Me & Mark Owen, little orange green man

(Originally published on MySpace circa 2007)

Foxymoron (noun): Woman who claims her all time favourite band are Fugazi, whilst simultaneously harbouring love for Take That (and possibly sexually objectifying Howard).

So, I turned my calendar over from rainy July to chilly August and Little Mark Owen’s eyes sparkle as he strums his guitar in an open neck shirt. Possibly the only sunshine I’ll get for the remainder of this month. And I was thinking, not long ‘til December and the next magnificent Take That tour. Only I won’t be going to any of those shows cos I couldn’t get bastard tickets even though I legged it home from the school run to ring two ticket lines simultaneously from two phones for 45 minutes from the second they opened. And then I went on the internet and £40 tickets were already on Ebay for about 3 million pounds each and I realised I just can’t compete with these wankers and I will die unhappy in the knowledge that I never got to see Take That live.

As those who know me know, I like my serious music, but I also love my cheese, and Take That are top of my pops. You can’t beat a catchy tune with harmonies accompanied by a funky dance routine (and Howard in chaps). It’s fantastically gay and I adore it. And it doesn’t get better than Take That. Five were short-lived fun, and I even took my friend’s daughter to see S Club 7 (there was miming involved), but Take That have always given a knowing wink of acknowledgement to the box they’re in. I once met a writer who said he was very reluctantly sent to review a TT show back in the early days and he came out singing their praises (and still straight).

But not all boy bands can be placed on the same pedestal. Boyzone and Westlife are bloody boring twats with bloody boring songs and bloody boring dance routines, including rise-from-the-stool-power-grab key changes, who take themselves far too seriously and, quite frankly, offend me with their smug boringness. TT have always had a bit of an edge to them, in a boy band sort of way. Jason can really dance, even if there’s no evidence to show he can sing; Howard doesn’t get to sing enough, but it doesn’t matter cos he’s got a fabulous bottom; Gary could have ended up in Westlife so probably thanks his lucky stars every day, and Mark is just so small and cute and clearly loves his music (as the failed ‘indie’ career shows). And they do proper shows with themes and dance routines and costume changes. Gigs are all well and good, but sometimes you need a proper show in your life!

So, no TT live for me. I have to make do with concerts on telly and memories from the time I met Little Mark Owen, which I shall share with you now.

MO2

In 2004 I’d managed a music and video project with a group of Refugee families when Eureka, the museum for children asked if the kids (aged 4-10) could perform at the opening of a new exhibit thingy. Adrian, our musician couldn’t make it, so the kids had to make do with me leading them on the Djembe. The lady at Eureka told me very excitedly that there would be a special popstar guest. When I told the girls this they were very giddy. They were praying it would be Gareth Gates. I was holding out for the cute, punk one out of Busted.

The girls sat on their chairs looking glum as I dragged the rest of the drums in. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “You told us Gareth Gates might be here and it’s just some rubbish bloke off Big Brother”. I hyperventilated on the spot. What? Who! No, it can’t be… Not Little Mark Owen from Take That? “Yer, him off Big Brother. He’s not even a popstar” (the Legend of Take That was lost on these youngsters in 2004). I couldn’t believe it. I should’ve worn better clothes! So, we did our little gig and I could hardly contain myself as Little Mark stood just metres away doing his little speech.

“Can we go home now, Maria?”

“What?!” I shrieked. “But you can go round the museum for free, you’ve got passes…” “But we’re bored, we don’t want to,” they whined. I got serious “You ain’t going nowhere. YOU’RE MY TICKET TO MARK OWEN.” And they were. Oh, they tried to get away, and most succeeded, but little nine year old Parvana felt sorry for me and did a grand job of pretending to want to meet someone she’d never heard of just so I could. Good girl.

RW 2004 2

So, I got to meet Little Mark, who is indeed very little and was also very orange (glad to see the fake tan has worn off now). He was also very sweet. My friend Taramati, a wonderful older Indian lady who has on occasion taken to the stage to sing lullabies in an Elvis wig, didn’t have a clue who he was, and quizzed him like old ladies do. She got his autograph first then asked “And who are you?” “And what do you do?” He handled this very graciously.

So, these are the memories I will take to my death bed. No TT prancing about in hot pants, but at least I got to have my picture taken with a genuine popstar, even if he was orange. And sensibly dressed.

There will always be a place in my heart for cheesy boy bands. And, bloody Nora, in my photo album.

Postscript, 2016: I totally went off Take That when they turned out to be tax-dodging bastards. Apart from Jason Orange, he seems alright.

MO3

A Couple of Firsts

So, I had my first taste of wedding photography. It also happened to be my first Sikh wedding (Anand Karaj). Wedding photography, rather like marriage, has never appealed to me. Much of it is standard and staged, which is fine if that’s what you want, but if it is, I’m not your girl. And there are way better photographers out there.

Rangoli & Maiyan

Rangoli & Maiyan

The bride, the lovely, super-talented Seetal, who I know through my work with South Asian Arts UK, asked me over a year ago if I’d document her wedding to Kaviraj, another awesome human. (When not creating dance or music, Seetal runs the brilliant Two Brown Girls blog with her friend Aaminah, you should check it out).  They both know my pictures, and how I work, and I was enormously flattered. They wanted to capture everything naturally, as it occurred, keeping poses to the minimum – and that’s my thing, so I was up for the challenge. I approached it in the same way I would any event, capturing characters, details, moments, and movement as stealthily as possible. (Two people commented on my Ninja skills, so it seems I achieved that!). Having said that, I was crapping myself, it was a huge responsibility…

Mehndi & Sangeet

Mehndi & Sangeet

Seetal and Kavi briefed me on the different celebrations and ceremonies I’d be documenting from Seetal’s side. Another photographer covered Kavi’s end in Leicester, and we were both there for the main event. It was full-on hard work, but enormous fun.

Chura

Chura

Personally, artistically and culturally this has been a wonderful experience for me. My congratulations to the Dynamic Dhadyalla Duo, and my thanks to all the friends and family, particularly at Beeston Gurdwara, who are always so welcoming (and make the best dhal).

Anand Karaj

Anand Karaj

This is just a small selection of photos, but you can see more on my Flickr.

I used my trusty Canon EOS 60D, mostly with a 55-250mm lens, and newly acquired 70D, with a 18-55mm lens. Occasionally I used a wide 10-18mm lens. For better or worse, I always use natural/available light.

Doli

Doli

Community Spirit

Recycled writing. This piece was first published in issue 2 of Poor Lass Zine in 2013. They are currently seeking submissions from working class people for the next issue – on the theme of Education.

I think of community as fluid rather than fixed. I’ve lived in many, many neighbourhoods over my 43 years, but only a handful have felt like a community. But we all belong to communities that have nothing to do with where we live, and to truly feel part of such a community, where you bond with others over friendships/beliefs/experiences/ventures can feel like being part of the best family (only perhaps with a little more choice over who your relatives are!). What has pushed my buttons for a long time, and heavily influenced different paths trodden in my personal and working life, is community spirit. As a phrase this can be a bit throwaway, and is something many try to engineer (yes, you Dave, with your Big Society BS), but when you really experience or witness it, it’s like everything else you file under “the best things in life” – it can’t be bottled.

Having worked as a community video maker for several years, before moving on to arts outreach and community engagement (with a few years chucked in as a volunteer coordinator) I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working with people from a real variety of communities. The sort of people who leave their mark and make you to want to be a better person; who inadvertently educate and inspire you. So here are a few short stories.

Joan Angus being interviewed for the documentary We Are Women We Are Strong, by One to One Development Trust

Joan Angus being interviewed for the documentary We Are Women We Are Strong, by One to One Development Trust

We all know something about pit closures in the UK, probably from watching the news in the 1980s or maybe from just watching Brassed Off. What I certainly never learned from the news was just how devastated and decimated many communities were for the years, even decades that followed. But also that communities were created as well as kicked when the loss of that local industry meant the loss of thousands of jobs. I still can’t claim to have any depth of knowledge, but I met some amazing people who left an impression. In the mid 1990s I worked on a couple of video projects with people whose passion could make you weep. On a project called “We Are Women, We Are Strong” (after the song) I got to meet women who one day were ‘ordinary’ housewives and mothers, and the next were at the centre of pickets and marches, finding enormous camaraderie with other women who were fighting for their husbands’ jobs and their families’ survival. The Women Against Pit Closures Movement became about so much more than a fight for jobs. Many of these amazing ladies were changed forever by this unique bonding experience, finding their voices and a passion for campaigning they’d never experienced before. This lead some of them to join other fights (such as Greenham Common) and others even put themselves through university and ended up moving into politics – stuff they’d never dreamed could happen. This is real community spirit in my book – people who rally together to support each other and find a collective voice in the face of adversity. We probably feel it’s getting harder to do this in the current climate as this government scapegoat and punish the poorest and most vulnerable, pitting us against each other, but I still have hope.

Then there were the men, the miners. I was fortunate enough to work with a group of 12 men who’d all lost their jobs and been forced into early retirement. They were no longer down the pits together, and hadn’t found work in many years (not for want of trying), but remained a community, bound to each other by their locality and shared experiences, but also by developing new passions and hobbies (home video, in this instance). I taught them how to edit their films – they taught me about friendship and perseverance.

Sometimes we impose the ‘community’ label on groups of people, like a brand or a stamp of convenience. But we all know from experience that, whatever bonds or common interests a community may have, people are not homogenous. I grow so tired of politicians and the media talking about immigrants and immigration, particularly where refugees and asylum seekers are thrown into the mix out of ignorance. People who seek asylum do so because they face dangers we can’t imagine in their own countries, not because they’re after our jobs and houses. I’ve met people who have horrendous stories to tell, of physical and psychological abuse and persecution, of losing or leaving behind family members and children, and they have the scars to show for it. You don’t give up your home, your family and your career as a doctor to spend six years on benefits (equivalent to 70% of income support) and no right to work just to come to this country. You do so because you seek sanctuary, because the will to survive is strong.

Refugee Week in Halifax

Refugee Week in Halifax

Facing a room full of families and individuals who speak 20 different languages and hardly any English is daunting. It’s also incredibly inspiring. I mainly worked on video and music projects with asylum seekers (music being a universal language, cliched but true!). People so generously shared their stories and talents, and bonded over food and music. I can only guess what it’s like to be in their shoes, and distantly admire them and their bravery. These people were simultaneously the most disparate and the most together communities I’ve met.

So – a few snippets of real community spirit I’ve been lucky enough to experience through my work. At home it’s a work-in-progress. After years on the housing waiting list and many house moves, my son and I are finally in a council flat. The neighbourhood is ok, I’ve lived in better and worse. We had a few dirty looks at first, and seeing/hearing young kids smoking and swearing depresses me, but we’ve got a couple of nice neighbours and I’m determined to be one too. The old guy next door is friendly, we put each other’s bins out and clear snow from the steps to each other’s flats. Not everyone round here is neighbourly like that, but if we take small steps and say a few “hellos” who knows, maybe my neighbourhood will become my community.

Sambalifax - truly a  community band

Sambalifax – truly a community band