Sunday, February 26, 2012

Getting beaten at Man City - this is how it feels to be Rovers

Manchester City fielded at least four players against Blackburn Rovers yesterday who cost more than Venky's paid to buy an entire club. With the exception of City keeper Joe Hart - who may as well not have bothered playing - no Rovers player cost more than the next cheapest City player.

There is a gulf in money between the clubs. There was also a gulf in class. I said to my eldest lad yesterday that the point wasn't to hope we'd win - we had no chance - but for him to watch at close quarters a player of sublime skill and ability - David Silva.

We can moan about humiliation and tactics as much as we like, but that's the truth. And whoever else buys the club, there isn't a thing we can do about it. The Man United score looks more and more like a fluke.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Best hope for Blackburn Rovers - a mutual future

The building blocks are being slotted into the place for a supporter owned future for Blackburn Rovers. The website, here, has all the details so far of the newly formed Supporters Investment Trust. This plan has my full support. There may be some short term blips and the present owners may play hard to get, but this is the only game in town.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inside Out - BBC North West programme on Peel

I was delighted to be asked to contribute a few comments to the BBC North West Inside Out programme on Peel Holdings this week. In a nutshell I said the North West is very lucky to have a business like Peel, led by a driven and determined character like John Whittaker, but that their success comes with a ruthless streak. They tend not to lose. I also mentioned he is a devout practising Catholic. Maybe I sound a little like the Indian mother on Goodness Gracious Me, always spotting her own.

My one and only on the record encounter with John Whittaker is recorded for all time here in the May 2010 edition of North West Business Insider. I rather regret not making more of this encounter and putting it up on the web. The theatre of the clash between JW and Sir Howard Bernstein seemed exciting at the time, and we milked it as a news story and demonstrated how we accessed such big hitters. I wish in a way I'd delved into the great man a little more while I had the chance and splashed it some more. Hats off then to Property Week editor Giles Barrie for doing just that with his opportunity here, but I notice that he too has chosen to hide it behind a paywall. Sometimes it's better to save these things for the printed product, I certainly thought so at the time.

I also have to commend David Quinn and Arif Ansari for an excellent short film. It was fair, balanced and gave a number of valuable insights into the business. The only shame for them, like me, like Giles Barrie, is with Peel you just don't know what to leave out - but part of our challenge is always what you omit as much as what you include and how the story is then told.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

There is something frustrating, irritating and slightly unctuous about the modern literary elite - Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes. There shouldn't be, we should actually be proud of what they have produced and be prepared to absorb ourselves in their prestigious output. Barnes won the 2011 Booker Prize for this slim novella - and though I haven't actually read any of the others he beat to the title, it seems at least worthy of the honour. It's an uncomfortable read at times, dealing with the recollections of Tony Webster, a middle aged man dealing with a life of regret and questionable recollection. It is beautifully written with a straightforward story and cast of characters. His tone of voice, so eloquent and observant, and yet so unable to read people properly as time passes and to display such lack of awareness takes real skill. Building a story around an unsympathetic character is often hailed as a worthy trick to pull off, Amis and McEwan all revel in it. This is slightly different, as you never particularly root for Webster, but recoil in mild disgust. It's also an antidote to boastful Great American Novel writers who demand so much of you with their 150,000 word epic. None of that should put you off, it is a short, accessible and thoroughly engaging little gem of a book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charity shop classics - from Marple

James Graham, a journalist of this wider parish of Manchester, presents a delightful show on community radio station ALL FM based in Levenshulme. It's called Charity Shop Classics and features music purchased in the ever growing number of charity shops. The idea of the show is to show how much great, eclectic stuff you can find. There are a few Charity Shops in Marple as we know and programme number 10 sourced some of its music from the Cancer Research shop on Derby Way.

James says: "I was delighted to find that this was just two songs: Graham Parker and the Rumour – I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down, and Kris Kristofferson – Help Me Make it Through the Night from the albums Stick to Me, and Me and Bobby McGee respectively.

 "I remember thinking the general calibre of albums was pretty high, not too much battered stuff, or crooners like Doonican and Jim Reeves, or dreadful Scottish marching music." Here's a thing. They were both £1.99 which James thought was a premium price - the ideal rate being 50p or £1. "Sadly there's terrible price inflation in charity shops, fuelled by some stores who realised they were under-selling a lot of stuff." I thought maybe it's a Cheshire thing, but apparently not.

