Monday, 31 May 2010

The British People, Part II

[Andy Rees follows his pre-election musings - found here on page 15 - with this post-election analysis]

So here we are. The sky hasn't fallen on our heads. Maggie hasn't come down from the clouds on a black chariot pulled by seven snarling horses. But still, it's Torygeddon, right?

Perhaps. But the big thing is – who really knows? No-one!

There's been an awful lot of very strong reaction to the Tory-Lib Dem blood pact, but personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Now I'm no Tory, but I'm no Labour or Lib Dem either.

The thing is we can't actually expect politicians to live up to the promises that they make during election campaigns. And I don't think it’s entirely their fault either. As far as I can see, it's all a big colourful game. It's a circus, and the politicians are the trained animals in the middle, getting all the applause and all the anger when it doesn't go right. The crowd bays or it cheers, depending on whether they like what they see or not.

Can you blame the animals for performing? Hardly. In the same way you can hardly blame the politicians for wild lies and emotive promises such as 'free cancer drugs', because that's what the people want.

Or is it what the people want? There's someone, something else we haven't mentioned yet.

It's not just the people and the politicians, just like it's not just the lions and the audience. The ringmaster... They mitigate everything. They are the conduit between one and the other. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give youuuuuu.... The Media.

Such is the vastness of this country; such is the concentration on political might in Westminster, that we very rarely have any first-hand contact with big party politics, or big party politicians. So how do we find out? The media. Newspapers, TV interviews, the radio, Bloggy McBloggerson and his friends.

And guess what? They've all got an angle, an opinion, a take on it. There's not a single news show or newspaper, not a single piece of text written on, about, around or after the election (including this one) that doesn't take a perspective. And taking a perspective means, inevitably, that something gets exaggerated, and something gets lost.

And this is a two-way process. We learn about the politicians, and the politicians learn about us. And just as we think of them as a bunch of slimeballs, they must look at the people like they're from another planet. Who are these angry men and women? Why do they shout at us all the time? They can have all the focus groups in the world, but it's from the media where the impression really comes.

The media needs a good story. A good story is, often, perhaps always, a short and snappy story. Quick news. Gossip, opinion, slander, promises. And if there's ever a pause to consider the bigger issues – justice, wealth redistribution, national identity – it's always done by getting some experts to disagree with each other so that they all look stupid. It's all conflict. And if it's not conflict, it's quick news.

Even so-called respected journalistic programmes like Today on Radio 4 seem unable to do anything but ask vicious questions in the hope of getting a headline. You might say that it's right to challenge those who hold power, and bring them to account. Of course. But when that challenge becomes a few acerbic questions where the answers are then ridiculed or disbelieved – a hunt for the quick hit story – what use is that?

We pick each word that politicians say to pieces. Look at the linguistic glass-treading around 'cuts'. Some said 'deep', some said 'savage', some said 'severe'. Politicians were chastised for saying too much, or not saying enough. Is it any surprise that they never tell the truth? If they told us the truth about the amount of money that would have to be cut from the Budget to avoid us becoming a Hellenic mess, no-one would've voted, or we'd all have voted BNP.

So, two things. First, the truth is shit and hard to bear. Second, the Media pounces on any mistakes, and we clap and eat some more popcorn as they rip open the proverbial jugular. I'll say it again: is it any surprise that they never tell us the truth?

To come back to my starting point – what's the big fuss? I bet that nothing much will change, or at least it won't be vastly different to a more ‘left-wing’ coalition. Sure, there is a chance that the Tory-Lib Dem coalition will 'cut' by launching a moral crusade against the poor and vulnerable. But that would've happened under a Labour Government too. No-one likes a scrounger.

I think we all need to take a step back. I think we all need to stop believing that this country is simply the sum of its Cabinet and Prime Ministerial parts. The Government, although it and the media would have you believe otherwise, is one tiny cherry on top of a massive civil service and civic society that is far more static and far more resistant to top-down change than the Twittering social commentators would have us believe. I hear it so often – 'we're the internet generation, it's a new age.' No. You just spend too much time on Facebook and reading G2. Get outside, smell the piss and the honey, the beauty and the beast, and you'll get a much better idea of what the hell is going on.

