Category Archives: Highlights

Interview with The Diskery’s Liam Skully

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“I can’t figure out how they work… it baffles me.”

For someone that’s spent 44 years working in a vinyl record store, Liam Skully doesn’t know much about the technical side of the format which he loves. But I’m fairly sure that his encyclopaedic knowledge of music makes up for it.
30-1024x683All pictures courtesy of Vlad Palamariu.
The Diskery is certainly Birmingham’s oldest record store; an enduring fixture of the Birmingham music scene since Morris Hunting opened up a specialist jazz record store selling 58’s on Moor Street in 1952. 2 moves and 20 or so years later, the specialist jazz store had morphed into an all-encompassing smorgasbord of popular music, and had just moved into its current home on Bromsgrove Street, located in 3 old back-to-backs (formerly accommodation for the workers of the Wellington Hotel next door) next to the concrete behemoth of the A38 Bristol Road.
Skully had worked at The Diskery in its former premises (on Hurst Street, just down the road) for around a year. He wasn’t even supposed to be there for that long;

“I should’ve only been here for a couple of weeks! They needed someone while the manager was off, and my mate asked me if I fancied it. I was just an art student who needed a part-time job, so I went along, and it turned into a month’s trial, and I’ve been incarcerated here ever since!”

Despite making it sound suspiciously like the American justice system, it is clear that Skully has it very, very good. I mean, imagine waking up every day, knowing that you work in a record store; knowing that you literally get to listen to music and talk about music and find new music and introduce people to music every single day.
Yeah, sure, you could argue that it doesn’t quite have the cache of a Premier League footballer (and it certainly doesn’t have the wages). And it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to mess around with the ondes martenot like the lead guitarist of Radiohead.
But I don’t think there’s that many jobs out there that would be as enjoyable as the one that Skully has, and he knows it;

“It’s not really a job, is it? I mean, it’s that old cliché, but I’ve never really worked a day in my life, or at least since I’ve been here. I genuinely love coming to work… and I’ve met so many interesting people through being here.”

 

All pictures courtesy of Vlad Palamariu.

All pictures courtesy of Vlad Palamariu.

 

And he’s certainly met more in the past few years. Vinyl sales have shot through the roof in the last few years, increasing by 64% from 2014 to 2015 to a 21 year peak.

“…there’s been the realisation that you can’t beat the warmth of the sound of vinyl records. It’s indisputable that music just sounds better on vinyl.”

But in 2007, no-one agreed; vinyl LPs only accounted for 0.1% of the British music market, and it looked like the format was dead. So how exactly did The Diskery survive in a period in which three quarters of their peers closed down?

“There was a hardcore that always believed in vinyl, and they definitely kept us going through the lean years; but we certainly didn’t have that many new collectors. People turn up who haven’t been in years and they’re all surprised we’re still going! But we are… we managed to weather the storm.”

What probably helped The Diskery is that it is so much more than a record shop. To some, it’s a place for therapy (“You end up being more of a counsellor than anything else”). To others, it’s a celebrity haunt (for example, Henry Rollins, of Black Flag fame, was in the other week, and Robert Cray came in on a Friday, bought a couple of LPs and then returned with his band on the Saturday). To some, it’s useful as a refrigeration unit (seriously, you don’t realise how cold upstairs is…). To Skully, it’s “a magpie of a shop”;

“We’ve bought a lot of stuff… we just tend to accumulate things, and when the weather’s good and we put some of the bric-a-brac outside, people don’t realise we’re a record store! Well, until they come inside anyway…”

And yes, there’s VHS’s DVD’s and old copies of Football Manager and “How To Kick A Football Soccer-Style” instructional books for American football kickers and punters; but as soon as you step inside, it’s unmistakably a record store- one straight out of the old-school. It’s the ‘straight toe’ to the soccer-style punt, to use the American football term.

“The look of this place hasn’t changed in 40 years, but I think that’s what makes it so popular. People come in and they’re like, ‘I’ve found a proper record shop!’ And we get a lot of musicians coming in, and they’ve been around the world, in every record store there is, and they say they haven’t found a better one.”

There can’t be that many stores with the same amount of records anyway; Skully reckons there must be at least 100,000 in the store at any one time (including 12,000 78’s; the precursor to vinyl which is much stiffer and much more delicate). From Cliff Richard to Fela Kuti, Elton John to Tangerine Dream, Scritti Politti to The Kinks… you’ll probably find it here.

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All pictures courtesy of Vlad Palamariu.

But of course, there isn’t many people out there rushing out to buy 78’s. There are not throngs of crowds outside, queuing up to buy Scritti Politti records either. It’s always the usual suspects (“your Smiths, Fleetwood Mac, New Order, Bowie, Joy Division… that kind of stuff”) that fly out of the door quickly.

“With all of the iconic, obvious stuff, it comes from the era when records sold in massive numbers so there’s plenty of stock around.”

But of course, for every £3 7th repressing of Hunky Dory, there’s 10p novelty 7 inch singles, and then of course, there’s your £30 first edition Blue Monday….

“We do sell records from both ends of the spectrum, from 10p singles to more collectible, expensive stock; it’s simply common sense that the more collectible and rare it is, the more it goes for.”

With records being so collectible, and in some cases, rare, some punters have complained about The Diskery’s price of records, especially when compared to online. But Skully doesn’t feel that’s particularly warranted.

“Unfortunately today, online sets the precedent, but they don’t have the overheads that we do, what with several members of staff and the upkeep of the building. I think we’re fair; I certainly don’t think we overprice anyway.”

But what some people fail to realise is that, for what you save buying online, you lose out in terms of the experience. Yeah, you can buy that record cheaper on Discogs…but you can’t get new recommendations, you can’t chat away to anyone through a screen and you certainly don’t feel the same when you find that one LP you’ve been after for months.

“For me, coming into stores like The Diskery is like going into your local butchers instead of Tesco… it feels better helping independent retailers out. I do think [online] takes the fun out of record collecting… you get a great buzz from picking records up in stores, it’s all part of the experience, aint it?”

Skully doesn’t switch off from music. On his days off, he’s trawling through record shops, looking to add to his own personal collection. It already takes up all available space in his house (“The wife reluctantly accepts it, but I think we might have to move house soon, because we’re running out of room!”). When I’m looking around the store, I hear him singing along to the records being played out in the store (although you wouldn’t catch him singing along to his favourite act, the Swedish instrumental jazz trio, Esbjörn Svensson Trio)… and he’s being paid for it!
Things have changed a little at The Diskery recently. After 50 years of ownership, Morris Hunting passed away in 2012, and the shop was recently bought in June by Lee Dearn (“he’s kept the same ethos and philosophy that we always had under Morris, but we’ve moved into the 21st century now. We’ve got a website, we’re on the social medias… That wouldn’t have happened beforehand”).
Scully recently received a promotion as well; 45 years after his arrival, the retirement of Jimmy Shannon meant that “the longest stint as an understudy” had finally came to an end, and he was to become the manager.
And that certainly means one thing will never change.

“The one record I’ll never sell is this one by Stiff Records, called The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan. We’ve had it since the Seventies…we always bring it out and play it to people, and tell them how great it is, but it’s a blank record… on both sides there’s nothing. We get people coming in and they’ll ask to hear the wit, and people coming in asking to hear the wisdom… all they hear is the crackle of the vinyl…. We’ve had big offers for it but it’s just too quirky to get rid of.”

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Parkrun feature

Concrete Collar’s Karter decided to try out his local parkrun, and now he won’t shut up about it…

It’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning. Normally, I’ll be in my pit, trying to sleep off a #MADNIGHTOUT (3 Shandy Bass’s, 2 WKD’s and 1 Sourz shot).

However, today is different. I’m waking up early, dusting off my running shoes and going for a jog… and not just any old jog.
Parkrun is a weekly series of timed 5 km runs which, in just 11 years, has grown from 13 runners at a single event in south-west London, into a community of over 1.3 million runners at nearly 90000 events around the world. It is open to all, regardless of age, fitness levels and experience.
Mary Ross is the event director for the Birmingham Cannon Hill event, one of the biggest events in the country.

“We started in August 2010 with 34 runners and 10 volunteers, and we now regularly have over 500 runners and 20 volunteers each week. We have put on the run nearly 300 times over the last few years and very rarely cancel, only when the park has other events or the weather is too dangerous.”

Armed with my printed barcode (how they’re able to time you; it’s scanned after the race), I arrive at my local park. There is a big crowd; admittedly not as big as the peak attendance at Cannon Hill (“we had 780 last year in May, and I do expect we will get to that number again in the summer”), but it’s a crowd that includes a wide cross-section of people. Those that have clearly never gone for a run in their life are talking to Lycra-clad club runners wearing their team vests with pride.
This encourages me to get speaking to people. Joe has been taking part in parkruns for a year now and tells me he’s made a lot of friends from it. Needless to say, his enthusiasm knows no bounds.

“I love the community feel of the event, like there’s people here of all ages, all backgrounds…some will finish the course in 15 minutes, some in 40, but it’s a great atmosphere and everyone’s just here to have a really good time.”

After listening to the pre-race briefing, we’re ready to go. There’s a veritable mass of people up ahead, and behind the visible determination on their faces, they all look genuinely happy. It’s 9am on a Saturday morning; I’m usually either fast asleep, hungover or worse at this point. I suddenly feel a slight pang of shame, as if this is the sort of thing I should be doing every week.
Joe’s certainly seen a positive change in his life since he started taking part, and one reason stands out in particular.

“It’s definitely made me more motivated to get fitter and exercise more, because I really want to beat my personal best. The thing that I love about parkrun is that you’re being timed, and all the information’s emailed to you the very same day, so it’s easy to keep track of it all.”

There’s a sea of Lycra-clad runners ahead of me as the race begins. The pace is high; I look behind and some are falling away already. But regardless of their pace, everyone’s being cheered on and encouraged by the many marshals that line the route. They’re all volunteers; no-one makes any money from parkrun. They’re all just doing it for the love of it.
Eventually, the pack I’m in starts to disintegrate. The club runners are sprinting away; their long gaits reminding me of gazelles. But with some anonymous house music in my ear, I settle right bang in the middle, and keep a fairly steady pace for the next few kilometres.

But about two thirds of the way in, I begin to tire. I definitely went out too quick. I want to stop and walk. Others behind me have. But the encouragement from the marshals is actually spurring me on. It somehow sounds genuine as well, like they really want you to finish the race (although of course I’m not in too much of a position to debate the validity of it). Either way, there definitely is something special about the atmosphere here.
Joe certainly thinks so anyway.

“There’s just so much positive energy at parkruns, and everyone’s so full of encouragement. When you’re struggling, there’s loads of marshals cheering you on, and it actually helps, even though they’re doing it for everyone.”

Urged on by the marshals, I keep going, and about 500 metres from the end, all the positive energy starts doing funny things to my head, and I somehow manage to convince myself I’m having a second wind. In my head, this is Mo Farah in the Olympic Stadium; lights flashing, crowds cheering, the PR guy for Quorn on the line to my agent…
But before I get too used to the idea of posing with (but never actually being pictured eating) some meat-free chicken pieces, reality sets in; my legs start to give way, my breathing gets heavier and heavier and the pain gets more and more unbearable. It takes every last ounce of energy to haul myself to the finish, but I somehow manage it. And although I feel so bad when I stumble across the line, it feels so good.

The email came through a few hours later with the results. I came 65th out of 122, with a time of 27:26. Average. I could see why Joe was so enthusiastic about it being timed now, because I really wanted to go again and beat that time. In fact, I could see why he was so enthusiastic period.
Beforehand, I’d read about parkrun in articles like this with a degree of suspicion. I mean, it can’t be that good, can it?

But after taking part in one, I completely got it. To me, parkrun felt like a judgement-free zone; one where, regardless of who you are, why you’re there and how fast you can run, you’ll be welcomed into a community with open arms. Everyone gets on, everyone talks, no one’s taking it too seriously, and there isn’t the stuffiness you’d associate with the running scene. Granted, there’s still a vast amount of Lycra on show, but I don’t know… it just feels different (the atmosphere, not the Lycra. The Lycra’s still the same.).
I’ll certainly be going down again, and I wouldn’t bet against plenty more people printing out their barcodes, dusting off the running shoes and thinking they’re Mo Farah with 200 metres to go. You never know, some of them may pull it off better than I did.

Interview with FZKS’ Dean Pattison

“The last FZKS event… it was the most stressful day of my life! I was working from 9am to 5.15 am the next day, and for the entire show I was sat in the back counting money. I mean, how can you work for that long without seeing any of the DJ’s?”

It certainly sounded stressful, that’s for sure. But for Dean Pattison and his FZKS team, it is definitely a labour of love.

If you’re a bit unsure what FZKS is… well, they’re a number of things. They’re a club night that has been smashing up Amusement 13. They’re a DJ collective that have been making waves in the heavy techno scene.

The marketing spiel defines them as “a Birmingham based brand that specialises in curating underground bass music events [which aim] to transform your night into a world of a science by creating their own conceptual laboratory full of beakers, bubbles and bass… a fully immersive experience.”

But I think Dean sums it up best when he calls it;

“beats, bass, breaks & drum and bass”

FZKS has only been around for about 2 years, but Dean’s passion for the music began way before then.

“I was from just outside London, and mainly listened to bands and all that, but when I moved to college, all my new friends were from London and they were big into people like Burial, Skream, Benga…They’d been massive in the original UK dubstep scene; that 140bpm sound… now all my mates were going on about it, so I kind of started listening to it and found I really liked it.”

While now, many associate dubstep with that grating, Americanised ‘brostep’ sound popularised by Skrillex, it is difficult to quantify how big that original UK sound was. Artists were coming out of nowhere, at a young age, and producing nothing like you’d ever heard before. Imagine producing something like this at 17, like Skream and Benga did back in 2003…

It made sense, therefore, that, when their sound changed “into the slightly slower 125-130bpm techno sound” in recent years, their fans followed them.

Eventually, just listening wasn’t enough for Dean, and he decided to push things forward.

“One day I just decided to go for it, so I bought myself some decks and tried to teach myself. Luckily, I’ve got a mate who’s quite a good drum ’n’ bass DJ, so I just picked up quite a few tips from him. You’ve just got to get your ear in, because there’s obviously so much going on… but once you get used to it, you’re alright.”

Things have certainly been alright for Dean since then. His DJ career has gone from strength to strength since his move to Birmingham for university, becoming a regular at house institution Seedy Sonics, both solo and as part of the FZKS collective. But this wasn’t quite enough for him.

“When I’d DJ solo, I’d be at places like Seedy, and I’d always be thinking, “I cant play some of the stuff I want to play because it’s too weird”! You feel like you’d get people looking at you thinking ‘What the fuck is this?’ and it wouldn’t be what they came out for! I kind of wanted to do some events where we could play the weird stuff, and eventually, me and the rest of the FZKS lads (Connor, Laurence and Jack) decided to put on our own events, and I have to say, I probably enjoy it just as much as DJ’ing now!”

You’ve all read ‘The Hacienda: How not to run a club’ by ex-New Order bassist, Peter Hook, haven’t you? If you haven’t, you definitely should, but if you have, you’ll know how much of a nightmare running a nightclub (or event) can be. You’ll know how you can be one of the biggest (and best) bands on Earth at the peak of their powers, financing probably the most famous nightclub on the planet; one that popularised a youth culture movement (acid house) on a scale that this country has never seen before or since… yet still lose a tenner on every punter that came in.

Of course, Amusement 13 isn’t quite The Hacienda, heavy techno isn’t quite at the level of the Second Summer of Love yet, and they’re clearly not losing money on every punter like Tony Wilson’s financially-challenged crew of musical geniuses. But it honestly all sounds bit of a ball-ache, nonetheless.

“The thing is, we all know the music we want to do, we know our sound… that sort of heavy techno, people like Burial, Skream, Ransomer, Boudicca, Woz, Paleman; the Swamp 81 label… we play a lot of good stuff, so that bit’s fine. But when you’re promoting, it’s all about numbers… and there’s literally so many variables into getting people to come to your club. They’ve got to know about it… for the last event, in the 4 weeks leading up to it, every weekend we were standing outside rainbow at 3 in the morning, handing out flyers, waking up the next day in the afternoon feeling ill because you’ve been stood outside all night…”

All to hand out flyers that, for 95% of people, will be chucked away while they concentrate on not chewing their gums up. And even if they know, and are up for it, things can go wrong.

