Category Archives: Magazine Features


“You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham…” snarled the Arctic Monkeys on the track that first got them noticed, Fake Tales Of San Francisco. Back in the heady days of 2005, a grim Northern town like Rotherham was the very antithesis of The City That Never Sleeps. These days, though, thanks to the success of The Arctic Monkeys, The Kaiser Chiefs and Corinne Bailey Rae, Yorkshire is quite possibly the coolest spot on Earth. Rotherham’s still a dump, mind…

Unlike other celebrated UK scenes such as Madchester or Merseybeat, the Yorkshire explosion is harder to categorise. This is partly due to the sheer size of the county (close to 6,000 square miles) and, annoyingly for lazy, pigeonholing hacks, the fact that the talent refuses to be isolated to one town. But the major difference isn’t where it’s happening, but when.

“The internet has enabled more of a DIY element to surface and prosper,” says David Dunn, music journalist for Sheffield’s Star newspaper. “It fuelled the initial rise of Arctic Monkeys on an underground global scale ahead of the rest of the world getting the picture. Similarly, it’s spread the word for Little Man Tate [also Sheffield based], leading to rapid fanbase growth and overseas interest, including a short US tour and a sold out show in Tokyo.”

Yorkshire’s equivalent to John Peel, BBC Radio’s Alan Raw, agrees:

Alan Raw

“It won’t be like Manchester – that sort of thing will never happen again. The internet has made everything so international. But because of the optimism in the area there are loads more bands popping up. I got 15 demo CDs a week five years ago and I’m now getting a hundred.”

Rivalling Sheffield as Yorkshire’s musical flagship is Leeds, home to both The Kaiser Chiefs and Corinne Bailey-Rae. Simon Rix, the Kaisers’ bassist, is of the opinion that, in his city at least, there’s always been a scene.

“We spent eight years struggling in Leeds before our recent success,” he says. “Early on, it was good for us, because in Leeds we were popular for a long time. For years and years we could have had a gig in Leeds and we’d know a crowd would turn up.”

Rix looks back on Leeds in the 1990s with great fondness.

Corinne Bailey-Rae

“We all met at a club called the Underground. It closed a few years back but it was great for all sorts of music. And,” he adds, “they had Corinne [Bailey-Rae] as a cloakroom attendant.”

The Underground might have shut its doors, but another of the Kaisers’ hangouts, The Cockpit, is still going strong.

Simon Rix

“Every Friday was Brighton Beach [now relocated to Leeds University] and everyone there was in a band. It’s still like that now as far as I can tell. Leeds has always been a great musical city. I can go to any of the venues several times a month and see bands that are good. You can say that about lots of Yorkshire towns. Basically, Northerners like their live music.”

Yes, cyberspace is important, but for a scene to truly thrive, it needs a network of decent venues. Once again, Yorkshire scores highly in this department. The likes of The Welly Club in Hull, the Sheffield Leadmill, the newly revamped Faversham in Leeds and Fibbers in York (part of the hugely successful Barfly chain), have all achieved near legendary status. In addition, the hunger for live music in the wake of the Arctic Monkeys’ popularity has seen new venues springing up all over the county, such as the brilliant Plug in Sheffield. In addition to this, the number of live music festivals in the region has grown exponentially.

Similarly, recent years have seen hundreds of independent promoters setting up shop across the county. Leeds-based Ash Kollakowski is typical of this fearlessly entrepreneurial new breed. As well as being a DJ and head of promotions at the Faversham, he’s the co-owner of record label Bad Sneakers, home to hot indie outfit Wild Beasts, whose debut single recently won Steve Lamacq’s Rebel Playlist on BBC 6 Music. Needless to say, Kollakowski is also the Beasts’ manager.

“I think the music scene in the North is more cutting edge because it’s so bleak up here,” he announces, displaying a talent for melodrama. “I know other places are bleak, but up here you’re so fenced in that you’ve got to make it yourself, you’ve got to release a record.”

Kollakowski is also one of several pundits encountered by Music Week who, though fiercely loyal to Yorkshire, dismiss the sudden emergence of a ‘scene’ as a media invention.

The Arctic Monkeys in 2006

“It’s always been there,” he insists. “It’s just lazy journalism because of the Arctic Monkeys and the Kaisers. If they’d bothered to come here 10 years ago they’d have found much the same.”

Alan Raw, like many others, take the opposing view.

“Yes, the ‘scene’ itself has been going for years,” he says, “and now the media have caught onto to it there’s an awful lot for them to get their teeth into.”

The Kaisers’ Rix concurs:

“I don’t think the media have invented it, but I think now they’re onto it, they’re making it even bigger.”