The show is on every Sunday morning 11-12 (apart from the first of the month) on allfm 96.9 which can be picked up across Greater Manchester.

Marple democracy in action

My fascination with the workings of local government and politics took me to the Area Committee meeting at Marple Library tonight. Usually such meetings are small and sleepy affairs. Some have no members of public present at all. Marple's is usually quite well attended - about 40 people were at this one. There were a couple of presentations - one on woodland and the other on the long term Vision for Marple by Gillian from Marple Civic Society.

The most controversial aspect of the meeting was a presentation by one of the officials on the use of A Frames outside shops. There is a proposal that these be registered and licensed at a cost of £70 each. The reason? the council are concerned that they may be liable if there is no scheme in place when some tricky lawyer comes knocking with a stack of personal injury cases.

Understandably the businesses present were appalled at another burden when they least need it. But the councillors seemed sympathetic enough. One of them however proceeded to lecture local businesses on the best ways they could advertise cost effectively on the internet and in local papers - instead of using these advertising boards.

It seems a mundane and trivial issue, but the promise to look again seemed genuine as did a call for a formal response from Marple Business Forum to introduce a voluntary code.

Did it make me any more convinced about the need for non-partisan representation at a time of critical community need? No, not really, but it did reinforce the view that while they may be hugely committed to their local community needs, councillors have to play a daily game of cat and mouse with professional bureaucrats who have a need to meddle. Some cope with that better than others, and the closer they are to the party machine, the harder it is to do that.

No news on the supermarket developments - Asda have yet to submit a plan. The deadline for expressions of interest on the Chadwick Street site is this Friday.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Local politics - too important to be left to politicians

The local council elections this May have thrown up a few intriguing issues. Marple's two wards have both been relatively safe Liberal Democrat seats, but these are far from normal times. If the national picture is to be translated locally then the LibDem vote is in meltdown and they will probably lose control of Stockport Council, which they currently run with the tacit support of a group of independent councillors from Heald Green.

Last time round, the Conservatives trailed the LibDems by 8 per cent in Marple South and 10 per cent in Marple North. A softening of the core vote could easily swing it. Link to the results is here.

Locally in Marple there are only really two well organised political bodies. The Liberal Democrat party and Marple in Action. That is not to say that Marple in Action is a political party, far from it. Indeed, there are many crossovers in membership and over the single issue of the supermarket the LibDems have come out as against it.

Yet I get no impression that the Conservatives have a sufficient organisation in Marple. The Conservative Club is a social base, not a political one. They have fielded "paper" candidates in the past, young activists with a willingness to put their names out, but with no hope of winning. Now that they have the opportunity, do they have the means?

A cynic could say the local councillors and candidates have played to the prevailing wind. Had there been no outrage at the proposals, I dare say the councillors who have sat as college governors would herald the inward investment success of attracting interest from Asda. As it is, they've latterly come to the table and been rather shocked by the weight of public opinion (see the picture above at the Area Committee in Memorial Park which rather shook them up).

I think all of this has made Marple quite volatile politically. There is also, to my mind, the continued question as to whether Shan Alexander should continue a career in public life following her conviction in 2009 of a driving offence which resulted in the death of a passenger in her car. I certainly don't think she should, as I said here. I don't know whether this is a big issue locally, but it should be.

But as I've said before, here for example, there is a vital need for an open and public debate about where this community is heading. Marple in Action has done a great job raising this long term thought to the fore. But will the councillors? In a council chamber, with party loyalties pulling elected members in one direction and another, I fear the main priority of this community and it's fragile business base could be overlooked.

I don't think the short term objectives of Marple in Action are under any immediate threat from the issues of this election - it is important too that the organisation remains focused on this huge single issue. But beyond that I have an uneasy feeling that the longer the Marple Area plan is thrown into the hands of council committees and dense reports, the more obscure it appears to ordinary people. 

My view, which I have come to recently, is that this election is time for an independent slate to come forward and stand up for the community. And put Marple first.

Thirty One - a very worthwhile project

Some of Manchester's finest musical talents have contributed to a fantastic project called Thirty One. The launch is at Band on the Wall tomorrow and I'm gutted I can't go.