“Imagine you’ve got a room of 20 people, saying they’ll go to your night… you can be 10 minutes away from them getting a taxi, and someone just turns round and says “let’s go somewhere else”… and that’s 20 sales down the drain, in the blink of an eye. And even if you turn up and love the event… it doesn’t mean you’re gonna go back.”

And that’s certainly true. While it’s easy to fall into a pattern of cheap shitty student nights or cheap and cheerful clubs that serve VK and play Mr Brightside; the real, proper, dangerous, hedonistic, sweaty nights out always seem to be harder to plan for. Maybe it’s the thought of the crushing comedown that will follow; maybe you’ve pushed it too far last time and don’t want to pass out in the toilets and get dragged out by a pissed off security guard; maybe you just don’t want to listen to techno and want a different vibe… either way, imagine being at the whims of that for every single event you put on.
Admittedly, Birmingham’s not a bad place to hold an event.

“It’s changed so much in the past few years… I remember my dad told me how it used to be a shithole! But now, I read somewhere that it has the youngest population of any city in Europe…there’s a massive captive audience, and there’s a really big dance music scene around here, with so many well-established brands, like Rainbow and places like that.”

And that’s certainly true. Rainbow, Boxxed and the like do pull in huge amounts of punters from around the Midlands and beyond. But Birmingham never really took to dubstep in the same way that London did…

“Traditionally, Birmingham was always more about speed garage than dubstep, for sure. For the last event we did, we had Sgt. Pokes in, who was the host MC for a lot of the original dubstep stuff. He performed with Magnetic Man when they were huge, which was around 2010, and he said that they popped off everywhere else… but in Birmingham it didn’t quite get going. And also, I saw Youngsta in London just before I came to uni, and it was completely rammed… I was pretty excited to see him in Birmingham a few months later… there must’ve been no more than 100 people there. It was mad how different it was.”

Of course, since then, electronic dance music has exploded back into everybody’s consciousness. Every cunt with a man bag and Huaraches and a fake tan’s probably gonna end up spending half their summer raving away and the other half coming down off some shit pills; your nerdy flatmate probably sits in his room listening to EDM while playing his 18th successive FIFA game on career mode, and your mum’s a bit gutted that Avicii announced his last tour. With Birmingham’s big club scene, it was only right that the big names in Digbeth were at the forefront of this, but of course, they do cater somewhat to the “House Every Weekend” crew, simply because there’s more of them out there. FZKS, what with their science-themed parties, artistic vision and heavy techno sound inspired by dubstep, isn’t quite set up like that.

“We do feel we’re offering something different. We do it because we’re passionate, not because there’s a gap in the market… but over time, we’ve probably became more astute. You have to remember that it is a business and you do have to get those bigger names in for people to come.”

At the end of the day, while we all have to start somewhere, there’s a reason super-clubs exist; people want to see the big names. More people want to see Four Tet behind the decks than plain old Joe Bloggs, no matter how much potential Bloggsy has. There is one issue with that though…

“Headline DJ’s go for big money, expenses, travel and riders, and the real big cream-of-the-crop ones will ask for it all upfront as well. And if the promoter cancels for any reason, the DJ still gets paid… but if it’s vice versa and the DJ cancels, even a few hours before the event, the promoter has to go on and do the event without potentially their headline act. Of course I do kind of sympathise with the DJ’s because it’s their job, and no matter how much they enjoy it, they’ve still got to pay the rent at the end of the month.”

But Dean does as well. Luckily, it’s clear from the amount of time they’ve been putting on shows (about 18 months) that they’re not doing a bad job of it. The shows have been successful, have attracted big names to Amusement 13 and have a loyal fan-base (more on that later). Unfortunately, currently FZKS are having to take a bit of time out from hosting shows.

“Amusement 13 has been shut for a little bit, but it’s relaunching on May 27th, with us doing a show during Pride weekend, which will be massive.The club’s invested in new infrastructure, like a new sound system, and we’re gonna show people what it’s about… and then for fresher’s week, we’re planning on hosting a big event as well!”

In the meantime however, FZKS has some big things lined up.

“We’re partnering up with Forbidden Forest festival , which is this brand new thing near Donington Park [near East Midlands Airport] on Bank Holiday Sunday (May 1st). It sounds massive, and it’s got some big headliners…Leftwing & Kody, My Nu Leng, Skream… We’re doing coaches on it, and we’ve got 150 people coming from Amusement 13, and then we’ll hopefully be playing a 2 hour set there as FZKS Audio, which we’re looking at experimenting with different genres during… hopefully we’ll get some original dubstep in there!”

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“We’re trying to keep everything ticking over at the moment, but unfortunately, I’ve got tinnitus at the moment… my ears aren’t damaged but I’ve just got to lay low for the while, but we’ll be getting mixes out and all that in the next few weeks.”

Luckily, they have some proper committed fans waiting for their next shows and sets, and presumably praying for a speedy recovery…

“Someone actually has a FZKS tattoo! They turned up with it on our first night as well… our mate did it- despite the fact he can’t actually tattoo- with one of those DIY kits. It was mad!”

 

If you want more of the FZKS sound, check out Dean’s “Top 5” dark techno tracks as well!

Why are you vegan?

