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If you love the North, then Northern Soul is for you. Written in the North of England by Northern writers, Northern Soul is a celebration of culture and enterprise, from theatre, music, authors and art to heritage, small businesses, food and leading figures, as well as everything in-between.

Talking to people who work, rest and play in the North of England and scour the region for interesting stories, histories, ambitions and events. Want to read a carefully crafted article about an oddball museum or go behind the scenes of a leading institution? You can find that on Northern Soul.

#WeStandTogether

Louise Bolotin lives in Granby House, the city centre building where the Manchester bomber built his devastating device. Here she describes the police raid on her home and why she refuses to be cowed by the events in Manchester last week. A year ago I stood in the pouring rain in the middle of Etihad […] The post #WeStandTogether appeared first on Northern Soul.

Louise Bolotin lives in Granby House, the city centre building where the Manchester bomber built his devastating device. Here she describes the police raid on her home and why she refuses to be cowed by the events in Manchester last week.

A year ago I stood in the pouring rain in the middle of Etihad stadium, my partner Adrian by my side, watching Bruce Springsteen perform. It was a gig full of joy – for us, for the other 60,000 fans and The Boss himself, the giant screens showing his beatific expression as his fingers flew over the frets of his guitar. The rain was irrelevant, the music exciting.

We were near the front, only one row back from an internal barrier that had been created with walkways for Bruce (he likes to get right into the crowd). Just on the other side of the fence was a young security guard in a hi-viz jacket, facing away from the stage, looking into the crowd behind us. Every so often he would squint, his expression puzzled, as if he wasn’t sure if he was seeing something problematic or not. Adrian noticed this too. Afterwards, as we walked back into the city centre, I told Adrian I’d been nervous every time I saw the guard squinting past us – someone could be in the crowd with a bomb. We imagined the carnage and remembered the perfunctory security on entering the stadium. I’d been asked to open my bag but not my overcoat.

Adrian and I go to live music a lot. I began my career as a music journalist in the 1970s, reviewing gigs and interviewing the punk bands of the day. Forty years on, live music is still my preferred entertainment and I probably go to around 50 or 60 gigs a year. After the Springsteen gig I continued to be troubled about a large stadium event being targeted and discussed it with Adrian regularly.

I felt safe though. It seemed there was no actual threat and I was just being unnecessarily anxious. So as we headed to bed last Monday night and saw the headlines about the unfolding horror at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, it felt like my worst nightmare come true. I realised that could have been me – not at this particular gig, but at any gig, at any of Manchester’s many music venues. Me on my own, me with Adrian, me with friends. We read the developing news with horror and pain, as did many Mancunians. We didn’t sleep well – we knew that the death toll was likely to rise overnight and, sure enough, Tuesday morning’s headlines announced the dead now totalled 22.

In the evening we joined 10,000 people at the vigil in Albert Square for what turned out to be an incredibly moving and cathartic service after a day spent in tears and disbelief. Having Longfella, aka Tony Walsh, on the platform to perform This Is The Place, his iconic poem about our amazing city, was inspired. He struck exactly the right note. As people drifted away in the warm evening sunshine afterwards, we decided to eat out, have a few drinks and help show Manchester was still open – for business and fun. That’s what Manchester does.

But there was more horror to come. As I worked from home next morning, half an eye on the rolling news on Sky, the fire alarm went off in my block of flats. I listened to it for a bit, trying to decide if it was one of the regular false alarms. But 90 seconds in it was still ringing so I grabbed my phone and jacket and ran down six flights of stairs to exit the building. As I reached the front door of the now globally notorious Granby House, I struggled to understand why I was seeing an armed police officer clad in helmet, face mask and a large and scary sub-machine gun instead of the fire brigade or the caretaker. Somehow I managed to squeak “What’s happening?” and he barked back “Operations. OUT!”

Out on the street and around than a dozen of my neighbours trickled behind me. Most residents were at work or university. I suddenly twigged I was witnessing a live raid by an anti-terrorism unit and my reporter instincts kicked in. I shot a few pics of the action on my phone – armed police, military in camo shirts, UK Special Forces wielding jammer packs and other electronic kit. And everywhere more guns. Big, frightening sub-machine guns.

A neighbour told me that number 39, currently rented out Airbnb style, was the focus of the raid. I realised the fire alarm had been triggered when they blasted their way into that flat. I wondered what the hell had been going on in my beloved home.

