Wednesday 29 May 2019

Portraits of a Nation - Sheffield DINA Venue

The age old saying goes that a picture tells a thousand words. 
A photograph can tell you all about a person, about their story, about a particular time, about an event, about a place, about a feeling or mood.

My colleague and friend, Sion Markham, known by his online handle ‘s.t.marks’, is a Sheffield based photographer who has been using his photos to express all of the above. He has been travelling the country, visiting different places and using his photography to bring attention and awareness to the growing UK homeless situation. He has spent time meeting and chatting to those sleeping on the streets of our major cities and towns and hearing their stories. Over the last year or two, he’s visited an amalgamation of places and met a variety of different people, hearing a variety of different accounts, all of which are tied together amidst the same social issue.

The project, aptly named Portraits of a Nation is currently being exhibited at the DINA Arts Venue in Sheffield from 28th May to the 5th June. Photos from the project are displayed in differing ways with accompanying prose detailing the accounts of some of the people photographed and a range of facts and figures surrounding the homeless crisis in the UK. 

The photographs are stunning as 's.t.marks' brilliantly displays such character and emotion in his work. If you are in the Sheffield area, a lover of photography and a supporter of great causes aimed to aid the development of society then please find some time to visit. 

The exhibit is open from 10AM until 4PM and whilst it is a free event, any support and donations will raise money for the Sheffield Cathedral Archer Project and S2 Foodbank. 

Check out this article from Sheffield Live! detailing more information about the exhibit and featuring a video interview with Sion himself to explain his idea and its purpose.

You can also follow 's.t.marks' via the following channels to see all of his work:

Monday 27 May 2019

Why the Spice Girls Were the Idols of a Generation

With the long awaited and much anticipated Spice World reunion kicking off last Friday in Croke Park, Dublin, Spicemania is once again building and the world is once again twitching at the curtains to watch their every move. 
But just why is it that a generation idolised these 5 world-dominating females in the mid 90s and even to this day?

As a female born in 1991, I was understandably a massive fan of the Spice Girls and really, they were the first thing that I ever considered myself a fan of. 
Now, I was only 5/6 years old when they came on the scene and whilst hardly any of the lyrics would make sense to a child of that age, for me, it was all about what they symbolised. They symbolised a strong, fun group of females who had each others' backs invariably. They symbolised the fact that 5 girls who have totally different vibes, different interests and different styles could be the very best of friends. They symbolised the fact that people could be unique, true to themselves and regardless of that, could absolutely conquer the world in whatever it was that they set their mind to. 

And that vibe was something that, I'm sure, carried itself through the fandom. When I think back to being that 5/6 year old in primary school, I reminisce about the fact that myself and several other girls would 'play Spice Girls' during play-time, decide who was going to be who and then spend the remaining 15/20 minutes in a circle re-enacting Wannabe or Stop. This became a daily thing and before we knew it, every morning and afternoon break was spent playing 'pop-group'. To the point where teachers were noticing it and the other kids too. As we got older, those girls and I would drift and fall into different friendship groups, take different paths and therefore become somewhat disassociated with each other. But thinking back to that time on the playgrounds of our primary, there were no cliques, no popularity contests, no pre-occupation with image or reputation, albeit the odd heated debate over who got to be Baby that day but overall just several young girls having such fun, with such innocence and simplicity and just coming together over a mutual love for their idols.

Growing up, you start to realise that those symbolisations were very much at the heart of what Spice Girls were about, regardless of the demographic of their fans. Of course, Spicemania surged internationally and manifested itself on the shelves of shops, on radio stations and on TV channels across the world. Girl Power became their catchphrase and with the Union Jack dress and the platforms, they became iconic. SpiceWorld, One Hour of Girl Power and the Pepsi, Walkers and Cadbury campaigns - they were quite simply, everywhere. 
For that reason, many will question the phenomenon from the point of view of consumerism, feminism and the overall role model debate. But at face value, these ladies and their mantra of Girl Power, allowed young women in particular to grow up amidst a wave of female empowerment, total celebration of diversity in personality, a desire to support and encourage other girls and allowed them to watch five women from entirely different backgrounds completely dominate the 90s and take control of their own legacy and success. In my book, that can only be a bloody magnificent thing, especially given that previously, periods like this had been few and far between.

When Geri left in 1998, it immediately threw those ideologies of support, encouragement and loyalty into disarray. Hence why it was such a big deal, both to fans and amongst the group. Only on reflection does it make total sense as to why this happened. These were 5 totally different people, who spent every second of everyday with each other, in a massive pressure cooker with no time to reflect and recuperate and the eyes of the world constantly watching and judging. Whilst it took a while to heal, the reunion in 2008 proved that no matter the circumstance, these ladies were those kind of people who can be away from each other for a substantial period of time but once reunited, would be right back in that moment. I never had the opportunity to go to this reunion tour which was a shame as it was all 5, back in their full glory. But thankfully, the 2019 reunion, although just a four piece, has gone to colossal heights and this time round, that little girl who remembers the days of 'playing Spice Girls' in the primary playground will get the chance to see those she idolised.