As part of our Vegan Adventure series, we thought we’d ask a few people why they decided to sack off steak, dump dairy and abstain from animal products…

Coral has been a vegan for 3 months…

I’ve always been lactose intolerant, so dairy was never really an option for me. I used to feel sorry for myself because of it… I’d be really jealous of everyone eating chocolate and pizza, even though it would make me really ill! But then I watched Conspiracy, and it got me thinking that maybe our bodies arent supposed to be able to digest all these animal based products!
We are literally torturing and killing animals for our pleasure, and we don’t even need meat, eggs or dairy products to survive!

… while Emma has been one for 2 years!

Basically, after watching a really graphic video of a slaughterhouse, I decided to do the PETA 30 day Vegan Challenge to test myself. After 30 days I went and ate loads of non-vegan food, but I realised that I couldn’t do it, and became a vegan permanently! I was vegetarian for 8 years growing up anyway, so I was used to giving up some animal products, and I felt becoming a vegan was a good fit with my lifestyle, morals and ethical beliefs.

Charlotte runs the vegan society at her university, and has been a vegan for just over 2 years…

Beforehand, I had it in my head that vegans were extreme, angry, and self righteous, but I’d never actually met one! Soon, I got talking to a vegan, and realised that actually he really wasn’t very different from myself.
At that time, I was constantly eating the same few meals every day… he was telling me how being vegan had meant he had broadened his palate. Now I’m passionate about my food, so I thought I would give it a go for a week, only as a short-term thing. But as the week went on, I realised that, both physically and mentally, I felt so much better.
I then decided to look into it further, and what I found out really got to me. I realised how, by consuming meat and dairy I was contributing to the starvation of pigs and cows on the way to the slaughterhouse; to the grounding up of male chicks who apparently served no purpose; to the rape of cows, who then had their babies stolen from them; to the horrors of the veal industry.
I’ve always thought of myself as an animal lover, but I realised that I couldn’t genuinely be one unless I disassociated myself from all of that.
Then I looked into the health side of things further, and the same things kept coming up again and again; cancer, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease….
Everyone is so afraid of telling people to stop eating meat and dairy, for fear of being judgemental, but it’s literally killing them!

Dan became a vegan when he was 34, and has been one for over 4 years!

I’m not sure what I saw on the internet but I decided to type in vegetarian on YouTube… I’d never even heard of the word vegan at this point! Anyway, some 4 minute Ellen DeGeneres video came up, recommending the documentary Earthlings. So I went and watched it, and that was it! It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made by far! I’ve felt amazing since then, but even if following a vegan diet was unhealthy and shortened my life by 10 years, I’d still do it.

Coral has been a vegan for 3 months…

I’ve always been lactose intolerant, so dairy was never really an option for me. I used to feel sorry for myself because of it… I’d be really jealous of everyone eating chocolate and pizza, even though it would make me really ill! But then I watched Conspiracy, and it got me thinking that maybe our bodies arent supposed to be able to digest all these animal based products!
We are literally torturing and killing animals for our pleasure, and we don’t even need meat, eggs or dairy products to survive!

… while Emma has been one for 2 years!

Basically, after watching a really graphic video of a slaughterhouse, I decided to do the PETA 30 day Vegan Challenge to test myself. After 30 days I went and ate loads of non-vegan food, but I realised that I couldn’t do it, and became a vegan permanently! I was vegetarian for 8 years growing up anyway, so I was used to giving up some animal products, and I felt becoming a vegan was a good fit with my lifestyle, morals and ethical beliefs.

Former Everton and Swansea full-back Neil Robinson has been a vegan for 36 years, and was the first vegan to play professional football…

I was 13, and me and my family were watching a nature documentary. It was on an Amazonian tribe, and they were sacrificing a cow; remember, this was pre-internet, and I’d never really been exposed to this sort of thing before.
One of the tribe walked on the cow and stabbed it in the neck, and this really spooked me, especially when they were jumping up and down on the cow to drain the blood. Next day, I said to my mum that I was going vegetarian, and I haven’t touched meat since! I joined my older brother, John, who’d already been one for a little while, and was and is a big influence on my life.
10 years later, he transitioned to veganism, and he was telling me all about it. Now, I still loved my milk at this point, but I wrote to the Vegan Society and found out how bad the dairy and egg industry was and still is. Although the animals aren’t being slaughtered, they’re still being tortured and raped constantly, and I realised that, if I was following vegetarianism for ethical and moral reasons, then I had it wrong, and I surely had to become a vegan! 36 years later and I still feel amazing!

In contrast, James, who’s been a vegan for 5 months, is the worst footballer I’ve ever seen…

I had a bit of an epiphany when I was 21. I realised how I constantly felt tired, didn’t have much drive, and generally felt pretty crappy. A few friends had spoken to me about veganism and how much it had benefitted them, so, together with my girlfriend, I thought I’d give it a go!
I did love my meat, and I found it really hard to begin with, but eventually, we learnt new recipes, and it got easier and easier. Eventually, I realised how much healthier and driven I felt, so I decided to make the switch full-time!
However, despite all of the health benefits I’ve noticed, the most important thing to me is that I’ve realised the terrible impact of our consumption of animal products. Animals are tortured, killed and raped for our appetite, and it’s killing our oceans, our land, our atmosphere and our fellow earthlings.
To me, veganism is more than just a diet; it’s made me a better person inside and out, and I feel so good knowing that I am helping towards a better future.