As the first journalist on the scene and also a resident, I found myself becoming the story as the world’s media picked up my tweets and raced across town from the Arena to Granby House. I gave interviews to global TV, local radio and briefed a few colleagues from the newspapers too. And then exhaustion kicked in. My emotions started to surface but I couldn’t figure out what I was feeling. I refused to talk to any more journalists and desperately wanted to go home. I had no money on me, my phone battery was fading fast and I realised I’d just been broadcast in dozens of countries without having even put a brush through my hair, never mind made up my face. 

It was four hours before Granby House’s residents were allowed back in the building. I wanted to cry but instead tried to process the news that the bomb-maker had hired number 39 as a safe house to build his deadly device and that Salman Abedi had been in the flat at 7pm last Monday to collect it before heading to the Arena to commit mass murder. I didn’t get blown up at Springsteen’s gig, but I could have been in the place that is supposed to be your refuge – my home.

Somehow I have stayed buoyant. Buoyant because Mancunians are the best of the best and in the face of disaster and butchery have done amazing things: people opened their homes to concert-goers stranded after the attack, cabbies gave free lifts to anyone who needed them, hotel staff took in children who’d become separated from their parents.

It is acts like these that make me proud to call Manchester my home. And every time I’ve felt despair over the horrors of the Granby bomb-making factory, I remind myself that we – Mancunians – are many. The terrorists are few. We stand together and Manchester will emerge the stronger for this attack on us and our warm, welcoming and inclusive city.

Words and photos by Louise Bolotin

The post #WeStandTogether appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Sun, 28 May 2017

Chips ‘n’ Gravy: “I am proud to call Manchester my home”

Writing for Northern Soul seems particularly pertinent today. I may not be in the North right now, but my soul definitely is. My heart hurts for all the people at the arena last night; for those who lost their lives, those nearby who were injured or distressed and the families and friends wrought with worry […] The post Chips ‘n’ Gravy: “I am proud to call Manchester my home” appeared first on Northern Soul.

Writing for Northern Soul seems particularly pertinent today. I may not be in the North right now, but my soul definitely is. My heart hurts for all the people at the arena last night; for those who lost their lives, those nearby who were injured or distressed and the families and friends wrought with worry and grief. It seems cliché, but given the overwhelming sense of numbness I feel, it’s difficult to find better words. I guess we turn to cliché in times of distress for a reason.

My best friend called me from a club in Glasgow at 1am, distraught that the city we live in was threatened. Reading the reports, and scrolling through Twitter, my eyes prick with tears. Across the world, people are offering their condolences. But in Manchester, people are offering help. Taxis offered free rides, hotels and locals offered shelter, people supplied emergency services with cups of tea and restaurants opened their doors to those in need of comfort. In a moment of chaos and an attempt to divide us, Manchester showed why it will never be divided. We are a melting pot of race, religion, age and politics; every line along which people might be divided exists in Manchester. But we share a spirit of community and solidarity that can’t be broken. The spirit of Manchester spread across the globe last night.

In London, news of terror attacks is no less gut-wrenching or tragic, but somehow less unexpected. Despite being a two-hour train ride away last night – instead of 20 minutes from Westminster or 5 from Russell Square – it felt a lot closer to home. When something like this happens, you realise how small a world Manchester is. It’s not that difficult to believe that you could know someone affected. Whilst I knew my family were all tucked up safely in bed last night, thousands will have been shaken by uncertainty. Parents who had so reluctantly let their children go to the concert – perhaps their first – wracked with panic. My little sister was asleep, but her friends may have been there. Girls from my old school, friends of friends, my flatmate’s dad who was called in to the hospital to help. People checking in as safe on Facebook ceased to seem crass and became a source of reassurance and relief.

When London has faced attacks of a similar nature, I realise that living in a city like this requires a level of blissful ignorance. Here, we are surrounded by big venues, skyscrapers and huge public spaces. People on Twitter reflected on how the arena was an understandable target, commenting on lax security measures. But whilst we can step up security, we cannot stop living our lives. We cannot retreat into fear.

This morning, as people share their reflections on last night and the details of what happened become clear, I can’t quite untangle my feelings from the numbness. There is a deep sadness in the pit of my stomach, as I’m sure is the case for thousands of others, and I am heartbroken that young people were the targets. But more than anything, I am proud of how Manchester responded. More than anything, I am proud to call Manchester my home.

