Sunday, 26 June 2011

Interview: Doodlebug

“All right Barney?” enquires another of the passersby on a sunny, yet blustery, afternoon outside Beech Road’s On The Corner cafe in Chorlton. The bespectacled man sat before me is the Barney in question. Multi-talented arts instigator Michael Anthony Barnes-Wynters is recognisable not only as a resident of Manchester suburbs since moving up from Bristol in 1989, but also for his work supporting independent arts within the city.

“I’d come from Bristol and one of the guys who lived in our household was from Manchester and in the house we had a band, which I used to do all the artwork, stage visuals and promotions for. We came up to Band on the Wall to play, so that was my first trip to Manchester back in the early 80s. It was amazing; it all stayed with me. And also knowing this guy called Charlie Clarke, who used to go on about Wigan Casino; he was a Northern Soul head. It lead to a kind of soft spot so in 1989 I moved – came up to Madchester and got straight involved with what was going on. My next door neighbour was Steve Williams who was a main DJ for the Haçienda and the Blackburn parties. So straight away I got to do flyers for the Haç and that.”

Barnes-Wynters may have arrived during Madchester, but his own experiences weren’t directly dependent upon the Wilson-oriented media buzz. Instead Barney started up his own regular Sunday night slot at a nascent Dry Bar under the moniker Hoochie Coochie. “I walked into Dry Bar, which had just opened, and approached Leroy – Leroy, by the way, ran it then and also now runs Gulliver’s. It’s quite interesting, actually I think it’s brilliant, looking now at how Dry (201) started bar culture, frankly, with the whole design aspect and it kicked off bar culture in ’89, so I walked into that sort of scenario.”

The night saw many names en route to local and national acclaim, one of the more notable being DJ, illustrator and tea connoisseur Mr Scruff. “Andy [Carthy, aka Mr Scruff] had approached me to DJ, so we would DJ side by side together, one deck each at Dry (201). He later approached me and gave me a tape and said, “Have a listen to that.” So I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ll take it into Rob (Gretton)...” Rob’s reaction was, great, as long as we cover costs, you can come in, use the [production] desk and do it – and so, from that, the relationship between myself and Andy started there and the rest you know; the story, which is brilliant.”

Barney has much to say on the subject of stories, which ones are told and which ones remain largely or entirely untold. “’Madchester’, Manchester, Haçienda, music – all that stuff – it was interesting having a spokesperson like Tony Wilson around, because you needed that intellect, that articulate person who could actually focus it all. Now looking on back to it, it’s just the churning out of that same story – ‘the story, the story...’ 24 Hour Party People was brilliant, I thought, but there are many stories here, which haven’t been touched and which, hopefully, will be touched. I always remember a time years ago when Manchester always used to take the piss out of the Beatles story but, you know, it’s become the same thing here; actually, worse.”

Where the present-day stories are concerned, Barnes-Wynters is always striving to unearth the next artistic gems – the reason behind which he attributes to his upbringing in Bristol. “It’s a core of my ingredient, you know. I grew up in the ‘70s in Bristol and my street was like Sesame Street, you just had all these characters; all these different flavours from all over the world on one street. It was amazing! Terraced houses, two up/two downs; we had the Adams family across the road – they were this kooky, mad family – brilliant. A Teddy Boy and girl family plus the hippy house, where I used to hang out, they were in their early 20s. Meanwhile I’ve got this music, which, you know, I couldn’t understand the lyrics... because it was Serge Gainsbourg. I was listening to L’Histoire de Melody [Nelson] aged 10... Then listening to Gil Scott Heron – God rest his soul – and Pentangle; all sorts of stuff. So what drives me? I just feel lucky enough to have been brought up where and when I grew up. Because now I flex, you know, it’s easy... I never let go of analogue, meanwhile I embrace any new...”

Barney’s gratitude extends to his fundamental ability to be able to enjoy the world in all its glory. “Bottom line is that I appreciate that fact that I have all my senses – as a kid growing up in my school we had a deaf unit and I used to hang with the deaf kids. For some reason I tend to attract... what’s the word?! Oddballs, let’s say! Introverted, definitely. I tend to hang with the underdog; I always have.”

“The deaf kids would get taunted and I always used to just stick up for them... And so, I’ve got this thing about appreciation of my senses so I tend to explore by any medium necessary, so with Doodlebug and the whole thing with International Doodlebug Day, which I set up in Manchester, London and Tokyo on the same day, at the same time for the first 3 years and then we did it ’98 to 2006 where we invited different artists... basically, bedroom artists, doodlers literally, but it was also to do with doodling with sound – it wasn’t just pen to paper, it wasn’t just mark making.”

“It never goes away because someone is always reminding me or asking me, ‘when is the next one?!’”

Indeed, the legacy of the annual tri-city triumph remains in Manchester. Sketch City met at one of the events (“Those guys got the bug by coming along to International Doodlebug Day – on my site there’s still photos of the first time they got together”) and now embody the Hoya:Hoya experimental electronic clubnights. Internationally recognised artists, such as Alex One and Boris Hoppek, joined the party (“It was very much about bringing in International artists to design collaboratively with local artists”) and as a result Barnes-Wynters was involved with curating the UK’s first street art exhibition at URBIS in 2003.

“There are pieces up in the Northern Quarter which are still there from 2006.”

“Bearing in mind my background from Bristol was very street-based in terms of visual art, so there was the thing with Banksy obviously – there was that connection because Doodlebug used to work with Arc Gallery Store (RIP), which was a clothing/accessories shop with a gallery on Oldham Street opposite Magma and basically brought Banksy to drop stuff here.”

As for taking International Doodlebug Day into double figures, Barney is happy to speculate: “I stopped at nine, because I felt it needed to stop ad breathe. Indeed, there’s plan of a number ten – I think it would be... it’s going to be a 21st century DIY flex in cahoots with Madlab to really take it beyond the page and back to Doodlebug’s original 1998 manifesto of the synergy of art and science, beyond just marking – so it’d be a very wonky Madlab / Doodlebug scenario.”

Castlefield Gallery and greenroom were amongst those to recently lose Arts Council funding, but, aside from enthusing about Madlab, Barney remains confident that the arts in Manchester have enough platforms to survive and thrive. “greenroom is gone, but artists are still here. Contact [Theatre], which is where I’m based and have been since it opened, still remains – with a spearhead of Baba Israel who is a brilliant artistic director for that place. But also in particular Islington Mill and Blank Media Collective.”

“It was always Doodlebug presents… and you couldn’t pigeonhole it, but is was described as a 21st century Old Grey Whistle Test, which is a compliment because only a couple of days ago I noticed with Old Grey Whistle Test there are people paying its homage,” says Barney. That Old Grey Whistle Test set-up is the vibe for the first of a trio of summer Now Then Manchester shows at Dulcimer in Chorlton. As host for the event on Wednesday 29th June, Barney elaborates on a few of his choices to join him onstage. “There’s liveness from Rioghnach Connolly from Honeyfeet and Your Orange Coat: German Techno Lesbians. I am speaking with Naomi Kashiwagi in the mix as well as Howard Walmsley – film maker (808 State), Biting Tongues frontman, working with MC Tunes and Ed Barton. Lotte Karlson, Norwegian designer, glass blower who I collaborate with on Alexandra Arts. And Thick Richard I think is without doubt the dog’s bollocks performance poet, end of story plus David Boultbee and Kate Moran of Bread Art Collective and artist Kerry Howarth.”

“Really with next week, we’re just going to flex and feel how it goes. It’s that thing of mindfood, which is what I’ve always put Doodlebug as. Sharing ideas and inspirations, so conversations are good to engage with whoever’s there because I think it is an experiment, so it’s not going to be, right, this DJ’s on then and this is going to be here, no – I think we’ve just got to feel it. But we’ll be prepared for whatever audience is there. I like to engage with the audience rather than just throw things at them.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Image #1: Poster design by Louie Mitchell; photography by Simon Bray.
Images #2, #3 & #4: Courtesy of Doodlebug.
Image #5: Courtesy of Opus Independents.