Concrete Collar speaks to… Krown Media’s Leon Matthews

Concrete Collar’s Karter speaks to Leon Matthews, from Birmingham-based rap and grime platform Krown Media, about his passion for music, the scene all over the UK and Krown’s ambitions for the future…

In year 7, I needed a new Bebo skin made, so I got someone to do one for me… and it had “BBK” on it. At the time, I had no idea what it meant, so I asked my mate, and he showed me “Serious” by JME… from there, I was hooked; I found out about Skepta, Wiley, Jammer, Frisco… I kept watching all their videos, and that’s where it all started…


It doesn’t sound like the most typical introduction to the grime scene, it has to be said. But it certainly worked for Leon Matthews, one of the key figures behind up-and-coming urban music platform, Krown Media.

We’ve all heard about the SBTV success story; how Jamal Edwards went from filming rap freestyles on his camcorder to being a multi-millionaire media darling, featuring on a Google Chrome advert and scoring an MBE.
But not every rapper can get a coveted spot on the channel. Competition is fierce, and only the best of the best get their videos posted; something that pretty much guarantees major views. The provincial rappers- outside the spiritual hub of UK urban music that is London- find it even harder to make the step up.
And that’s where platforms like Krown Media come in.
Offering high-quality visuals at a fraction of the price of the more established channels, Krown provide a springboard for up-and-coming talent to make their mark on the urban music scene, and hopefully graduate to the major players.

Leon grew up in Oxford; not the first place you’d associate with grime music, it has to be said.

The scene there’s not that big, but it’s growing a bit. The big channel round there’s DeLaHaye TV, but it’s nothing compared to Birmingham..

He doesn’t really live up to the grime stereotype either. He’s probably the calmest guy I’ve ever met, and I don’t think he has an aggressive bone in his body. Yet he’s filming videos in a scene that exudes aggression, anger, bravado… How does he handle it?

When I was younger, I used to hang round and get on with older kids, and when I go out on shoots, I just be myself and be calm. If you’re good to people or you have good intentions, people will be good to you, no matter how they may appear at first.

His Bebo-inspired epiphany didn’t begin to blossom until he came to the Second City for university in 2013, 6 years after the BBK skin that started it all.

During my first year of university, I was literally watching JDZMedia- probably the biggest channel in the Midlands- every day. I don’t know what it was, but I just decided to start renting cameras and filming my own stuff. I was pretty friendly with this guy from my halls called Shakz, and he was looking to do a freestyle, so I literally went to his room with a camcorder and a microphone and filmed my first video there…

I wasn’t expecting anyone to watch it to be honest, but it got a few views, and I felt really proud that I’d created something like it! Shakz rated it as well, and he asked me to do him a proper video…

I had the bare minimum equipment- a Canon 600d, a lens and a light- and no editing experience whatsoever. I remember I only had a free trial of Final Cut Pro, so I only had 30 days to do it!

But Leon did have a bit of luck on his side;

My housemate, Luke (LukeFrsh) had some editing experience, so he showed me all the basics, and somehow, it turned out alright! I sent it around a few friends and they said it was good… I really enjoyed doing it as well, and I thought to myself, ‘I might as well keep at it!’

And a few weeks later, Krown Media was born…

One of my friends at university, Ephraim (E Blessed), was thinking of starting a channel, and things started rolling from there! He wanted to call it ‘KrownMe’ but I don’t know, I thought it was a bit childish, so I said ‘Krown Media’, and 2 and a bit years later, we’re still here…

Soon, they were joined by Leon’s housemate, Luke, and their first big video followed soon after…

We filmed 2 videos that day; we did one for Baz Nines as well, but this one was the first we uploaded. At that time, the YouTube view count froze when it went over 300, and I remember seeing that, and I’m not gonna lie… I felt really proud that we’d done something like this and helped someone out as well.

Baz Nines became Krown’s first breakout performer as well…

He did quite a bit for us… his second video really did well for him, and he moved onto the bigger channels, which showed that we had an eye for talent.

Kay P, from Leicester, was another one… everyone was saying how talented he was, but he wasn’t getting a lot of views. We did a video with him, and suddenly things just blew up for him! He’s probably our most popular artist on the channel at the moment, and it led to us collaborating with his crew ‘SDR’…

We did a few videos with one of his friends, Jafro… from that, he got a freestyle on JDZmedia, which is a massive boost for him.

As Krown’s reputation grew, they got the opportunity to travel down to the spiritual home of the UK grime and rap scene…

We’ve been down to London a couple of times, which is a massive honour to be quite honest. It’s a very different environment and vibe to the Midlands… it’s a lot more authentic, for sure… people really know their stuff! But for an up-and-coming artist or cameraman, it’s definitely harder to crack the local platforms, as they’re really established compared to here…

However, London isn’t the be-all and end-all of the scene any more. The success of regional platforms such as JDZMedia and Krown highlight the broadening of grime and UK rap’s horizons.

The scene’s really developed over the past few years, and now, people all over the country are doing music. Bugzy Malone’s really opened people’s eyes, and his beef with Chip, alongside stuff like Devilman’s beef with Skepta, has shown that there’s more to grime than just London.

We did a video in Wales… when we mentioned it to people in London, they just couldn’t believe that there was a grime scene there! If you go on JDZMedia for example, there’s stuff from all over the country, created by people from every walk of life, every ethnicity… You can’t just stereotype grime, because everyone can, and does, do it; even if you can’t rap, you can still create beats and instrumentals!

Of course, Krown Media is a business, and a business has to make money. This isn’t all an altruistic gesture on Leon’s part.

The artists don’t get any money from the videos themselves, and even for us, the YouTube money isn’t great. An artist has to think of it as an investment, because all the money in the scene comes from getting booked to play events, and all it takes is one song to do well,and you could make some serious money from it.

It’s not the easiest way to make money as well. Krown Media’s a three man team, which means that there’s a lot on each of their plates, especially when you consider the fact that they have all attended university full-time for the past 3 years, and Ephraim and Luke hold down part-time jobs as well.

Being an editor, a director, a camera operator, working on social media… in a commercial company these are normally separate roles, but when you’re running a small channel, you have to do it all yourself. It’s not always easy, especially when you’ve got university deadlines or shifts at work,a nd it’s been expensive! Say, if we do something in London or Oxford, no-one’s paying our petrol, no-one’s buying the equipment… but I’ve always felt that what you put in, you get out… and I do get a hell of a lot out of it.

The one good thing for Krown is that, despite police interference continuing to plague local shows and events, the West Midlands scene is going from strength to strength, and that investment will almost certainly pay off.

There’s a huge amount of up-and-coming talent here in the West Midlands. You’ve got people like Mist, who has blown up… he’s getting bookings all over the country, he’s been on Fire In The Booth, he’s getting close to 1million views on some of his videos… I think he’s going to be massive, and that can only be a good thing for the local scene.

So where does Leon think Krown Media will be in 12 months time? He’s certainly got high hopes…

We’ll be a bigger platform for sure, especially if we go full-time like we plan to after university. We have around 2000 subscribers at the moment, and I reckon we’ll have 10000 in a years time. I just think we’ll keep on going from strength to strength.

Steve Savidan: The Man Who Brought Joy Back to Valenciennes

Originally from French Football Weekly

The annals of football are littered with late bloomers.  Toto Schillaci went from Serie B to World Cup Golden Boot in one year, while Ian Wright, signed by Arsenal at the age of 28, somehow still managed to become their highest ever scorer.

And of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you can add Jamie Vardy to that list. The Leicester City striker has taken the Premier League by storm this year, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for goals in consecutive games, and is now a regular feature in England squads. Not bad for a player who just over five years ago was playing in the seventh tier of English football and working in a factory making carbon fibers for medical splints.

Like Leicester City, Valenciennes FC are considered a bit of a yo-yo team, having spent most of their history flitting between Ligue 1 and 2. Overshadowed by their more successful near-neighbours Lille and Lens, they have a modest history, with runners-up medals in the 1951 Coupe de France being the nearest they’ve come to a major trophy.

In 1993 they were nearly ruined after being caught up in the Marseille match-fixing scandal, in which three of their players were contacted by OM’s Jean-Jacques Eydelie and asked to throw a game in order for Marseille to be able to rest players for their upcoming Champions League final. They went to pieces for the following decade, declaring bankruptcy in 1996 and dropping into the Championnat de France Amateur, the fourth tier of the French system.

By 2004, they had rebounded somewhat, having spent six of the previous seven seasons in the third tier, the Championnat National. But for a club that had spent much of its history in the top two divisions, they were still playing semi-professional football. Something needed to change.

Steve Savidan had never exactly set the world alight over the course of his career, which had been largely spent in the second and third divisions. After his breakthrough second season of senior football, 1998-99, in which he scored 15 goals in the Championnat National for Angers SCO, he only scored nine goals in four years, and in 2002-03, at the age of 25, he suffered the ignominy of going a whole Ligue 2 season without scoring for AS Beauvais. This forced him to drop back down to the National, signing for one of the smallest teams in the league, AS Angouleme. They were one of the few amateur teams at that level, forcing Savidan to work as a bartender over the course of the year (a slight step-up from earlier work as a binman during his time at Chateauroux).

But this season was the making of him. Despite the club’s relegation, he hit 12 goals, provided 14 assists and earned a move to the Stade Nungesser and Valenciennes, where he would go on to work under manager Antoine Kombouare. This was a massive step up in terms of the size of club, despite the sideways move it appeared on paper, as the pressure was on for promotion. He did not disappoint, finishing the 2004-05 season as the league’s top scorer with 19 goals as Valenciennes were finally promoted back into Ligue 2 and professional football after 10 years in the wilderness. He even popped up with nine assists. At the age of 27, Savidan was finally blooming.

But would he be able to make the step up to Ligue 2, where just three seasons before he had failed so miserably?

Well, if by step up you mean finishing as the league’s joint-top scorer with 16 goals and carrying your team to a second consecutive title and promotion, then yes, Savidan did. And if you can just about make out some of his goals that year from this footage, you can see the variety of goals he scored; from poacher’s goals in the six-yard-box to long range screamers – he had it all in his locker.

Not exactly blessed with great height (in fact, only standing at 5 foot 7), it is surprising that many of his goals that year came from headers, and this is a testament to his intelligent runs and great jumping ability. Yet Savidan’s footballing intelligence did not just stop at scoring goals: he was also a prolific creator, with 11 assists that season, which meant he was involved in over half of Valenciennes’ 51 goals that year.

Of course, promotion meant that the 28-year-old Savidan would have to make the step-up to Ligue 1, a league that he had never previously come close to in his nine-year-career. It would be a big ask, particularly as Valenciennes would have one of the smallest budgets in the division.

But Savidan continued on his hot streak, scoring on his Ligue 1 debut against Auxerre, earning player of the month honours for August and eventually finishing up as the second-highest scorer in the league with 13 goals, just two behind PSG legend Pauleta. Ligue 1 was certainly seeing a lot of his trademark somersault celebration.

Propelled by his exploits, Valenciennes didn’t do too badly either, only dropping into the bottom three for one week that year and eventually finishing 17th.

