I was a proud initiate to the first official Wonderbrawl at Academy 1.
This is the Roller Derby. For the uninitiated, itâ€™s a guts-and-glory, unashamedly intense contact sport that is dominated near-exclusively by gung-ho young women equipped with nary more than roller skates, shin-pads and helmets. Men are definitely the outsiders here, and even though itâ€™s only had a major presence in the UK for around three years or so, itâ€™s spread like wildfire. Roller Derby made a short hop via the Internet across the Atlantic from the USA and now, according to its proponents, there are at least two teams in every UK city regularly training.
For this, the sportâ€™s first big event in Manchester, home team â€˜Manchester Roller Derbyâ€™ (MRD) pitched in against the hot-panted â€˜Hot Wheel Roller Derbyâ€™ from West Yorkshire, sending the away side packing with a comprehensive victory, the final score 171 to 56. But there were no ill-meant shoves or tackles: this was a very sports-womanly occasion. In fact, the atmosphere couldnâ€™t have been more warm and welcoming. The venue was a packed hall of 300 or so people and families of all ages, with a sound-system blaring out well-received heavy metal and rock music, conspiring to create an upbeat carnival feel. They even had a raffleâ€¦ the first prize being Â£100 worth of tattoos. Not sure that was aimed at the kids though, Mum wouldnâ€™t be too impressed.
The rules of Roller Derby are quite simple. Two teams of around 20 skaters race against one another on a track marked out in a school hall size space. Skaters then choose a creative and funny skater-name for themselves. Particularly inspired ones from the day included â€˜Cilla Smackâ€™, â€˜Kate Pushâ€™ and â€˜Shell Yeahâ€™, to name a few.
Once the teams are set, four of the skaters from each team line up on the starting line. These are called â€˜Blockersâ€™. They are there to block the opposing teamâ€™s â€˜Jammerâ€™, of which there are two, one from each team. The Jammers start a few metres behind the Blockers and have a star on their helmets. It is the job of each teamâ€™s Jammer to get ahead of and lap the opposition. The first Jammer in front is the â€˜lead Jammerâ€™, and they win points depending on the number of opposition skaters they lap.
When the starting whistle goes, thatâ€™s the start of â€˜The Jamâ€™, and everyone shoots off, the Jammers trying to cut ahead and the Blockers trying to, well, block. Expect high-energy punk/rock/metal music to be blasted down your eardrum at this point, if you can hear it above the screams of the crowd. Once a Jammer becomes the lead Jammer, they can then choose to call off the Jam whenever they want, normally when theyâ€™ve scored a few points. This repeats until then end of each period, of which there are two lasting half an hour each, before the final scores are clocked up.
Itâ€™s a fast-paced, high-scoring sport, and not without its drama. I saw one woman wheeled off the track following a particular tumble, and there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on, even though penalties were dealt out fairly regularly. Not for the faint hearted it seems, but then these skaters donâ€™t lack heart, or stamina.
During the break between the Cardiff-based Tiger Bay Brawlers and the Birmingham Blitz Dames bout (final score: 123-110) I managed to chat with the lively green-haired â€˜Skulldozerâ€™ of our own MRD (real name: Kirsty Eighteen). She has only been in the sport since March 2009, yet is now heavily involved in the team, helping to bring this event to the wider public. She agreed that the sport appears to attract many competitors from the heavy metal/hard rock audience. Yet at the same time it is growing and open to all. The team is entirely comprised of volunteers, with little profit from the event going into the organisers pockets. In the future, they hope to arrange events such as the Wonderbrawl every 3-4 months, and they are even training up a team of Rollerboys for any keen male skaters who want to get involved.
The finale was a skate-by of the teams, with the audience crowding around the ring. The skaters sped by, giving everyone with an outstretched hand a high-five before the teams had their photographs. No harsh words, no ill feeling and an altogether very pleasant ending on a rainy Manc afternoon to some thrilling roller derby action.
