Shovel Knight: Digging Up The Past

screen_07

Over the last few years, retro gaming has seen a surge in interest, with HD remasters and remakes of games becoming incredibly common amongst developers and studios. Even Nintendo have got in on the act via their wonderful Virtual Console service, where they have begun republishing old titles such as the Legend of Zelda games on their brand new machines.

The huge advantage of this is that it provides younger players with the chance to experience previously hard-to-find games; the disadvantage is that it also demonstrates how far the games industry has come in terms of gameplay over the last twenty-five years, with many such games retaining the same flaws as when they were originally released. In 2011, a group of former employees from Wayforward Technologies, including its previous director Sean Velasco, established Yacht Club Games. Their goal was to create a game in the style of their beloved NES titles, but for a modern audience and with the advantage of hindsight. The result was the hit title Shovel Knight, an incredible 2D platformer that combines excellent storytelling with intuitive gameplay modeled for today’s gamer.

Keep reading

Interview with game developer Chris Seavor

Conker's Bad Fur Day

Lewd, rude, and excessively vulgar – these are all expressions that can be used to describe Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the 3D platformer released by Rare in 2001.

With its overt references to sex, scatological humour, and excessive cursing, the game has become a cult classic amongst mature gamers, whilst simultaneously earning the scorn of parents the world over. But the game hadn’t always been this way.

Originally the game was being produced as a more child-friendly adventure, featuring the cute and harmless character Conker from an earlier Rare release, Diddy Kong Racing. The game was being developed under the working title Twelve Tales, and instead revolved around the character collecting acorns and other items in a style reminiscent of later Rare platformers Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.

Chris Seavor, director and voice artist on Conker’s Bad Fur Day, states: “After finishing Killer Instinct (Arcade) I started work on the N64 version, whilst in the meantime other people started work on the next original game we were to work on. That was what eventually (after a few iterations) what became Twelve Tales.”

“Rare was very much about the team, i.e. we weren’t just a bunch of resources to be moved around like chess pieces. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and management knew better than to ruin the ‘black magic’ that held good teams together. So as a team, we all moved onto Twelve Tales simply because of the great job we’d proven we could do on Killer Instinct.”

The Killer Instinct team worked tirelessly on Twelve Tales, before gradually becoming disillusioned with the project due to its similarity to other Rare titles. Needing a new ideas and direction, Chris Seavor was appointed the leader of the development team. It was his decision to retool the title into a more mature release that saved the project from obscurity. Around this time, the game was renamed to its official title, Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

He argues: “We were always going to be playing second fiddle to Banjo…it’s just the way it was. It made sense to pull it away from the safe bets, so that’s exactly what I did. Amazingly everyone agreed and off we went. If there were any reservations it wouldn’t have been from people with any clout…”

Upon its release, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was met by a significant amount of controversy due to its mature content. But, despite this and its disappointing sales, the game still managed to garner a loyal following, and high acclaim from critics. Amongst the aspects praised were its tremendous graphics, outrageous humour, and incredible character animation.

Since the game’s release, Chris Seavor has worked on a few other projects for Rare. These include appearances as characters in Grabbed By The Ghoulies, and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, as well as work on a Conker remake for the original Xbox, Conker: Live and Reloaded. These would be the last few Rare games he would contribute to, before eventually leaving the company in January 2011.

A year later, in 2012, Seavor created his own videogame studio called Gory Detail. His intention with the studio was to create mobile games, before moving on to larger and more ambitious projects.

Regarding his newfound independence, he states: “I’ve never felt more liberated! Not to say there aren’t problems, in fact they’re a legion, but the freedom afforded can’t be expressed by mere words. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more soul destroying than trying to sell an idea to people who just aren’t interested, and in more recent years not actually qualified to judge. That’s not a problem anymore.”

Gory Detail’s first release was the game “Parashoot Stan” on IOS and Android – a title where the player has to avoid obstacles and collect items in order to beat an antagonist named Baron Bully. The studio is currently working on its second release, a more ambitious game called The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, to be published on the Wii U and 3DS sometime next year.

“The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup is actually our second game. So, Gory Detail was set up about a year after leaving Rare, with a view to do mobile games, which we did. However, our long term goal was always more ambitious, and Rusty is the next step (after Parashoot Stan) in that plan

“The inspiration for Rusty stems from my love of films like City of Lost Children, Labyrinth and more recently Hugo: all things clockwork, not to mention endless opportunity for game mechanics and luxurious visuals. There seems to be a trend these days for that ‘retro’ pixel art look, especially on mobile, but I’ve always preferred a more literal, detailed richness to the world created. It’s a lot more work, but I think it’s worth it.”

