Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One Vince Miller

Enjoyed a wonderful Radio 3 Nightwaves Podcast this morning. It was a debate on identity on the internet, how people adopt different names and personalities to blog and tweet etc (perish the very thought!). To add to the confusion one of the participants was introduced as "the sociologist Vince Power", which got me pondering about how he promotes Irish music festivals in his spare time and probably has other exotic identities. It turned out he was in fact the sociologist Vince Miller. For me though, there's only one Vince Miller, a fine man of this parish and much as I enjoyed Dr Miller's observations on authenticity, our Vince would have kept it very real indeed.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

MediaCity is important, but not for regeneration

I'm very excited about MediaCity and will be seeing it for myself this week. In the meantime, there's been some rum comment here about the regenerative powers of the BBC's relocation.

On its own the BBC move won't solve inequality and deprivation in Salford. To suggest that is the purpose is to miss the point. But if the BBC has to tax each and every household in the UK for its services – not just BBC1 and BBC2, but effectively for all of it – then it is unsustainable for those services to be so metropolitan in tone, voice and location. The resettlement of a large chunk of a national corporation to the North West is not only a good thing, it is essential for a functioning national plural democracy.

To then have a private company, Peel, build the thing and to invest in the rest of the infrastructure around it – with a subsidy, just like the Dome, just like the Olympics, just like the Thames Gateway, just like the new BBC radio studio central London – is an incredible piece of good fortune.

The refuseniks who don’t want to come to live in Hale and Didsbury now are an aberration. The real story lies with the people who have a chance to work with the BBC for the next 20 years – my kids, their mates and even the sons and daughters of Nicky Campbell and others who are coming. It is the BBC after all.

Having accepted all of the above, the BBC then sought a suitable site. Salford Quays was their most cost effective solution as the landowner was prepared to build it (by unlocking subsidy, granted). Manchester’s alternative – Southern Gateway – was more costly and didn’t have the potential to attract other inward investors.

MediaCity at Salford Quays has proved attractive to SISLink, ITV, Salford University, little by little, bit by bit, a new media ecology can grow here.

It won’t provide mass employment for the yoof of Langworthy – however much they say it might – but there is much more to it than that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Never Mind the Apprentice Here's Young Enterprise

So, to Manchester Airport's Concorde facility for the annual awards for the best group of school kids from the North West with their own business idea. The winners, left, were from Clitheroe Royal Grammar School in Lancashire with their own collection of products in a reusable bag. A very nifty gift idea. It was my honour to host these awards and I can say with some confidence that every one of the finalists was loads better than any of the muppets on the present series of the Apprentice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why aren't I into Doves?

Everything about Doves suggests I should like them. Triumphant expansive sound, parochial North West  references. A nod to prog in that they are technically very accomplished and experiment with different sounds. To cap it all, they seem like really nice lads. It hit me tonight on the way home on the train, the opening guitar on the opening track on Last Broadcast - Words - is a stirring anthemic intro as good as anything you could hear on a random shuffle. Then comes the voice. It just isn't strong enough, or distinctive enough. Vocals don't have to be powerful and domineering. Am I too shallow to appreciate the point of Doves enough? Is there another entry point I should try? The critics seem to universally love them, so I guess it really must be me. I read somewhere that they are friends with Guy Garvey and may work together. That has potential.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Booze, boys and kids footie

When I did my FA coaching course a couple of years ago, the course leader was an experienced coach called Bill Prendergast. A couple of us got talking to him about the end of season presentation evenings that junior football clubs do. Bill was horrified that these events are held in pubs and clubs with alcohol consumed avidly. I was also concerned that our event at Marple was taking too long with 9 age groups and hundreds of bored parents hovering at the bar creating a hum of background noise. "Ask the kids what they want," suggested Bill. Well, we did, but they just want their evening of glory, really, and you can't ask an 8 year old an open question. We put an online poll on the website which came down to a choice between 'just each age group', 'a single function', or 'two events - one for the "youths" (10-14) and one for the "juniors" (7-10)'. They went for the latter option.

We've done it all now. The older kids had an awards at Hawk Green Cricket Club last weekend. And last night we held the juniors event in Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Marple. Rachel sorted out some pop for the thirsty kids (and adults). Both were all done in an hour. Everyone went home happy.

There's a report out at the moment from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that draws a link between seeing parents drinking and how teenagers go on to behave. There are a lot of important issues running around here, but I'm very much coming around to the view that just as you wouldn't expect to get drunk at a school play it isn't too much to put off that Friday night livener for another hour.

The star turn at the Property Awards - and me and Rory

Rory Bremner was our star turn at the Insider Property Awards last week. I know what you're thinking. He's a has been. Do you know what? I thought that too. I don't know why, he's still on TV isn't he? We occasionally hire celebrities for these awards events and they do a fantastic job. And I see the odd one who betrays the central truth of these occasions: it's easy money and they hate doing it.

Rory is a very smart guy. And I think for the very reasons I outlined above, he knows that the same-old, same-old won't do. So this is what happened. I spared him the crowd control, the charity appeal and the housekeeping and hosted those bits. I tried a new technique for crowd control - and getting 900 people to stay quiet is tough. I didn't "shush" at all. It's seen as rude by some people, and so I tried pauses and extra ad libbing. No-one is listening at the very start anyway. But at 9:45 Rory bounced onto the stage and did a good half hour of comedy. Not just his impressions, which are all spot on, but a series of one-liners, quips, barbs and topical observations. This being Manchester Ryan Giggs featured heavily. He was brilliant. He exuded star quality. It was a pleasure to watch him work (for us).

When it comes to the awards themselves there's another unspoken pact between audience and presenter. He knows it's important to the winner. They know he doesn't really take it that seriously. They also know that it's important in their world and want to win. But it doesn't do to be seen to be taking it too seriously. The real skill comes in the detail and brevity of the script that the presenter works to. In this case Neil Tague, who I work with, provided a punchy and informative script that walked that line with great aplomb. If you can get to the end and a BAFTA award winning comic doesn't feel it necessary to say - "or so it says here" then you've done a first rate job.

So, we've had all kinds of people thanking us for the show. One thing that keeps coming up is how good Rory Bremner was - his jokes and his impressions, but also his research and familiarity with the North West and the property world. Well, take that as a compliment Rory, but take it as an even bigger one, Neil Tague.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson - book review

I bought this book by way of preparation for a trip to the Isle of Man. I was interviewing government officials, tax experts, lawyers and business people who chose to operate in a low tax environment. The book doesn't really talk much about the "tax haven in the Irish Sea" but does get stuck into the morality of low tax regimes in Jersey, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland. And the City of London.
Shaxson is to be commended for a well researched and powerfully argued polemic against the offshore financial system. The history lesson is remarkable. He analyses the paradoxes of Maynard Keynes and the role of the Vestey family, a Scouse meat trading dynasty. He describes how companies operating across national jurisdictions fiddle the system by opting to be taxed in low or zero rated countries. When he describes the plundering of Africa it is a powerful tale indeed.
Where he slightly falls down is in his central thesis that offshore is at the root of all evil. When it's his life's work, he sees the tentacles of offshore banking and tax everywhere, even infecting the libel laws. I think he goes way over the top in characterising a layer of idiots in Jersey as evidence that these are all "bad guys". They might be, but he doesn't resort to that crude characterisation in the chapter on the City of London, where the evidence stacks up much better.
So, did it help me in understanding the Isle of Man? No, on the contrary. I have an instinctive hostility to offshore. It doesn't feel right. But the model of a low tax small state anything goes society isn't the case at all. The Isle of Man actually has a larger public sector and a state that meddles in all kinds of odd areas of life. Their argument for a low tax regime is that they have 80,000 people to support and a have higher costs due to their isolation.
And did it help me understand the source of the financial crisis and the problems that face the world? Yes, definitely. It's provided some uncomfortable and unconvenient truths to ponder. And is likely to provoke some soul searching over a number of fundamental business issues. 
So, is it a good book? Yes, it's well written and detailed. You also get the sense there is a whole lot more he could say, but is fearful of libel writs. A welcome contribution.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Marple store wars - a new twist

I was surprised to get a twitter update from Greater Manchester Police linking to a site here, where they have served notice that they have applied to review the licence of the Premier store run by the Raja Brothers at Rose Hill.

This is the reason given: "because the operation of these premises does not support the licensing objectives, namely the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety and the protection of children from harm. The application has been made on the grounds that the Police have been investigating these premise for underage sales and were unable to view the CCTV footage."

You have until the 5th of July to make a statement, you are reminded that to make a false statement is an offence.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The final insult

I feel pretty miffed about Phil Jones leaving Blackburn Rovers for Manchester United. It's not just because I happen to rate him very highly and that our sons are going to bed very sad tonight. That is true, by the way, but I'm annoyed because Rovers haven't had enough from him yet. He played 40 games. That's a season. One season.

