanzine Ablaze! at last year’s Louder Than Words festival, where she also talked about self publishing with Route‘s Ian Daley and Ignite‘s Steve Pottinger, and about Riot Grrrl with Julia Downes.

I hadn’t seen Karren for fifteen years, so it was great to see her at the festival and hang out a bit. Following on from this meeting, I interviewed Karren via the phone in early December. We talked about fanzines and fanzine culture, Riot Grrrl, the internet, isolation, austerity and the anti austerity fightback, amongst other things.

My write up of my conversation with Karren has just been published over on The F-Word site and I’m really pleased with how well it’s turned out. One of the many reasons why I love writing for The F-Word is that they treat their writers well, and they always make articles look amazing.

It helped that Karren supplied with with some high quality scans of Ablaze! to illustrate the piece, and I really recommend that you buy Ablaze! 11 as it is fantastic.


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Friday, Saturday and today have been taken up by attending the annual Louder Than Words festival at the Palace Hotel. Louder Than Words is a “genre specific literary festival” organised by Jill Adam and John Robb, themed around music and writing about music, with a good dollop of poetry. I haven’t been before, largely due to a lack of planning on my part, but this year I decided to go, my thinking being along the lines of “Well, I am trying to get this punk women book done, I should be making an effort to get out and about and get myself seen.” Though, in reality, I am crap at networking, and I probably always will be. The events on the programme looked good though.

As such, on Friday, I commuted in early and had tea at 8th Day while reading NME and Stylist, both of which are deposited in the cafe for customers to read. It’s been a long time since I had a look at NME, I last bought it when I was writing a piece for The F-Word about sexism and the music press, and I tended to buy it whenever Florence Welch was on the cover, but before that, I had long given up buying it every week. Thoughts on reading the newly free NME? In terms of look, layout and general vibe, it was largely indistinguishable from Stylist, which is a bit weird, and – in terms of content – I found myself being more swayed by Stylist. How very odd. Will stick to Private Eye and The Economist.

The Palace Hotel is, I’m pretty sure, the grandest hotel I have ever set foot in, anywhere. I arrived as a very large group in full black tie arrived, which only added to the palatial ambience of marble, stained glass and sweeping grandeur. It is a lovely building, albeit slightly daunting.

Manchester poet Mike Garry opened the festival, and I enjoyed him, but decided to give Paolo Hewitt on Oasis a miss on the basis that, while I’ve certainly got nothing against Paolo Hewitt, I never could stand Oasis, and often wonder what would have happened had Puressence been the dominant Manchester band of the 1990s rather than Oasis.

Feeling too shy to really speak to anyone, and feeling a bit of an imposter, I sat in the restaurant and nursed a pot of tea while making notes for blog posts in my notepad. It passed the time until Chris Salewicz was on, talking about his new book about the 27 Club with Chris Madden. I enjoyed this talk, despite it’s dark subject matter, albeit for somewhat different reasons than with the Mike Garry/CP Lee conversation.

The evening done, I walked down Whitworth Street and got the 192 home, feeling vaguely disappointed with myself for my inability to connect. A lot of people travelled from London for the event, and were staying in the hotel, and I had visions of missing out on late night conversations in the bar or in people’s rooms. This may or may not have happened, but it was hard not to feel at this stage that commuting in each day put me at a slight disadvantage so far as meeting people was concerned. On the other hand, I didn’t have to worry about travel and accommodation costs, and knew all the good places to buy food, so, pros and cons.

I felt decidedly knackered when I got up on Saturday morning, but did manage to drag myself out of bed and make and eat some porridge before heading out.

First up in the Keith Levene Suite was Karren Ablaze! and Julia Downes talking about Riot Grrrl. I haven’t seen Karren for 15 years, and I haven’t seen Julia for about 9 or 10 years, so it was lovely to catch up with them upstairs afterwards. Julia was toying with heading over to Ladyfest at Islington Mill, and I’d thought about it as well cos Lesley Wood was playing and I had a gap in the afternoon schedule in terms of finding stuff I wanted to see. In the end though, I chatted to the artist in residence, Bob Fallen, for ages while looking at his artwork. Then I went back to 8th Day and had Spiced Sausage And Pasta Bake while listening to some very lively MMU students on the next table.

Next up was Steve Ignorant and Slice of Life doing songs and spoken word. I liked some bits more than others, but the overall message and attitude was sound, and he seemed like a top bloke.

But the real highlight of Saturday, for me, was the Independent Publishing panel, with Karren Ablaze! (Mittens On), Ian Daley (Route) and Steve Pottinger (Ignite Books), which was utterly fascinating. What I really liked was the supportive nature of Independent Publishers, as well as the inventiveness and ingenuity, and all three of them just came across as very approachable, engaging, highly creative and positive people, which I loved. Given it was a small audience and quite informal discussion, I think a real sense of camaraderie developed. We all had a good chat afterwards, and I bought books from Ian and Steve when we all headed back downstairs for Richard Boon’s Jukebox Jury.

The night ends poignantly, with me reluctantly skipping Keith Levene in favour of an early night and the seemingly impossible task of getting two very full paper bags full of books, fanzines and a CD back down Whitworth Street, onto the bus, and home in driving wind and rain, without an umbrella. Things weren’t going too badly until I stood up to get off the bus in Heaton Chapel, and the bottom and one of the sides of one of the bags completely disintegrated, depositing my Coping Saw CD on the floor, and breaking the case. Cue quick undignified grab of said CD from the floor of the bus, desperate clutching of CD and remnants of case to chest along with increasingly soggy bags, and scurrying down the bus, stairs of bus, to the front, just as the bus reached the stop.

I had heard vague references to events in Paris throughout the day, but one of the disadvantages of not owning a smartphone, or being inclined to carry your laptop about with you, is that you isolate yourself from ongoing events and rolling news. Generally, this is a positive thing for me, but occasionally it’s not.

When I got home I had a shower and got my tea, then sat down to eat it while listening to an interminable debate on Radio 4 while waiting for the 11 o’clock news. I’d forgotten it was Saturday, not Sunday, and as such The World Tonight wasn’t on. The 11pm bulletin didn’t tell me enough about Paris, so I turned over to the World Service, and discovered the full horror all in one go.  Went to bed feeling deeply sorry for the French and, as with 9/11, with the thought that nothing any of us create is worth anything when it can be destroyed in seconds by incendiary devices wielded by zealots. Only the names of the groups change, nothing else.

I managed to put these thoughts aside this morning, probably because I was even more knackered then than I was on Saturday. I had to go into Piccadilly to find a cash machine, and on my way to the Palace Hotel I observed Manchester’s homeless sleeping in their sleeping bags and tents in doorways and on the pavements of Oxford Road. No doubt about it, the visible evidence of Manchester’s homeless problem is increasingly in your face. I remember noticing the rate of visible homelessness around Oxford Road starting to creep up in 2010, although there has always been visible evidence of homelessness in Manchester, and the supposed fat years of Labour government between 1997 and 2010 certainly didn’t change it. Still, over the past year, homelessness has become much more politicised, and there have been the homeless protest camps, first outside Central Library, now under the Mancunian Way flyover and by Altrincham Street on the fringes of Piccadilly. The flyover camp is in MMU territory, and MMU have erected barriers all around campus buildings on Oxford Road, seemingly to stop the homeless sleeping or camping out too close to the buildings. Manchester University, as far as I know, haven’t done anything about the one by Altrincham Street, but its not actually on campus, so it may get left alone. As more and more camps spring up, I keep thinking about Hooverville and 1930s depression hit America.

Having grabbed a latte and a sarnie for later at Patisserie Valerie from a girl who seemed to be about as sleepy as I was, I decided to go to the Fact To Fiction workshop with Olivia Pietkarski, rather than do the Stiff Records Story.

As with the Independent Publishing event, this proved to be a very absorbing and interesting event, with participants from all sorts of backgrounds, and with all sorts of interesting stories to tell. As with the Independent Publishing panel, discussions continued outside of the workshop, emails were exchanged, friendships begun, and a great deal of enthusiasm was generated.

I skipped Pauline Black talking to John Robb in favour of Unconvention: Is The Enemy Really Free? But, on balance, I think I would have got more out of seeing Pauline Black as Steve Pottinger said she was brilliant. Unconvention wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t for me. It was a debate around ‘free’ music, journalism, etc, and digital disruption, but it was mostly about music, not really about journalism. Barney Hoskyns was the only journalist on the panel, and the musicians in the room were very intent on discussing that, so I kept quiet and kept my thoughts to myself.

After that, I went to watch Jon Savage being interviewed by John Robb about his new book 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded. Savage was in a playful mood, and the two of them interacted well, making for a very entertaining conversation. Afterwards he was signing books, so I got him to sign my incredibly battered copy of England’s Dreaming and my much less battered but equally loved copy of Teenage. Didn’t get the chance to talk to him, so didn’t tell him how he’d helped me fail most of my GCSE’s. I bet he’s heard that line before…

After that, I went to watch the by now rather hoarse John Robb interviewing Mike Harding, who was an absolute delight.

I lugged my incredibly heavy bag of books I’d bought/brought with me to get signed back down Whitworth Street while being followed by a posse of London journalists with suitcases, presumably heading to Piccadilly train station, and then waited for a 192. I was more prepared in terms of bags today, plus it wasn’t raining, so there were no spillages. A very polite but clearly struggling young man asked me for money while I was poised to flag down the slowly approaching bus, and I gave him some.

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Yesterday was the second Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention, and Too Late For Cake had a small slice of the action.

Victoria Baths, all hail

Yes, I went paper for the day in collaboration with friend of the cake, David Wilkinson. Paper copies of the Stockport special edition of Too Late For Cake are still available, and right now we’re trying to decide what to do with them. If you’d like a copy, please post a comment below and include your email, and I will get in touch with you.

I arrived not long after the event started at 10:30am and, as is the case with all zine events I’ve been to, the first hour or so tends to serve as time for people to look at the stalls and exhibitions, and generally orient themselves and find out where the food and loos are. I managed to find the stalls, including Manchester Municipal Design Corporation who were selling our previously mentioned publication, but I couldn’t find David or convention organiser Natalie Bradbury.

Future Everything had stalls, installations and exhibitions downstairs at the baths, and I watched somewhat bemused as a young woman tenaciously attended and adjusted a wooden bobbin device on the floor. It was attached to a long thread of wool which was trailing down from some slowly unravelling crochet, which was itself suspended from the ceiling. I believe the idea was that it would start to unravel at the start of the day, and just be finished unravelling at the end of the day.

I went in search of the loos and café after that, and observed a rather puzzled group of girls trying to negotiate breakfast in the café only to discover that soup, cake, sarnies, crisps, biscuits, tea and coffee were what was on offer instead.

I instantly warmed to the café because they served the tea out of a teapot into polythene cups, and they got you to add your own milk and sugar. Also the teapot was wearing a tea cosy. I had bourbons and tea and texted David and Natalie.

I had a brief hello chat with Natalie a little while later in the café, and caught up with David by the MMDC stall, where the paper edition of Too Late For Cake had been installed. I also had a rather excellent vegan whoopie pie (like a french macaroon but Americanised) from the vegan cake stall. David was good enough to point out that heavy work with a tissue was required afterwards.

Stall holding

We lurked by MMDC for quite a bit, then David went for a wander and I went off to watch Salford Zine Library’s film Self Publishers of the world take over. I found it really interesting as there were a lot of mancunian and salfordian zine makers in there, including MMDC, Natalie, and some I didn’t recognise. It was interesting to hear people talk about their work and how they write and produce, the mechanics of it, as well as why. The Q&A was interesting as well, as I didn’t know a massive amount about the library.

I missed quite a bit of Rotheram Zine Library’s talk because I was in the café thoroughly enjoying a veg pie with pickled beetroot and pickled cabbage, plus more tea. There were mushy peas on offer, but I didn’t fancy them. In a city that seems to have wholeheartedly embraced the Pannini, it is refreshing to encounter proper warm, filling, nutritious food of the kind your mum used to feed you. And it was homemade pastry.

I had a similar regional good food experience when I was a student at Bolton and, on bonfire night, was introduced to culinery bliss in the form of black peas with salt’n’vinegar.

