Monday, 1 December 2014

Inspiration Series: No.2 - Russell Herman

I know very little of my father, so when today I received photographs of him playing with his band District Six in 1983 it sparked a desire in me to collect the images together in one place with a little piece for him. Russell Herman was of South African descent and moved to London in 1982. Alongside playing in District Six, a band made up of other South African musicians from the infamous district in Cape Town, he also stood as a member of the ground-breaking band Estudio. What set apart Estudio, who left almost no recorded legacy, is that they existed as a mixed-race group playing together in the midst of the apartheid - at a time when it would have been forbidden to do so. 

Estudio performing in South Africa in the 70s

My memories of the period we shared are scarce, and revolve mainly around his love of Tunnock's tea cakes, and so it is his contribution to music that I choose to remember him for. The kind of unity it exhibits is something that I hope to continually channel in my own life, in a bid to stand against the systems that I disagree with, and commit myself to holding strong beliefs. In his later life, Russell continued to support the distribution of South African music in London, in particular through the pianist Bheki Mseleku. He left the world in 1998 as a man well respected among his peers, as a jazz musician and avid lover of music. Though we do not often hear his name shared it is not for want of contribution to the musical arts. Today he acts as my inspiration. Indeed, one that may be distant and hazy in the best sense of the word, but all the same a man that I must recognise as a strong part of my identity.

Photos courtesy of Kenneth J Gill

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Inspiration Series: No.1

Over the past few weeks I've found myself in a bit of a rut. It's one of those things that inevitably occurs at various points in life. Though not exclusive to being young, it seems that there is an added uncertainty to being in your 20s. In an attempt to figure out the visualisation we hold for our futures we often find ourselves at a loss. Not only is there the question of what you want to do with your life, there is the added pressure of attempting to figure out who you are and how you fit into the larger space of the world. This is something that has always baffled me, as I'm sure it does many others. It occurred to me in the past couple of years that the logic behind figuring out who you are is flawed, for are you not already yourself? 

So then when you reach a crossroads (or in fact a standstill) in your life, uncertain of what the next logical progression should be, it sometimes takes a nudge to find the motivation to continue. Out of that feeling of loss in my own life, The Inspiration Series is born. The intention is to write a weekly piece on something that has inspired me. At those points where I am unsure of where my life may take me, I always manage to find solace in the successes and creativity of the people I come into contact with. The idea is to create a collection of stories to convince not only myself, but hopefully somebody reading this, that there is a world of possibilities out there to explore. 

The first of these comes from this weekend, and a visit I made to the open studios at St James Yard in Bermondsey (South London). The freedom that appears to come with being an artist attracts me to the profession. Not being limited by your trade or discipline, but instead transcending many alternate crafts and lines of work. Having an artist for a mother I am aware that this is a romanticised way of looking at the art world. The kind of struggles that exist within it are as present as in any field, if not more so. Still, St James Yard is an indication of the level of diversity that can exist in a creative space. Work extends from sculpture, printmaking and drawing, all the way to woodwork. When you first approach the accumulation of open doors you are met with the exceptionally hand crafted boats, built by Arthur De Mowbray. Instantly sparking curiosity, a subsequent trip around the corridors leads to a further array of treasures. I'm inspired then by the knowledge that you are never restricted in creation. Even if external factors interfere, nothing can prevent your imagination from flowing. Though one might inevitably experience lulls, upon taking a step out into the world it is possible to find hubs of individuality to encourage you to keep moving forward. 

For more information on the artists at St James Yard visit

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Indulgent Saturdays

Life has become quite hectic since the beginning of term. Between uni and holding down two jobs it feels as if I've always got somewhere to be. It then becomes necessary to take time out to just wander around, without having a direction or final destination, allowing the day to take you where it may. Last Saturday I had a day off and decided to indulge in some of my favourite past times.

One of the best places to get lost in Brighton is Duke's at KomediaIn order to satisfy my fascination with the cinema fully I decided to make two visits. Whoever said everything in moderation clearly never tested the waters of excess (the grass is always greener after all). The cinema never fails to leave me with a feeling of calm. The sense of unity that occurs by being in a darkened room filled with strangers all sharing in the same experience is unrivalled elsewhere. 