I'm also miffed because he had an injury last season and was helped back from it. We even went to watch him play half a game for the reserves on his comeback. Surely another season to push forward with the club he supported as a kid - see how they trot that one out when it suits them - would not only have increased his stock as a player but he would have improved his experience and added to the number of appearances too. I don't give a stuff for his career now, or how he does for that other team, I liked him because he played for my team in the blue and white.

No, what really, really gets me, is that there doesn't seem to be anyone able to stand up for the club or to make a case for the future and for a young talent to be part of something exciting. The manager is in court on a drink driving charge. The owners are in India. The managing director has left. There is no chairman. There is only chaos.

And the season ticket packs arrived today with a Manchester postmark and from an Eccles address. Guess who's on the montage of "heroes"? Well, the worst manager the club has ever had is gurning from the back, then there is young Jones, just to the right of Terry Gennoe (289 appearances). Sorry Phil, you will never be a Blackburn Rovers hero. Not now. Your loss.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Rovers rumours

Here's what I've heard about Blackburn Rovers. It's a fairly unpleasant workplace to be behind the scenes. Tom Finn is relieved to be on his way and won't be the last of the old regime to go. Appointing Paul Hunt as a deputy chief executive to work alongside a managing director was never going to last. There is no sign of a new chairman. There is still no sponsor willing to pay the £5m they were asking. This in turn is delaying the marketing of next season's kit and the distribution of the season ticket renewal packs. A betting company was lined up (groan), but was knocked back by the Indians. No serious decision is taken without approval of the two new directors Gandhi Babu and Mahesh Gupta. They have to consult with the Rao family on everything.

On the pitch, Nicola Kalinic, Chris Samba and Phil Jones are almost certain to be sold. That's not something I've heard from the inside. It's a gut feeling.

As for Steve Kean, rumours that Rochdale have requested permission to speak to him about the vacant manager's job at Spotland are just wishful thinking on my part.

Does any of this suggest that Venky's know what they are doing?

Helping the Heroes at the Reebok

Thanks to my pal Mike Finnigan I had the opportunity this week to play football on the hallowed turf of Bolton's Reebok Stadium. It was a terrific occasion. Finn used to work with Sam Allardyce at Bolton (story here) and organised the fine details - Bolton kits, home and away dressing rooms, UEFA handshakes, music, an official greeting with the Duchess of Grimsargh. As we stepped out to play we all got the same handshake from our boss that his client David Moyes gives his players at Everton - and the same message: "look after each other out there".

The pitch was in great condition. It was like a snooker table, so smooth and the grass was at a perfect length. It was almost impossible to make a bad pass, but I'm sure we did. In time we'll have the video and some photos. There were 8 camera positions and Gary Weaver was doing the commentary. It was great having Rachel and all the lads there to watch too (above). Such a great day.

Last year I played at Ewood Park and it nearly killed me. My fitness and motivation levels must have improved ten fold, as I came through OK and had more pitch time than I did last year. The engine splutters a bit, but I didn't collapse. No-one else got badly injured either, just one lad had a bust hamstring.

We also raised some money for Help for Heroes. This is an important charity in our family. My Uncle Pete, who died in March this year, was an enthusiastic supporter. He was ex-forces and his son Danny is serving too. Pete will never be forgotten, a big guy with a loving family who miss him terribly. This was for him.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Take That and Robbie raise the bar for live music

I have seen most of my favourite bands. I have soaked up the raw energy of The Jam in their prime, the Manics at their peak of fame, the pink rabbits of the Flaming Lips and of U2's most pompous stadium best on two occasions. I enjoyed the majesty of the David Bowie Glass Spider, but the music was rubbish. But I will say this. I have never ever seen a live stage performance as dramatic, emotional and as awe inspiring as ... Take That at the City of Manchester stadium tonight.

It was so much more than a pop concert. Part Circ de Soiel, mixed with the Bolshoi Ballet, some X Factor, the Rat Pack, a smattering of soap opera drama and a boy band reunion concert. For each song to have a different stage and multiple dress changes suggests that the whole package now has been re-defined.

As if the reapperance of Robbie Williams wasn't enough - and frankly it would have been - the detail and the choreographed spectacle tonight have created a live event to change the whole game forever.

How disappointed will any one of the 400,000 people attending concerts here in Manchester be the next time they see a lame relay of hits from an old favourite? We've heard a lot of  talk about the music industry needing the live event to save the soul of music. It just won't be good enough. This was just incredible.

Footnote: The tour sold 1.1 million tickets in one day.