Doodlebug Nuggets fortnightly show on ALL FM 96.9 starts Sunday 3rd July: 7-9pm
Doodlebug Nuggets screening of Howard Walmsley’s ‘Nish, Clish, Bangin’: The MC Tunes Tapes at Islington Mill on Thursday 7th July, 7.30pm

Tom Vek @ Ruby Lounge, Monday 13th June 2011

There is, at the same time, everything and nothing to say about Tom Vek. His rise and rise of 2005 yielded great plaudits, but that instant has long since perished. The now and the next should be anticipated very differently. More than six years separates full-lengths We Have Sound and Leisure Seizure and the sparks of the former remain in a realm of music history now wholly separate from the ever-shifting electronic progressions of today.

But such is Tom Vek’s allure that many would cite him as an influence on their music. In this context, support act Breton appear almost to be a tribute band, as if Vek’s last five years or so since touring have been spent training up another vocalist in his image. It’s that same deadpan delivery, but instead the accompanying notes are also drained of melody en route to anticipant eardrums. As a unit, Breton can be pinned to the same board as fellow synth/sampler-friendly hoodies D/R/U/G/S and Fixers.

It doesn’t take long into his Ruby Lounge set to realise that it’s the same slender art scholar with his same monotone vocal, same passion for suave bassline slides; all the same in fact, apart from somewhere along the line he’s given the feathers a trim. Potential Sterling Cooper employee or post-adolescent scruff – it matters not.

Vek fires the first cylinders with an oldie in ‘C-C (You Set The Fire In Me)’, highlighting his penchant for funky bass twangs with a dual 4-stringed attack, before newbies ‘World Of Doubt’ and ‘We Do Nothing’ sink in with contrasting staccato highs and drolly submerged glistens. Further familiar grooves ‘If You Want’, ‘Nothing But Green Lights’ and ‘I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes’ are unsurprisingly received more favourably than any newcomers yet to make an impact, but leave it another six years and it might be a different story.

The distinction is that Vek’s lyrical lethargy hasn’t had time to settle; the depth to his rhyming satire as yet undiscovered below the po-faced wall of his David Byrne-ish narrative. Every time this outing is in danger of stagnating, bogged down by the similarity of that detached vocal ennui, it is a tune of the prolonged digestion period that reasserts a freshness of groove.

That’s not to say the newer songs wash over completely. The bouncing conga rhythms of ‘Aroused’ match the energetic beats of ‘Hold Your Hand’ and set-closer ‘A-P-O-L-O-G-Y’ is a suitably uptempo sign-off with its echoes of Digitalism. Just don’t underestimate the power of an extended hiatus to pale any slow-burning stragglers by comparison with the return of long-awaited floor-fillers.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Paul Green

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Arts, Music & Events Preview June 2011 (Part Two)

My assertion earlier this month that Parklife always attracts the best weather proved to be only half true on this occasion, leaving in its wake a sludgy trail of well-trodden mush. Fortunately for today’s (Saturday 18th) Envirolution, they’ll be drawing punters to a different part of Platt Fields park.

The event ties in with both Team Green Britain’s Bike Week and International Day of Action to Stop Tar Sands; the former offers incentives for cycling and the opportunity to ‘pimp your bike’; the latter will be instigated by Manchester Friends of the Earth as a gesture against the Canadian oil depository labelled by Greenpeace as “a literal hell on earth”.

Elsewhere today there’s a worthy line-up at Islington Mill for Portals. Comic book DJ Fingathing and Denis Jones’ project with The Pickpocket Network are musical picks; all the while supported by a multitude of artists’ interpretations of ‘portals’, including Elle Brotherhood, Used Pencil and plenty more.