Raw goes further, painting a picture that suggests Yorkshire is being taken more seriously by the industry than any previous music scene.

“I was interviewing Melvin Benn, the managing director of Mean Fiddler on my show and I asked him if the industry was taking a bigger interest in Yorkshire now. He said as far as he knew the UK music industry had moved to Yorkshire. He knew of a lot of companies that were selling up in Soho to come to Leeds and Hull.”

Whether there’s any truth to this apocryphal story, there remains one indisputable fact: Yorkshire is full to bursting with new bands. And the one thing they have in common is that they have nothing in common; every genre of music gets a look in.

“There are a lot of Arctic Monkeys clones,” admits Alan Raw, “which can be a bit boring. But aside from them, there are so many different bands. For instance, there’s a very heavy hip hop outfit called Breaking The Illusion. And they’re from Hull.”

The Pigeon Detectives

Everyone Music Week speaks to has a dozen recommendations, with the same name rarely cropping up. Amongst those universally admired are indie rockers The Pigeon Detectives (soon to be supporting the Kaiser Chiefs), aforementioned Little Man Tate, metallers Bring Me The Horizon (a favourite with Kerrang! magazine) and Four Day Hombre (“Amazing,” according to the NME, “like Elbow with bigger beards and better dreams”). Without a doubt, though, the band most touted are Tiny Dancers.

“They’re likely to break this year,” reckons Plug manager and evangelical fan Mike Forrest. “Very interesting, almost kind of They’re signed to Parlophone and supported Bob Dylan and Richard Ashcroft in 2006, as well as producing a really solid album.”

Tiny Dancers

Much of the Dancers’ potential lies at the feet of their awe-inspiring frontman, David Kay. And from where does this future rock ‘n’ roll icon hail? You guessed it. He’s not from New York City. He’s from Rotherham.

This article first appeared in Musicweek in 2007.


“Day one on the Big Brother bus…”

I don’t know who started the Geordie voice-over first but, after the six thousandth time, it’s still funny. And we haven’t even cleared San Francisco yet.

We’re on a coach, one of several buses in the Green Tortoise fleet. A tour operator with a difference, the company, operating primarily out of San Fran, runs trips all over the US, as well as taking in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Their main selling point is cheapness (our five day trip costs just $350) and the unique experience of crossing continents in a Tortoise bus.


Although, aside from being painted green, the buses’ exterior looks pretty normal, it’s the modifications inside that makes them special. Relatively spacious seating, with a good smattering of tables, converts into sleeping quarters. Coupled with the ‘luggage’ racks (too claustrophobic for some), each bus can sleep 36 people, thus cutting out the need to stop to sleep. While you slumber, your dedicated drivers rumble down the freeways, ensuring that you wake up at your next destination.

We’re on one of the Tortoise’s shorter tours, the Western Trail – a five-day loop beginning and ending in San Francisco. Happily, the trip is far from sold out, meaning space is plentiful. Even so, being in close proximity with strangers soon means that we’re chatting away. Before long we’re bonding over beer and ‘shithead’ – the backpackers’ card-game of choice – while the California coastline shimmers by.

Meeting fellow travellers is by far one of the best aspects to the Tortoise experience. In our small group we meet posh girls from Oxford, an Aussie electrician, a honeymooning couple from Manchester, a Korean student, a gaggle of young but fun A-level graduates, a couple of trainee doctors from Edinburgh and a financial consultant from Bedford. By the time we reached our first stop the group dynamics, Big Brother-style, were established.

The first night is spent, not on the bus (that’s backup should the weather turn), but camping in the forest. After collecting firewood, a mild hike up into beautiful tree-covered hills gets the appetite going and, as sundown approaches, dinner is served. Cooked by our drivers, it’s nothing special but hits the spot all the same. More beer around the fire finishes off the night.

We stop at Santa Barbara the following afternoon. It may have been the shittest soap opera ever devised, but as a town it’s scarily clean paradise, all palm trees and wide roads. It’s also home to the oldest roller coaster west of the Mississippi. Although built in 1917, it’s still a relatively hair-raising experience.

LA is the second day’s final destination and I wish I hadn’t bothered. We arrive so late, due to gridlocked traffic, that we only have time to stumble up Hollywood boulevard before hitting the sack.

Leaving LA’s smog behind, the bus thunders into the majesty of the Nevada desert along Route 66. Surrounded by Joshua trees and with the horizon rippling in heat-haze, it’s time to whack the air-con on full. We make one daytime stop, at a diner and museum where a vintage auto fair is taking place. Impossibly polished Chevrolets, Lincolns and Mustangs gleam in the blazing sun.