If youâ€™re interested in a try out, or for taking on their fun and intense â€˜Zero to Heroâ€™ training program, head down to the Levenshulme Arcadia on Wednesdays and Sundays. Itâ€™s free, and open to all. For more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The history of the Moston Miners Club is a colourful patchwork of pragmatism, bawdiness and
criminality, its clientele having swerving from bathing colliery workers to hard-up, hard drinking
miners and working men to the cronies and hoodlums of a notorious Mancunian crime boss.
Now though, this black sheep has been given a chance to make a new start by talented artist and
proprietor Louis Beckett. Following years of disrepair, the building was picked up by an unnamed
owner who wanted to knock it down and convert the property into flats. He was blocked by the
council, however, so he then leased the property to Louis under strict instructions that he turn it into
a social project involving the local community.
Louis and his supporters have set themselves to deliver on that, and the club reopened this summer
with the aim is to provide Mostonians with facilities for refreshment, relaxation and recreation.
Inside the main entrance to this deceptively huge building there is the colourful cafe, manned by
Louis’ retired father. A swathe of local artwork adorns the walls, much of it provided and produced
by Louis himself as well as talented young artists from the area. Food and drink here is good quality
and inexpensive, and young kids relax in the common area whilst a couple sit with drinks and talk.
It’s hard to believe the change from a few months ago when the place was vandalised, water-logged
and falling apart.
The transformation has only come about following some very hard graft by Louis and his family,
local volunteers and the assistance and support from the likes of FC United. Repairs have been and
remain extensive, yet the essential trickle of funds and support from helpers have kept the dream
I asked Louis what inspired him to start the project. â€œI’ve always been interested in artâ€ he says. â€œI
was doing exhibitions all around, here and there, and I got the chance of getting this place because
[the owner] liked my artwork and I needed an exhibition spaceâ€.
Asked where he sees the place going in five to ten years, Louis replies that he wants a place where
people can come and socialise.
â€œYou get all these art cafes in town â€¦ I want that sort of environment, that sort of area. I know
there are people here who want that as wellâ€.
Along with this overarching aim, plans are already well underway for a small training gym (led by
Joe, an up-and-coming local boxer), Cheerleading classes, drama classes led by the Mad Theatre
Company, art groups and even a vegetable garden for local produce.
Questioned on attitudes by young people to the club, it seems they’re not indifferent or hostile to it.
Even though some of the younger kids do misbehave, Louis tells me, the older ones keep them in
line. They see the value in the place and know that it’s fragile and a decent attempt by Louis and the
community to provide quality services and improve local people’s lives.
â€œIf you walk round this estate, you probably see a pack of [kids], there’s like about 13 of them,
who’ll all come in, all start shouting ‘I’ll ‘ave some chips!’, I want this I want thatâ€, Louis
jokes. â€œYou just completely ignore them and then just say to them like ‘so what do you want?’,
alright, alright, ‘just shut it!’, y’know what I mean? And they do. And when you get them on their
own you start saying to them, do you fancy learning any art? And you know that they want it.
They don’t feel embarrassed in front of their mates. But the older ones, 18 or 19, they want it. They
say, ‘yeah I’ll come to that, I’ll join that group’â€.
These are locals, notes Louis. â€œThey’re just local lads off the estateâ€. And although tongue-in-cheek
he admits that some of them are probably the lads involved in the riots, this place represents an
opportunity for them to do something other than ape the stereotype of â€œmooching about the streets,
looking for some car to smash up!â€.
The club already has a touch of fame about it, with Failsworth band PURESSENCE using the large
spaces for rehearsals, and there are hopes that they and even the likes of Ian Brown and Mani from
the Stone Roses (notably educated in Moston) would be up for a gig or two when the function room
is fully functioning.
These big ambitions, alongside the exciting plans for the nearby new FC United stadium (promising
to be a superb, unobtrusive complex with sports facilities for locals) should tie in nicely. The future
of Moston therefore looks a bright one, and although it’ll not be the Chorlton of North Manchester
anytime soon, on balance that’s probably a good thing.
Matt Dibble’s recent effort brings echoes of Mull Historical Society and Ben Folds Five, especially in tracks such as ‘Get On’ with its generally upbeat, jazz-pop feel presumably influenced by the themes of the daytime TV shows that inspired it.