Words: Andy Rees

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

FutureEverything presents: Konono No.1 @ Club Academy, Thursday 13th May

A quick FutureEverything recent history: the festival stepped away from being FutureSonic, a name seemingly suggestive of a music festival with periphery activities, to take on its new moniker (FutureEverything) for the first time this year, thus becoming recognisably an all encompassing festival that happens to include music. It’s still essentially the same thing though, which is great.

As their personalised megaphone loudspeakers attest, Konono No. 1 are to claim this stage of the festival as their own. However, first they lend it to Bass Clef and his warped beats’n’bass loops, laid to support fusions of trombone.

It’s the likembés that are the main racket makers, as three of the six Congolese wield these traditionally acoustic instruments (variations of which include the sanza mbira, finger xylophone and thumb piano, amongst others). Add a pick-up to each and the fast plucked clangs reverberate in bass, medium and treble.

Beyond the leading trio of likembés there’s bass bongos, snare drum and hollow, metal car parts clamouring for percussive attention. And while the steady undercurrent is maintained, vocalist Pauline Mbuka Nsiala’s hip gyrations lead the way for an audience itching to move with the upbeat vibe.

There’s hardly a let-up, with most songs relentlessly weighing in at longer than ten – if not twenty – minutes, but there is some time for front row banter in French. Previous Krautrock comparisons are difficult to avoid, and you can’t blame the lead singer for failing to materialise for the encore after close to two hours of near-incessantly catchy repetitions.

Words: Ian Pennington
Pictures: Jo Ford

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Caribou @ Deaf Institute, Monday 19th April, 2010

“Exciting, unpredictable, spontaneous...” Three words songwriter Dan Snaith chose to describe the second date on their Swim album tour.

That’s his brief post-gig analysis, a long time since the panda hat clad Gold Panda, of recent remixes renown, took the stage. The sample-monger’s dashing lazer sounds over electronic beats intersperse with Eno-esque ambient soundscapes; Lemon Jelly at times, house-y floor fillers at others.

So, onwards to Caribou and, with Snaith’s own interpretation in mind, it must be said it is a gig with moments of all of the above. The excitement is easy to tick off; this comes courtesy of the intensity of seeing the band perform live, which is, as ever with Caribou, far more imposing than their recorded output. And this is noticeable on both the sunny Californian psychedelia elements (‘Melody Day’) and the emphatic screaming guitars of ‘Barnowl’, during which drummer Brad Weber raises his sticks to the sky, as if about the unleash hell.

Unpredictable are the shapes on show. There’s a colourful, metamorphing backdrop altering from the Swim cover’s circles through to hexagons, via diamonds and pentagons. And during the ‘Bowls’ percussive face-off, the musical quartet face inwards for a demonic beats rhombus; drum pads and stoic keys alongside that sound a pair of dice make when rattled in a shaker.

You might say the mouthy nutter who appears in the front of the audience towards the end of the set is spontaneous in adding his own overlay of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ lyrics to the minimal trance builds of ‘Sun’. Others on the night choose less subtle descriptions, since he’d previously decided to butcher the classic Alan Partridge ‘Dan! Dan! Dan...’ sketch when calling his mate Dave, whom he seemingly thought would like a closer view alongside him during Caribou's SONAR blip hooks of 'Odessa'.

But Snaith et al don’t complain; merely proceeding to chant their cosmic vocal echoes like hypnotised robots: “Sun, Sun, Sun...” ad infinitum.

Words: Ian Pennington
Pictures: Laurent Du Bus

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Anonymity In Music

Pop music doesn’t cater for anonymity. ‘What does an artist look like?’ is an ever pressing question on the mind of a fan.

Recently, William Bevan (aka Burial) tried to mask his image behind his pseudonym; this lead to a great deal of hysteria up-until February 2008, when The Independent exposed the man behind the mask.

Typically, anonymity is a tool used for the good. We most readily associate the concept with The BATMAN. The idea is that by remaining invisible to the social eye the ID can represent an agent for something bigger, in the case of the Caped-Crusader he becomes an immortalised agent of the good ship politic. Wiping out the blemishes, the corruption, the abuse of power.

Certainly in the case of musicians such as MF DOOM, a rapper who sports the mask of Marvel Comics character Dr Doom, this is highly pertinent. Lesser so but still relevant would be the discreet members of Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance. The idea that the music can do the talking, that it can be the sole medium of communication is a powerful idea. The problem occurs when someone hides from society; our instant reaction is to expose them.

