Archive for Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent City of Culture bid 2021

Posted in News, Stoke City, Stoke City FC with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2017 by The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

My home town of Stoke-on-Trent is one of the hopeful cities bidding to be the 2021 UK City of Culture. Cities have till the end of January to register interest, with final bids due by the end of April. A shortlist will be announced in July and the winning city in December.Cities involved along with Stoke are Sunderland, Cardiff, Coventry, Hereford, Perth and Paisley.


UK City of Culture is a title given to a city in the United Kingdom whereby the city creates a national cultural event programme for one year. The initiative is administered and judged by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It aims to celebrate culture and bring a number of significant social and economic benefits to an area. It is a hard fought competition that is entered by several cities in the UK. The title is awarded once every four years.

The programme aims to:

  1. Encourage the use of culture and creativity as a catalyst for change.
  2. Promote the development of new partnerships.
  3. Encourage ambition, innovation and inspiration in cultural and creative activity.
  4. Align the cultural excellence of national arts organsiations to support the year with cultural highlights that will attract media attention, encourage national tourism and change perceptions.

The first title holder of the award was Derry Londonderry in 2013. In 2017, Hull will take up the title.

Hot Air Literary Festival 2016

Posted in Authors, Books, News, Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2016 by The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

A true celebration of outstanding writing and brilliant books, the UK’s only “festival in a factory” Hot Air Literary Festival 2016 returns to the creative surroundings of the Emma Bridgewater Factory in Stoke-on-Trent from 9-11 June and will welcome the very best writers, novelists, poets and playwrights to the city to inspire and foster a love of books and reading.

The Festival opens on Thursday 9 June with one of Britain’s finest novelists Nick Hornby, leading international ceramicist Edmund de Waal, acclaimed Roman historian Mary Beard and Emma Bridgewater herself in conversation at the factory that makes her iconic ceramics to discuss celebrating thirty years of design inspirations.

Joining the line up on Friday 10 June will be one of Channel 4’s most popular presenters Kirstie Allsopp talking about the universal need to make, award winning novelist Meg Rosoff discussing her first book for adults and former England cricketer Graeme Fowler in conversation about his starkly revelatory autobiography. The Festival also marks the upcoming centenary of the Russian Revolution with historian Orlando Figes and Stoke Central MP Tristram Hunt considers the ten cities that made the British Empire

HotAir 2016’s Saturday programme is packed with fun for younger book lovers kicking off with Cressida Cowell, author of the phenomenally successful How to Train Your Dragon series which have now been turned into two hit movies. Cressida will share top tips on becoming an author or illustrator, behind-the-scenes details about how the books became films and promises to help youngsters to learn some Dragonese!

As the stage version of David Walliam’s brilliant book Gangsta Granny hits Stoke’s Regent Theatre the same week as the Festival, kids aged 7 to 11 can get involved in a creative, making workshop based on the show with its designer Jackie Trousdale.

Also on Saturday 11 June, historian Juliet Nicolson takes us through five generations of inspiring women in her family and inspiring gardener, cook and former doctor Sarah Raven shares her new cannon of healthy recipes and Simon Jenkins assesses England’s one thousand greatest houses.

Hot Air 2016 also celebrates local writing talent and the Festival is delighted to welcome Burslem born author Lisa Blower in conversation with Staffordshire University academic Dr Catherine Burgass. We will also be considering Poetic Reflections on Stoke-on-Trent with poets from and inspired by North Staffordshire.

The Festival aims to be a platform for aspiring writers and will showcase young writing talent with Writing West Midlands and hear from London literary agent Juliet Mushens, published local writer Misha Urwin and new author Caroline Lea in a special session about How to Get Published.

Adapting written work for the stage is the topic for discussion with the New Vic Theatre’s Theresa Heskins and writer Geraldine McCaughrean and Around the Footlights with Mick Escott considers the North Staffs theatre’s contribution in the context of the national stage scene.

This year’s festival finale, hosted by Emma Bridgewater, celebrates the phenomenon of the BBC2’s Great British Pottery Throw Down with renowned potter and judge Keith Brymer-Jones, plus finalists from the programme to discuss the spotlight the show has shone on The Potteries.

“The Festival is now firmly established as an annual, cultural highlight for Stoke-on-Trent and the support shown by audiences to make it a success is real triumph,” says Festival Trustee Matthew Rice. “We are absolutely delighted with the superb line up of top name authors coming to Stoke this summer and look forward to welcoming book lovers from far and wide to the Factory in June.”

Tickets for the Hot Air Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival are on sale from 10am on Monday 22 February 2016. For more information and to book visit or contact the New Vic Theatre on tel: 01782 313313 or at the theatre box office.

Interview with author Robert Shore

Posted in Authors, Books, Heavy metal with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2014 by The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake

Robert Shore is the author of the rather good book on the Midlands ‘Bang In The Middle’ published by the Friday Project/Harper Collins. A must read for fellow Midlanders that’s for sure…

1. What sparked the idea to write the book on the glory of the Midlands that is represented in ‘Bang In The Middle’?

In part it was reading a travel feature entitled ‘Places That Suck’ and finding the East Midlands prominently positioned at the head of the list. ‘How dare they? I love the East Midlands!’ I thought to myself, but it made me realize that the clichés relating to the region are generally fairly negative. Not like the North (a theme in the book).

And in part it was a question from my five-year-old son. His teacher had asked him to find out about where his parents were from. His mother is a Parisian and, as a Midlander, I wanted to be able to offer him a cultural inheritance on my side to match all those cool French philosophers and Nouvelle Vague filmmakers. And that’s basically the challenge I set myself: to explore what it means to be a Midlander and to write about what wonders the Midlands has given the wider world. The answer (I wasn’t entirely expecting it, I confess) turned out to be: pretty much everything, from balti, Stilton and crisps to evolution, gravity and parliamentary democracy.

2. Why is it do you think that the Midlands gets overlooked so much apart from say Midlands Today on BBC1?

It’s a national conspiracy, obviously. I’m joking, of course, but I do sort of mean it too. I think there are two main reasons for the general neglect of the Midlands: in the first place, a lack of regional identity among Midlanders (Northerners are much more likely to identify themselves as such, which helps a lot when you’re trying to persuade other people that there’s really such a thing as ‘Northernness’); and second, a lack of the means of production – there are very few publishers and independent radio and TV production companies in the Midlands. The North has a lot more – not to mention the new MediaCity in Salford – and consequently can make itself heard much more readily at a national level.

3. The book is a mixture of facts about famous Midlanders and key towns/cities which you visited as more of a travelogue. How did you decide which places to visit and was Stoke really as bad as your mum seemed to make out?

In terms of the tour itinerary, the idea was to head for the bigger cities, going in a clockwise direction from my home town of Mansfield – so to Nottingham, Leicester, Northampton, Coventry, Brum, Stoke – and taking in some of the prettier (and not-so-pretty) bits in between. That seemed to make sense because the history is concentrated in the more populous areas, and the book is supposed to offer something of a humorous history lesson.

On the subject of Stoke: it has an amazing heritage but I think it’s fair to say that its layout is a bit perplexing for the first-time visitor. I read somewhere that it has a notably low density of college grads but I swear you need a degree in geography just to find your way to the city centre! It’s true that my mother wasn’t very impressed initially but she changes her mind a lot and has since decided that it was actually very nice…

4. How has the book been received so far by critics and readers? Have you been on any book signings or related events?

The book garnered a bit of press, mostly on the basis of the challenge it throws down to the idea of the ‘North/South divide’. To hear the way most national news is reported you’d think there was nothing and nowhere in between the North and the South of England! We are completely dominated by the binary North/South model, as anyone who’s driven past Leicester on the M1 (it’s in ‘The NORTH’ apparently) will attest! Anyway, that line of argument got me onto the Today programme on Radio 4 and into The Sun, where they ran a ‘Quiz To See How Midlands You Are’. I was quite proud of that.

5. I notice on your blog you are reading books by Midlands authors and indeed some are mentioned in the book like Arnold Bennett (another blatant plug for Stoke!). Would a follow up book on the literary richness of the Midlands be a next step maybe?