At the moment details on Rusty Pup are pretty scarce, with only a few tech demos having been shown to the public. But the game definitely looks set to become one of the more interesting titles to be released on the Wii U and 3DS eShop.

The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup

Referring to the game’s tone, Seavor explains: “[Rusty Pup] definitely has dark themes. However it also has very light hearted moments, if not exactly laugh out loud ones, I do hope a little wry smile is occasionally painted on player’s faces. Conker, however, it certainly is not.

“Nor, I hasten to add is it one of those ‘narrative only’ experiences where the story is the focus rather than gameplay. Everything is important, but blended in measure lest you become what I playfully like to refer to as ‘un-game’: neither a game, nor not a game. Gameplay, as ever, is King, and long life to that!”

In spite of this exciting new chapter in his career, however, Seavor hasn’t completely disassociated himself from his previous work. At E3 2014, he appeared once again as the voice of Conker in the promo for Project Spark – the new videogame creating software from Microsoft, which will feature Conker as a useable character.

The inclusion of the squirrel will allow players of the Microsoft title to create their own Conker sequel, with the finished version being playable to both friends and strangers alike via the game’s online functionality.

“About a week before E3, believe it or not, Ken Lobb gave me a call out of the blue and asked if I’d voice Conker for the promo. I think everyone else at Microsoft were probably too scared I’d give them a tirade of abuse.

“I was quite happy to do it, and that subsequently involved a little bit of abuse on twitter for selling out, as they put it which is rubbish, as I did it as a favor.”

Asked what he believes makes Conker suitable for the project, he jokingly replies: “I guess people can build what they want, which is handy as Microsoft will never get sued by irate parents who bought it for their kids by mistake. Microsoft can simply say…‘But Mrs. Brown, I think you need to look closer to home…that giant nob made from poo, the one squirting its milk on that kitten’s head, IS WHAT YOUR LITTLE BILLY MADE!’”

Beyond Project Spark, very little is known as to the future of Conker the squirrel. Even Chris Seavor is unsure as to the fate of the character he once helped catapult to fame.

“It’s really out of my hands. I honestly have no idea what they have planned for Conker, or any other classic Rare IP, but it seems increasingly likely that they do have some plans. There’s a definite change in the wind going on all things Rare. I can feel it in my old bones!”

Instead, Seavor is focused on developing new worlds and characters for players to enjoy, independent from larger studios. This will continue with The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, due out in 2015.

Written By: Jack Yarwood

Interview with video game composer Grant Kirkhope

grantkirkhopemain

If you were a gamer growing up in the 90s, the name Rare is guaranteed to evoke warm memories of hours spent hunched over a controller, pounding on brightly coloured buttons.

For a long period of time, the game developer – originally established in 1985 by brothers Chris and Tim Stamper – were one of the most well respected companies in gaming, with many of their releases becoming instant classics upon release.

Grant Kirkhope was an in-house composer for Rare during this period, working on such games as Goldeneye 007, Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, and Perfect Dark, to name only a few. During his time with the company he helped to contribute to the vivid and lively worlds that Rare created, producing spectacular scores to complement each game’s unique world design.

Despite leaving Rare in 2008, he is still creating and producing memorable soundtracks for new releases, such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Civilization: Beyond Earth and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. However, originally, he had reservations about becoming a videogame composer at all.

Grant states: “Being a composer was probably the furthest thing from my mind [when I was studying]. I had no intentions of being a composer at all. I hated harmony, because I thought I was terrible at it. Instead, I wanted to be in a metal band.”

Whilst, initially, he may have showed very little enthusiasm for becoming a composer, he was an avid gamer in his spare time, growing up around the arcade scene in the late 1980s and early 90s.

“I was part of a North Yorkshire county school symphony orchestra when I was in Knaresborough, in North Yorkshire. We used to have a 2-week course, so we spent a week in summer every year in Scarborough – all the kids staying away from home and playing great music. I used to get lunchtime off, and I used to spend the entire 5 hours playing video games. Everyone just thought I was mad.”

Later on, his opinion on the matter started to change when he invested in his first home gaming console – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Around this time, he developed an interest in videogame music, citing the Legend of Zelda as a new influence for his music, alongside his favourite metal bands: Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and Queensrÿche.

Though despite his love for videogames and videogame music, he had still not heard of the company where he would first make his name.