If comic books are to be believed, anonymity produces two opposing reactions – many of Batman’s nemeses are also disguised. Additionally, The Batman was initially conceived as an altruistic character. However, over time we’ve learned to question his motives, we want to learn more about this disguised man of honour. Furthermore, the notion of anonymity has become stained by the online world. Writers and bloggers regularly take pseudonyms; there are avatars and usernames. Such a great proportion of online content is untraceable to the source that it lacks a human touch.

People use online anonymity to vent their spleen, to rant and rave, to attack others, to hurl insults at those they will probably never meet. Because of this, today we associate pseudonyms and anonymity as an agent void of moral or legal obligation. They live above the law and outside of society. Crucially they lack accountability.

It seems unfeasible today as to why anyone would adopt such a renegade stance. Especially if you are a musician. The group WU LYF (formally known as Wolf Wolf amongst others of varying printability) are one such group.

Crammed into a back street deli near Piccadilly Station awaiting WU LYF, it’s clear that their disguise has brought them attention. The room is packed with A&R men and women (but mostly men), gig promoters, radio presenters, journalists, music publishers, all keen to see the band. It’s apparent that the hottest property in Manchester is a band whose commodity isn’t readily identifiable.

Fairy lights are flashing violently, a girl applies some lipstick, a kora player plies his trade in the corner. The band watch-on whilst the audience are incapable of identifying them. This is their power. As Bruce Wayne walks amongst us we feel safe in the knowledge that elsewhere, Batman is protecting us.

Unfortunately, WU LYF aren’t going to save you. They’re going to remind you that the society we live in lacks a centre. That we live such fragmented lives and that in this cultural vacuum we aren’t going to find anything tangible to stop ourselves from cascading apart. Gotham City is falling to pieces.

Words: Samuel Breen

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Preview: Chorlton Arts Festival

The Chorlton Arts Festival is back for another not-for-profit year of music, art, literature, film and performance. It has achieved a success that belies its humble origins a decade ago. However, it seems they had big ideas even back then. Festival Director Phillip Hannaway states: “There were three guiding principles: to provide a platform for local artists; to provide opportunities for our local children to experience the arts; and finally to provide high quality events, free of charge or at low cost. These principles are still as relevant in our tenth year as they were in 2001.” Last year, it attracted 25,000 visitors, from local to city-wide and national, to a massive programme of goings-on and happenings.

This audience figure suggests both the broad appeal that the festival holds, and also the big names that they attract to raise the profile of the event and bring world-renowned music to South West Manchester. In the past, jazz luminaries Courtney Pine and Jacqui Dankworth have graced the stages, and must-see big names this year include a collaboration between Jazz maestro(ess) Clare Martin and composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett fresh from world tours, folkster(ess) Beth Jeans Houghton, Canadian band The Acorn, and that guy from Bottom (the bald one) making music.

But with all this global talent, is it ever difficult to keep it a locally-focused event? “It's not a struggle at all,” Hannaway replies, “as being at the heart of such a creative suburb means we are never short of local artists who want to get involved in the festival, and the quality of the performances that come from local people never ceases to amaze us”.

There are hundreds of small events, choir performances, workshops, film showings, gallery exhibitions, artist talks, dance classes, local musical talent and such. This isn't just nice talk about being 'community-based' or 'local' – it's at the heart of the festival's programme.

There are also showpiece art-involvement events like 'Flashlight'. The idea is that lots of people from Chorlton buy a light and then meet in a flashmob style at various points around the 'village' to 'take away a new perspective or experience of the place in which they live'. So it might just be a few people holding some torches, or it could be something more... How will you know unless you join in?

And it's not just about an evening's entertainment – there is a strong emphasis on educational value. A schools programme runs concurrently with the festival, asking respected cultural bodies like the Hallé Orchestra to get involved with 5,000 of Chorlton's schoolchildren “who might get their first taste of the arts in Chorlton, which will go on to foster a lifelong interest” enthuses Hannaway. There is clearly great passion here, and it is reflected throughout the festival's ethos and attractions.