I’m currently trying out a new reading practice – ‘Reading-as-a-Midlander’ – which basically involves systematically noting down references to the Midlands in any books and other publications I read. It’s very illuminating (and slightly comical): most references – and there aren’t that many, compared to the North and South of the country – are disparaging.

But yes, there ought to be a study of Midland literature because basically everything of any literary value was written in the Midlands. I’m exaggerating for effect when I say that but again I’m not entirely joking: the Beowulf poet, Shakespeare, D.H. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett (even though he did call himself a ‘Man of the North’ – grrr) – we have an incredibly rich literary heritage.

6. In the book there is a decent amount given over to music, most notably heavy metal. How did you first become a fan of rock and metal music?

What was the first album you bought and band you saw live? I have an older brother and he first introduced me to hard rock. Growing up in the Midlands made it a natural enough choice: after all, this was the birthplace of metal! First gig: AC/DC on the Back in Black tour. First album: Live and Dangerous by Thin Lizzy. Phil Lynott was my absolute idol. When he died I stopped listening to rock music for several years. It turns out – despite that Dublin accent he put on – that Phil was actually a Midlander, born in West Bromwich.

7. Despite now liking jazz you still proudly mention Motorhead. What do you think makes them so special as a live band? Have you ever met any of the band?

With the exception of Fats Waller (about whom Phil Lynott wrote a song, so there’s a distinct rock lineage there anyway), I mostly like really noisy jazz: I can’t imagine anyone who loves Metallica or Black Sabbath not enjoying Peter Brötzmann’s classic 1968 album Machine Gun, for instance. It’s one of the most pleasurable ways to give yourself a headache I know.

Alas, I have never met Lemmy or any of the other members of Motörhead. I did once interview Glenn Hughes, though, and I was very impressed that he named one of his recent bands in honour of his native West Midlands – Black Country Communion.

8. The NWOBHM saw a fair few bands emerge from the Midlands and are also mentioned in your book. Which bands did you like and do you still listen to any of them nowadays?

I came to musical consciousness as NWOBHM reached its peak, so those bands – Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon, Girlschool – defined my youth in many ways. My favourites, Diamond Head, were from the Midlands, naturally. Metallica nicked their moves (they were largely a Diamond Head covers band at the outset) and stole their crown. I still listen to a lot of rock music, although the production on most NWOBHM albums can make them hard going now. You had to be there.

9. What made you want to take up writing and any advice for budding writers and those keen to write a book?

I wanted to be a journalist when I was a child (not sure where the idea came from – that’s not at all what my parents did) so that’s the path I followed after school. Interviewing people – because they do a certain kind of work, have had particular kinds of experience, etc – can be a great source of knowledge and inspiration, and mobile phones provide you with most of the technology you need to record and archive the results. I’ve always found it a great way to start or enrich a project. In terms of getting published: don’t give up at the first (or thirtieth) rejection; think laterally.

10. Anything else to add…

Up the Midlands!

United Nations are back!

Posted in AOR, Classic rock, Melodic rock with tags , , , , on December 30, 2013 by The Rock 'N' Roll Oatcake


Brit melodic rock band United Nations have reformed after 30 years! There is a new album ‘2014’, which will be released in February on Steelheart Records.

I remember buying their debut album on vinyl from Mike Lloyds record store in Newcastle and being mightily impressed. I had seen them live previously at Newcastle carnival and (I think) the Bridge Street Arts Centre in Newcastle. They did record a follow-up album which never got released and sadly they never got the exposure and success they deserved. Fast forward thirty years and they are back with a good choice of vocalist in Lee Small. With the renewed interest in melodic rock hopefully they can get the recognition they deserve.

Original members Pete`Hank`Hankey (bass), Chris Stonier (keyboards) and Chris Mooney (drums), are joined by newcomers vocalist Lee Small (SHY/SNOWFALL) and guitarist Neil`Fred`Thomas.

They play their first reunion gig at Our Bar, Stoke-on-Trent on Feb 22nd.

Check out a sneak preview: