A day in the life of a comic book guy

We take a look at the rise of Leeds independent comic store OK Comics and the man who makes the business what it is.

Hidden from the hustle and bustle of Briggate, in Thornton’s Arcade, is OK Comics. The shop houses a wide selection of classic comics and graphic novels set across its two floors. There’s a sofa for relaxing and soaking up the literature the store has to offer, shelves full of mags and a reverent atmosphere. OK Comics provides the perfect environment for any comic book enthusiast.

The daily routine at OK comics consists of preparing the front window of the shop and ensuring the store is in presentable order for customers. OK comics owner Jared Myland described the day to day life of running the comic book store as pressure free, he said: “It is relaxed running your own independent business, more and more people should be encouraged to take the step into owning their own independent business.”

ok-comics-wide
OK Comics – hidden off Briggate – is an antidote to corporate newsagents and big brands.

Going independent can be risky in this day and age with the strangle hold corporate companies have on the business world. However Myland believes there is nothing better than owning an independent business, he explained: “It’s a big step starting your own business, I started off with just £300 and a computer; everything I made I just put back into the business. I was online only for the first couple of years”.

Owning an independent business can provide a freedom that may not be available when working for a big chain or corporation, for instance OK Comics are able to order in whatever comics they feel like. “Sometimes buyers can suggest things that may not appeal to customers however being an independent business I can pick what is popular and my customers are looking to read,” said Jared.

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Jared – who built his business with £300 and a computer – cracks open a brand new comic in the comfort of his shop.

For people who want to start their own business, Jared believes it is essential that you work for somebody else first. “Working for somebody else will provide you with the necessary skills when you eventually make the step up to creating your own independent business,” he said.

And, down the line, you could end up as your own boss too. Best. Decision, Ever.

Photos courtesy of Nassr Adris and Cool Places

Originally published to Leeds Hacks – April 2015

 

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Testing the faith: Students and relgion

Looking down onto Leeds city centre, a weathered gothic spire sits at the top of a hill home to institutes of learning and enlightenment. Broken stained glass windows and the surrounding pavements lie in wait as evidence of the previous nights over indulgence. Once a place of praise and worship, now better associated with drinking more so than a little wine with communion and hedonistic behaviour. Halo, situated in the centre of Leeds, is a once former church which has been transformed into one of the biggest clubs in the area. To some this may seem like a desecration of somewhere that was once so holy. To the other, a potentially smart business plan. One might argue; wouldn’t it be foolish to let such a large building go to waste when it can be used to attend to the drinking needs of Leeds’ eighty thousand strong student population? And with that, the former church resumes the will of its new tenant.

Statistics from surveys from the past decade could give some reasoning as to why religion among students is not excessively popular. When asked ‘‘what is your religion’’ results from the 2011 census claim that 32.8% of the population in the UK answered with ‘‘no religion’’ or did not state their religion. Furthermore when the British Social Attitudes survey of 2009 asked the same question 50.9% of the respondents replied with ‘‘no religion’’. A steady decline in religion over the past decade is visible as the 2001 census found that only 14.1% of the UK’s population answered with ‘‘no religion’’.

Leeds is home to a diverse range of religions, the most common, as throughout the UK, is Christianity and the different various denominations associated with the religion. However religions such as Islam, Sikhism, Judaism and Hinduism all have a presence within the city, with a strong following within the minority communities spread around.

Regardless of the large religious presence within the city, the student lifestyle and a life devoted to religion do not appear to be a common mixture. In an age with so much scientific fact and counter argument, statistics strengthen the argument that religion is losing its grasp on the young, free thinking generation. Not only reinforced scientific arguments, but also the endless distractions that come as a part of the student life, may draw students away from religious thought and completely away from practicing religion. Students argue religion is something which is no longer forced upon them, unlike centuries ago, when religion was prominent within the governing of the England and the rest of the UK. The gradual decline of religious influence in parliament could be seen as why religion does not play a big a part in the day to day lives of many students currently residing in Leeds. Ross Scarth, a second year student at Leeds Metropolitan University, believes religion is is a disadvantage when regarding free thought. Speaking from within his bedroom which is plastered with posters advertising popular nights out around Leeds he explains: ‘‘I went to a Catholic high school, but once I left and went to a non-faith college I started to make my own decisions, being a student, I feel I’d be at a disadvantage when regarding knowledge if I was religious.’’

The increase in numbers that feel they do not belong to a religion may be what influences so many students in Leeds to not take an interest in these particular faiths. Upbringing will play a big part in religious belief, and therefore if more parents are choosing to not follow a religion, then more and more young people grow up without spirituality and religion at the centre of their lives. Many surveys may be misleading however, showing high percentages of students claiming to be a part of a religion that they do not actually practice. For example a 2011 survey by the University of Derby looking into religion and belief in higher education found that 46.8% of respondents answered ‘‘Christian’’ followed by ‘‘no religion’’ with 36.5%. It may be seen that certain students have been brought up to follow Christianity but as they progress into higher education, their interest and time devoted to the religion will decrease.

Largely students blame distractions and the freedom that university provides as the reasons for not practicing religion or taking an interest whilst they are a student. No longer having pressure from parents to follow certain spiritual beliefs and also being given the time to discover their own faith, if they choose, is what appears to be the general reasoning as to why the majority of students do not feel compelled to take part in religion.

Currently studying at the University of Leeds, Joe Lawson, 19, has strong beliefs regarding Atheism. He argues: ‘‘Although I have been to a Roman Catholic high school I have never had any pressure from my parents or relatives to take an interest in religion. I have been given the chance to develop my own beliefs – therefore religion does not appeal to me in the slightest’’.

However it can be a completely different story for many students at university when it comes to religion. Many students see higher education as a chance to meet others with the same spiritual beliefs and also seize the opportunity to join societies which bring people together through spirituality.

Members of the Islamic society at Leeds Metropolitan University, Ifrah Khalid and Anil Ahmed, believe that you are guided better if you are religious and a student. They feel distraction is not a plausible argument for not being religious at university, as religion comes first before anything else. ‘‘A lot of religion, especially Islam, is primarily down to your upbringing, your friends and family will try and guide you in the right direction. Prayer is the best answer to any distraction which may draw you away from your faith’’ claims Khalid. This may suggest that upbringing is the key to a religious student. However Ahmed argues that although upbringing is an important factor, people can still find the correct path whilst at university.

The Islamic Society of Leeds Metropolitan appears to have a relaxed yet firm understanding of their religion; this can be seen as only certain females decide to wear a Hijab as well as the society congregating in social spaces rather than shutting themselves away from the majority of students. ‘‘Being a Muslim is a way of life, Islam is something that always stays with you even if you choose not to follow the religion strictly’’ claims Khalid.

On the other hand, the more established faiths associated with Christianity do not seem to have the same voice as religions such as Islam. Lead Chaplin at Leeds Metropolitan, Caroline Ryder, suggests that Christianity has become complacent due to its prominence for such a long time, leading to people not caring as much about the faith.

The university’s chaplaincy is based in a grand church, complete with a towering spire looking down onto the former church which has since become nightlife hotspot Halo. The chaplaincy encourages students in Leeds to explore their faith and find out what kind of spiritual journey they are on. The workers offer a range of services to students that are curious about their faith; these include one to one support for students, whether it is regarding religion or anything else that could be troubling them, pastoral support and spiritual guidance. ‘‘Suggesting there is a decline in religion among students doesn’t paint the whole picture, although Christianity may not appear to be a popular choice for many students many new progressive churches are on the rise within the area’’ claims Ryder.

Just out of Leeds city centre sits the Makkah Masjid mosque, situated in the Hyde Park area. Perched on top of the magnificently constructed building, the mosque’s crescent moon overlooks the neighbourhood. All day the mosque is busy with people coming to and from. Many Muslims converse in the spaces around the colourful structure, which is the hub for the Muslim community living within the LS6 area.

It would appear that religion among the majority of students in Leeds does not appear to be a popular choice. However this does differ between Christianity and Islam. The decline in students practicing Christianity has gradually increased over the last decade, and figures will point to a non-religious upbringing. Yet, it is a completely different story for Islam, quite simply because Muslims do not appear to have the same uninterested approach toward religion whilst at university.

Written in December 2013

Photo courtesy of Tgraham via Creative Commons

In Conversation: Booka Shade

This year marks 10 years since the release of Movements by German electronic duo Booka Shade; an hour long atmospheric journey that climbs to the heady peaks of euphoria  before fluctuating tothe eerie depths of suspense. To celebrate the Berlin based pair’s seminal record, Movements will be re-released alongside a number of commemorative live shows set to take place throughout the summer – including an appearance at South West Four in August. To get an insight to all things Movements 10, we sat down with Arno Kammermeier, one half of Booka Shade, to find out more.

Hi Arno, how’re you doing?
Hello, I’m not doing badly. I am just in the studio in Berlin at the moment; I’ve just finished setting everything up to record so you’ve called at a good time!

What is it you are in the studio working on currently?
We are making really good progress with a new album. By the time this new one comes out it will have been around three years since our last one was released. Hopefully it will all be ready by the end of August. From there we will start mixing it with the aim of it being released in early 2017. It always takes a long time when working on an album, and this being our 6th one, the process is not getting any easier; you want to challenge yourself and try out new things. The album is going to be a new style for us as the Movements celebration that we are having this year is going to mark the end of an era for that sound, so it’s time for something new.

Having been releasing singles over the past few years, what is it that inspired the you to start work on another full length album?
Maybe because we are old school! We like the opportunity to tell a bigger story with an album and it also gives you the possibility to show a variety of sounds. If you look at our early albums there is always a diversity in the sound. Most people see us as a club or dance act, but our albums have always had much more of a dept. We have always enjoyed the fact you can go anywhere on the journey with an album. With people listening to our full albums on Spotify, it shows us that we are able to keep telling these stories and not always have to focus on three-minute pop songs or singles.

What has the process been like for your current studio sessions?
I’d say the biggest differences is we have done much more together than we have done on previous albums. Times before we sent each other MP3s and worked on it together when we could but we have realised how important it is to be together in the same room and take pleasure in the creative process. We have known each other for nearly 30 years and there are always ups and downs in a relationship, but we feel that things are coming together at the moment. For a long time, we were unsure of where to go with the music but right now there is a clear vision of what we want to do, so it is just a matter of getting the songs finished and picking the right ones out of the 50 or 60 we wrote.

Are the tracks on your albums recorded as a collection designed to take the audience on a particular journey or are they a compilation of tracks you have been working for a specific set of time?
For albums, from the songs we have recorded, we choose the strong ones that could maybe be a single along with a selection of atmospheric ones and the more epic sounding tracks. We then sit down a go over our track listing and try to get a feel of the flow of the album and see where we can maybe insert a more upbeat song or maybe a little bit of an irritation. It’s always a lot of work!

Despite the heavy use of drum machines and synths, your recordings still maintain a live feel. Do you purpose fully produce your music in this way so transition from the studio to stage does not compromise the sound?
Yeah, it’s basically because we love the combination of acoustic and electronic sounds. With this new album we have the feeling that we are recording interesting new sounds, for example, I am just about to record a glockenspiel (plays notes). The grooves we create are always electronic but I will double it with an acoustic instrument. Even if the instrument is very sequenced and sounds like a drum machine the feel is always a little bit different.

In keeping with your live show, do you try and reimagine your recordings as accurately as possible or has progression over time lead to yourselves altering the way you perform them live?
If you have ever been to one of our shows you will see the versions of our songs can be quite different and vary over the years. In White Rooms for instance, the version we play now is quite similar to the one we played in 2006 and 2007 because of the celebration of Movements 10. With a new album we try to have it in a way so that it is immediately playable, but there can be versions that can be super sequenced and we break it up for the live show.

This summer you will be visiting a number of festivals. Generally sets at festivals are a lot shorter. Do you think this plays to your advantage as a live act as you wont be cut short when only just getting into the groove of a DJ set?
As a live act, it is okay to play for around 75 minutes. At one time we had a tour manager who was working with The Prodigy and he said that they never played longer than 75 minutes. We really love playing for around this time in a very arranged way so we can create the atmosphere we want. DJ’ing is a different thing, as a DJ you want to play for 3 hours at least to take the audience on a desired journey. Only having an hour set is terrible for a DJ as they have the audience where they want them by the time they have to stop. However, for a live band,  just over an hour is fine.

This year you will be celebrating 10 years since the release of Movements with a rerelease along with a number of live shows to commemorate the seminal release. How have you been finding theMovements 10 shows so far?
We have only had the premier so far at Sonar last weekend and it was amazing, especially at Sonar as our performance at the festival was a real career starter for us back In 2005. As always with a premier, we had a few issues on stage but this was behind the scenes. The audience seemed to enjoy it so it gives us a great feeling looking towards the upcoming shows.

How intense is the process of learning all of the tracks before you feel you are at a level to perform them live?
Of course you rehearse them, but with the Movements 10 shows in particular it was a case of going back to the original productions from 2005 to 2006. We wanted to recreate a lot of the sounds form those days and go back to the original backing track. There were a few songs that we have never played live before such as Lost High, a track which Dennis Ferrer remixed which we really love. So we got Dennis to send over his remix and we edited it again and that has become the live version we play now. With the live show at the moment, we take a lot the old sequences and sounds but we try and mix it up in new ways as much as possible and make them ‘2016’.

To what extent do you feel you have developed as producers and a live act since the initial release of Movements?
Well the very first show we played as Booka Shade was right here in Berlin at Watergate, and at that stage we were not all that familiar with playing electronic music live. We tried to run all of the music and all of the visuals through the same laptop which was way too much information for this poor little thing back in 2005. As a result, we had about 4 breakdowns in this one show, but it was a quick learning curve for us, so we have a lot of back ups ready now if things go wrong. As producers, there is always constant development. Over the last year or so, we have worked with a lot of young producers in a studio in Berlin called Riverside which has helped us pick up on a few new tricks. It’s just all about learning. That’s the aim in life, otherwise what is it good for!

Finally, you will be over here in the UK at the end of August at South West Four alongside the likes of Paul Kalkbrenner, can you give us a little insight of what to expect from the Movements 10 performance?
We will present the Movements album pretty much in the same running order as on the CD except the tracks will be performed a little differently with a few mash ups and remixes other producers have done for us. We also have new concepts in place from our light designer so hopefully it will look visually stunning also.

Thanks Arno, good luck with the rest of the recording for the album.
Thank you, back to the glockenspiel!

Photo courtesy of Michael Kohls

Originally published to Ticket Arena – 27/06/16

In Conversation: Andrea Triana

Andreya Triana is quickly becoming one of the most recognisable voices in modern soul. Having refined her craft as a student in Leeds as well as The Red Bull Music Academy, collaborations with artists such Flying Lotus and Mr Scruff have quickly followed. Her vocals began to turn heads thanks to a guest appearance on Simon Green’s, aka Bonobo, 2010 LP Black Sands – lending her voice to 3 of the album’s tracks. This was soon to be followed up by Andrea’s debut album, Lost Where I Belong, which saw the pairing of herself and Simon Green repeated. Andreya’s second full length attempt, 2015’s Giants, once again incorporated forward thinking production topped off with the kind of soulful vocal performance she has grown to become synonymous with.

Friday 4th of March will see Andreya return to a familiar setting of The HiFi Club as she opens the Funk Soul Weekender supported by a full live band. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Andreya to talk song writing, collaborating and experiences in Leeds.

Hi Andreya, how’ve you been?
I’ve been great, I have just got back form Berlin literally a few days ago. I was there doing a bit of writing and just hanging out. It’s always nice to go to a new place and get some inspiration. So yeah, that’s been the main thing recently.

Were you there working on material for an upcoming solo project or new collaboration?
It’s was generally just writing songs for my new album and also writing songs for other people which is something I can hopefully branch out into, so a little bit of both. I think the beauty of trips like that is you never know what is going to come out of it, it could be songs for my album or material for someone else so it is always productive.

Who were you there writing with?
I was writing with my favourite female producer and songwriter, a lady called D Adams. It was just us 2 working with different producers.

What kind of material were you looking to work towards? Can we expect a similar sound that has been present on your last couple of records?
The beauty of writing a new record is that it is all unknown, I don’t have any set ideas in my head of how I want the record to sound. It is a general feeling of being open minded and seeing what happens. The early days are very much about being experimental and then before you know it an album takes shape. That’s my general process really.

How would you describe your writing style? For example, are you somebody who likes to isolate yourself from distraction or bounce off the creativity of others when trying to construct lyrics?
I don’t necessarily need to be on my own, but I definitely need a quiet space with no distractions. Some people are lucky and they can write on the road but I find it literally impossible; I really cherish having a week in somewhere like Berlin which is used as a writing trip, everyday you can spend time in the studio. Sometimes when you are away you can just switch your phone off and have a creative space which is something I really need to write songs.

Is the emotion attached to the lyrics you write something you rely on when delivering your vocal performances both in the studio and on stage?
Definitely! Pretty much 99.99% of the time all of my songs come from personal experience or somebody else who has gone through something that I can relate to. It’s always raw and honest emotion which is so important, so hopefully people can feel it and connect to it also. I like to think my songs are very honest and on stage it is important to have that energy

In contrast, how would it work if somebody wrote some lyrics for yourself, would you still be able to attach yourself to them and deliver a similar performance?
I absolutely would. For example, tracks that I used to cover by Lauren Hill, Stevie Wonder or Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands, I can really relate to them. It is all about connecting to the song and making it personal to you as well as connecting to the words and making your own story out of it.

You are well known for your collaborations as well as being a solo artist. A lot of musicians can sometimes struggle to share a vision with others when working together. Is this something you have ever experienced or has collaborating always been something that comes naturally to you?
Yeah I feel it has always been very natural for me, however, it’s something that happened out of the blue. Collaborating is not something I ever plan or set out to do, the process is generally working with a good friend or someone you can connect musically with and just trying something and seeing what happens, there has never been any pressure. I think it’s about having 2 different creative identities also. I have been lucky that I have been able to work with some great producers and thankfully people have connected to the music we have made.

Do you prefer to work with artists that are closely associated with your sound or others that will create more of a juxtaposition when you work with one another?
I think from my past collaboration it has definitely been more of a juxtaposition. At heart, I have always been a songwriter that likes to sit down with a guitar, so it’s interesting to work with someone like Bonobo who is really leftfield electronic or Flying Lotus. I think it is nice when you have opposite ends of the spectrum meeting in the middle, that’s where the beauty happens I think.

As you mentioned, Bonobo is an artist you have frequently collaborated with. How did this come about?
We originally wrote some songs together which turned into my album, then following that came his album, Black Sands, which I wasn’t even meant to feature on. He approached me with this one song which quickly turned into 3, so it all happened very organically. It changed my life featuring on the album, however, the first step was getting into the Red Bull Music Academy which was where I met Flying Lotus which then led on to meeting Bonobo. Being on Black Sands was huge, and I don’t think I ever understood how many people were into that album until I played with him at Alexandra Palace which was completely sold out and they were all singing the words to The Keeper back at me.

Has soul and jazz music been something which has always been present in your life?
I grew up in a family of music lovers so there was always music playing in my house which ranged from soul to reggae, pretty much whatever my mum was into. My mum was a great singer but she never perused a career in music. It was all natural to me and I was obsessed with music from a young age and the obsession continued to grow, and then one day I took the crazy step of trying to make music my job!

Aside from other musicians, what factors do you think have helped inspire the type of artist you are today?
I think it is simply experiences in life really. I am mixed race so my cultural background is a big influence on me. Also my surroundings, I lived in South London which can be quite rough and then moved to the West Midlands which was very different. I’ve also lived in Leeds and spent a lot of time in Manchester and Brighton as well as travelling the world and touring which allows you to see and collect so much which opens your eyes and mind.

To what extent did working with producers such as Mr Scruff and Flying Lotus allow you to experiment with new sounds whilst maintaining the integrity of your soulful vocals?
It is not music that I would have made myself so to get the opportunity guest on that kind of music that I really enjoy is fantastic. It also pushes you as a vocalist and a songwriter so it has been a great thing to do.

Your most recent LP Giants sees you continuing to incorporate forward thinking production, do you feel you are quite a progressive artist emerging from the world of Jazz and Soul?
Well that’s more for other people to make their mind up and say! I’m just trying to learn and grow whilst putting out music that hopefully uplifts people in some way. I look back to my own past and childhood in which I experienced some tough times where listening to soul music was really something that pushed me through and gave me something to hold on to. If I can do something similar for even just 10 people that will make me happy.

Since starting out you have released 2 full length records as well as number of Eps which have amalgamated in you being labelled as one to watch back in November by The Guardian. Would do you agree that you are quickly becoming one of the most recognisable voices in modern soul music?
Anything like that which provides a platform for new people to listen to your music is always great. I’m always working away behind the scenes, so whether I get the one to watch or not I’m always trying to move forward, but it’s really nice to be recognised for sure.

An integral part of your journey was studying music technology whilst living in Leeds, to what extent did this experience help pave the way to the success you are enjoying right now?
Aside from studying for my degree I was doing everything I could outside of university such as work experience, gigging with my band and working at a radio station. I learnt a lot in Leeds and made connections that helped in the future, for example, I met a guy called Noah Ball who was putting on his own nights and has since gone on to put on Soundwave festival in Croatia. He has been booking us since day one and it was through him that we played our very first gig at HiFi.

It is quite a common occurrence for students to become exposed to new genres and styles of music when they come to university. Was this the case for you when studying in Leeds?
It was huge, for me Leeds was the main place that I started gigging a lot with my band and where I discovered jazz along with a lot of jazz musicians I would jam with and go to gigs with. I had never really experienced that before. Funnily enough, going to HiFi was a huge thing for me, there was always a great gig happening which everyone was into at the time. Leeds holds some great memories and provided a lot musical growth and exploration during my time there.

What type of nights did you attend when you were living in the city? Was it mainly soul or did you experience the selection of electronic and dance nights that have been running in Leeds for many years?
I remember seeing Mr Scruff in my first year of university which was amazing. I also saw Soweto Kinch at The Warbrobe which blew my mind, he was absolutely incredible. I lost count of the amount of artists I saw play at HiFi!

Finally, as you said, you have a lot of memories of attending and playing HiFi, does it almost feel as though you are coming full circle when you return to open the Funk Soul Weekender with your live band this Friday?
It really does, it is such an honour. It was the one place for me as a student were me and my friends could head out and hear the music that we loved. So to now return to the stage as an established artist is amazing.

Photo courtesy of Logan Media Entertainment

Originally published to Ticket Arena – 29/02/16

In Conversation: Jehst

Since the late 1990s, Jehst has been a constant in UK hip-hop, applying his lyrical talents to countless records while continuously raising the bar in the scene through his tenure as YNR label boss. 17 years on from his first release, Jehst is still a driving force, working with emerging artists and making music that isn’t willing to accept boundaries within the genre. This month, Jehst is on the road, stopping off at The HiFi Club Leeds October 7th before heading south to Kamio, London the following night. Ahead of the shows, we jumped at the chance to pick the brains of one of UK hip-hop’s most influential figures.

Hi Jehst, how has life been treating you lately?
All good thanks. Putting in work with the release of Cappo’s new album ‘Dramatic Change of Fortune’ on my label YNR Productions. We’re keeping the campaign going with some more singles and videos dropping, plus we’ve got him supporting Sleaford Mods on tour so that’s going to be keeping me busy for the next couple of months.

When you started making moves in the late 90s, what did you find had the biggest influence on your writing style?
A lot of New York MC’s like Nas, O.C., Organised Konfusion, Wu Tang Clan; rappers who were current at the time and just using language differently. A lot of emphasis on imagery and wordplay and referencing other art and current events in a kind of Post-Modernist way. I was learning about that stuff in college at the time and making the connection. UK guys like Blak Twang and Fallacy had a big influence too, I’d have to put them in the same category lyrically.

Your rapping style is one that has inspired and been built upon by many artists, so how did you come to settle on it?
I don’t know if I’ve ever really settled on it. I feel like it’s important to keeping pushing forward and evolve so hopefully you’re always getting better and developing your craft. It’s a big compliment but also somewhat of a pressure to have been so influential on an underground movement that’s still very absent from the mainstream.

Your lyrics combine social commentary with a little bit of dark humour never too distant. Do you believe it is pivotal to yourself as an artist to be honest and satirical lyrically?
Not necessarily satirical, at least not all the time, but definitely honest. Honesty is key in terms of trusting yourself to be true to your instincts in the act of creating. That’s how you make your best work.

Looking back at your early releases, did you feel any pressure to bring something new to UK Hip Hop?
There was no pressure back then. Just the hunger to participate in the culture. I felt very connected to a certain particular wave of like-minded artists who had an understanding of how so-called ‘Golden Era’ producers were creating a certain kind of sound; the guys basically following in the footsteps of Marley Marl. Then I guess there was a school of lyricism that saw Rakim as kind of a foundation-laying figure in a similar way. These were like the fundamentals, the building blocks to then bring your own style and content to; the canvas for your personality or alter-ego to shine. I think the emphasis was more on being classic than being ‘new’ at that time; and there was more of an understanding that if you could be yourself and not try to copy somebody else then your style would automatically be original anyway. Displaying originality was so fundamental to participating back then that it was just second nature. Biting was strictly frowned upon.

Your YNR label is credited with being an integral part of the early hip-hop scene alongside the likes of Low Life. Do you have a particular vision for the label in the coming years?
The honest answer is no. I’m not really trying to pre-empt the future of YNR right now because ultimately it’s a labour of love and plus I always want to let every individual release and campaign have it’s time to flourish in it’s own right. So it’s an open book right now. Although I can definitely say that you’ll be hearing some music from an artist called Confucius MC in the not-so-distant future.

Would you agree that UKHH is experiencing one of its most successful periods to date? If so, what has enabled this to happen?
Consumer choice. The internet has empowered people to choose and also empowered artists to supply both digital and physical content directly to their core fanbase. It was all an inevitability. Because the demand was already there but the artists didn’t really have the tools to supply directly, they were far more reliant on the old power structures of the music industry to reach their audience.

You have a reputation for being quite the prolific recording artist; off the top of your head, how many tracks do you think you have featured on?
I really couldn’t say but it’s got to be in to the hundreds by now in terms of just features alone and definitely if we’re including solo material. Yeah, it would be well in to the hundreds.

One of your latest collaborations sees you team up with Lee Scott, perhaps one of the more ‘out there’ artists on the circuit. With Lee Scott’s Blah Records for an example, how important do you think DIY creativity is to UK Hip-Hop?
It’s fundamental to Hip Hop culture in general. I guess we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves and kind of wear the Punk, D-I-Y aesthetic with a certain pride in how we present ourselves over here; maybe more so than in other countries so I guess it’s a big part of our national identity.

Looking at the rise of grime in the recent years, do you think it is possible for UKHH to reach similar levels of mainstream success?
Well I was just going to say with the whole UK D-I-Y thing, it’s the same with Grime. The D-I-Y aspect is a matter of pride. I think most people don’t really differentiate between one type of rapper and another, it’s more of an internalised concern within artistic and also industry circles. And that resonates in the media obviously too but in general I believe the public are just as open to the idea of a Four Owls or Loyle Carner song playing on the radio as they are a Skepta or Wiley song. It’s just about it being the right song and having the right push behind it.

Finally, I’ve got to ask; your track with Lee Scott released earlier in the year, “Campbell & Algar”, can you talk us through how you thought of the line ‘Underdressed like Hunter S at his blunted best’. It’s quite something…
I’ve no idea! It’s just the type of nonsensical stuff that I come up with. Me and Kashmere from Strange U actually did a whole album inspired by Hunter S. Thompson under the alias Kingdom Of Fear so it’s kind of a running theme at this point. If you like lines like that then you should definitely come to the show, I’ve got a ton of them!

Photo courtesy of Jehst

Originally published to Ticket Arena – 03/10/16

Leeds iDebate: Local MP Hilary Benn urges young people to turn out and vote

Leeds’ Howard Assembly Rooms played host to the Independent’s iDebate posing the question: “Young people should not bother voting in May because politicians have given up on them”.

The panellists for the event included Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party; Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West; Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central; Sam Gyimah, education minister and parliamentary secretary at the cabinet office; Lisa Markwell, editor of The Independent on Sunday; and the chair of the debate was i Whitehall editor, Oliver Wright.

The panellists were tasked with getting to grips with the problem of why so many young people are not exercising their right to vote with only 44% of 18-24 year olds turning out at the 2010 general election.

The debate began with each panellist introducing themselves and addressing the overall topic of the debate. Most notably, Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, introduced herself whilst delivering an apology for “the state her age group has left the world in”.

Lisa Markwell made the the point that voting is not the same as being politically engaged, sparking a debate as to whether schools and colleges are currently doing enough to educate young people on politics and voting. Other topics touched on included EU membership and the presence of minorities and women in politics, whilst further pushing Russell Brand into the limelight by discussing his radical view on why people should not bother voting in elections.

After the debate, LeedsHacks reporter Elliot Ryder spoke to Labour MP Hilary Benn, who encouraged young people to get involved. “On polling day, any young person has the same power as David Cameron,” he said.  Pressed on the low turnout in his own constituency at the last election, Mr Benn urged people to turn out to vote in order to get the so-called bedroom tax scrapped. “Now that’s a direct connection between your vote and change for them for the better,” he said.


Originally published to Leeds Hacks – February 2015

Photo courtesy of CIAT via Creative Commons

Tuition fee cuts: “a red line that won’t be crossed” says Leeds Labour candidate

Labour parliamentary candidate for Leeds North West, Alex Sobel, has described the party’s proposal to cap tuition fees to £6,000 as “a red line that will not be crossed”.

The proposed cuts will see the tuition fees cap fall from £9,000 a year – a policy that was brought in by the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010 despite mass public outrage and protests.

The Labour party however have received criticism that the cuts in tuition fees will be funded by restricting pension tax relief for higher earners. Alex Sobel defended the party’s action by pointing out it is not ordinary working pensioners who will be hit by the tax cut restrictions. “So it’s not ordinary pensioners – it’s not people who have worked and scraped away a bit of money here and there. These are the wealthiest pensioners, with pension pots in excess of a million pounds, pensions that can be in excess of £150,000 a year – reducing their tax relief. It is just making the system fairer,” he said.

#LeedsHacks political reporter Elliot Ryder spoke to the Labour Parliamentary candidate for Leeds North West to find out more about the proposed plans to cut tuition fees to £6,000 a year.


Photo courtesy of Leeds.Gov

Originally published to Leeds Hacks – April 2015

Budget 2015: Winners and Losers

With the General Election only two months away, the 2015 Budget will be a chance for Chancellor George Osborne to secure as much support for the Conservatives before 7 May.

We look at who are the real winners and losers following the budget announcements.

It would appear that this was a budget for savers with George Osborne also revealing a number of plans that will support home owners and small businesses. With “long term economic plan” being the buzzword of the day, the Chancellor drew as much attention as possible to the progress of the coalition and pleaded with the electorate that we do not return to the chaos of the previous Labour government.

Here is a rundown of some of the beneficiaries of this year’s budget:

Deficit reduction

deficit-reduction

The Chancellor addressed the House of Commons by stating Britain can “stand tall” once again and is now able to once more “pave the way”. The UK economy grew by 2.6% in 2014 which was faster than any other advanced economy. It was highlighted that living standards are higher now than in 2010 with households on average £900 better off over the course of the last five years according to data provided by the OBR.

Key points from the 2015 Budget:

  • Reduction in the deficit through £12bn savings on welfare
  • Welfare spending set to be £3bn lower each year than predicted in December
  • £5bn will be raised from tackling tax evasion
  • 9m new jobs have been created by the coalition; a direct result of backing businesses in order to create jobs according to the Chancellor
  • Number of people out of work fallen by 102,000 to 1.86 million since January
  • Unemployment rate currently at 5.7% and is set to further fall to 5.3% by the end of the year

 

Pensioners/ lifetime savers

George Osborne promised in his pre-election budget that long term savers will be protected.  It was outlined that the lifetime allowance will be indexed in 2018 to avoid being affected by inflation. Furthermore the lifetime allowance will be reduced from £1.25m to £1m. This is set to only affect 4% of savers and will raise an additional £600m a year in savings for the treasury.

These announcements in the budget contrast with the news that Labour will introduce tax relief reductions for high earning pensioners in order to fund a cut in university tuitions fees to £6000 a year.  George Osborne also announced the law is to be changed to allow pensioners to access their annuities, with the 55% tax charge abolished and taxes applied at the marginal rate.

North Sea Oil and Gas

In his budget statement George Osborne said Petroleum Revenue Tax would be cut from 50% to 35% in order to support production amid difficulties amongst the gas and oil sector. To add to the revenue tax cuts, the supplementary charge for oil companies will be lowered from 30% to 20%; it is estimated that these changes will stimulate growth of up to 15%.

Opposition

As expected, opposition leader Ed Miliband attacked a number of proposals put forward by the Chancellor highlighting the coalition’s achievement of halving the deficit despite promising to have it cleared within five years.

ed-millibandLabour leader Ed Milliband

Here is a rundown of some of the areas Ed Miliband believes will not benefit from today’s budget announcement:

Northern Powerhouse

Ed Miliband lambasted George Osborne’s plans of creating a northern powerhouse by providing more devolution to areas such as Yorkshire as well as allowing Manchester to keep 100% of its growth in business rates. The opposition leader pointed out that the current government is not supporting the north as 75% of the biggest cuts affected northern councils.

The opposition leader used some choice words to highlight the contrast in opinion council leaders in the north had toward the current government stating that the Mayor of Liverpool said the chancellor has “bludgeoned Liverpool”. He also quoted the Leader of Leeds City Council as saying the chancellor has failed to deliver the devolution they need.

Key points from Ed Miliband’s reply to the budget announcement:

  • The promise of a £7 minimum wage was broken
  • Under the current government there are more zero hour contracts in place than the populations of Glasgow, Leeds and Cardiff combined
  • Rubbished claims of being “in it together” when it’s a yes for the bedroom tax and a no for the mansion tax
  • Ridiculed the Prime Minister’s promise to balance the books within five years, but boasted that he’s halved the deficit
  • The current governments plan will take twice as long to balance the books

 

Ed Miliband finished on what reforms a Labour government would introduce:

  • The minimum wage to rise above £8 an hour
  • Legislate new principles for working contracts
  • Regular hours mean regular contracts
  • Reduce tuition fees to £6000
  • Abolish bedroom tax
  • Develop a green investment bank
  • Reverse the Conservatives millionaire tax cut

The 2015 Budget may be a pivotal moment in the lead up the the general election. The conservatives will be hoping to be buoyed by a fall in unemployment and a growth in economy with Labour relying on the current governments failings to balance the books as a means of drawing in as much support as possible.

Originally published to Leeds Hacks 18/03/15

Photos courtesy of Ken Teegardin via Creative Commons

Reasons to be cheerful, 2017

Whether the start of the new year has ushered in a collection of reluctant resolutions or a breath of fresh air, there are plenty of occasions in store where 2017 will look to bring a smile to your face. The sheer presence of 2017 alone may be one cause – such was 2016’s unpredictable character at times – but rather than rest on our laurels, we’ve jumped aboard the wave of new year optimism and decided to piece together some reasons to be cheerful now that the new year is here.

From the re-emergence of enigmatic artists set to return to the live stage, a packed festival season calendar and a brand new venue opening in the heart of the capital, here are just a few of the reasons why this year has all the makings of a good one – we hope…

Printworks opens in London

Following a strenuous battle to preserve the face of the capital’s nightlife less than six months ago, the opening of Printworks London – a brand new venture from LWE, Broadwick Live and Vibration Group – comes as a huge boost, and London will duly wear the arrival of the new venue as a serious statement that the city is still one the world’s leading cultural and nightlife hubs. Boasting a schedule doused with a range of live music, art/fashion exhibitions and film screenings, the 5000 capacity space and former printing factory is in line to be one of the biggest attractions in London when opening its doors for the first time on Saturday 4th February.

Ones to watch in 2017

With all of the ‘best of 2016’ lists neatly filed away into the historical records for the time being, attentions turn to the artists who hope to make a surge for 2017’s top lists come the end of the year. It’s hard to ignore grime’s momentous resurgence in the last 18 months, and with no signs of slowing down 2017 sees many artists tipped for success over the next year borrowing from the genre – an apt example coming in the form of BBC Sound Of 2017 winner Ray BLK. Following suit, we have laid our cards flat on the table and picked out 10 artists who we think have a big year ahead of them. Look out for the likes of Loyle Carner, AJ Tracey, Cabbage, Bonzai and Jorja Smith making waves in 2017.

elrow to host further UK shows

Few party goers will have been oblivious to elrow’s charms over the course of the last 12 months. Throughout the year, the Spaniards generously departed their Barcelona home for a spate of UK appearances, consistently leaving behind a vista of confetti wherever their party services were required. This year, elrow has some of their biggest shows to date already circled in the planner, with next month seeing a Bollywood themed weekender transform Manchester’s Albert Hall from 18th-19th February. Move on to the May Bank Holiday weekend and the Spaniards have turned their attentions to Cardiff where they will host elrow town – the concept used for the brand’s biggest bespoke events. With trusty selectors Eats Everything and Patrick Topping set to appear, this will be one fiesta to stick in your diary.

Parklife

From the very moment the final song rings out at Parklife and Heaton Park begins its transition back to reality, a buzz surrounding the festival’s follow up is already beginning to cause a stir. For Parklife 2017, things have been no different thus far. Many of the festival’s faithful were so impressed with what they saw last year that they’ve already committed themselves to attending again by purchasing the early bird tickets released last summer. In what’s becoming somewhat of a pilgrimage for music lovers of all kinds in the north of England and beyond, Parklife will no doubt be one of the biggest festival attractions of the season – not to mention if certain whispers of a Nike-infatuated headliner become a reality.

Aphex Twin makes rare live appearance at Field Day

The last few years have seen Aphex Twin teetering in and out of the public’s consciousness, every now and then alerting to his presence with high quality releases including the recent Cheetah EP and 2014 album Syro. However, 2017 will be the year he emerges from the shadows to regain his physical form, with Field Day London coaxing the Cornish innovator to the festival with the promise of a brand new stage to house his live show. It’s been over 10 years since Richard D James lined up on the bill for a UK show, so it’s safe to assume a few new tricks will have been cooked up in his lab during the time away from the spotlight. With the virtuoso producer potentially returning to the depths for another decade, the chance to see an originator in the truest sense is one that shouldn’t be passed up on this summer.

Ants return to the UK on world tour

The Ants colony has grown to be one of the most formidable on the White Isle in recent years, so much so that they have packed their bags full of Balearic atmosphere, jetted off around the world and offloaded the sights and sounds of their renowned parties at a collection of clubs capable of hosting them. Having already graced UK shores at the beginning of their tour, the Ibiza natives are set for a return over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend – this time round making the capital their own for the night. If you can’t contain your excitement for the 2017 Ibiza season, Ants London on April 13th should serve as the perfect appetizer.

Detonate Festival moves to two days

Detonate will look to dish out a second helping of all things bass this summer as their annual festival moves to a two-day event. Taking place at Colwick Country Park, Nottingham, from Saturday 9th-10th June, expect the usual cohort of DJs, grime stars and MCs orchestrating proceedings.

Frank Ocean to play UK shows

Since holding everyone’s heart strings to breaking point before finally releasing second album Blond, all have subsequently forgiven Frank Ocean for his slow reply. Not content with crafting the album which topped many of 2016’s album of the year lists, the heartfelt R&B star opted to cause further pandemonium with the announcement of his first live performances following the sophomore release. Lovebox played their trump card late in the year, revealing Ocean as their exclusive London headliner for the July Festival. However, true to form, rumours are already a stir as to where else Frank Ocean may enigmatically appear throughout the festival season in the UK. A trip up north may yet be on the cards…

Hideout gears up for summer return

Zrce Beach, Croatia, will be calling out to Hideout once again in 2017, with the festival happily accepting the offer to fill the picturesque backdrop in the final week of June. Subsequent lineup announcements coming toward the back end of last year already point toward Hideout planning for their biggest year to date; with Major Lazer, Marco Carola, Stormzy, Jamie Jones, elrow, Eats Everything and Hot Since 82 already on the bill it’s easy to see why.

In:Motion

Bristol’s premier events series In:Motion has already left a sizable impression in 2017, signing off their most recent run of shows with a mammoth New Year’s Day party with Ben Klock and Tale Of Us. Heading into hibernation for the remainder of the winter months, In:Motion will reappear energised and well rested come the summer to announce their latest series which gets underway in the autumn. Drawing together the biggest brands and names in underground dance, In:Motion curates some of the most noteworthy and eclectic lineups on offer in the UK. If you’re ever in the west country, you know where to look for a good party.

New TA site on the horizon

“New year, new me” is the mantra sweeping through Ticket Arena HQ right now as we prepare for the launch of our brand new site. Bigger, brighter, better; we can’t wait to show you what we have in store.

Photo courtesy of Parklife

Originally published to Ticket Arena – 10/01/17

The rush hour renagades, and me

Leeds’ Kirkstall Road is often at a standstill, and as the eve of Halloween descended, the normality in the life of a commuter appeared to be in session. Exiting the city was underway, only this time at a less pedestrian pace than usual. Steam masked growing frustration on the faces of those unable to flaunt their horsepower privileges; solitary, envious of those on foot making gains before them. The artery to the city was clogged, with few clear signs to the cause. The monotonous first chapter in the 40 hour week drew on.

Being a cyclist has its benefits. Like a fish too small for the net, rush hour traffic poses little to no threat, serving as a test for manoeuvrability, awareness and faith in fellow road users who command more mass and a killer blow. Gridlock traffic is a different story. Here, the bigger road users are aware they’re trapped, vulnerable almost, and so the panic sets in. They wriggle, desperate for an opening, all the while hoping an avenue may appear from thin air or a small gap – a small gap soon to be occupied by an oncoming cyclist? This is where it gets tricky being the small fish.

A few moments of anxiety came and went as the journey home that day reached its midway point. Slipping through the interconnected lanes of traffic – all facing varying degrees on a compass – the first stretches of Kirkstall Road’s texture were finally felt under wheel. The bus lane was in sight.

Like a den with no lion, the bus lanes of Leeds have always offered an unsettling sense of safety. When free to roam without their aboriginal species, the lanes are a gulf stream to cyclists; a privatised stretch of road that, when in use by those on self-propelled two wheels, do much to further mystify the windows of static cars.

50 yards or so separated myself from the relative relief of gridlock and the bus lane on Kirkstall Road. Under-taking is always a dangerous game, and with increased levels of frustration in fellow road users, the honourable cyclist within fell on his sword as I mounted the pavement and cheated my across the next 50 yards.

Alas! Order restored, and only at the cost of an added 15 minutes to my usual journey home it would seem. No signs were yet directing to the cause of the standstill for road bound traffic, but something felt peculiar.

Like most observant commuters, the intricacy of the journey to and from work can be recited down the finest detail. Therefore, when something upsets this clockwork like pattern of events, it is instantly distinguishable. On this such occasion, the irregularity was stemming from the others making use of the bus lane privileges. Rather than fellow cyclists or damned buses, I found myself followed by an irritable buzz which loomed ever nearer to my back wheel with each rotation of the pedals. Then came the first sighting.

The buzz abruptly announced itself as a swarm of excitable mopeds – a scrambler bike making up the rear of a formation which I was involuntarily a part of. In among the company of motorcycles, my usual smirk worn only for a driver unfortunate enough to witness my progression down Kirkstall Road was replaced with one of bemusement. Still with no a clear sign as to where the mopeds were heading, the myriad of blue lights ahead provided the first clue.

Little under 12 months ago, the petrol station below the rail arches on Kirkstall Road found itself awash with The River Aire. Beyond the flashing blue lights which wavered traffic away from the foray ahead, the stretch or road now found itself awash with free spirited scrambler bikes, mopeds, quads, dune buggies and spectators mounted on each side of the road. A soundscape of gargles and screeches grew ever more intrusive to the ears nearing my street placed at the epicentre of the action. Fury Road was running through Leeds on this Monday evening commute home. It was Halloween after all, so I was happy to indulge in disbelief for the time being.

Refuge in the close knit terraces seemed like the best place for now, regardless of what social phenomenon was occurring little over 20 feet away. Nonetheless, battening down the hatches couldn’t keep the hoarse sounds of bikes from intruding; fuelling an ever growing speculation to the cause of the occurrence. A desire to just take one last look burned fiercely, and then that would be that.

Surely, this is just a bunch of kids making use of the looser grip of the law, bizarrely granted on this day each year, right? Surely this will blow over in a few minutes? Despite the reassurances to remain inside, my body found itself unlocking the door and answering to the beckon call of mystery – a sensation so rarely coupled with Monday evening, the odds had to be in my favour.

Moving towards the collected mass of people, it was difficult to decipher the clientele lining the pavements each side of the fearless mavericks, who, aboard their two wheels of empowerment, were taking the law into their own hands, whilst shaking their fist at its flashing blue embodiment bookended at a 400 meter or so stretch. Who was here to see the spectacle, and who was simply caught up in awe of such decadence and depravity that they physically could not turn away? Siding with the latter, I became one with the masses, looking on ambiguously in amazement.

The renegade red arrows paraded back and forth along Leeds’ very own Circus Maximus. Bikes and quads intricately cutting between one another’s path, doing so on the fewest number of wheels required. While the general talent on show soothed the law breaking element of the actions, the crowd engrossed in their active peripherals was equally as interesting. Intertwined with the characters opting to remain anonymous, hidden behind Guy Fawkes masks of symbolic anti-power; accompanied children gazed on as more and more devilish displays were captured by the eyes and mobile phone. It was now quite obvious that the congregation was not merely an act of opportunistic spontaneity. More signs pointed to the signature of social media design.

On-lookers five rows deep, mesmerised children brought to catch a glimpse of the action, cars straddling the pavement to reserve the best views; the thick cloud hanging overhead grew denser as cyberspace was quick to be offered a front row seat. Traipsing up to door after door on this particular Halloween was no match for the treat of tricks being dished out on Kirkstall Road. Word spread, and the crowds descended.

The flashing blue lights kept their distance, but this only spared on the charges. Motorcycles carrying two sets of courage, goaded by the passive police presence, went in search of the red line limit, desperate to expose every last millimetre they were granted before any intervention from the law. As the show continued, cars and buses, faced with a pack of nimble and hungry sounding bikes, skulked off into the side streets with their tails between the legs. Wanting to rub my eyes in disbelief from another angle, I followed up the side road before re-joining the scene beyond the bulk of the crowds. Here’s where the initial feeling of intrigue met a resounding uncomfortableness, bordering on fear.

When standing amongst the community out to wonder at the spectacle, there was an unerring wave of achievement emitting from the aligned bodies, revelling in what they couldn’t believe they were getting away with. This was echoed in the showmanship of the riders, saluting their audience in attempts to savour every moment on the biggest stage they are likely to have experienced. As the party atmosphere thinned, the characters lining the street appeared less jubilant, and the folly of what was taking place began to set in. A singular figure with a menacing cyanine looked on, hoping his stance of authority would be recognised and respected by those leading the divisive anarchy on two wheels. With erupting fireworks frequently adding to the backing track, I opted to move along from the mutt in fear of falling victim to volatility.

A lone spectator, I now featured at the furthest end of the runway strip. Only a pair of luminous bollards, acting as a marker for the riders to end their run and fly back down the other side of road, separated myself between the static police presence. Engrossed, studying the unfolding action; any moment one of the bikes, mopeds or quads could lose control, veer off and label myself as a tragedy of an event that was supposed to demonstrate people and community power – regardless of its anarchic aims.

The sounds of sputtering engines mixed with airborne gun-powder, painting an ever more rowdy picture along the stretch of Kirkstall Road as the night wore on. Free to run amok in whatever way was saw fit, the chaotic noises lost their initial intrigue. An exotic Monday evening monotony set in.

Overhead, above the dense cloud of snapchat stories and Facebook Live, the rotary chug of a police helicopter wavered in and out. Back amongst the adoring fans, heads swivelled like Meer cats in search of an animal possessing airborne threat. For the most, the arrival of the helicopter was met with a wry smile; “we’ve done it” parts of the crowd exclaimed, in forcing the law play its most telling move on the chess board yet. Job done it would seem, mission accomplished, now for the circus to pack its bags and move along. Not quite.

Just like the flashing blue lights that tentatively surveyed Kirkstall Road, the police helicopter did little to deter the guile and showmanship of the riders. The buzz of further mopeds sensing the occasion descended, swarming every available space along the road and side streets. Although initially declined, the safety of the tightly knit terraces stuck out their hands and offered a second chance of refuge – which I now duly accepted.

Back between four walls, it was time to endure the qualities of a Monday evening. With the sounds of such a rare happening wrapping its hands at my door, it wasn’t long before I was drawn back outside – the excuse of needing to by milk setting the process in motion.

Heading away from the epicentre to where normality was marginally in session, aftershocks of bikes would wiz by as a reminder of who was now in charge of the local territory. An obsolete road crossing was manoeuvred, then a car armed to the teeth with eggs, and finally into the shop. Skimmed milk was the sole purchase – expiry date 11th November.

I retraced steps and was now back between my four familiar walls. The 11th hour of the evening hit and Kirkstall Road fell silent. The 1st of November came, normality resumed and entering the city had begun.

Photo: US National Archives

Two men sentenced at Leeds Crown Court to life imprisonment for murder

Today two men were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court to life imprisonment for the killing of one man and the injuring of another.

Naseer Kahn, 23, and Abdullah Ullah, 24, were involved in a drug deal that turned violent, resulting in the death of 21 year old Pawel Matras at a house in Blue Hill Crescent, Wortley, on 8 November last year.

The incident occurred after Ullah and Kahn had arranged to travel to the city from London to purchase around £10,000 worth of cannabis from Pawel Matras. Investigations concluded that the pair never intended on paying for the goods, and were armed with a semi-automatic hand gun which they hoped would intimidate the 21 year old into handing over the drugs.

The court heard that a warning shot was fired as an initial scare tactic after a violent fight broke out. Khan shot Pawel dead and proceeded to shoot his brother, Zedislaw, in the stomach severely injuring the 32 year old.

Both Khan and Ullah received a life sentence for their crimes with a minimum of 34 years imprisonment which the judge ensured the offenders would serve. The defence pointed out both men had claimed they were sorry for their crimes, to which the judge replied: “Sorry because he is going to go to prison for a very, very long time.”

The judge described the pair as lacking humanity, two evil and dangerous men, concluding the case by saying: “You have left a dreadful legacy of sadness. You won’t care about that. You are only concerned about yourselves. You have shown no remorse.”

Originally published to Leeds Hacks – February 2015

Gear up Leeds, the cycling revolution is coming

Unlike our European counterparts, the UK appears to be falling behind in citywide cycling. Euro hubs like Amsterdam would appear surreal to the British road user, such is the amount of freedom cyclists enjoy across the city’s streets. Rather than car horns and tyre screeching, a symphony of bells and rattling bike frames upon cobbled roads delicately reverberate around the city.

Could this be a possible future for Leeds? For the time being Leeds city centre remains a dystopian landscape for all budding cyclists attempting to travel to and from the bus lane and one way system ridden city centre. Leeds city centre seems rather inhospitable to the cyclist, but as we aim to move to a greener world, how do we get the city’s citizens to opt for bike rather than car or public transport?

Leeds and Bradford city councils answer to the problem at hand is City Connect, a body made up of West Yorkshire Combined Authority and other local partners to deliver a programme of cycle improvements in the Leeds City Region. The plans for Leeds city centre include providing a number of different types of cycle lanes – with the aims of providing a safer environment for cyclists traveling across the city.

Despite Leeds city centre not appearing to be the most compatible for cyclists, new infrastructure that will improve conditions are looking to encourage more people take up cycling. The new plans provided by City Connect aim to make vast improvements across the city of Leeds and surrounding areas. Their range of plans consists of upgrading the Leeds Liverpool canal cycle towpath, a Bradford to Leeds cycle superhighway, improved Leeds city centre cycle parking and cycle lanes and also 20 mph zones for adjacent streets to the City Connect cycleway. The cycle superhighway connecting Leeds and Bradford will be largely segregated from general road traffic to ensure maximum safety.

Leeds City Council executive member for transport Richard Lewis believes the changes to the city centre should not only be indulged by current cycling enthusiasts, he said “one of the benefits I would personal like to see from this new infrastructure is to see more people cycling on a day to day basis; the new infrastructure isn’t trying to put everyone in latex, more so to increase the amount of people using bikes for one or two mile journeys”.

Depending on the progress, the new infrastructure may raise Leeds’ cycling reputation to rival that of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, councillor Lewis claimed. “Geographically, Leeds is against becoming a city synonymous with cycling due to the amount of hills, however certain areas of Leeds will be able to develop into areas dominated by cycling”.

In the midst of the 2014 tour de France departing from Leeds and sweeping across Yorkshire in its opening stages, there is a feeling that it is time to strike whilst the iron is hot with regards to cycling in Leeds. With more people discovering the benefits of cycling – such as stress relief – in the wake of the event, it is more apparent than ever that changes are required to be made if Leeds is to achieve the status of a cycle friendly city.

One of the most common aspects as to why many people choose not to cycle is safety, and it is quite easy to understand these fears as the facilities for cyclists can be improved greatly. Although cycling fatalities have decreased from a record 1,536 in 1934 to 109 last year, there is still an element of fear that comes with cycling in an urban area due to the large number of motorists occupying the same roads.

Hidden amongst the redbrick buildings of the University of Leeds campus sits the Velocampus bike hub. A centre for all things on two wheels, the bike hub provides maintenance services and repairs for bicycles, as well as the opportunity to rent a fully equipped bike for a desired duration. Thanks to funding from the local sustainable transport fund, the Velocampus bike hub is now in its sixth year of existence. You cannot go far in Leeds city centre and its surrounding areas without coming across one of Velocampus bike hub’s distinctive green and white signature bicycles. The popularity of the scheme speaks volumes about the hub’s work to encourage sustainable transport among the thousands of students living in Leeds.

Speaking about encouraging people to cycle in Leeds, Connor Walsh of Velocampus bike hub said: “people are put off from cycling due to the safety fears that come along with riding a bike so it can be difficult, however people should still be encouraged to get involved with cycling”. With regards to making cycling a more popular option across Leeds Mr Walsh suggested that motorist behaviour needs to be altered to make cycling a safer option, he added: “motorists and cyclists do not mix very well together on the road, such problems as residential parking on tight roads pose a threat to cyclists safety which is something that needs to be addressed”.

According to reports, the proposed cycling facilities improvements are set to be completed by December 2015 for Leeds city centre and surrounding areas. Factors such as the council approved plans and the work being done by Velocampus bike hub will contribute to Leeds improving its stature as a cycle friendly city, however there is an underlying feeling that there is much more progression to be made if Leeds is to meet the standards of a cycle friendly city. Regarding the improvements to the cycling in Leeds city centre and the superhighway, Velocampus feel the scheme is not the turning point for cycling in Leeds. “The plans for improvements are a good start, but it is not likely that Leeds will elevate itself to the level of the likes of Amsterdam for cycling” Connor added.

Photo: Dr Gilly Bean via Creative Commons

Originally published in City Zen issue 01 – December 2014