But on to Vegas. We arrive early, booking into the aptly named Sin City Hostel. Subscribing to the town’s “anything goes” ethos, we sign up to shoot handguns in a range for $16 before, with our ears still ringing, hitting the casinos. Ironically, our mixed-age group is split up here – the guns were fine but gambling and drinking is strictly for over 21’s. Still, when we crawl back to our hostels at 7am, wallets empty, who’s laughing? We’re back on the bus half an hour later.

By the time hangovers have dissipated, we’ve swung west again and are back in California. Desert has given way to the snow-capped peaks and, for our evening meal, we stop at a hot spring. Utterly blessed out after an hour in the volcanic water, it’s hard to find the energy to help prepare dinner. Then it’s back on the bus for beer and shithead, before hitting the hay. We travel through the night, the moonlight on the snow providing enough illumination to see the awe-inspiring, but precipitous, landscape.





Morning sees us arrive at Yosemite National Park. Despite warnings about bears, the place is full of tourists, most of whom are content to trundle around on electric buses. Being young(ish), we go trekking and soon leave the crowds behind. It’s truly spectacular – I promise myself that I’ll return here, possibly for one of the deep country two-week hikes. I especially enjoy jumping into a heart-stoppingly cold lake. For me, Yosemite is the trip’s highlight and most people concur. The only downside – monster mosquitoes. By the time we get back to the bus, blood is running down our legs. Should’ve taken that insect warning more seriously.


So itchy but happy, we head back to San Francisco where we bid the Tortoise farewell. But, for those of us who are staying in San Fran, we suddenly have a huge group of mates to hit the town with.

“Day One, not on the Big Brother bus…”

This article first appeared in City Life magazine in 2004.



“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, David – I’m not in the habit of bringing home stray, young American men. I find you very attractive and a little bit sad. I’ve had seven lovers in my life, three of which were one-night stands… I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Perhaps you’d like to watch telly while I take a shower?”

David Kessler is one lucky sonofabitch. OK, so he’s been turfed out of Yorkshire’s dodgiest pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, witnessed his best friend getting torn apart by “some sort of wolf” on t’moors, has been having freaky nightmares in which he mutilates wild animals and, in 24 hours, he’ll transform into a werewolf and savagely murder six people – but, right now, he’s got London’s hottest nurse coming onto him.

Horror movies have never traditionally provided strong roles for women – when they’re not being woken by the supernatural while wearing shorty nighties, they’re wandering into spooky houses dressed in tight sweaters and hotpants. An American Werewolf In London (1981), while a groundbreaking movie in many ways (special effects, blending humour with horror, Brian Glover telling that shit Alamo joke), but women’s emancipation isn’t one of them.

Not only is she that most obvious of male fantasies – a nurse – but she’s played by Jenny Agutter, who was already established as an objet d’amour for sweaty sci-fi and fantasy fans thanks to her turn as mini-skirted love interest in 1976’s Logan’s Run. A beautiful, vaguely aristocratic face (you’ve got to love that slightly upturned, snooty nose) and a long-limbed, lithe body kept in trim by her lifelong devotion to yoga, it was inspired casting by writer-director John Landis.

This being a male fantasy, Nurse Price – Alex to her friends – falls for David before he’s even regained consciousness. Nurse Gallagher, rough and bawdy scrubber that she is, lewdly announces that she thinks the patient is Jewish because she’s “had a look”. This prompts Alex, being a nice girl, to merely blush – and, from that moment on, every man and boy in the audience is lost to her.

David and Alex’s love story isn’t exactly traditional, although it might make a good country and western ballad. She reads him ‘A Connecticut Yankee At The Court Of King Arthur’, he dreams of her getting stabbed to death by a zombie Nazi. He’s visited by his dead friend and, hearing him screaming, she comes running. He decides this would be a good time for their first kiss and she doesn’t complain. In fact, she doesn’t even bat an eyelid when he tells her, “I’m a werewolf!” Other, lesser women (stinky Nurse Gallagher for instance), might find this off-putting; Alex invites him to stay at her house.

Which brings us to the sex scene. After some soapy nibbling in the shower (David opted not to “watch telly”), they move to the bedroom and get it on to the strains of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ – in its own right, a damn sexy song. That this is regarded by many as five of the most sensual minutes in modern cinema is testament to Landis adhering to the ‘less is more’ dictum, an approach sadly not taken by the makers of Basic Instinct 2.