It's all in aid of the CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) charity. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK and the proceeds of the album will be going towards helping CALM set up a 24/7 round-the-clock helpline.

 Thirty One is a collection of tracks from Manchester UK, featuring rare and exclusive songs from both established and emerging acts. The album has been curated and compiled by DJ/Writer Dave Haslam for The Factory Foundation. Thirty One also features art direction from Peter Saville (in collaboration with LOVE Creative) and photography from Thomas Cockram. All profits from the release will go to CALM a registered charity with its roots in Manchester.

The ambition of Thirty One is to raise sufficient funds to enable CALM to run their national freephone helpline service: 0800 58 58 58 every night of the week, every day of the year. The helpline is currently open from 5pm-midnight on Saturday, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Thirty One is an amazing snapshot capturing the undeniable quality of the Manchester music scene. It features brand new material by artists with careers stretching back to the post-punk era.

TRACKS INCLUDE: -ELBOW Lippy Kids (Live from Pinkpop- an exclusive UK release) -NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS Let The Lord Shine A Light On Me (from the band’s second single) -I AM KLOOT Bigger Wheels (reworked exclusively for Thirty One) -EVERYTHING EVERYTHING Carry Me Home (Gloworm Cover) -DURUTTI COLUMN Requiem Away (re-mastered from FAC244) -JEZ KER Reason I Feel Like An Alien (a stripped back version of the track from A Certain Ratio’s bassist/vocalist).

Other tracks come from established acts such as Delphic and Mr Scruff, the inimitable psychedelic songwriter Jim Noir and bright new hopes Airship. Thirty One also features BBC 6 Music favorites Plank! and a remix of Manchester stalwarts The Whip’s “Secret Weapon”. It is an album much like the city from which it originates: rich in musical variety. It ranges from the bass heavy sounds of Murkage, to the delicate stylings of Sara Lowes and the stunning, original new talent of Ruby Ann Patterson. All of the songs have been donated by the artists for Thirty One, which is not just a compilation reflecting successful music-making in the city, but presents one of the highest quality charity albums of recent years.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Have you ever met a soft Salfordian?

I enjoyed a trip to Salford's new community stadium to watch Salford City Reds play their first game against Castleford hast weekend. The positives first: the facilities are very good, the food was excellent. I enjoyed the company of my good pal Chris Bird, Jonathan Wall from BBC Radio 5 Live, Mike Fahey and the Salford legend Mike Sweeney. Salford scored first, which was exciting. But it was absolutely freezing. That obviously hit the attendance, which was a little disappointing. The stadium is a decent facility, as it's new the fans are getting used to it - but it's a good main stand with a long and plush function room and the view of the action is first rate. It was a pain to get out of after the match - they need to sort out the access roads.

One other thing. What do you do if you come from Salford and are soft? I mean, everyone looks really hard. Men, women, kids, business people, politicians, sports players. I don't mean they look rough and I'm not being snobbish, but seriously have you ever met a soft Salfordian?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Norbert Smith - one of the greats - a Cricklewood legend too?

I'm looking forward to seeing Peter Capaldi in a new documentary about Cricklewood Studios - on Sunday. - if it's half as good as the above tribute to British film making excellence we will be in for a treat.

A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks

While learned critics were reaching for the "Dickensian" epithet, I recalled The Wire, which had multiple story lines, interweaving characters and each said something funny, pointed and wise about the times we are living in. The word then and now is "sprawling" both of the clever interlocking themes and the wide ranging cast - some you believe more than others - John Veals the hedge fund scumbag most of all. Mixed in with all of that is a smattering of sexual tension and human tragedy. What is particularly impressive is that those issues pan mental illness, football, immigration, hedge funds, the book world, the law, morality in the media, Islam, ambition, failure, voices in the head and a few more layers of London. There have already been a number of books dealing with the elements of the financial crisis of 2008, but in the hands of Sebastian Faulks, a really accomplished literary writer, this one will stand out. There is an element of him showing off, using contemporary themes he backs them all up with flawless research and detail. It makes for a dizzying read - but one that is hard to dip in and out of.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Blackburn Rovers fans - listen to this

We recorded a podcast last night with Daniel Grabko the author of the draft plan for a mutualisation of Blackburn Rovers. The link is here. Everything about Daniel's plan is open, honest and optimistic. He wants input and feedback - let me know what you think.