Yet although it veers to brilliance with tracks such as ‘I Tell Myself’, a pleasant, refreshing tune with lightweight piano riffs and breezy harmonies, it sadly often falls prey to the mediocrity of the culture that it draws from. It’s not that it’s a bad album. It’s a very well executed, very listenable effort with some real gems. The problem is that you can’t work out if it’s meant to be a cohesive parody of actual daytime TV, or just that certain tracks are parodies whereas others are meant to genuinely sound like saccharine, somewhat mundane background music.
The former conclusion, that this album is one masterful parody, certainly seems the case when listening to the eponymous song ‘Daytime TV’. This track sends up in a burning rocket of smirking tongue-in-cheek lyricism the whole culture, with joyfully sung lines such as â€œSitting here I see the days go by â€¦ Just one more show â€¦ They free me from myself / Stop me looking in / They lead me to a place where the darkness fades / I never have the need to venture out my own front doorâ€. These frankly brilliant, funny and insightful lyrics delivered on an upbeat poppy tune that could well serve as the theme to some kind of ‘Come Dancing In My Celebrity Attic’-type show, contrast with the relatively mute efforts of ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’ and ‘Miles To Go’, which although nice sort-of bar music, don’t add much to the album. I can’t make up my mind on this one.
Although sadly not a world-beater, this is definitely worth a bit of financial outlay to listen to.
Comedian Noel Fielding put brush to glass at the Manchester Arndale Waterstones on Saturday 12th
In a colourful event the Mighty Boosh and Buzzcocks funnyman and professional eccentric donned
a banana-yellow boiler suit scrawled with ‘I Heart Art’ to perform some licensed graffiti for the
chain. ‘Manchester Riots’ style defacing it wasn’t as a horde of 200-odd teenage fangirls and boys
crowded and screamed to watch the black-haired, silver-heeled star decorate the shop window with
some weird art in time for Crimbo.
News of the event had spread online and by word of mouth. When Noel arrived, fashionably late
and showered with mobile phone flash-photography, he paused for pictures, hugged a few fans and
jokingly asked the crowd for suggestions before he finally set-to. A pair of young fans who’d been
waiting out since 9am said the rumour was that Noel was to paint a Jaffa Cake. This odd (but not
out-of-character) suggestion didn’t materialise. Instead, the finished image was a disturbing bloody-
mouthed three-headed cat thing with heeled shoes, in light blue, with ‘MADCAP’ written boldly
above it (presumably this wasn’t a suggestion from the audience).
The unique show was coordinated to promote the October launch of Noel’s new art book, ‘The
Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton’. A collection of his photography, drawings and paintings
both old and new, the book should appeal to the abstract-humour sensibilities of fans of The
Mighty Boosh. A book-signing session followed the window-painting. Joining Noel on the day was
the book’s art director, Dave Brown. Dave is a long-standing member of ‘the Boosh’ playing the
character ‘Bollo’ who is a large friendly gorilla.
Yep, that’s right, their song ‘Woke Up This Morning’ is the theme to The Sopranos. It’s very cool
and it makes you want to wake up one morning and grab yourself a gun. Although it’s apparently
not bought them a swimming pool, it’s definitely opened them up to new listeners. And yet ‘that’
song is just a small part of the weird and wonderful world of Alabama 3.
It was a decent, relaxed, funny set by the Brixton ensemble at the newish (yet still bouncy-floored)
HMV Ritz. Underwhelming acoustics left them a tad disjointed but they made the best of it and yes,
they played ‘that’ song. Other highlights included ‘Mao Tse Tung Said’ and ‘We Stole the Moon’
where the go-to good time guy of Manchester, Sir the Reverend Fucking Bez, magically appeared
on stage to have a dance, shout ‘MANCHESTER’ really loud and attempt some singing, bless
him. No Maracas this time! ‘Too Sick To Pray’ and ‘Saved’ provided more chilled out blues meets
Madchester vibes and ‘R.E.H.A.B’ was groovily awesome. In their own words, Alabama 3 are a
pop, punk, blues, country, techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro band. They want to
look after you. They do.