The middle of the day tends to be the best time to go to the cinema. Between 11 and 12 the seats are barely filled meaning you're spoilt for choice on where to sit. On this particular day I decided to take the back row, leaving me as the only person in the last 5. The final line of sofas became my home and I settled in feeling more welcome than I do in most other places. Chai latte and maple pecan in hand, I smiled at the knowledge that I am definitely my mother's daughter. When I feel separated from her by distance I find that lone cinema trips are the perfect way to feel that connection reestablished. I imagine her at my age, sat in a cinema not so unlike the one I find myself in, my own position reflected in her content solitude with only a coffee for companionship. I think it's possible that I become more like her every day. 

Following the film I met my friend Beth and the two of us decided to go for lunch. Wandering through the lanes on a Saturday is always a pleasant thing to do. The roads become lined with tables and chairs. An absence of cars, and the floods of people being forced to move with leisure, gives the impression that this is a time to take things at a slower pace. One of those Autumnal days that is both crisp and light met me upon exiting the darkened walls of the screen. Eyes adjusted, I perched at a table amongst the pattern of seated bodies and waited for Beth's arrival. We then sat for a few minutes before picking up and making our way towards Silo, a new zero waste cafe and the first of its kind in the UK. A lunch that consisted of a creamy latte and even creamier risotto left us filled to bursting. Time then for a stroll around the city, conversing all the way.

Amaretto coffees at Beth's followed and then a visit to another friend's house for dinner. The nice thing about being in our second year of university is that everyone has their own homes. Little houses decorated with individual expressions of their residents, it sometimes feels nearer to young children playing house. The excitement at being invited over for a meal still resembles going over for a play date in primary school. Themes of relaxation continued as I was presented with a spread of food and no need to lift a finger. Early evening was consumed by records. Blood on the Tracks transported me back to my flat in London. Sat on the carpet while my mum makes dinner in the kitchen, smells of comfort wafting in through the open plan room adjacent to my small frame. I'm met by the great wonder of memory, and the ability for a sound to knock you back a decade, consumed by the comfort of another time. 

A night walk home was accompanied by Bobby Womack and affectionate thoughts for the city underfoot. Brighton is now bound up in so many positive things, it's difficult not to walk around with a smile on my face. The light breeze that cast its way through my loose curls made the lamppost lit pavements all the sweeter. As one sleepy haze fell over the houses and a further transcended, awaking ready to embrace the coming hours, I prepared to end my day in much the same way it began. In great Groundhog Day style a darkened path was taken back to the depths of Komedia. A Saturday spent making up for the hectic week ahead and a realisation for the necessity of time spent alone as much as in the company of loved ones.

Monday, 20 October 2014


Not many restaurants come with a mission statement, but then Silo isn't just any restaurant. Dubbed the UK's first zero-waste cafe, the idea is in the title. The crux of founder Douglas McMaster's intention? To serve locally sourced and ethically grown food, without generating waste. When people hear the term zero-waste often it leaves notions of rotting food and empty stomachs, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The experience Silo offers manages to be both sophisticated and relaxed, with an approachable and open attitude to accompany the exceptionally presented dishes. 

Upon arriving at the restaurant we were promptly seated by one of the two friendly waitresses. The nice thing about Silo is they make you feel as if you are the most important person in the place. Complimentary cucumber water and homemade bread had as rubbing our eyes in disbelief. If you've never tried cucumber water let me tell you now, there's something about adding those little green slices that sends things spiralling down a path you're bound to get hooked on. All of the drinks are served in jam jars, which though some have claimed is now fairly niche, added a personal touch that sits well among the hand written chalk board menus. There is an impression that great effort has been put into each minute detail. That's before even mentioning the bread, which is homemade on site using their very own flour mill. You can tell from the taste - closer to eating a malt loaf, with a rich spongy texture and beautifully churned butter on the side. We'd already been made to feel fully satisfied before even receiving our food. 

The menu at Silo is simple. Four key aspects mean that you're not spoilt for choice, but what this means is that each meal is meticulously crafted with great consideration. A wide choice of juices (and the creamiest latte I've ever come across) as an accompaniment mean there's still room for variation on each visit. Being able to watch the chefs make the food in front of you is also a welcome treat. Cooking to this standard is a craft, the presentation becoming more of an art form than an afterthought. 

Continuing the individuality of the experience, our food was brought to us by Douglas himself, head chef and owner of Silo, who then proceeded to explain the idea behind the dishes. I went for the risotto, the method of which I was talked through swiftly. I discovered that the brown rice was cooked much in the same way as normal risotto, until the last moment when a paste was added, giving it extra flavour. The cheese was homemade using the leftover milk from the coffee machine, while the mushrooms were grown in the restaurant (displayed in full sight in the other room for the more curious of diners like myself) from the excess coffee grounds. The risotto was the richest I have come across, containing just the right amount of flavour to leave my taste buds quite literally tingling. The juices were happily mopped up by the bread, leaving no trace at all. The quality of the food itself could make claims for there being zero-waste, but in the unlikely situation that there is leftover food it is all made into compost and gifted out to local farmers and friends. I entered into silo expecting to leave with a clear conscience at the least and was met with an experience unlike any I have found before when dining out. The care that is found at every turn means that customers will come back time and time again. This really should be the future of eating out, for it makes all the other establishments appear decidedly in the dark ages. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Finding Fela

Fela Kuti is a name with much behind it. Forefather of Afrobeat and a widely renowned Nigerian activist, whose legacy has been largely lost in the West. Finding Fela sees documentarian Gibney attempt to alter this failing. The film looks loosely at the convening of the 2009 broadway musical, Fela!, and how it brought the musician's music to the masses - just as the film now continues to do. Through a combination of footage, photographs and intimate interviews with those who knew and were inspired by him, a picture is constructed that acknowledges ever aspect of his world. The complex history of Nigeria, detailing the civil war and the following military regimes that reigned throughout the 60s and 70s, alongside Fela's own life and music. Interweaving all these stories that are so full in their own right is a difficult thing to manipulate without losing the depth of the subjects, but Gibney does so with a sophistication that greatly informs the viewer while still leaving much to explore. 

This is a history marked with violence and hardship, but set to a narrative of Fela's music it is coated with a richness that expresses the joy and the passion of the people of the country. So no longer is this a faceless history or even an unknown place, it is a personal account. The film then hands to the West a glimpse of a world that is perhaps entirely foreign to them. Not only do we play witness to a meticulously sculpted and detailed portrait of a man, a musican, and a visionary but the country that inspired and fuelled him. We discover how Fela's life informed his music, so that his history is laced in the lengthy compositions. To find the man behind the songs you have to look through them, and Gibney does just that, using them as a premise for exploration.

When we think of revolutionaries there are names that reappear - Nelson Mandela, Malcolm x, Che Guevara - these are icons whose legacies have been solidified in history. Finding Fela places Kuti in his rightful place among these, as one of the only men who was brave enough to stand up against the authoritative military regimes of Nigeria. Here we are provided with a history that we should know. Through his music, his strong defiance was expressed in a way that spoke to the masses.  Not only did Fela shape the history of afrobeat, he provided Nigeria with a voice that lives on years past his death. Finding Fela ensures that this continues to happen. Forever live Africa. Forever live afrobeat. The meaning of Fela is now brought to England and people should be urged to witness it. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Labour of Love

I spend a lot of time deliberating over the ideal writing conditions. In my mind, I am sat in a little cafe in Paris, espresso by my side, scribbling notes by hand as an assortment of interesting people saunter past (this particular imagining features Dali emerging with his anteater by his side). The reality continues to fall short of this. Though I have scoured the many cafes of Brighton for a little corner of my own I always reach the same pattern of feeling I have outstayed my welcome. There are other factors too of course. Having the perfect chair (an old leather one that makes me appear tiny and fragile in comparison, ready to be swallowed by its aged canvas), having the ideal chai latte, good lighting, and enough privacy to remain anonymous in order to not be disturbed. Brighton offers an array of cafes, the most part of which I have quickly learnt to love. There is the Blackbird tea rooms, with its eclectic walls that reflect my grandma’s house; Marwood cafe and its decoration of model spaceships providing an always desirable extra terrestrial vibe; and the more recently discovered Brighton Museum & Art Gallery Cafe that sits on a balcony overlooking the museum, dwarfing the people below into miniatures to be captured on the fresh pages. The latter is a place that I may well feel at home but the truth of it remains.

In actuality, the places that I write are often randomly selected by a spurt of inspiration. Currently I am churning out words, slumped in my housemate’s bed while he listens to Bill Murray singing Christmas songs and tirelessly repeats the same phrase of ‘can we go and watch a film now please?’ Other favourites include the hour train ride from Brighton to London, crouched over my phone while frantically drumming my fingers on the screen in order to fill the yellow notes. Then there’s my front room back in London as my mum attempts to talk to me, only to be answered with sharp grunts that indicate I am otherwise occupied. It is from her that I recently discovered an article detailing the daily routines of writers. The thing that stuck with me was a quote from E.B. White — ‘A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.’ After spending the day talking about the difficulty of motivating oneself to write, a discussion that I seem to have time and time again, the answer seems painfully simple. Write. Write anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Don’t think about it - just do it. If I spent less time deliberating over the logistics of my work, and whether I even have the ability do it, and more time just getting on with it the plague of blank pages may finally cease to exist. 

"Starting tomorrow — if not today:
I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)
I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)
I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.
I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)
I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? — I have to go to the hospital anyway.)"
-From Susan Sontag's diary, 1977

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Brighton Fashion Week

It's been three years since I worked on London Fashion Week and thus three years since I last entered into the world of fashion. Even now I can still remember the kind of hysteria that seems to penetrate the whole affair. The manic pace at which everyone backstage works. That feeling of tension that remains right up until the moment the lights dim, the models file out and you know that things are out of your hands. Last weekend I managed to see things from the other side. Adding yet another reason to love my job, I was given tickets to the Sustain and Zeitgeist catwalk shows at Brighton Fashion Week. This time I got to drink wine, sit in the front row, and (despite getting drenched in torrential downpour on the way) pretend that I was Tavi Gevinson.

The Sustain catwalk show was based on the idea of sustainable fashion. The notion that our clothes shouldn't be disposable or follow trends. Instead they should be expressions of ourselves, something to be cared for without fuelling excessive consumption. As speaker Izzie Roffe-Silvester of Material Fiction suggested at the opening of the show - 'our clothes are our second skin'. The designers that graced the catwalk varied from the outlandish and obviously recycled, to subtly handmade constructions with hints of colourful crochet dominating the pieces. Victoria George's Knitty Gritty fell into the latter, with eye catching designs reminiscent of African prints. Each model was finished off with a pair of purple Dr Martens' 1460 boots (myself and my colleagues may have been more than a bit partial to the line). Still, George's clothes represented the side of the night that seemed more wearable and appealing to the everyday. Kumiko Tani and Kaori Ito's line in contrast, expressed the more far out side of things. The true definition of upcycled saw embellished and frankly stunning dresses made from plastic shopping bags and household items. A real indication of making something out of nothing. 

My favourite of the Sustain show came in the form of the surprising Brandy Nicole Easter, whose line is perhaps best described as endearing. A theme of cats ran through the collection, with cut out shapes embroidered in a style that reminded me of Matisse. Completed with a cat backpack, it was the cutesy details of the clothes that gave them a clearly handmade touch. Care and individuality was to be truly seen throughout the show.

The Zeitgeist catwalk continued the undertone of innovation by showcasing emerging designers. The nature of fashion week is that there are always a couple of people that shine cuts above the rest. For me that is always those who have a distinctly recognisable style. The first of these was Natalia Rivera. For the past week I haven't been able to get the image of sequin stencils of palm trees, leaves and flowers out of my head. I have been left to obsessively trawl the internet in the hope of having a piece of my own. The kind of item that you would centre your entire wardrobe around, carefully cherishing it and secretly caressing it at night. If our clothes are our second skin, I want mine to be embellished with sequin palm trees. 

If Rivera's work seemed offbeat, Louise O'Mahony made her look like toast with butter. Beautifully manipulated prints decorated with an array of pompoms and pieces that had been so meticulously embroidered that I found myself straining my eyes to get a closer look. When you talk about sustainability and fashion it often feels as if the two contradict one another. To promote such values within a world that's based on consumption seems counterintuitive. Then you observe designers such as the ones I've mentioned above and it becomes clear - the creation of clothing is an art form, an envisioning of individuality sculpted and brought to life in vivid colour. To claim our clothes are an indication of the person we are can be difficult, as that lays the construction of our identities in another's hands, but for these designers that suggestion is evidenced. To witness creative minds effect an external projection on to a catwalk really is fascinating. Here each stitch acts as a spark of their character spilling out of the seams and into the room before you.

Photographs sourced from Brighton Fashion Week and own