Fanzine making workshop and lovely stained glass

After I’d scarfed down my scran, I went back to the superintendents office where the film and talks were being held, and caught the remainder of Rotheram Zine Library’s talk. I think I may have missed the crucial bits, but I did enjoy hearing about their new projects, which revolve around ‘found’ content. There is one in which they’ve taken random nonsensical bits of footbal commentary and turned them into an epic poem, another about badly tagged clips on Youtube that people have uploaded of themselves, often singing, and another of re-constructed impressions from old photo development equipment.

It sounded as though Youtube was a real source of fascination, particularly the discussions that take place beneath clips, or used to until Youtube changed the format. Me and David talked to them afterwards and they seemed really nice. David did a zine swap later.

The next talk was David’s, and our friend Clare and David’s mum and dad arrived, also Dave Haslem. After David had soundchecked his music for his talk, and got his slides ready, he nipped out and I caught up with Clare and then had a bit of a chat with Dave Haslem, who confessed he had spent an impressive amount on fanzines, including Too Late For Cake.

David did a very good job on legendary Manchester fanzine City Fun, he made it very irreverent and funny, which is appropriate. He also kicked off his talk with a Ludus song, which was a fine idea. I learnt quite a few things I hadn’t known before (I have started the City Fun odyssey at the WCML, but I haven’t even reached the halfway point yet…) which is always good.

Some of the crowd who’d come for David’s talk stayed to watch mine, and just before my talk Making a noise: an express ride through the world of punk and riot grrrl fanzines and the UK feminist underground, 1977-2012 I had a very interesting conversation with a PHD student in the front row who had read the interview I did with Natalie via email for For Books Sake, about riot grrrl.

The talk itself was a bit of a blur. It felt as though it was descending into the chaos and that I had to keep wresting it from the jaws of disaster, but the feedback I got from people seemed to suggest otherwise: They couldn’t understand why I felt it had gone badly. And they seemed to enjoy it. I was particularly thankful for David’s dad, who laughed heartily at all the crucial bits. I even got some unexpected laughs: the idea of a 2nd generation RG zine from Wilmslow amused people no end.

I really liked the glass floor in this corridor

Anyway, I got through it, the slides seemed very effective, and people said they’d enjoyed it so all is well. Major speech trauma over, I can move on now.

Afterwards I chatted with Clare, David, his mum and dad and a couple of other people, many of whom I didn’t know. We drifted back to the stalls before packing up time. Almost all the vegan food had gone, and some of the stalls were packing up.

We sold just under half of the Too Late For Cake’s which, for a fanzine exclusively about Stockport, isn’t bad. We gave £3 to MMDC, who’d also done well, for subletting their stall to us. Clare bought a copy and she and I got embroiled in a very long but fascinating conversation with a bloke called Richard who does a zine, is one half of the duo who do Under the pavement on the Manchester online radio network, and who used to live in Bradford in the nineties. He said he’d really enjoyed the talk, but how weird it had felt to hear me talk about people he’d known then in Bradford. I did quite a bit on the Leeds and Bradford Riot Grrrls, and he’d known Sarah Bag, Lianne Hall and Jane Shag Stamp. He was telling us about the RG club night Frocks’N’Docs at the 1 in 12 club, where the men had to wear dresses to get in. Apparently there was some trouble with skinheads on one occasion, and a surreal punch up between skinheads and weedy punk blokes in drag. One of his male friends also had the surreal experience of a trip to A&E in a silver dress after walking into a lamp post while walking through Bradford. I miss seeing cross dressed men at gigs, there used to be quite a few around in the mid – late ’90s, especially in London and Leeds.

After we’d settled up, me, Clare and David wandered down Hathersage Road to Oxford Road, chatting. Upon reaching Oxford Road we all decided we wanted to go home and eat something, so said our goodbyes. I headed back the way we’d just walked, then walked down Plymouth Grove to Longsight.

In Longsight, a spirited (in both senses of the word) preacher was doing catechism via a microphone and PA system outside the bookies. Not sure which religion he was endorsing, but Pakistan got an emotional mention, which might narrow it down a bit possibly. Then again, maybe not.

I got home feeling very stimulated, content, happy but exhausted.

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