So to answer the question, why were the Spice Girls the idols of a generation?
They were the idols of a generation because they helped to spread the message that you can be real and just 100% unapologetically yourself and it doesn't matter if that is entirely different from the person standing next to you. 
They helped to spread the message that girls can do anything they set their minds to, even if the societal landscape at the time might suggest otherwise. 
They helped to spread the message that even if you are entirely different from the friend standing next to you, that we should still encourage, support and empower each other wholeheartedly. 
They helped spread the message that you can do anything when you have faith in yourself and have a damn good network of support around you. 
Mel B once said that she feels incredibly powerful when she's in the company of the other four girls and that is something that resonates with me, as I'm sure it does with many of their other fans. I have groups of friends who are like family and who I instantly feel comfortable, powerful and supported in the presence of too.

Be around people who make you feel that important and powerful, who help you believe in yourself and spread positivity.
And let's all be those people too, because the Spice Girls taught us so.

Liked this post? Check out Britannia Rules the (Radio) Waves, another one of my posts centred around the music and pop culture that shaped me.

Sunday 5 May 2019

Britannia Rules the (Radio) Waves!

During a recent trip, I visited the British Music Experience, a super cool museum which offers an interactive timeline of Britain's most famous musicians across a plethora of different genres. The museum walks visitors through different decades from the 1940s to present day, telling the story of how these genres started, grew or developed in Great Britain. 

The BME has a number of interactive exhibits such as video/headphone set-ups where you can watch interviews from experts and musicians, detailed timelines of each era where you can watch videos and read about events that took place, both musical and otherwise and even booths in which you can learn how to play a range of instruments with the help of experts and tutorials. Each time-zone has informative plaques surrounded by an array of nostalgic memorabilia such as costumes from artists, records, instruments, newspapers, letters, awards, stage props and even front doors from their houses! There are also regular shows in the centre of the museum and really cool clips played out across several screens of memorable concerts, gigs and performances from over the years. 

The museum is a must visit for any music and popular culture fans and since its move from London, it is now housed in the beautiful Cunard building in Liverpool - one of Britain's most famous music hotspots. I've always been a massive fan of music and have waivered in tastes as I've grown but my visit definitely made me appreciate and acknowledge the massive impact Britain's musicians have had and made me damn proud to hail from the same country as some of these talents. 
Inspired by my visit, I've compiled my top 10 list of British musicians that have had an influence and impact on me over the years. 

Disclaimer: I appreciate these won't all be to everyone's tastes and I'm by no means a musical expert, these are simply the British musicians that I consider to be a massive influence on me. There's a deluge of other talented and successful British musicians who could just as easily be a part of a list like this and the British Music Experience celebrates them all.

10: Biffy Clyro
Possibly not as well known as some of the other musicians in this list but Biffy are a rock band hailing from Scotland who have been on the circuit since the late 90s, achieving wider success and popularity more recently. I've been a fan of Biffy Clyro since around 2007/8 and have been lucky enough to see them live a number of times over the years. I've had several phases where Biffy have been the only thing I'd listen to on a loop and I always find myself coming back to them. Their live shows are incredible and they are easily in the top 5 live bands I've seen. They work extremely hard, perform their absolute socks off and are in my opinion, one of THE best British modern rock bands out there. 

9: Black Sabbath
There aren't many things most people would thank an ex for, but getting me into these is one thing I definitely do have gratitude to one of mine for. Black Sabbath, the dark, gritty, Birmingham born band who became worldwide trailblazers of heavy metal. Although around since the late 60s and inspiring a large majority of rock bands across the years, I first got into Sabbath in around 2011 when I saw a comeback gig at Download Festival. At the time, I'd only heard their most well known songs like Paranoid and Iron Man and whilst I went to the festival somewhat indifferent to their music, after seeing them, I left their new biggest fan and went on to fill my Spotify with their songs, buy their records and even purchase tickets to see them again in their own headline show. 

8: David Bowie
A British icon in his own right. David was a revolution of expression and someone who taught us to own our identity. His experimentation knew no bounds and so he pushed the boundaries of musical genre, pushed the boundaries of masculinity and femininity, pushed the boundaries with his style and exhibited a level of creativity so considerable that it has impacted popular culture in the most tremendous way. Generations of artists and audiences have been influenced by him, whether it's through Ziggy Stardust or the Goblin King and because of that, his stamp is permanent.

7: Amy Winehouse
An incredible talent inside a unique, straight-talking London girl who gave us so many brilliant songs before her demons took her away from the world in the most premature and devastating manner. Someone who has undoubtedly inspired a number of more recent females across the industry and someone whose modern ballads will continue to ring out for years to come. Back to Black was one of the first records I decided to purchase when I got my record player and is one of my favourites for a chilled evening, gin in hand, finding contentment in her truly stunning voice.

