Tag Archives: big issue in the north

Mis-Teeq

THERE are various ways you can try to persuade straight society to buy weekly magazines from homeless people – free gifts, guilt trips, having a picture of Danger Mouse on the cover – but for a time at the Big Issue in the North, we decided to use instantly recognisable celebrities instead.

The idea to capitalise on the street-wise cachet a high-profile interview with the magazine could deliver came after people like the Stone Roses and Morrissey ignored Fleet Street and the music press to give us world exclusives on their post-hiatus returns to the limelight.

It worked for a while, but the emphasis on finding easily-recognisable faces week in week out led to us going for whatever pop culture dreck was ploughing their way through the grim regional press grind that particular week – telly, movies, music, the lowest common denominator stuff you could ever imagine.

Ultimately, it looked like we were just another celeb-focussed magazine, but crucially, unlike Heat or OK, you had to buy our magazine from someone who was very often a drug addict.

This Mis-Teeq interview dates from a period when I was commissioning interviews – and occasionally, as with this one, writing them myself – with the likes of various Spice Girls, Atomic Kitten, Hear Say and Westlife (as well as, in my defence, people like Macy Gray, Craig David and Amy Winehouse). It is nobody’s finest moment.

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Overpaid, oversexed and over here

THE first time Charles Gettis came to the UK was as a private in the 91st Airborne Division of the US Army. His first sight of the country came through the early morning November mists covering the vast open spaces of the Greenham Common airbase near Newbury, Berkshire as he stepped out of the belly of a huge USAAF cargo plane onto the tarmac below.

Now long discharged from the army, the 26-year-old Gettis has returned to the UK in an altogether different role, in the guise of his turntablist alter-ego, Deejay Punk-Roc. He’s one of a small group of American DJs who have set up home here to take advantage of the burgeoning club scene which grew up in the wake of the acid house explosion of 1988.

Gettis, working in a series of dead-end jobs after he left the military, found his options severely limited in his home town of Brooklyn. The story goes that Andrew Erskine, the head of Merseyside independent label Airdog, somehow heard Punk-Roc’s self-produced My Beatbox, visited him in Brooklyn and persuaded him that he could make a splash in the UK by promoting his music on the back of his not-inconsiderable DJing skills. He didn’t have to ask twice.

Based in Toxteth, Liverpool since January, Gettis’s gamble has paid off in a big way. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the speed and scale of his success. His debut album Chickeneye was released to almost unanimously positive reviews last month, while he returned to the States to support the Prodigy on a two-week tour.

On his return to the UK, he played a couple of gigs, including one at NY Sushi in Sheffield, before jetting off the a festival in Holland. Next week he releases Far Out, another single from the album. A trip to Japan is scheduled for the autumn. It’s non-stop.

“For some people, what’s happening to me now might be a dream come true, but not for me – cause I never even dreamed it in the first place,” says Gettis as he relaxes in his hotel room after the Sheffield date. “I’ve been making music for as long time, but it was never made to be pressed up and sold to the public. I thought that music was something that other people made and I bought.”

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James Last

HANDS in the pockets of his grey slacks, James Last cuts a figure of studied nonchalance strolling around the vast stage of the MEN Arena as his band wander on, take their seats behind him and begin to tune up.

He exchanges a few words with the hundred or so fans lucky enough to be allowed to sit in on the soundcheck for tonight’s gig, waving his arms around with big, expansive gestures to make up for the gaps in his English.

He glances around the empty stadium, runs his hand through that famously lustrous mane of silver hair, and takes off his tan leather jacket to reveal a crisp powder-blue shirt.

The band seem to take this as their cue and they power through an ass-kicking interpretation of U2’s Vertigo like a finely tuned machine.

The maestro seems satisfied and nods assent that all is well. Easy listening has never seemed more of a misnomer. Continue reading

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Truly, Madly, Deeply Vale

IN A CLIMATE where brands like Carling and O2 bankroll festivals as a way of boosting their credibility with impressionable young consumers, Deeply Vale seems like some strange and exotic anachronism.

There was no corporate branding of the Deeply Vale festival, which took place in a secluded valley somewhere between Bury and Rochdale over the course of four years at the dog-end of the Seventies. There weren’t even any toilets for the first couple of years.

Instead, the first festival was part funded by local progressive rock band Tractor, using royalties from their releases on John Peel’s Dandelion label. The remainder of the budget came from a 50 pence surcharge levied on local pot-heads by community-minded dealers at a squat in Rochdale.

This motley crew of hippies, idealists and out-and-out freaks rented the valley during the long, hot summer of 1976, telling the landowner they were organising a camping holiday for about 10 people.

In the event, about 300 people turned up to see Tractor and various friends perform in Deeply Vale’s natural amphitheatre through a PA system donated by an ever-benevolent John Peel. There was free food (bean stew, goat curry and egg butties) but no admission fee. Bands were paid in pot.

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Macy Gray

IT’S a delicious irony that the one thing that really sets 29-year-old singer songwriter Macy Gray apart from the rest of the crowd – her rough-hewn diamond of a voice – is the thing that made her subject of merciless persecution in the school yard all those years ago.

“When I was little, I had this real funny voice,” remembers Gray, her voice still as squeaky, but decidedly less funny 20-odd years down the line. “Every time I talked the kids would make fun of me, so I stopped talking. Everybody thought I was shy, but really I was self-conscious of my voice.”

“I used to write all the time,” she remembers. “If I wanted to say something to somebody, rather than say it right out, I’d write them a letter. At school I used to write letters in class, sitting at the back, rather than actually listening to what the teacher was saying. I always had a pad and pen on me. Still do.”

The habit paid off. Gray released her debut album, Macy Gray on How Life Is in July last year, and revealed a unique, singular talent: her scribbled notes had matured into prodigious, brave songwriting while her voice had deepened and strengthened beyond all recognition. She’s got a voice that could stop traffic. And this time, no-one’s laughing.

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CSS

IT’S Saturday, so we’re in Manchester, mid-way through the NME rave tour, and everyone is a little subdued. Despite looking like a bad-ass girl-gang from the barrio in their skinny jeans and dirty trainers, CSS are friendly enough, but they’re tired – and they’re desperate to get sushi before Selfridges closes.

In the three years since they bounced out of São Paulo like some globetrotting gang of cartoon crime-fighters, CSS have amazed and befuddled audiences all over the world with their energetic, exuberant, slightly crazy live shows. They somehow manage to play up to Brazilian stereotypes without actually sounding remotely Brazilian.

“People think we’re this band who parties so hard,” smiles guitarist Ana Rezende. “In France, this guy said to me, where are you gonna party tonight? And I’m like, I’m gonna party on the bus, I’ve been on tour for like six months, I really need to have a good night’s sleep. He didn’t understand.”

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