Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Blackburn Spezial exhibition

I really enjoyed the Spezial exhibition in Blackburn's Cotton Exchange. Definitely enjoyed it more than the football match we attended beforehand. The curation of the huge collection of iconic adidas shoes was very well executed.

I also liked the whole context around the exhibition, a tilt in the direction of Blackburn's heritage, both in textiles and in culture.

Gary Aspden did an excellent job and got the look and feel just right.

Never mind the election - come and meet the Mayor

The Mayor speaks at Parklife 2017

As Andy Burnham approaches the end of his first term in office, and the public contempt for the Westminster he left behind is laid bare, I'm delighted that my old client, accountancy institute the ICAEW, have asked me to host an event with the Greater Manchester Mayor.

It's come at a critical time in our politics nationally, but also in our city region. London has long been synonymous with “Big Business”, but what can we expect from the Manchester of the future under Andy Burnham’s steer? The Manchester skyline may be crowded with more cranes than any other UK city, but how do we address true regional imbalances?

So far he's built alliances beyond the political realm in order to achieve his manifesto goals of eradicating street homelessness and sorting out transport. Obviously I spend a lot of my day job making sure the university I work at is in tune with these regional strategies and priorities and acts accordingly. One example is the ‘UK 2070’ report, published recently by Lord Bob Kerslake’s Commission, which clearly demonstrates the “huge gulf” that exists between the UK’s best and worst performing towns and cities. How do we ensure that Greater Manchester’s towns benefit from the city’s boom and that they are not left behind?

The question I keep coming back to is whether Greater Manchester has the means to drive its own destiny. Even though the city region has the most advanced devolution deal of any of the UK’s cities, how do we use this to deliver a fundamental shift in decision making outside of London and pass these devolved powers and self-determination to people across the North? What are the levers that the Mayor can pull? And what are the limits?

Going all the way back to 2000 when I moved back North, I've worked closely with the region's extensive professional services sector, which I believe has consistently been underappreciated and misunderstood. Is it truly a participant in the local industrial strategy? Or does the emphasis on health innovation, advanced manufacturing, digital, and working towards becoming carbon neutral, drown out the innovation that financial and professional sectors are contributing? And what complementary skills does the region need from the professions in order to bring the strategy to life? That's before we've even started asking questions to those of us working in the local educational sector about what we need to do to make all of this happen?

Register here to join us on the 7 November to hear more from Andy Burnham on his vision for the city and take the opportunity to ask your burning questions on the future of Greater Manchester.

And if you can't make it, put your question to Andy via Twitter using #InConvoGM

Friday, October 25, 2019

If the shoe fits - repair, recycle, renew - me and my Mephisto's

New shoes? Nope, but I only refurbished my absolute favourites. These Mephisto Rainbow beauties have been worn relentlessly since I picked them up from FW Tyson in Ambleside in 2014.

They've got the comfort of trainers, and are a true French design classic. They also come without the connotations of wearing trainers for doing something that isn't sport, for a man of my age. So, I simply couldn’t bear to throw them away when the sole had worn down and splits to the stitching got worse. Normally I'd just start to look for something similar, as good, or even replace them like for like.

But my I've recently bought a couple of pairs of Joseph Cheaney shoes. Hand crafted Northampton made exemplars of British craftmanship. They come with a lifetime guarantee that the skilled shoemakers can bring well worn pieces back to their best.

It got me thinking about these Gallic glories. I found out that there was this bloke in Burnham-on-Sea who does a refurb service, Footwear4you. We had a lovely chat on the phone about how it works, so I popped them in the post and waited to see what happened. He sent them off to the factory in France, four weeks later I got them back, and I'm staggered at the results. They've had a real overhaul, a brand new sole, they've seamlessly stitched up a couple of the tears on the trim, and polished them up far better than I ever could, as good as new, and thrown in fresh laces. Remarkable. Great service and a reasonable price as well. As my Dad has always said, 'pay less, pay twice'.

There's been a growing backlash against fast fashion lately. The alternative is buying better quality because it lasts, getting things repaired because they're worth it. These definitely are.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Mystify Michael Hutchence - terribly sad

Mystify Michael Hutchence is a terribly, terribly sad film.  We all know how it ends for the INXS front man, but the build up to the conclusion is still a compelling tale. For all its sorrow, it is sensitively put together by the film maker Richard Lowenstein, who made their beautiful video in Prague for their standout breakthrough hit Never Tear Us Apart, the right mix of celebration and lamentation.

But while it is a hugely impressive visual achievement, it is still somehow stylistically and gloriously messy, and eschews the talking head style of documentary in favour of a mixture of home movie clips, concert footage and splices in archive material which focuses relentlessly on Michael, pretty much like the image of INXS in their heyday. None of it makes Michael any less striking, or the film less of a spectacle.

As a generation of music fans we’re not short of tragic stories of those troubled tortured geniuses who burn out and leave us too soon. From my own musical sphere I have the works of David McComb, Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis to look back on for that early glimpse of their startling careers and wonder what might else have been.

Hutch was different. He always had a vivid star quality that far exceeded the musical reach of his decent hard working rock band. When I lived in Perth in the late 80s he was considered cool and iconic even if the rest of the band wasn't. I was won over by his live presence at the Perth International Arena on the Kick tour in 1988, a crescendo to a marathon 18 month global slog, and considered myself a fan and stuck with them. Journalists and other mates who knew him also had stories of his generosity, kindness and capacity for hard work and hard partying.