Black Sabbath, Bowie & Amy Winehouse featured at the British Music Experience
6: Arctic Monkeys
Northern, Yorkshire born and bred, of course these would be in my top 10. Like Biffy Clyro, in my opinion one of the best modern rock bands to come from our Isles. Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not was one of the first albums I uploaded to one of those rubbish MP3 players from Argos back in the day after acquiring their CD from my dad. Since then, I've followed them album by album and seen them experiment and develop through a number of phases. I've also been fortunate to see AM live a number of times throughout these years and some of their tracks are now without a doubt up there with my all time faves.

5: Oasis
A band I grew up with. Whether it was a Sunday road-trip or afternoons washing the car with dad, these were always on in the background as I grew up in the mid to late 90s. At the height of Britpop, I was only 6/7 years old so not nearly old enough to experience it to its fullest extent but the fact that I knew the words to most of the songs on (What's the Story) Morning Glory? before I'd even learnt my times tables is something I definitely should earn cool points for. One of the musical poster heads for Cool Britannia, more swag than people in green parkas should have and the reason that most of us up North now can't say the word 'shine' without an over-exaggerated and elongated 'i'. 

Oasis & Arctic Monkeys featured at the British Music Experience

4: The Beatles
A favourite of my gran's but a band I've only truly appreciated as I've grown up. The Beatles are one of those bands where even if you don't necessarily consider yourself a fan, when you think of how many of their songs you actually know and love, you realise you absolutely are. The four lads who shook the world and probably one of the earliest bands to unleash the pandemonium that we now come to know as fangirling. If I could go back to any decade, I've always said it would be the 60s or 70s or the cross-over between the two just to experience that excitement and buzz around the music and fashion scene at the time. The Beatles were at the very heart of all that and have given us an array of classic songs that we all know the words to. Having recently visited Liverpool, its great to see how proud the city is of all their musical sons and daughters but The Beatles in particular. Now I totally get why gran loves them so much.

3: Queen
Like The Beatles, Queen are a band that have their die hard fans but due to their massive catalogue of hits, so many of us can consider ourselves Queen fans on some level or another. They have given us so many hits and we all have a favourite. (Killer Queen, if anyone wondered!) Freddie is considered one of the greatest front-men of all time by many and like Bowie was iconic in his creative expression and performing persona. These guys were incredibly talented and from footage and fan  accounts from those lucky enough to experience them at the time, they seemed to give their absolute all with every performance and continue to do so even without their original line-up. I would urge anyone to go and see Bohemian Rhapsody, the recent biopic about the band and their rise. Its a brilliant film and will make you appreciate this band even more than before.

Spice Girls & Queen featured at the British Music Experience
2: Spice Girls
I'm a female and was born in 1991, therefore there was probably a sneaking suspicion that these would feature. Like a lot of girls who grew up in the 90s, I was of course ridiculously obsessed with the Spice Girls. I had their albums, the film on VHS, the merchandise, books, annuals, used to collect absurd amounts of bits of rubbish like ring-pulls and crisp packets just to get exclusive info or merch and I really really really wanted to be the sixth member. They seemed friendly but feisty and for that reason, young girls all over the world latched on to them. Whether it was because you could relate to one of their personas or strived to be more like one of their personas, all of their fans had their favourites and I dare say that all of their fans, certainly around my age spent ages arguing about which one they wanted to be during playtimes. Not ashamed to say that I'll be making a 7 year old me's dream come true next month when I go see 4 of them performing live - something I never thought I'd be able to do!

1: The Smiths
The band I always used to whine about as a kid when my dad would play them over and over again and all I really wanted on was the Spice Girls or Oasis. That was until I grew up, went off to university and started to make sense of the world. Then and only then, did The Smiths start to make sense too. As a 19/20 year old embarking on an independent life, the lyrics penned by Morrissey & Marr started to not only ring true but it then dawned on me just how genius some of them actually were and I began to understand the appreciation my dad and auntie always had for them. As I started to grow into the cynical, sarcastic ball of pessimism and irony I am today, their songs became my soundtracks. The Smiths' songs are very much in keeping with my mindset and way of life, a sort of 'let's mock ourselves before anyone else does' mantra. The Smiths did this, but with society, relationships, politics and culture. I love their vibe, the working class gritty heart somehow tinged with knowing snobbery and all of their referential nods at popular culture, film, TV, at life up North and in Britain and what was going on there at the time. When you listen to The Smiths, it feels like you're up above looking down or in the corner of a coffee shop just watching people go about their business narrated with a very dry, very British internal monologue.

The Smiths featured at the British Music Experience
Cover photo taken from my personal record collection and all others from displays at the British Music Experience. 
 I'd strongly recommend!

Check out some of my favourite tracks from the above artists in the player below: