Wednesday, 21 September 2011

New arrivals/inspiration

At work, the academic year is starting, new students are arriving and milling about the campus. It's the pinnacle of a long summer of preparation.

Yesterday, I met Paul J Abbott, induction manager at the University of Salford, a man who genuinely has an excuse to be busy at this time of year, what with 6,000 newcomers on campus and him expected to welcome them all. But that's not stopped his creativity. He's an experimental musician and as he watched the freshers zig zag across campus an idea came to him. He would make their journeys into a piece of music.

It would have been really easy for Paul to say this is the wrong time of year, I can't compose now, I'm much too busy. But instead he turned his day job into art. He made a large map and asked students to mark on it the beginning point of their journey, and to tell him how long it took them to get there.

He explains what he did next:
"By working with an acetate overlay I was able to identify musical lines from using rotations around the point of the compass. These were interpreted into a series of rhythmic phrases by normalising the start points for each journey and using the various times of landing, or points of arrival, to establish a series of complex patterns. The score is in part a text piece around a series of phrases which can be performed by three or more performers."
The result is called Points of Arrival. It was commissioned by Manchester's own Chiasmus Ensemble and you can watch its first performance here. It's had several outings since, including a performance by Paul himself last night.

Musicians make music. Artists make art. Writers write. No matter how busy they are. Because everything around us (even pigeons, see previous blog post) is potential inspiration.

One creative idea often leads to another too. One of Paul's latest projects is to lend a hand with the rehabilitation of the Black Lion pub, on the corner of Blackfriars and Chapel Street. It's been shut for a while, but is now coming back to life as an creative centre for the arts with a live performance space, cinema and bar, thanks to Salford film production company Future Artists.

This Saturday, 24th September, they're holding a Pledge, Pitch, Play, Party event - the public votes for one of ten shortlisted acts - Paul is one of them - and the winner will receive free performance space at the Black Lion.

Why not get down there on Saturday and be inspired?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Pigeons have been popping up all over the place this week. I love how something as ordinary as a pigeon can inspire a huge variety of art.

First my friends Kaaren and Richard have been documenting the pairs of pigeons nestbuilding in a Parisian windowbox. Just like K and R, these Eurasian Collared Doves are a loved-up pair, who live in artistic and exquisite surroundings, and enjoy some of the simplest and best things in life. Kaaren is a writer whose wonderful insights are informed by a huge knowledge of myth; Richard's beautiful photographs add a vibrant dimension to their joint work.

At the other end of the scale is Brian the pigeon, the Parisians' downmarket London cousin. His blog is earthy, foul mouthed and hilarious. Brian's "PR agent" is Lisa Shand, a talented up and coming writer, who has a great handle on first person narrative, and whose first novel I will be looking out for.

Finally at Bury Literary Salon this week the affable poet and artist Josef Minta showed a short film he'd made featuring pigeons flying in a city sky. They circle and swoop and turn above the rooftops against a haunting soundtrack. To me they seemed like a squadron of world war two bombers, then a pair lifted off into the sky like a still from Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. If you watch it, expect to see something different.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


The first few days back at work after a holiday are always hard. As I trudged to work this morning, my head still full of Scottish beaches, I met a rabbit. This is not normal: I work in the centre of Manchester practically. But my route does take me along the side of Peel Park, a green haven and the oldest public park in Europe.

The rabbit hopped quite confidently up a slope to my left and onto the footpath in front of me. It was a wild brown rabbit, large and plump, with powerful back legs and a cotton wool ball for a tail. It stopped. I stopped too. Its nose twitched. 

It seemed entirely unconcerned by my presence, as if it didn't consider human beings anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was an escaped pet? Perhaps. But last time I was in a pet shop, the rabbits were all freakishly cute, with long fur and ears that flopped downwards instead of pricking up. Their big needy eyes pleaded “take me take me take me”. This one had short, dull fur, coloured for camouflage, and he ignored me totally. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.

He lolloped casually under a hedge and onto the campus, towards a stretch of lawn left unmown to attract wildlife. He (I’m sure the rabbit was a he) nibbled at some clover, and sniffed the air some more.

What does it mean to see a rabbit in the morning? I wondered if it was an omen. His fat haunches disappeared with a flash of tail under a line of shrubs in front of the student shop, and he left me standing there, alone.

Just another creature going about its daily business, I suppose. I pushed the strap of my bag back onto my shoulder. Then I went on my way, towards the noise of traffic, my computer and a nice cup of tea in my hutch.