“I had never heard of Rare at the time – that’s really bizarre. I must have started playing before Donkey Kong Country came out. I never played Donkey Kong Country and I didn’t know the company, but my friend Robin Beanland – we used to play in rock bands together in Yorkshire – one day said he had a job there. So he was the one with his foot in the door; the rest of us in the band weren’t.

“Literally right at that time Nintendo had bought around about 49% of the company. It was on the news at 10. It was a massive deal, because it was the first time Nintendo had ever bought a company outside of Japan. He worked there, so I called him and said, “what are you doing?” He told me he was working on a game called Killer Instinct – an arcade fighting game – writing awesome music. I was like “that sounds like a fantastic job.

Through his friend Robin, Grant was recruited to play guitar on Killer Instinct 2 for the SNES. This had come as a result of David Wise, then head of music at Rare, putting a call out for talented guitarists to perform on a range of videogame projects. This would be Grant’s first credit for Rare, though he would have some trouble securing a full time job at the company, sending a total of 5 cassettes to Rare, before receiving a reply and the subsequent interview that would lead to his employment. In 1995, after considerable effort, he became a full time employee at Rare.

“Without Robin this wouldn’t be my job. He was the guy who suggested that I do it. He recommended the gear that I bought, and told me what to do with it. Then I got on with it.”

For his first job David Wise tasked Grant with converting the Donkey Kong Country 2 soundtrack to the original Gameboy for the release of Donkey Kong Land 2.

“I got the lowest job, which was the Gameboy job. Dave had just completed the music for Donkey Kong Country 2 on the SNES and my first job was to convert those tunes from that to work on a Gameboy. I did that up until Christmas, I think. Dave said to me, “if you do this, you might get a crack on the Virtual Boy next.” I was thinking, “oh, this isn’t very exciting, and it’s hard” because it was in hex and I didn’t understand it.

“I did quite enjoy it at the start, but then it became difficult, and I felt like I was too stupid to grasp it. It was just numbers on a black screen. There was no notes, no midi-files, nothing. It was like programming really, which is very alien to me.”

At the same time Robin Beanland suggested that Grant produce some songs in order to pitch to Martin Hollis, who was head of the team developing Goldeneye 007. Without a Nintendo 64 development kit, Grant immediately began working on 6 tracks for the Bond license, with the intention of offering them to the team.

As he began to work on these tracks, Graeme Norgate, the current composer on the project, asked for some assistance with the game, because of his hectic schedule scoring both Blast Corps and the Bond licensed title. Without hesitation, Grant accepted the offer.

“I bit his hand off. It was fantastic. The deal was that I was supposed to do Gameboy in the morning, Goldeneye in the afternoon. I probably finished the Gameboy round about November, then I was working full time on Goldeneye after that.”

The finished result surprised everyone. Released nearly two years after the film, and built by a relatively inexperienced team, Goldeneye 007 revolutionized the first person shooter genre, with its atmospheric soundtrack and its fun local multiplayer modes.

Goldeneye Screenshot
Goldeneye 007 revolutionized the first person shooter genre, with its atmospheric soundtrack and its fun local multiplayer modes.

But, whilst the game had been nearing its completion, Grant had been moved away from the project onto another ambitious Rare title, with Graeme Norgate putting the finishing touches to the sound on the Bond first person shooter.

Grant recalls: “Tim Stamper and Gregg Mayles came to me in my poxy office, and they just said, “Play us your tunes Grant.” I didn’t even know who they were at the time. I knew Tim was my boss, but I didn’t know who Gregg was. So Tim sat on a chair, and Gregg sat on the floor. I thought, “Shit, this guy must be really important. He must be some kind of journalist. I shit myself, you know. I played them my tunes and they were very plain faced. I thought I was going to get fired.

“Then they said, “I’d like you to come work on my game “Dream.”” I said, “I’ll be able to come when I finish on Goldeneye” and they said, “No, you don’t understand – now!”

Immediately Grant moved offices. The intention was for him to work alongside David Wise on the new project Dream. However, David Wise soon left the development team that was working on the game to focus his attention on Diddy Kong Racing – another soon-to-be Rare classic.

Dream eventually lost focus and was later redesigned as Banjo Kazooie – a 3D platformer. The game, focusing on an anthropomorphic bear and bird duo, was to become one of the most well regarded platformers ever created, boasting bundles of wit, great graphics and sensational gameplay. It would also later spawn two sequels from the company, which Grant would go on to score.

He comments: “I must admit I have very fond memories of Banjo Kazooie. With that team of people we had such a fantastic laugh doing that game. I miss those guys a lot. It was a magical time for me. We really felt like we were up against the world. We were trying to create a Mario type game and beat the best.