 By Isabel Webb

 

Chips ’n’ Gravy is Isabel Webb’s blog for Northern Soul. It charts her attempts to navigate student life in London and wear her Northern roots proudly on her sleeve

The post Chips ‘n’ Gravy: “I am proud to call Manchester my home” appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Tue, 23 May 2017

The Night Visitors: horror fiction, obsession and catfishing

I can’t watch horror films. Not since my teenage years when we used to watch VHS copies of Scream and IT and I’d have to walk a mile home through the darkening countryside, imagining that each sound contained my grisly demise. Fast forward (a few) years and although horror scares me, I’ve become a fan […] The post The Night Visitors: horror fiction, obsession and catfishing appeared first on Northern Soul.

I can’t watch horror films. Not since my teenage years when we used to watch VHS copies of Scream and IT and I’d have to walk a mile home through the darkening countryside, imagining that each sound contained my grisly demise. Fast forward (a few) years and although horror scares me, I’ve become a fan of spookier fiction. From Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (don’t read this if you intend on having children) to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I’m drawn to unnerving tales with female characters at their core.

Recently, I finished reading The Night Visitors, written by Lancaster-based novelist Jenn Ashworth and writer Richard V. Hirst. Structured as a series of emails between two distant relatives, Alice, a recently-redundant, amateur writer, and Orla, an acclaimed, but reclusive, author, it’s an intriguing tale of ‘ghosts, obsession and inherited evil’ centred around the disappearance of Hattie Soak, a silent film star who fled the scene of a gruesome murder.

Hirst and Ashworth each picked a character and responded back and forth. As such, I was keen to chat with them about this fascinating collaboration about collaborations. As I dial the phone, next door’s cockapoo, Charlie, is barking constantly – apt for a book which makes frequent reference to ‘running with the hounds’.

The Night Visitors by Jenn Ashworth and Richard V. Hirst, published by Dead Ink BooksI discover that the novella took nine months to write and, initially, Ashworth penned the character Alice while Hirst captured Orla. After they’d got the narrative together, there was a lot of cross-editing. So, did a project like this require a lot of planning?

“We had an idea about who these characters were and what they wanted from each other, and we knew early on that both had a secret they weren’t going to tell each other,” explains Ashworth. “As soon as you have two people who want something from each other, and are lying, then you have a story.”

I ask Ashworth, who is the author of three novels (A Kind of Intimacy, Cold Light and Fell) if there are any differences between collective and solo writing.

“I don’t really plan so I don’t ever need to explain to someone else why I am doing something, so [collaborative writing] can be quite difficult because it makes you articulate things about the writing process that might be quite instinctive.”

Hirst says: “When we first started, we had quite a loose idea of what we wanted to happen. Initially, Orla was quite a waspish but good-hearted woman who was trying to help this other character get through things, but then as we were editing, we figured out that it would be more sinister if you realised that she was going slowly insane, or had become possessed.

Ashworth adds: “We wanted to get them to swap places so that Alice would become quite frightening, and quite dark and quite selfish, and that Orla, in her illness, would become more vulnerable. We ended up talking about these characters as is they were real. It’s always like that when you write, you always get extremely involved, but to do that with someone else makes it more intense. I don’t think I’d want to write with anyone like this except for Richard.”

In preparation for the interview, and sparked by my own curiosity of medical conditions (if there’s an ailment, I’ll Google it), I researched folie à deux, which, translated, means ‘shared madness’. I’m interested to know if this was a topic that came up naturally during the process, or if it was something that Ashworth and Hirst had been keen to explore prior to writing.

Hirst explains that part of the inspiration came from stories of Third Man Syndrome. “It’s quite common with mountaineers. In his journal, Captain Scott noted that when they tried to cross a difficult terrain, he and his team felt like there was another person with them. We were trying to work out how it might happen. That sort of phenomenon was a galvanising inspiration behind the whole project.”

The pair have written together before, and regularly collaborate on Curious Tales, an independent publishing collective, ‘specialising in the dark and weird’.

“We’d written an online choose-your-own-adventure-style novel set in Preston bus station which was a lot more work,” says Hirst. “We looked at that when we started The Night Visitors and we just couldn’t remember who had written which bit. It’s a kind of spooky thing that happens. There’s lots of the writing that doesn’t seem to be either of ours and takes on its own voice, its own tone, its own register, its own set of interests and themes.”

Jenn Ashworth, Dead Ink BooksAshworth comments: “We’d heard the expression of the folie à deux, and we did talk about it. We talked about collaboration and about how we wanted to write together but we wanted to write something about writing together, and about the oddness of it. And we wanted to leave the reader with the impression that the book had been our joint madness. We were looking through this book thinking ‘ok, so whose idea was it to start investigating Hattie’ or ‘whose idea was it that Hattie was living in the film’ or ‘whose idea was it that Finlay is dangerous or that he needs to be brought up to the North?’ and it seems that neither of them can be held completely responsible for everything that happens, that they both hatch it together, and it’s possible that they have both made this up.”  

The Night Visitors explores how people become intimate with one another online.

“There are people who use the internet who are very quick to share lots of information and invest in someone and give out their trust,” says Hirst.

It reminds me of MTV’s Catfish – the show where people engage in online relationships with people they’ve never met. In this instance, men and women spill their deepest thoughts to a stranger, believe they’re in love and then find out Sarah 25 from Wigan is Alan, 55, from Skegness. You wonder how it happens.

“The two characters are set up for this scenario in the book,” Hirst says. “You have one character who is trying to seek the other’s approval and attention, and doesn’t have much going on, and then you have the other one who, also doesn’t have much going on, but is quite manipulative and has her own ends that she wants to have met by any means possible. It makes it a lot easier to structure a piece of fiction around that sort of thing happening and it’s a lot more relatable.”

Ashworth adds: “That’s an idea that we really played with because Alice tells Orla some facts about her family and this memory she had of meeting Orla as a child, but really she could have found those facts out anywhere and the memory is a pretty flimsy thing, so there’s no real way of proving that Alice is who she says she is. We wanted to leave a bit of doubt in that as well because that’s the thing with technology, with email and instant messaging, it’s so immediate and intimate but it’s also not.”

Richard V Hirst, Dead Ink BooksMy sympathy shifted and waned as I dove further into the narrative. In the end, I couldn’t decide who, if anyone, was responsible for the situation spinning so out of control. Do Hirst and Ashworth feel the same?

“We were quite deliberate that it wouldn’t be clear whether there was a delusion on one part, or a delusion on both parts, or a shared delusion, or a general supernatural interaction going on, because I think it’s more frightening to have it so and you don’t know what’s taking place,” says Ashworth.

It’s this lack of trust that makes The Night Visitors so sinister. Nothing scares us more than the unknown. As I read (it’s a short book but it’s also incredibly difficult to put down), the narrative played out like a black and white film reel – particularly one scene, towards the end, which takes place on a train – and I’m interested to know if Ashworth and Hirst were influenced by these motion pictures and stories.

Hirst answers first. “The way that most people think of ghost stories and horror is that it’s quite old-fashioned. Ghost stories disappeared with the advent of electricity and lighting because you couldn’t really have those shadows in the corner of the room anymore. Advances in science have made it more obvious that the things we believed in the past are not necessarily true in the present, so we were keen to look at that and come up with something that was frightening and was a ghost story and was a piece of traditional horror fiction, but that was also definitely set in the modern age and references modern technology. I think it’s illustrative that those themes can survive within a more modern sensibility.”

So, what’s next? There’s a new book with Dead Ink, the publishers behind The Night Visitors, planned for next year and Ashworth is working on a collection of personal essays about writing and illness which immediately piques my interest. At the beginning of the interview, Ashworth informed me that she’s in her ‘little shed’. Is she writing that now?

“I am,” she confirms. “I was writing it this morning.”

Cue small squeak of excitement from my end of the telephone.

So, if you’re a fan of horror fiction, and fancy a scare that’ll stay with you long after the last page, you’d be wise to pick up a copy of The Night Visitors. But be warned, you’ll never look at your Gmail account the same way again.

By Emma Yates-Badley

 

Dead Ink Books logoThe Night Visitors is published by Dead Ink Books and available to buy now

 

The post The Night Visitors: horror fiction, obsession and catfishing appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Fri, 19 May 2017

Northern Soul talks to Christine Collister from folk band Daphne’s Flight

At around about the time of ‘the great roots rock scare’ of the 80s and early 90s, one of the most familiar faces and admired voices around the Manchester music scene was that of Helen Watson. She may have been living in County Levenshulme but she did the dance with international stardom to the extent of making […] The post Northern Soul talks to Christine Collister from folk band Daphne’s Flight appeared first on Northern Soul.

At around about the time of ‘the great roots rock scare’ of the 80s and early 90s, one of the most familiar faces and admired voices around the Manchester music scene was that of Helen Watson.

She may have been living in County Levenshulme but she did the dance with international stardom to the extent of making an album with members of Little Feat. Just as popular, and likely to be playing a gig near you if you went out to that sort of thing at all, was Christine Collister, who’d dueted for a good while with Manchester boy Clive Gregson, and at times with Sheffield-born Julie Matthews (possibly with her duo partner Chris While, originally from Barrow-in-Furness – her daughter Kellie, incidentally, produces the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards out of Saddleworth). Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Melanie Harrold was working the folk clubs alongside Jasper Carrott, recording with Gerry Rafferty and singing with Hank Wangford, as well as carving out a successful career for herself.

Christine Collister, Daphnes Flight To cut short the long and rather convoluted story of their various connections, in 1995 all five of these female friends found themselves at the Cambridge Folk Festival and decided to sing some songs together. That sort of thing happens a lot, of course. But this particularly fortuitous grouping of five of the best female singer/songwriters of their generation gave rise to Daphne’s Flight, a group who is now seen as a turning point for the role of women in the English folk movement. A few months later they made one enthusiastically-received album together and toured for a month.

Despite the huge acclaim that, it seemed, was that, as they all went back to pursuing their own successful careers, even though they have often since contributed to each other’s albums and live appearances in various permutations.

But now, two decades “older, wiser and twice as powerful”, the famous five have regrouped for a second collection and tour. Knows Time, Knows Change features ten songs from the heart, ranging from the personal to the political and blending folk, blues, jazz and pop but all boasting their heavenly harmonies.Daphnes Flight

“Why not?,” offers Collister good-naturedly to my predictable opening question while taking a break from a tour rehearsal in the house of a friend of hers on the Isle of Man. “For a start, we couldn’t believe it had been so long. Also we were all available, which is a pretty important point.

“When we first talked about it, we were coming up for the 20th anniversary. Chris and Julie came to the Isle of Man for a gig and I happened to be here so I went to the gig and got up and sang with them. It was really good fun and they sprang the question ‘what do you think? Would it be okay?’ That year Chris and Julie had a new album out and they knew they wouldn’t have the time to put aside to do a new thing. We decided ‘well, 21 is a pretty good time to celebrate’ and that’s what we did. We got in touch with everyone else and pretty quickly we sorted out when everyone had the time so we could get together to rehearse and record, then put the album out.”

Unlike the sort of anniversary tour that’s a blatant cash-in on past glories and a transparent attempt to boost the retirement fund, there was never any question of them just going out on the road without new material. The older songs, as well as one or two from their solo careers, may well appear in the second half of the show but the emphasis is very much on the new.

Daphnes Flight “We wanted to show how we’d grown and improved, that there’s still life in the five of us yet. Besides, touring without an album doesn’t make sense these days at our level, where audiences want something to grab onto.”

By the sound of it, things were equally sensible and generous when it came to choosing material.

“Basically, we take lead on two songs apiece and so each of us decided the songs that we would like to bring to the party. When we shared our suggestions, everyone was pretty much in agreement. Then each person whose lead vocals it is would come up with an approach and everyone would chip in and we’d just try things out. Largely, we love what each other does, so it’s an easy and exciting process, not a hard task, choosing material between us. It’s not like all the egos are going ‘but what about mine?’, because it just doesn’t feel like that anymore, there’s a generosity in the way we approach everything, we’re all a lot more comfortable in our skins, and everything just feels great.”

In fact, she promises that “with the way we’ve been feeling about this new stuff and how well it’s been going, it won’t be another 20 years. Now we’d like to consolidate and we plan to explore putting time aside to create new songs between the five of us and to throw ideas around for that difficult third album.”

By Kevin Bourke

 

Daphne’s Flight, featuring Christine Collister, Melanie Harrold, Julie Matthews, Helen Watson and Chris While, play a Mr Kite Benefit in aid of DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal on May 26, 2017 at The Met, Bury. Tickets available from the Box Office on 0161 761 2216 or online.

The post Northern Soul talks to Christine Collister from folk band Daphne’s Flight appeared first on Northern Soul.

Published on - Fri, 19 May 2017