There’s barely any nudity, just the intimation of writhing bodies and carefully chosen close-ups of David kissing his way down Alex’s body, before focusing on her face. He might have to wait until the full moon before he can lick his own genital but, judging by the ecstatic expression on Nurse Price’s face, he gives hers a good going over.

By being reduced to a mound of quivering orgasmic jelly by our hero, Agutter continues to pander to the lusty male ‘imagination’. Which is what she’s there for, after all. Through Dr. “a small Guinness will suffice” Hirsch (played by awesome British character actor, John Woodvine), Landis announces Agutter’s primary function early on: “Nurse Price will see to your needs…” It’s all ludicrously sexist and yet, somehow, the movie gets away with it.

This is, of course, because Agutter isn’t just a pretty nose. A fantastic actress, she’s able to disguise the fact that most of her lines are absolute dross. When she says, “You put me in an awkward position”, she’s able to transmute what is, basically, a Carry On-style double entendre, into something breathily sexy and subtly flirtatious. And, when Dr. Hirsch tells Alex “there’s a disturbance in Piccadilly Circus involving some sort of mad dog”, the fact that she instinctively shouts “David!” isn’t hilarious, but moving. Well, almost.

It’s essential that we believe David and Alex are utterly in love. In the hands of a lesser actress, this would happen only because the script said it did. With Agutter, bewitchingly posh, coyly seductive, we not only believe it – we feel it. To the sort of guy who watches way too many fantasy movies, it’s the standard by which true love is defined. Ask yourself – if I was a werewolf, cornered by the rifle squad down a dark alley after going on a bloody rampage in the heart of London, is this the girl I’d let coax me into a hail of death-dealing high-velocity bullets? If the answer’s yes, then you’ve found your own Nurse Price. You lucky dog.

This feature was first published in Hotdog Magazine in 2005.


He wore the metal skull cap and walked in the dragon’s breath. The big loony. One of Britain’s greatest actors – and biggest pains in the ass – puts the mental into Merlin

“The Dark Ages – the land was divided and without a king. Out of those lost centuries rose a legend… Of the sorcerer Merlin, of the coming of a king, of the sword of power… EXCALIBUR.”


So begins Excalibur, John Boorman’s definitive Arthurian movie. Based on Sir Thomas Malory’s romanticised version, it’s a world where shields glint, swords clash, knights wear armour even when feasting and everyone shouts. But no one shouts more loudly, or more weirdly, than Nicol Williamson’s Merlin.

We first see him striding towards us, swathed in mist, dressed in raggedy robes. His eyes, staring from beneath a steel skullcap that’s all but welded to his head, scream intelligence. And madness… a madness confirmed by the voice. A unique mix of growling, high-pitched hysteria and, best of all, inappropriate pauses, it’s the sound of “the greatest actor since Marlon Brando” (thanks John Osborne), losing a battle with his ego. And it’s awesome.

Although Boorman, fearing that famous faces would detract from the legend, cast unknowns, Williamson was the exception. Scottish born, he was one of the most celebrated Shakespearian actors of the Sixties and Seventies and was well known in the States, not least because he performed a Hamlet for that other troubled prince, Richard M Nixon.

Ironically, he was one the one actor that Boorman had to fight with the studio for. Williamson’s reputation was beyond dreadful. One story has it that, while touring Hamlet in the US, he exhibited behaviour so abominable that a fellow thesp felt obliged to apologise to the audience. Boorman, though, knew what he was doing. Williamson: brilliant, boorish, unpredictable egomaniac. Remind you of anyone?

“I have walked my way since the beginning of time. Sometimes I give, sometimes I take – it is mine to know which and where.”

Aided by his second sight, Merlin has meddled in the affairs of men for centuries, though with what success is debatable. Having decided that Uther Pendragon is destined to reunite the kingdom, Merlin gifts him Excalibur. This does the trick but, at the celebratory banquet, Uther starts to covet Lord Cornwall’s missus and war is back on the menu before they’ve even had dessert. Merlin then employs the magical equivalent of Rohypnol, enabling the horny king to bed Mrs Cornwall. His one proviso: “What issues from your lust shall be mine.” Luckily for Merlin, he doesn’t just get a beaker of baby-batter, but Arthur.

Merlin takes instantly to Arthur, perhaps because he’s one of the few mortals to confound his clairvoyance. When the king hands Excalibur to rebellious baron, Uryens, telling him to knight him or kill him, Merlin delightedly murmurs, “I never saw this.”

One thing Merlin fortells only too well is the king’s accursed love life. “You have a land to quell before you start this hair pulling and jumping about,” he chides when Arthur speaks of his love for Guinevere. Arthur isn’t listening and, like Uther, asks Merlin to make her love him. Merlin explodes.

“I once stood exposed to the dragon’s breath so a man could lie one night with a woman. It took me nine moons to recover and all for this lunacy called love, this mad distemper that strikes down both beggar and king. Never again!”

Merlin himself isn’t immune to love, though. Between him and Helen Mirren’s Morgana, there exists a simmering frisson of attraction and loathing. “Perhaps,” she taunts, “you ache for what you’ve never known.”

That this love-hate relationship is so convincing is due to the fact that Mirren and Williamson, former lovers, detested one another. To both actors’ irritation, Boorman put the two together so he could tap into their “awkward friction”.

Excalibur’s parallels with Williamson’s life run deeper than that. Just as the film shows Merlin’s last days, it also marks the high point of Williamson’s fame. While his ‘unknown’ co-stars – Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson – have become household names, Williamson hasn’t acted for years. “There are other worlds,” Merlin muses. “This one is done with me.” For Williamson, this translates as retirement on a Greek island.

He may have been one of the 20th century’s best Hamlets, but it’s as Merlin he’ll be remembered by most. Fittingly, his last screen role was Cogliostro in Spawn, a man later revealed in the comicbooks to be, yes, Merlin.

“He’s in our dreams now,” Arthur says. “He speaks to us from there.”

Or, in a sentiment no doubt echoed Williamson’s former colleagues, as Merlin himself puts it:

“A dream to some – a NIGHTMARE to others!”

17th Espoo Ciné Film Festival

It’s 7am, I’ve been up all night and I’m out of my face on Finnish vodka. And I’m 20 foot up a pine-tree. Yes, Finland’s 17th Espoo Ciné is the weirdest damn film festival ever.

It begins as soon as I arrive at my hotel, set amongst the aforementioned pine-trees in Espoo, a suburb of Finnish capital Helsinki. “You have two hours,” my festival greeter tells me, speaking, like most Finns, in perfect, but bizarrely flat, English. “And then sauna.”

“Hit me, please,” a man orders, handing me a clump of birch twigs. He is naked. I am naked. The other ten men sweating in the room with me are naked. It’s no big deal. I’m only BRITISH after all. But I do as I’m told and twat him as hard as I can, creating a shower of leaves and droplets of moisture (sweat? Water?). He screams out in pain. Too hard? “No,” he tells me, “just right. Again, please.” So I flail the guy until he tells me to stop. It’s like the scourging scene from The Passion Of The Christ. And then it’s my turn. (Yes, I enjoyed it). My whipping buddy introduces himself afterwards: he’s Timo Kuisman, executive director of the festival. “Welcome to Espoo.”

Showing some 90 films, this year’s Espoo Ciné is particularly special. With its fantasy and horror strand part of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (check out the F’s on that) it has the honour of hosting the 10th Méliès d’Or, named after George Méliès, director of 1902’s groundbreaking Le Voyage dans la lune. The winner is selected from a shortlist consisting of one film nominated by each of the EFFFF’s 10 affiliated festivals (the UK represented by Leeds). As every film in the contest is guaranteed a Silver Méliès, the atmosphere at the awards ceremony is understandably celebratory.

And, this being Finland, distinctly strange. It opens with a performance from The Cleaning Women, a band of cross-dressing punks in big boots who play loud, mind-warping rock on homemade instruments. To get us in the fantasy mood, they play against an abridged version of Aelita: Queen Of Mars, a rare example of Soviet sci-fi from 1924 mixing Flash Gordon-style aesthetics with Marxist revolutionary ideals. Mind-blowing. Also shown is the winner of the Méliès d’Or short film competition, Starfly, a wonderful homage to 1950s Americana courtesy of Luxembourg’s Beryl Koltz.

For the main prize, the jury had a hard time picking a winner (indeed, two of its members resigned in protest), but eventually settled on Danish fantasy-parable Adam’s Apples. A truly wonderful film that sees a neo-Nazi sentenced to community service with a maddeningly optimistic priest, producer Mie Andreasen – on hand to collect the award on behalf of director Anders Thomas Jensen – later tells me it’s only getting a DVD release in the UK. Subtitles, you see. Ashamed to hail from such a philistine nation, I fully embrace my European side and drink lots of neat vodka. Which, combined with my British tendency for drunken exuberance, leads to me climbing a tree. Watching the sun rise over the pines, I think how beautiful it all is and how I’m not remotely guilty for having hardly watched any films because I’m in love with the Finns, those crazy, polite, socialist, boozed-up, sauna-obsessed party animals and… and how the hell am I going to get down from here?

This article first appeared in  Hotdog Magzine in 2005.