Onwards to Tuesday 21st when a couple of politically edged bookings vie for attention. Firstly, at the Shakespeare pub, Manchester Salon’s Valuing the Arts in an Age of Austerity is one to whet the appetite of debate, given this government’s disdain towards artistic institutions often proven to not only culturally satiate, but also economically recoup. One such example is the UK Film Council, abolished last year in an early sign of Tory intent. And on the topic of film, Manchester Film Co-operative’s latest selection also screens on that Tuesday, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. It fits with their current ‘surveillance’ theme and takes place upstairs at The Kings Arms in Salford.

The following weekend is a busy one, ushered in by Content on Friday 24th. The tech house promoter have Octave One secured for a Joshua Brooks show. Apparently there’s another festival happening this weekend on the telly; not as far as Islington Mill are concerned. Their Alternative Glastonbury weekend may not have quite the same available acres, but it does flex its variety muscles with one69A’s t-shirt prints, Salford Zine Library, arts & crafts stalls and Shangaan Electro on Sunday 26th. Preceded by an Eastern Bloc vinyl DJing takeover on Saturday 25th, which clashes with more within the twisted electronic brains of Hoya:Hoya; Machine Drum's funky sampledelica at Roadhouse.

Woodpigeon top a Tuesday 28th bill at the Dulcimer that includes Eagleowl and Rob St John (both of Song, By Toad Records).

You want more? Well there is the small matter of the rearranged Now Then Doodlebug Nuggets event, also at Dulcimer bar in Chorlton. Mark down Wednesday 29th for that one. Plenty more to say on that one very soon, but here’s a little taster:

Expect dabblings with the esoteric: leftfield music, live conversations with local arts personalities, spoken word, audience participation; a multi-arts mélange under the curative eyes of host M A Barnes-Wynters.

It’s free entry as well. And if you like what you see in the various midweek entertainment showcase then dipping into your pockets to the tune of £3 would be much appreciated to support performers and ensure the future unearthing of similar gems.

Before the month ends, on Thursday 30th there's also the launch of half-month long performance palette Not Part Of Festival, which originally began as a more inclusive balance to the heavily funded and commissioned Manchester International Festival. Interwoven betwixt and between will be Lassfest at the Lass O'Gowrie, but more on both next month...

Words: Ian Pennington

Friday, 10 June 2011

Interview: Caulbearers

This week sees Caulbearers, one of Manchester’s most progressive music outfits, release their much anticipated debut EP. Manchester MULE's Tim Hunt meets their front man Damien Mahoney to find out all about it.

“Sorry I’ll be five minutes late,” reads the text from Caulbearers' frontman Damien Mahoney a minute before we had agreed to meet. My heart sinks, this usually means 20 minutes (at least) and I have to get back to work, but luckily he arrives just three over time. A record.

On arrival he looks clearly stressed out. The Caulbearers’ debut EP launch night is on Friday and “there’s loads of spanners in the works, you forget you have to do some music.” The latest problem is that the bass player has broken two fingers on his left hand. “It’s a bit of a fucker,” says Damien, which with a gig on Friday seems a bit of an understatement.

“We rehearsed last night but with a totally different line up, it wasn’t the one that will be playing on Friday,” he explains. “The drummer is on tour with Magic Hat Ensemble, he is so difficult to track down, Dan’s not around as he lives in London but now he’s bust his finger anyway, Matt (guitarist) couldn’t make it… It’s like that at the moment. Having eight members is difficult to work between you.”

Luckily the Caulbearers use the “squad rotation system” as Damien calls it, a pool of musicians that can play all the songs (and learn new ones quickly). And this squad has a bit of everything: “We have drummers who are multi-instrumentalists and can read music like a book. Then there’s me who can’t play a chord and that’s an interesting mix in Caulbearers.”

But the system is born out of necessity and does have its problems. “It’s the only way,” says Damien, “otherwise the band wouldn’t survive. We’ve had to cancel gigs anyway. Once because three drummers can’t do it and another because Julie (vocals) can’t do it because her tour manager [from her other band] with Shaun Ryder has asked her to fly out somewhere a day early. But there is nothing you can do about it. It’s really frustrating.”

Today these problems seem to be causing him some concern and he looks as if he’s carrying the weight of the world (or at least the band) on his shoulders. I ask him if he’s the manager as well as the lead singer. “I’m the Daddy,” he says with an air of resignation, “but I’d rather be the Daddy to a small child than a group of musicians.” Others of course chip in that the recent mini-tour of Ireland was organised by Gavin (percussion), which Damien says was great, adding, “I could enjoy it more.”

But Friday’s gig at Islington Mill is down to him. The night will see the launch of the band’s long-awaited first EP, entitled More Lie Deep. “It’s our first proper release, proper in a DIY sense.” It’s DIY, for Damien at least, because he has produced the whole thing himself. “I’m pleased with it,” he says with an air of real pride, “because there were times I felt up against it.”

“We did the drums and bass at the Blueprint studio in Salford, all the other recording has been done in the Redbricks [a housing estate] in Hulme, in my flat. We sound proofed up a room using whatever we could and used the living room as a control room, and we just edited it all there.”

The final mixes were done at Moolah Rouge Studios in Stockport with producer Seadna McPhail, who’s worked with several big Manchester artists including Badly Drawn Boy. The first track on the new EP has quite a light sound not dissimilar to that of Mr Gough. “This,” says Damien, “is quite different from other Caulbearers tracks.”

I ask him if this change in sound from one track to another is a conscious decision or something that’s just happened organically. “The thing that unites them is more where they are coming from lyrically. Some Caulbearers stuff is quite outward looking and angry, looking at society and things that are going on, and political. Not that it’s rammed down your throat,” he adds quickly, “it’s more poetic. It’s not like a Billy Brag track where there is a really obvious narrative. But the tracks on this EP are a lot more introspective, about trying to deal with yourself and your psyche and that’s what links them together more than the sound.”

The other songs on the EP lurch from deep funk to brighter pop, with a whole range of sounds and influences all neatly mixed together. “There’s this thing that it’s funk or soul or this that and the other,” complains Damien, “and it always feels uncomfortable, a lot of the strings don’t fit within that and vocals don’t fit within that.”

The EP is available from Bandcamp. He says this tag makes it sound “‘slick’. But it isn’t like that. We’re trying to pull lots of things together and the EP is an expression of [different] influences with other textures.”

And those influences are widely varied. “It comes from a background of New Order and Joy Division and The Smiths and The Specials being really big influences and reggae and African music,” adding, “we’ve got space for a big variety of those things.”

This eclecticism is really what marks Caulbearers, yet all spins around the centrifugal force of Damien. As well as singing, producing and being Daddy, Damien also writes most of the songs. “I come up with the basics of a track,” he tells me, “I’ll get a demo together and send that out to the band. Then we bring it to a rehearsal and it gets jammed out and changes made and the song develops.”

‘Sinking’, the first track on the EP, was done in that fashion. “It’s pretty much as the first demo with the same parts,” while other songs he says “change radically. People add parts and change parts, so people are massively involved in the writing process but the initial germ of it tends to come from me.”

However, this has started to change. Julie, Will (sax / keyboards) and Dan have started to write more. “You could feel usurped,” he says, but instead feels “like a Dad, full of blushing pride.” Let’s hope the tracks that the other band members give birth to are just as interesting and enjoyable as those their Dad has created on the new EP, which comes with a handmade cover (very DIY) and is well worth a listen.

Words: Tim Hunt

The band’s launch night is 8pm-2am this Friday, 10th June at Islington Mill, Salford M3 5HW.

There will be support from the Mind on Fire Band & Ben Mellor and DJs: King Spinna; Joe Sope & Defunkles.

Tickets are £5 on the door.

[This article originally appeared on the Manchester MULE website]