One of the great things about an event like this is the diversity. It feels like this whole article is just one a big list of all the things to do – and it could be. But it's not just about how much is going on – it's about local and international combining to provide Chorlton, and the region, with quality, low-price entertainment. It's an opportunity to shine a spotlight on all the amazing grassroots stuff that goes on below the cultural radar all year round, and put it on the same billing as big names that garner respect the world over.

So what are you waiting for? Hop on the 86 and come and join us in the 'burbs for 12 days of good times!

Chorlton Arts Festival runs from Thursday 20th May until Sunday 30th May.

Words: Andy Rees
Pictures: Courtesy of Chorlton Arts Festival

Monday, 17 May 2010

Folk on a Train. 10th April, 2010

Tear up your formulas. Don a feather'd cap and a 16-25 railcard. No, not the Nazi trainspotting club - that's Volk Trains - this is Folk Trains (Hathersage).

The idea is simple, and wonderfully sweet-tasting. The musicians, accompanied by an excited rabble of folk enthusiasts, day trippers and confused-looking ramblers take the 11:52 from [Manchester] Piccadilly to New Mills Newtown, alight, and retire to the Queen's Arms - for light refreshment and pub food (Gammon & Chips, £3.50 luv) - before hopping back on the 14:50 to Piccadilly. All the time playing, singing and reviving a sparkling array of folk, roots, blues and bluegrass music from a variety of guest singers as they all, albeit proverbially, steam to and from the Peak District.

Today is Geoff Higginbottom and his beardy mate in the terrible shirt on the electric mandolin. As the train wheezes east and upwards past the post-war urban sprawl of Levenshulme, Woodford, Heaton Chapel, and Hazel Grove, they belt out a rousing mixture of local folk songs, 60s protest music and jokes about Mexicans. The hills rise, beginning to frame the music in its right context; tight valleys with old mills turned now to more Satanic purposes. Loft living, anyone?
The visual mixture of timeless moorland and fading industrial legacy make the music seem as relevant as ever, and without a single song about meeting a sweet babe on Facebook.

Pulling up in New Mills, a stroll down the hill past the Swizzels Matlow factory, the home of the Flump, journeys the congregation to the pub. Here we meet another best friend of folk music – a pint of Mild. Accompanying sing-along choruses of 'Midnight Special', stories abound about local folk heroes like Bouncing Billy Barker, who, it is claimed, jumped across the canal in one giant leap.

On the train home, the good feeling continues as the sun beats down, only a bunch of surly-looking teenagers are clearly unimpressed when seventy folk music fans board their train and proceed to sing a chorus of 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' (as performed by The Band, post-Dylan).

Folk Trains engages people not just in music they would normally ignore, the functional a-to-b becomes a moment of pleasure, perhaps. The fact that I bloody love trains, and hills, and men with little pony tails called Geoff is simply a reaffirmation that Local Stopping Service plus Fairport Convention songs equals a perfect afternoon. And all for £3.45 (with railcard, of course).

If ever there was a reminder that the great joy of Manchester (and Sheffield too) is not just in the city itself, but in its location at the doorstep of some of England's finest wilderness, and that there is more to the music scene than supping Weissbeir in the Northern Quarter listening to some cacky new band, then this is it.

Folk Trains run out of Manchester (to New Mills/Hathersage and Glossop) and Sheffield (to Edale). Check out for dates and times.

Words: Andy Rees

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

This City is Ours & Mind on Fire present: This City is on Fire @ Islington Mill, Friday 20th March

Scheduling is crucial to the success of a gig. You can define the mood by arranging distinct styles to great effect. It doesn’t sound too difficult but it can elude promoters. This City is Ours and Mind on Fire hit the nail on the head with this one, though.

There are a few reasons for this: one being that I’ve never before seen Denis Jones fit so perfectly low down on the bill. This isn’t a point necessarily concerning ability – that’s on show everywhere in the Islington Mill. Instead, the flow from one act to the next is an incisive and steady progression towards higher tempo. Drawing between those lines are Cycloptic’s projected visuals and OneFiveEight’s live art doodling.

From The Kites of San Quentin are up before the top-billed trio; notable for interchanging echoing and a gargling, drowning feel to vocoded lyrics, sitting atop mountainous strata of bass-flecked, groaning FX plateaus. Technical issues aside, they bring a very listenable air of 1990s Bristolian trip-hop to the table.

Those technical issues have the opposite effect on Denis Jones’s set. ‘Clap Hands’ particularly is performed with added thickness in bass and the version of ‘Beginning’ is one of the clearer he’s produced live. It is also interesting to see this in the context of Denis’s transition from folk to electronic crowd – following the expected ‘Beginning’ ending he receives as appreciative a reception as ever.

Mount Kimbie, recognised as headliners but not last onto the stage, begin slowly. Visuals of a pebble dropped in the pool with ripples of sound gradually expanding are accurate, bringing in elements of their electronic gadgetry pick’n’mix all the while. The eclectic range of music in their 50 minutes is entrancing; mellow minimal to bass’n’beats, bleepy Nintendo pop to The xx lonesome guitar, Burial ambient dubstep to Roots Manuva deep bass. Although the venue is sold out, there’s still space to move and really feel the music pulsing; a contrast to many where the policy seems to be to cram people in beyond the capacity threshold.

XXXY steps it up a notch, tempo-wise, by laptop DJing with fast-paced foot-tappers incorporating what sounds like the dubsteppy Deadboy remix of Delphic’s ‘Halcyon’ and an echoey mix of MSTRKRFT’s ‘Heartbreaker’.

Words & Pictures: Ian Pennington

Monday, 10 May 2010

May Music Preview

May is always a busy time for Manchester’s gigging circuit, so without hesitation, here’s your guide for the month:

FutureSonic / FutureEverything / FutureWhatever is back and oh how we are so very grateful. Highlights include Konono No.1, Omar Souleyman, Kyle Hall and Ryoji Ikeda. Also, the Boomkat boys are doing something, but you’ll have to see the listings to find out what.

Easter’s just passed but this shouldn’t stop you going to Church once in a while. Especially when Sacred Trinity has the electric Tim Hecker and the lesser known LevILoW playing two separate dates. Neither will get you out of going on Sunday (if you’re that way inclined) but still, necessary trips.

Promoter of the month award goes to WOTGODFORGOT as Grails, Faust and Scout Niblett will all be playing at The Ruby Lounge. If anyone thinks Faust are past it last year’s LP would easily silence the sceptics. Scout Niblett’s show made me weep with joy a few years ago, so I’ll have a pocket pack of man-size tissues with me. If you need any I’ll be at the back, in a corner, surrounded by empty gin martini glasses. If old men or crying isn’t your bag, then head to Grails.

After such an extended hiatus, Band on the Wall continues its renaissance with a collaborative performance from Hauschka, James Blackshaw and Nancy Elizabeth. Looks like it’ll be worth the entry fee. I’ve no idea what it’ll sound like but, chances are, something special.

From this month’s featured artists [NB: see posts over the next couple of weeks], WU LYF should be playing at An Outlet on the last saturday of the month but check first via their blog. Also Folk on a Train run regular events so search their website for upcoming dates. They’re both cheap as chips (a pound for the former, donations for the latter) so you’ve no excuse, even if you’re saving up for your jollies. Me? Well I’m spending the summer with my nose buried in flyers so that you don’t have to. It’s not pretty, what with all the papercuts I resemble an A&R executive shovelling the last supply of mephedrone in the vein hope of being down with the kids. Which by comparison makes my job relatively attractive. Plus, the novelty plasters offer some sweet relief.

Regular purveyors of good sounds, buzz bands and obscure heroines/heroes Pineapple Folk have got the excellent Phosphorescent on at The Deaf Institute. Also at the indie end of the scale, DottoDot festival comes to town for the first time. I’m always sceptical as to how so many bands can be on a bill with a comparatively nominal door charge, but with Liars, Beach House and the (overly?) hyped Washed Out on the bill I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. There are other bands on the bill, but none of them are any good.

Finally, Rihanna and Black Eyed Peas are at the Arena. They’re both amazing live and are worth having a look on ebay for. Neither need explanation nor require justification.

Note: If you’re a promoter and would like to be next month’s winner of Fairtrade coffee and a pack of Maryland cookies please send us info of your events to

Words: Samuel Breen

Friday, 7 May 2010

Food Waste

We're regularly advised by adverts, pressure groups and the government of how to reduce our carbon footprint but one issue seems to attract less attention. Vast amounts of energy are not only used in the production of food, but also its transport to your table. Or at least two thirds of it. It's estimated that roughly a third of all food in the UK is wasted. This waste then mostly goes into landfill and produces another greenhouse gas – methane. All in all, it’s estimated that our food cycle is responsible for around 20% of the UK's carbon footprint.

Help is at hand, however, from a number of groups and movements in Manchester finding more sustainable and localised ways to source food. The Lost Plot in Chorlton, a recent beneficiary of the Council's Carbon Innovation Fund, is one of them. An allotment cared for by a group of volunteers and self professed 'allotmentalists', it reaches out to the local community and shows that it's easy to grow your own veg when everyone comes together. They meet on their plot every sunday to tend to the plants and soil and everyone takes something home for their kitchen table or to grow at home.

Another is the Abundance Project, dedicated to harvesting the urban environment's surprisingly rich harvest by picking unwanted fruit from people's gardens. They shin up trees to make the most of the unwanted windfall and give the tree owners the first share before distributing the rest to people who need it, such as destitute asylum seekers, on a fleet of bicycle trailers. Although it's mostly an autumnal activity they also have their own allotment for the spring in a car park in West Didsbury, and organise a number of community events and growing workshops. Operating in south central Manchester, Debbie Clarke, who helps organise the project, says the fruit they pick is “really only the tip of the iceberg” and they always have plenty of trees to get round in picking season - to the point where groups have had to ask them to stop sending apples - and are keen to see other groups doing the same around Manchester.

All this is well and good, you may say, if all you want to eat is runner beans and apples but, well, where's the beef? And what about all that waste? Of course, as any good environmentalist will tell you, eating meat is much worse for the planet than being a vegetarian, but there is a way to be a sustainable carnivore... if you don't mind getting your hands dirty.

Before you fetch the kitchen knife and go for the cat the next door, I'm talking about skipping. A good proportion of food wasted is in retail, and much of this food is caught in a curious legal trap. The companies producing it must put the use-by date as the earliest possible date it could go off, and the shops selling it have to throw it out on that date (they can't even give it away for fear of being sued). This means that in reality, the majority of food that ends up in supermarket skips is perfectly edible and packaged away in nicely sealed bags, and that’s on top of all the stuff they throw out because the packaging's damaged or it looks a bit wrinkly. I've been filling my fridge with such stuff for a few months now and found everything from coffee beans and steaks to ready to bake pastries and pineapples, even the odd can of beer. Most of my diet consists of food I got out of a bin that would have otherwise ended up as landfill and, most of the time, I eat like a king. It gives you a huge variety of diet, for free and with zero impact on the environment and, in many cases, is simply a case of nipping round the back of the shop after it’s closed.

Food Not Bombs are a group who have taken this on as a wider project and have made arrangements with a number of local grocers to pick up food on its sell-by date and cook it up for events and free street stalls around Manchester to demonstrate just how much food we waste. Supermarkets, however, haven't been as receptive to the idea, but says one activist, “we usually just go through their bins anyway”.

Food sourcing and waste is a society-wide problem that needs national action, but in the meantime, thanks to groups like Abundance, community allotments and wasteful shops, there's plenty of opportunity to get out there, do it yourself, get a free meal and enjoy a bit of adventure while you're at it.

Words: Barney Guiton
Pictures: Simon Bray

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Council Peddling Stupid Laws.

For three years Manchester City Council have been persistently trying to legally restrict the rights of pedlars in the city. They were delighted then in early April when the Manchester City Council Bill squeezed through the Houses of Lords and Commons just before Parliament was dissolved. Pedlars have been fighting the legislation for years and are still fighting hard.

A pedlar, in the beautifully lyrical words of the 1871 Pedlars Act, is “any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs or other person who without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men's houses carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods wares or merchandise or ...offering for sale his skill in handicraft.”

While they’re a massively diverse community, pedlars have their own cultural identity and traditions of which they’re fiercely proud. They’re generally self-employed, trying to supplement other income or retirement funds. Many started as a way out of unemployment or low-skilled work – something pretty important nowadays.

If you’re over 17 you can apply for a pedlar’s certificate from the local police station. It costs just £12.50, lasts a year and allows you to legally trade anywhere in the city, subject to certain conditions. Being able to set up cheaply and legitimately has proved invaluable for budding artists, craftspeople and other young entrepreneurs for the past 140 years – the founder of Marks and Spencer’s actually started as a simple pedlar!

The fight against the new legislation has been going on since its inception. Those opposing the Bill have won some major concessions, getting rid of some of the most draconian clauses. These included one which would have let council officers impose £300 fixed penalties on so-called ‘offenders’ and another which would practically restrict pedlars to being door-to-door salespeople.

There are four more bills to be heard by the Parliamentary Select Committee, but thanks to pedlars’ opposition a reported 50 councils have dropped their interest already.

But the Manchester City Council Act 2010 has still made it very hard for pedlars to sell their goods and services on the streets of the city. According to Altrincham-based trader David Murphy, there are now “conditions for a pedlar to work in Manchester's streets that will be difficult to apply, and will involve the council spending more money and take away the right of pedlars set out in the 1871 Act.”

The Act allows council and police officers to seize a pedlar’s goods and “any receptacle or equipment being used by that person” if they reckon an offence has been committed. An offence like not moving at least 200 metres every five minutes, or returning to the same place within 12 hours.

So why exactly has the Council – which loves to talk Manchester up as the ‘entrepreneurial city’ – been pushing so hard for such restrictive new powers?

Research by Durham University showed that councils across the land see “both certificated and uncertificated itinerant traders as a nuisance, and wrongly and pejoratively refer to both groups as simply ‘pedlars’. Enforcement activities tend to be similarly indiscriminate in targeting legal and illegal pedlars”. According to Professor Barry Hough, Professor of English Law at Bournemouth University, “There is without doubt a powerful and organised lobby against pedlars...[operating] both at national and local level.”

The head of the Local Government Association said of pedlars in 2008, “[they] operate in packs, sometimes linked to criminal gangs, obstructing passers by and using intimidating and threatening behaviour.” Seriously.

The academic research seemed to point to quite the opposite, finding the “vast majority” of people said their “experience with pedlars had been positive... No respondent indicated that they thought pedlars should be banned from trading in the streets.”

Not the view of Manchester’s political masters though. Acting Council Leader Jim Battle was elated back in September when John Alesbury – who had a pedlar’s certificate – was ordered to pay £700 for selling woolly hats and scarves from a cart on Market Street. He parroted the familiar mantra of “illegal street traders” undermining “legitimate traders who are struggling now more than ever before” and causing “obstructions on busy streets”.

In a press release on March 31st, Manchester’s director of neighbourhood services Vicky Rosin declared:
“We will [soon] be able to deal effectively with illegal street traders who sell shoddy, counterfeit and sometimes dangerous products, while causing major obstructions to emergency services on our busiest streets.”

She apparently isn’t aware that pedlars often buy from the same wholesalers as the High Street shops, or that they voluntarily carry products which are CE labelled – a certified mark of quality assurance – and carry manufacturer's names and addresses on them. Still, she continued:

“It will also mean hard working legitimate traders will no longer have their efforts undermined by people who think they can get away with turning up on our streets with the intent of deceiving Manchester people.”

Rosin also wished to “thank Manchester residents who have lent their support to this campaign”. I asked her who exactly these residents were – there’s no evidence of a consultation on the Council’s website, and judging by the Durham research it seemed unlikely there would be many. Perhaps it’s the High Street stores – those poor and persecuted “legitimate traders” – who are really so worried about the guy outside selling woolly hats?

I also asked her how much the pursuit of this law had cost the Council (and local taxpayers) on top of more than £100,000 paid to Clarkson of Sharpe Pritchard to argue – misleadingly as it turned out – to the Select Committee that pedlars legally had to trade while in “perpetual motion”. It’s probably quite a lot, but Ms Rosin declined to comment on either question, so we’re waiting on the results of a Freedom of Information request instead.

What we do know, thanks to information obtained by the Pedlars Information and Resource Centre, is that during the three years up to June 2009 Manchester City Council spent less than £10,000 on prosecuting 11 illegal street traders. That’s less than one tenth of what it cost to lose a legal argument in the Select Committee!

The battle will go on, probably in the courts. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has already recognised that the bills “may raise human rights issues which are worthy of further scrutiny”. One thing for sure is that the pedlars won’t give up any time soon – it’s their livelihoods which are being systematically trampled on.

For more on the UK’s pedlars and those campaigning against the new laws, check out

Words: Andy Lockhart
Pictures: Courtesy of