The highlight of the year for Savidan was undoubtedly his four goals against the World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, during a 5-2 victory away at Nantes. Sure, Les Canaris would eventually finish bottom of the table, while Barthez was way past his best, eventually retiring before the season was out; but for a newly promoted team to destroy one of the grand old names of French football at their place was quite something. Another famous away win came against Paris Saint-Germain: after seeing his team go down to 10 men in the 50th minute, Savidan popped up with a header for Valenciennes 11 minutes later, followed by an 88th minute strike from Sebastien Roudet. Pauleta’s 90th minute penalty could not save PSG manager Guy Lacombe’s job: he was sacked after the 2-1 defeat.

The next season provided Savidan, or Savigol as he was quickly becoming known, the chance to prove that it wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, and that his form was sustainable. He took that chance with aplomb, scoring 13 goals again as Valenciennes, who spent much of the year in the top half, eventually finished four places up from the previous year in 13th. The variety of goals in this footage from that year, from 30 yard free kicks to acrobatic volleys to this absolute stunner vs Lens, showed his immense footballing ability. In his pomp, Savidan was the rare player who could score in any situation on the pitch.

However, this would be his last year at the club, as, in the summer of 2008, he was on the move, signing for an ambitious Caen outfit for around €5 million. He had scored 61 goals in 145 league appearances, and left a club legend.

The €7million sale of Yoan Gouffran to Bordeaux had given the Normandy outfit a comparatively-large war-chest, while Valenciennes needed money to build a new ground, after attendances had soared on their return to Ligue 1.

Savidan was expected to fire Caen to a top-half finish, and after a stunning home debut, coincidentally against Valenciennes, in which he scored one and assisted twice in a 3-1 win, things were looking promising.

After his first 14 league games, he had become their talisman, notching up seven goals and four assists, and rumours were rife that he would soon be on his way to a European giant, with both the ‘Olympiques’, Marseille and Lyon, as well as Atletico Madrid being linked with a winter move for the 30-year-old.

And this was soon followed by the high-point of his career.

Despite a prolific record in Ligue 1, Savidan had never received any international recognition for les Bleus, perhaps due to his employers being one of the more unfashionable teams in the French top flight. The array of big-name attacking talents available to Raymond Domenech, such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and a young Karim Benzema, had always won out over the former binman.

However, after that superb start to the season, the clamour for Savigol to earn international honours had increased, with even the man himself going to the press and pleading for a chance two days before the squad was to be announced for the November friendly against Uruguay.

“If Raymond Domenech wants to take players who are in form, then he’s well within his rights to try me in a game. Imagine that it works. Imagine I score two goals like I’ve always dreamed of doing since I was a child. Where’s the risk? If it doesn’t work, then I go back from where I came and people can say, ‘You see, he wasn’t up to it.’”

Domenech took the risk, selecting the 30-year-old as his number 9. He eventually came on at half-time for Anelka, and was probably the only bright spot of a desperately dull goalless draw, his energy and creativity standing out. He looked like he was having the time of his life out there, and nearly scored an acrobatic volley that would’ve been all too familiar to those who had seen him for Valenciennes.

Sadly that was to be the only time he ever played for France. From there, things took a steep downward turn.

The interest from bigger clubs had greatly unsettled Savidan, but when he was offered an improved deal soon after the France cap, despite already being the highest earner at the club, morale amongst his teammates plummeted. And for the first time in his Ligue 1 career, the goals dried up. Savidan only scored three times in the next 15 games; Caen didn’t win a single one of them.

When Savidan made his international debut, Caen were 12th, and a win in their next game against Auxerre would take them to 9th. By their next win, they would be 17th.

Eventually, despite a late-season revival of sorts, Caen were relegated, finishing in 18th place. A season that had promised so much had delivered so little. Savidan’s goalscoring record looked good – on paper, it was actually his best Ligue 1 season, with 14 goals and five assists – but he had gone missing right when his team had needed him.

Following relegation, Caen were forced to cut costs, and, following on from a 14 goal season, it was clear that Savidan would move on. Rather than being the subject of interest from giants such as Marseille and Lyon in the summer of 2009, it appeared likely that Savidan would move to one of France’s mid-ranking teams;  Rennes, Toulouse and Nice were linked with a move for the 31-year-old, but eventually a deal was agreed with Monaco, and it looked like Savigol would be taking his talents to Monte Carlo, and one of the most famous clubs in the land. A beautiful player for a beautiful place.

But sometimes, fate can deal a cruel hand. During his medical, doctors discovered a cardiac condition, and Savidan was forced to retire at the age of 31, just as his career was reaching its peak.

He currently does punditry work for French television, and he remains a popular figure, particularly in Valenciennes, where he is still adored.

Savidan was such a joyous player to watch – one who gave hope to a football club that nearly died. The shadow that was cast over Valenciennes after their involvement in the Marseille match-fixing scandal grew lighter with every flick, every assist and every 30-yard screamer.

Despite having faded somewhat from their Savigol-inspired peak, culminating in relegation in 2014, and – like most clubs in France – being plagued by financial difficulty in recent years (actually ending up back in the CFA for two weeks that summer before being allowed back into Ligue 2), things are still an improvement on that bleak decade of amateur football. Valenciennes have modern training facilities and a shiny new ground; one that will help host the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Where before was a club that was always to be reminded of its lowest point, there was now a club with something to be proud of. A player who always had a smile on his face, who was capable of producing unforgettable moments, who had shown that the impossible was possible.

Merci Savigol!