But this film isn't really about his musical legacy - did he have one? - but the story of the relationships of a global rock star. His family, the band members, and the women. How a warm, beautiful man, went from one mad passionate relationship to another, usually with gorgeous global superstars, but starting with his first love Michele, who inspired the sentiment of Never Tear Us Apart, and was the last person to speak to him before he died. You occasionally hear it said that someone at their height of their fame ‘could have anyone he wanted’ but in Michael’s case he could. After seeing the video for the Chris Isaak song Wicked Game, Michael asked the director to introduce him to the star of it, the world’s most desirable supermodel, Helena Christiansen, and asked her out. And that was on the rebound from Kylie Minogue!

Though the inquest into his death in a Sydney hotel room in 1997 recorded a verdict of likely suicide, it was contested by his grieving widow Paula Yates, who herself died of a heroin overdose a few years later. What the film reveals in a testimony from Helena is that he suffered a brain injury after being punched in the head in Copenhagen in 1992 and was never the same again. He lost his sense of smell, had no taste, and suffered mood swings and blackouts. And as Kylie says elsewhere in the film: “Sex, love, food, drugs, music, travel, books, you name it, he wanted to experience it.”

It’s hard to say whether the film advances a theory or closes a book. I’d say it tells one aspect of his life. There’s a further mystery over his money, some of it revealed in the leaked Paradise Papers, that his assets were held in offshore trusts and companies, out of the reach of his immediate family and intended beneficiaries. You also come away with the feeling reinforced that the entertainment industry can be cruel, the pressures to sustain success, or deal with a fall from the summit, enormous.

I found the film sobering and hard to watch. But for all the trappings of fame and fortune it all comes back down to what really matters in the end. Love. Love for your family. Love for yourself.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Breaking Bad - the gift that keeps on giving

I miss Breaking Bad, but I liked the way it ended. I'm also enjoying Better Call Saul, the prequel series which pivots around Walt's slippy lawyer Saul. Or Jimmy as we know him.

The new film, El Camino, basically, 'what happened to Jesse Pinkman' is a faithful reminder of what we loved so much about the epic 'Mr Chips to Scarface' journey of the original five series. Honestly, I forgot a few details and probably missed a few Easter Eggs that writer Vince Gilligan left in there for the faithful. Honestly, it doesn't matter. All you need to tune in to is the last episode of BB and where you were as Walt massacred the Nazis and Todd got what he deserves.

El Camino brought back a few things I really loved about Breaking Bad, notably, the chaos. Everything on this crazy trajectory is always a couple of steps from catastrophe and an entire cast of criminals are all kinds of incompetent, but not without a capacity for human kindness too. As it's only been out a few days I'm not going to spoil anything but it is every bit as gorgeous, glorious and grim as we remember. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Stunning. The best word to describe Matt Jansen’s autobiography

There are football biographies, then there are books about football fan culture, or the business end of the game, then there are books about the banter that surrounds professional football. I’m probably a little bit interested in the first lot, but only if they’ve been a significant Blackburn Rovers player or manager, curiously drawn to elements of the second and third category, and probably not that interested in the latter batch at all. I’ve never read the story of the career of, for example (and to pluck a random name completely out of the air), Dean Saunders. I do like fast paced business biographies, tales of bravery and courage, and the extraordinary achievements of relatable people.

Matt Jansen’s timely biography is rather brilliant, in that I found myself unable to explain quite what it meant to me, welling up with tears, relaying the tale of the post-accident Jansen appearing at Ewood for Bolton Wanderers and getting a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground. I was about as articulate this week, to my non-Rovers supporting 15 year son, as I was to Matt Jansen himself when I asked him if he was going to be alight in Velvet Restaurant in Manchester in July 2002. What I wanted to say was - “I have watched Blackburn Rovers teams for the last 25 years, reared on Wagstaffe and Garner, spoilt by Shearer and Hendry, but you, Matt, are something special. THAT goal at Preston, all those performances in that season culminating in THAT goal at Preston, THAT game against Arsenal. Oh, and Cardiff. That’s why I have a son called Matt, born six weeks after THAT day in Cardiff. Your day. I hope beyond all else, that you are going to be OK. I love you Matt Jansen.”

Instead I said something like - “going to be alright then, you? Please. Sorry?”

Or as my Canadian deputy commented once we were back in the office. “Just seen the boss go all weird and woozy in front of some soccer kid called Matty Hansen”.

But much as I enjoyed the rekindling of footballing memories - and I really, really did - and much as the latter narrative was challenging - it really, really was - this was a book about belief. The deep, psychological core belief in who you are as a person. How that motivates your actions and guides behaviour. Told against the backdrop of what might have been for a professional athlete who had his world shaken to its roots, it is at times heartbreaking and unbearable. The passages with the psychiatrist Steve Peters, with my mate Michael Finnigan, the performance psychologist, and his experiences around various doctors was truly fascinating. Jaw dropping, in fact. Professional football has been on a journey, as wealth has grown, so assets need nurturing, protecting. You also get the impression from the story just how many people in football management are winging it. No qualifications, no attention to detail, no success. I mean, work it out.

I won’t say the book is ultimately uplifting, because it isn’t. But to bear witness to one man overcoming loss - and it is loss - is at least inspiring. It becomes a book about choice too. The most powerful passages pivot around Steve Peters and how he approaches Matt. It’s what ultimately makes it such a compelling book.

A word then on professionalism. This is a well produced book by the impressive imprint Polaris. It is also very well written and very smartly constructed by the Carlisle News and Star journalist Jon Colman. I like the way it is Matt’s story, but not without critical voices - his wife, his father-in-law, friends like Garry Flitcroft one of many people who emerge from the book with abundant generosity of spirit and time.

This is also a welcome addition to a conversation I’m delighted is happening more and more, that mental health matters, that the mind matters.

So I’ll say now all that I really wanted to say to Matt in 2002. Thank you. And that I wish you every happiness.