“All that humour in the game is just all of us mucking around together. It was just a really great combination of people. I really miss that. Banjo’s got a special place in my heart.”

Following this title, Grant worked on several projects for Rare, including the synth infused soundtrack for the spiritual successor to Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark. In addition, he was tasked with producing the soundtrack for Donkey Kong 64, and the sequel to Banjo Kazooie, aptly named Banjo Tooie.

He continued to work at the company over the next decade, even after the company’s acquisition by Microsoft in 2002. He stayed at Rare up until 2008, working on games like Gregg Mayles’ Grabbed By The Ghoulies and the Viva Piñata series, before leaving to pursue new challenges.

Asked about his time at the company, he argues: “My favourite work at Rare is probably Viva Piñata, because it was the first time I got to use a live orchestra. I finally got to write that kind of Elgar/Vaughan Williams sound that I really love – that sort of English 20th Century composer thing, which I can’t really describe. It is a very English sound.

“I think, if I were writing for pleasure, I’d probably write something like that. I’m a bit of a softy at heart, and I do like writing heart-rending melodies. “Bedtime Story” is the one that I think I like best of all from the game – that’s my favourite piece from my entire time at Rare. It was a bit emotional as well, because I was leaving Rare around about the time of the second Viva Piñata.”

Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise
“My favourite work at Rare is probably Viva Piñata, because it was the first time I got to use a live orchestra” – Grant Kirkhope

Since leaving the company, Grant has been busy with an assortment of other projects, including the new Civilization game, Ninja Gaiden Z, and several crowd funded collectathon style titles.

On the topic of platformers, he states: “I really believe collectathons are making a comeback. The Hat in Time – I did a couple of tunes for them. Lobodestroyo was another one I guested on. Cooper Goodwin did the rest of the score for that. I wrote the baddie melody.

“I wrote a piece that was about two minutes long, full of melody, and Cooper can take it and use it as he likes. It probably won’t appear in the game as I wrote it, but I gave him some theme stuff that he could weave in.”

But whilst many are anxiously anticipating the arrival of these new releases, many gamers are left craving an official sequel to Banjo Kazooie or a new intellectual property from the original team. But Grant believes his Banjo days are now over, due to his departure from Rare.

“I do think there’s a big enough audience out there to make it profitable to do it. I don’t know why Microsoft won’t do a Banjo Kazooie platformer. I think they genuinely think it’s not a worthwhile venture. Maybe they’re right – I don’t know. But I just think that there is a place in the market for a good-old fashioned Rare platformer with the humour and the rest of it.

“As for other Rare people getting together and having a crack at it – I still think that’s a possibility. I didn’t think it was possible until very recently, but I do think it is possible now. I can’t go into any more detail than that. I think it is doable right now – not Banjo Kazooie, but something like that – with people who can make something good out of it.”

Today Grant is still captivating audiences with his diverse work. Recently, he has also acquired a cult following, as a result of his appearance on popular YouTube channel Game Grumps.

Now living in LA, Grant is hoping to apply his talents to creating soundtracks for film.

No doubt, followers of his work will be excited by the prospect of hearing his music accompanying the latest film releases in the not so distant future.

Written By: Jack Yarwood

Whiplash Review

Copyright by respective production studio and/or distributor.

Drummers are used to being underappreciated by both their peers and by a larger audience. In fact, most drummers see very little return, financial or otherwise, for their lifetime of intense work and dedication. Whiplash, the second feature from writer-director Damien Chazelle, hopes to change this, pushing the drum kit and the drummer to the fore of the story.

On film, drummers have always been underrepresented in comparison to other musicians, featuring primarily as supporting characters, as in This is Spinal Tap and Wayne’s World. For an accurate portrayal, fans of the instrument have instead had to rely on documentaries to fill the void left by the long lasting reluctance by studios to shine a spotlight on the drummer. This is what makes Whiplash such a rare and enjoyable treat.

The film focuses on a young Jazz musician named Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent), who is studying at the prestigious “Shaffer Conservatory” in New York so as to achieve his ambition of becoming “one of the greats”. Under the tutelage of the unshakeable Terrence Fletcher, portrayed brilliantly by J.K Simmons (Spiderman, Juno), he is forced to push himself to extreme lengths in order to progress in his chosen career, acting often in ways detrimental to his own health and wellbeing.

The main advantages of the film are its lead performances. Simmons and Teller have brilliant on screen chemistry together. Both clearly have a passion for the material and possess the appropriate depth to deal with its difficult themes and subject matter.

Whiplash is an at times overwhelming experience for the viewer. There is a heavy emphasis on blood, sweat and tears throughout the duration of the film, which only serves to heighten the drama and to further embellish the protagonist’s dedication to his selected profession.

In addition, the film’s editing also contributes immensely to its success, complimenting the narrative with its rhythm and timing. Great lengths have been taken to ensure the film’s form is an extension of its subject matter. This attention to detail is admirable, and guaranteed to be enjoyed by those who are willing to take heed of it.

Whiplash is a film that has been long awaited by cinemagoers. Hopefully, it will serve as inspiration to future filmmakers to pay respect to the drummer, and ensure they are given the credit that they so rightfully deserve.

5/5

Written By: Jack Yarwood

On Reporting Suicide – and why media guidelines matter

Whilst some areas of the media may choose to ignore the advice of charities when reporting suicide, evidence suggests using media guidelines can save lives.

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Over the years there have been many studies into how irresponsible reporting can have an impact on suicide rates, so much so that most news organizations are now in agreement that there is a clear link between the two.

But whilst the majority has acknowledged this there are some within the industry, and the expanded blogosphere, who have failed in the past to heed the advice of mental health charities when reporting incidents of suicide.

Dating as far back as the release of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’, in 1774, individuals have always been suspicious of a correlation between representations of suicide in the media and cultural trends, i.e. copycat behaviour. In this particular example, following the book’s release, individuals strived to emulate the central character’s suicide, leading to a spike in similar activity. This became known as “The Werther Effect” and can be observed elsewhere in the media, most prominently in the reporting of suicide.

One example of this is a report of an inquest into self-poisoning in 1995. In this case, the reporting of the incident by several publications was believed by many to have influenced an increase in the number of intentional antifreeze poisonings reported to the British National Poisons Information Service. The reporting of this particular incident is believed to have been partially to blame for the increase because it highlighted the method of suicide in extensive detail.

The above is not an isolated case however; there are several other instances that support this argument. Another example that is believed to have influenced incidents of copycat behaviour is an article that was published in Hong Kong that gave details of a person’s suicide by burning charcoal in a confined space. Following this article there was a dramatic increase in the number of individuals using this method, the figure having risen from 0% to 10% over three years, with many blaming the media for how they reported this incident.

As mentioned before there are many who have noticed this correlation and are actively working to prevent such cases. Samaritans Chief Executive Catherine Johnstone is one of these. In 2010 she issued a strong warning to the press about the implications of reporting suicide, offering advice also to help journalists prevent incidents of copycat behaviour; most of which can now be viewed online on the Samaritans’ website.

Amongst this advice they argue that journalists should abstain from using ‘explicit or technical details’, whilst also avoiding brushing over the realities of suicide. Other advice also suggests that journalists should link the reader to relevant support and information to help them cope with the story. This is all in order so that they can help prevent any further cases from occurring in the future as a direct result of reporting the incident.

Evidence to suggest this approach works can be seen displayed on several different occasions. One high profile example of this was in 1994, following Kurt Cobain’s suicide. In many of the reports following the suicide of Kurt Cobain journalists purposely differentiated between his achievements in life and his untimely death, exploring the realities of suicide. In addition, they also discussed risk factors, and offered support to those experiencing suicidal feelings.

Many have argued that these measures were key in explaining why suicide rates did not increase in his hometown of Seattle following his death, even in spite of his influence and the high profile nature of his death.

Another key example that highlights the positive effect the media can have on reducing copycat behaviour is displayed by studies performed in both Toronto and Vienna, showing the impact of voluntary restrictions placed on the media when reporting railway suicides. The results of these studies showed that by applying certain restrictions to the reporting of railway suicides this led to a decrease in the number of suicides by the same method, the figure falling by an astounding 75%.

All of the above suggests that by adopting these measures we can prevent cases of copycat behaviour from occurring, or at least limit their frequency. This, as outlined above, can be achieved by investing more time, effort, and sensitivity into the way we report suicide, and also by offering help to those who may be distressed by the content of the reports.

If you suspect that yourself, or a loved one, is suffering from depression, you can contact Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or visit their website here for guidance and support.

By Jack Yarwood

Britain’s Male Suicide Rate Reveals Painful Truth About Masculinity

“Man up!” – this is a phrase that I heard all too often from a friend I’d previously believed I could trust with my innermost concerns. I was made to feel ashamed about my emotions, and to feel inadequate in regards to my so-called “masculinity”.

Fortunately, friends and family managed to successfully convince me to seek help, in spite of these powerful words and their effect on how I viewed my own mental illness. But others aren’t so lucky. This is where several mental health charities have stepped in.

Throughout history men have felt pressured into adopting traditionally masculine characteristics; they are expected by society to be confident, strong, and unemotional, often at the expense of personal expression and, in some cases, their own mental wellbeing. This insistence on adopting bold masculine traits has also created an unnecessary and harmful stumbling block for many men who might benefit from seeking treatment for issues of mental health. This is because, generally speaking, seeking treatment is considered by many of these individuals to be synonymous with defeat.

Although the stigma associated with depression and other mental illnesses is not reserved exclusively for men, it is arguably more prevalent in males than in females. This is in part due to the difference in the expectations placed upon both men and women. Studies have shown in fact that men are less likely to get diagnosed when suffering from depression than women, the expectations placed on men to be in control of their emotions being a contributory factor in causing this divide between the sexes.

Other factors believed to be responsible for this disparity are socio-economic reasons such as unemployment, relationship breakdowns, and the challenges of middle age. These factors are more likely to lead men to suicide than women, according to research by the charity Samaritans.

The above information, though startling enough, becomes incredibly alarming when one observes the difference in the number of men and women who have died from suicide in recent years. In 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 4590 men in the UK took their own life. This is a significantly higher figure than that which was recorded for women in the same year (1391).

It is safe to assume that the difference can once again be attributed in part due to gender, or more specifically the differences between how both men and women react to issues concerning mental health. Whereas women are more likely to be treated for depression men instead are at a higher risk of masking their problems with the abuse of alcohol or drugs as a response to their illness.

This is something that mental health charities have observed, and are now working to change. Charities like C.A.L.M, and Mind are actively working to dispel the myths associated with depression, offering specific information tailored towards both men and their partners. This information includes details on how to cope, as well as how also to spot the signs of depression in loved ones. They are joined in this mission by England’s biggest programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, Time-To-Change.

C.A.L.M (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) is an organization dedicated solely to this purpose. It aims to get young men talking about their problems, offering a helpline for them to call in order to discuss their issues with others. C.A.L.M also has a website and a free publication supplying advice, and features on other topics relating to men. These topics include divorce, financial stress, and homelessness.

As well as this, Samaritans have launched a campaign entitled “We’re In Your Corner” in partnership with Network Rail. This campaign focuses on reaching men in mid-life, who are especially susceptible to mental health issues.

The aims of these charities are to get people talking about mental illness, to start a discussion; and offer appropriate advice to the individuals who need it most. In doing this they hope to open up more pathways for people to seek treatment.

Hopefully, through their continued support, the myths surrounding depression and mental health can be dispelled, meaning more men will be willing and able to seek the necessary help.

If you suspect that yourself, or a loved one, is suffering from depression, you can contact Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or visit their website here for guidance and support.

You can also contact C.A.L.M’s helpline on 0800 585858. Their helpline is open every day from 5pm – midnight.

By Jack Yarwood 

Labour MEP: more women on boards would benefit the economy

Photo: Jack Howson
Photo: Jack Howson

ARLENE McCarthy, Labour MEP for the North West region has stated that the further introduction of women into the boardroom would have a beneficial impact upon the economy.

Speaking to students of the University of Salford at the European Parliament in Brussels, she said: “We’ve already seen from research that if you have a woman on your board, your company is less likely to go bust.”

“It’s good for the economy to have women on boards, and it’s good for growth.”

A study performed by McKinsey & Company found that companies with gender balanced executive committees outperformed their all-male equivalents with a 56% higher operating profit.

Mrs. McCarthy states that this is because women are more “risk averse”. She argues: “They make more sensible decisions on financial areas.”

“We should have had more women on board in the big banks because we wouldn’t have had all the problems that we had in the financial crisis.”

Photo: Jack Howson
Photo: Jack Howson

Last year, the Labour MEP supported a proposal by the European Parliament to introduce a 40 per cent target for women in boardrooms.

Despite this, she is careful to state: “Quotas are not the silver bullet. They won’t solve the issue.” Instead, she proposes that more businesses invest in training women to board level.

She argues: “What we’ve got to do first of all is to put in place a support network. If you don’t have women who are on board level you haven’t got women to put on boards.”

This support network, she believes, should provide the necessary training to female workers, as well as facilities for those with children hoping to get back into work.

She also mentioned another alternative method of promoting businesses to invest in female workers. This was the use of media campaigns.

She noted: “In Finland they have a media campaign showing that where you have women on boards the company does better and does more business, and where you have only men you get more closures and more bankruptcies.”

This campaign has been successful so far in influencing companies to invest in women. Finland has the most women in boardrooms of largest listed companies in the European Union.

By Jack Yarwood

The Staves // RNCM Manchester // Saturday 2nd November 2013

Photography: Rebecca Miller
Photo: Rebecca Miller

The audience file into the concert hall; the performers tonight are The Staves, an acoustic folk trio from Watford, Hertfordshire. They have recently received acclaim with the release of their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown.

The crowd within the hall seat themselves. The gig is about to begin. Stepping out first onto the stage is the support act, Christof; he is a singer-songwriter hailing originally from Holland.

Christof quietly takes to the stage with the rest of his band. They pick up their instruments and begin to play their opening song. There is a shy aura about the musician, though this dissipates quickly as he strikes an opening chord.

Amongst the memorable songs of his performance are the tracks ‘Love’s Glory’ and ‘Shoot Me Down’, taken from his latest EP: both are exceedingly beautiful. They are comprised of sterling harmonies, exquisite cello, and the faint sound of drumming.

The welcoming Manchester crowd receives them well. Throughout the performance the audience are silent and respectful to the young musician. They are moved by his honest songwriting and his subtle approach. With some parting words, he leaves the stage at the conclusion of his set to a round of applause.

The Staves appear not long after Christof has vacated the stage; with them is their touring group. After settling themselves, they begin to play tracks from their debut album. Amongst these is the single ‘Mexico’, a gorgeous song lifted to greater heights by the pitch-perfect harmonies of Emily, Jessica, and Camilla.

The group is incredibly comfortable; they make droll remarks to each other onstage between songs. They have an incredible chemistry, and it is on display throughout the performance for those in attendance.

The songs ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ and ‘The Motherlode’ also provoke a strong positive reaction from the audience. ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’ is a more raucous affair than their other songs, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind; they respond cheerfully to the piece. The latter of the two tracks, ‘The Motherlode’, contrasts with the last song quite significantly. It is more restrained in its composition, allowing the harmonies to take preference over the instrumentation.

They perform a collection of their best work from their career so far, including the songs ‘Winter Trees’ and ‘Facing West’. The crowd responds once again with applause; the songs are of an exceptional quality for musicians so young.

The Staves are a rare example of a group whose sound thrives in a live environment. Their harmonies echo out throughout the concert hall to the supreme delight of their fans. Producing an incredibly intimate backdrop to their vocals, Camilla delicately strums the ukulele to the left of the stage. The atmosphere is profound.

After an encore, they thank the welcoming crowd for their excellent behaviour, before departing through the stage exit. It is now only left for the audience to withdraw into the night.

With one album behind them, The Staves look set to become as big as their popular folk contemporaries. From their performance tonight it is easy to suggest that it’ll be only a matter of time before they are playing much bigger venues, allowing them the opportunity to distribute their earnest sound to a significantly wider audience

4/5

Written by: Jack Yarwood

Fish Tank Review

Fish-Tank-c81eb4ef

Fish Tank is the second full-length feature film by director Andrea Arnold, after 2006’s Red Road. It follows the story of Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis), an antisocial teenager living on an East London housing estate.

Throughout the film’s duration, Mia, the central protagonist is subject to the harsh conditions of the estate where she lives. She communicates to her mother (Kierston Wareing) and sister (Rebecca Griffiths) in a series of piercing screams, and often finds she has to defend herself against her environment with the use of force.

It is only when Mia is truly alone that she is capable of becoming empathetic. Guzzling down alcohol in her spare time to deal with her everyday life, she seeks escape wherever she can find it. This leads her to the glamorous world of Rn’B and Rap, where she discovers an interest in urban dancing. Practicing alone in an abandoned room on the estate, she attempts to perfect her technique in order to escape her conditions and find something worth holding on to.

The film is as much a personal story as it is a social commentary. The character of Mia, though subject to conditions created by a particular political and sociological climate, is not merely a stereotypical working class figure, but a fully realised individual; like any real human being, she has individual dreams, aspirations, fears, and regrets. This is displayed perfectly within the film, owing to the director’s astute ability to create unique and interesting characters, as seen previously in Red Road.

Other characters that feature predominantly in Mia’s story are her mother, Joanne; her mother’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender); her younger sister, Tyler; and a local boy, Billy, played by Harry Treadaway. All of these characters witness the many sides of the girl, being exposed at different points in the narrative to both her anger and affection. They are also perfectly cast. Much of the film depends on the interactions between Connor and Mia, and Fassbender and Jarvis handle this confidently.

The film is an awe-inspiring piece of British cinema, carrying with it a strong sense of realism. It is beautifully shot and presented, and manages to retain an interest throughout its run.

If you are a fan of Andrea Arnold’s previous work, or a supporter of British Cinema in general, Fish Tank is a must-watch. It handles its subject excellently, treating it with the necessary depth and sensitivity.

5/5

Written by Jack Yarwood

An Evening with Josh Ritter // RNCM, Manchester // Monday 28th October 2013

© 2010 Neff Connor, used under a creative commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
© 2010 Neff Connor, used under a creative commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Stumbling in from the rain the audience take their seats within the concert hall; the stage is dressed for the night ahead. At the back of the concert hall looms a gigantic blue eye staring out towards the crowd. After a short wait, the lights dim and the audience let out a cheer. A female musician takes her place at the center of the stage; this is Tift Merritt, an American singer-songwriter from North Carolina.

She plays through a collection of her tracks, originating from the vast supply of material she has gathered over the years. The audience is entranced. After the first couple of songs, she turns to her microphone and comments wryly: “I have never seen Manchester so well behaved before.”

Amongst her most well received tracks of the night are a cover of Tom Waits’s ‘Train Song’, performed without the aid of a microphone, and a rendition of her own song ‘Another Country’. The standout attribute of the performance is her magnificent voice that never fails to reach a note. She leaves the stage to tumultuous applause following a spectacular performance. The audience wants more, but it is now time for the headline act.

There is a brief intermission before the lights dim again, ushering in the headline performer. Two individuals begin to play ‘Best For The Best’ from Josh Ritter’s fourth studio album, The Animal Years, but there is no sign of the man himself; he comes out not long after to a rapturous ovation from those in attendance, completing the band. The atmosphere is extraordinarily intimate within the concert hall.

Following on from this opening track, they launch into a song from his latest record, The Beast in its Tracks. The song is ‘Certain Light’, one of the standout pieces of music from his career spanning over a decade.

This is followed by two tracks from 2010’s So Runs The World Away, ‘Southern Pacifica’ and ‘Folk Bloodbath’.

The first of these is a reflective tune about a central protagonist being on a train, not knowing where he is heading but being sure that he will meet his destiny wherever he ends up. This is an incredibly poignant piece, as is reflected by the stunned silence from the crowd throughout the whole of its duration.

The second track, meanwhile, follows more of a narrative, Josh Ritter taking a third-person approach to songwriting. ‘Folk Bloodbath’ follows the exploits of a bunch of characters from other notable folk songs, tracing their activities as they all eventually get buried “six feet beneath the clay”. This song in particular is an example of the artist’s impeccable ability for telling stories within his music.

Other notable tracks that follow are ‘The Curse’, ‘Hopeful’, and ‘Darlin’. The first is an allegory based around the relationship between a mummy and a Victorian archaeologist. For the performance of this song the musician asked that the lights be turned off, meaning that it was performed entirely in the dark; this created a remarkable ambience to the piece.

The next track of the above, ‘Hopeful’, contrasted significantly. It carried a much lighter tone, demonstrating the versatility of Josh Ritter’s work. This was something that was later expanded upon with ‘Darlin’, a track taken from his 2012 EP Bringing in the Darlings.

The songs ‘Girl in The War’ and ‘Kathleen’ were also received extremely well: both of the tracks provoking a tremendous round of applause from the crowd.

As an encore, guitarist Zach Hickman returns to the stage to the surprise of the audience, acknowledging their shock with a simple, rather comical statement: ‘I bet you guys weren’t expecting this.’

Regardless, the audience is welcoming to the musician. They warm to his humour and listen attentively to his song about a lonely cephalopod in the deep sea, inspired by his interest in the BBC documentary Planet Earth.

After its completion, he welcomes the headliner, Josh Ritter, back to the stage. The musicians onstage begin to play the song ‘Wait For Love’, a track that draws attention to Josh Ritter’s ability to manipulate an audience. Somehow he miraculously manages to stir the crowd from their passivity into singing along with the refrain. He leaves the audience following this with a series of kind words.

The audience departs back into wet and dreary streets of Manchester transformed by a perfect evening of music. Josh Ritter truly made his talent known tonight, as did the support. If you have the chance to catch him on his current UK tour, please don’t hesitate to snap up tickets.

Written by: Jack Yarwood

5/5

A selection of reviews, blog posts and other jottings of interest.