Friday, 8 March 2013

Review: Gabriela Montero at Live at LICA

Gabriela Montero

Gabriela Montero at Live at LICA
Thursday, 7 March 2013
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University
Reviewed by Henry Prince


There were two piano recitals on Thursday night at Live at LICA. The first one was played out by a music student on a shiny but not quite in tune and with not the best adjusted action Yamaha upright in the foyer. The second was the one billed as the main event and took place in the Great Hall on the still almost brand new, perfectly tuned and perfectly adjusted Steinway reputedly worth £100,000. The student had the tougher job of coaxing his instrument to make the sounds he was looking for. But, as he said, a pianist must work with whatever equipment he or she has at his or her disposal and simply make the best of it.

The third year degree student (an apparently disappearing breed at Lancaster University) made the best of the upright before the start of the main concert and then enjoyed, with the rest of us, hearing Gabriela Montero make the best of the concert grand put at her disposal. What an amazing piece of hardware it is! How fortunate we all were to have the opportunity to hear such a magnificent instrument!

Dame Fanny Waterman, co-founder of the Leeds Piano Competition, maintains that three elements are necessary for music to come alive. A concept must be created by the composer; a performer must convert the concept into sound; and an audience must inspire the performer to do well. All three elements were present on Thursday night, as was also the unspoken prerequisite that the instrument available to the performer must be fit for purpose - a requirement more than satisfied by this marvellous instrument.

Ms Montero asked for the full range of its grandeur, from adagio pianissimo to vivace fortissimo, confident that the kit was up to the task. The piano behaved exactly as a £100 grand machine should and gave back its best.

She began with a conventional classical piano recital programme: Brahms’ three lullaby pieces of Op 117 followed by the third Chopin Scherzo. Here we experienced the first exposure to the crisp, accurate execution that Ms Montero would demonstrate throughout the evening. The Brahms Intermezzi in particular exposed the performer’s sensitive touch and the careful positioning by the performer of each note in the overall sound texture was exquisite to behold.

The remainder of the first half of the evening was given over to non-European composers which were less well known. Some of us in the audience were relieved to hear that Ms Montero was herself a belated discoverer of the music of the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth, whose music she described as “not complicated but fun”. And it was.

The pre-interval programme also included a set of Spanish-style dances by the Cuban Lecuona as well as pieces by the Argentine Ginastera, including the latter’s piano sonata no. 1. Much could be written academically about either of these pieces but just to enjoy the sounds being released from the glorious Steinway by Ms Montero’s skilled fingers was satisfaction enough. We came to listen and when the playing at last came to an end, we were filled to the brim with music.

The focus of the evening after the break was entirely different. Ms Montero called for four well-known themes, each of which the audience, clearly well prepared for this challenge, supplied readily. As each theme was proffered in turn, Ms Montero would play the tune several times as her creative mind went into gear. Then she would extemporise on the melody in whatever way she felt moved. Gershwin’s ‘Somebody Loves Me’ became a hitherto undiscovered section of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. A Supertramp motif was treated as Baroque counterpoint which almost, but not quite, became a multi-voice fugue. The first subject of the opening movement of Grieg’s A minor concerto transformed into a stand-alone piece in its own right. And ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ took on the unfamiliar guise, surprisingly, of a non-canonic ditty.

All the improvisations were good fun and thoroughly entertaining and Ms Montero clearly enjoyed her “musical freedom” in this part of the programme. Near the end, however, she took the opportunity to introduce a serious note occasioned by the death two days previously of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the land of her birth. Ms Montero composed extemporaneously a piece expressing her own personal social and political comment on the legacy of 14 years of “violence, injustice, kidnapping and murder”: 14 years of “decay”. Based on her own theme, a simple rising 5-note figure, her creation was a fitting memorial.

The citizens of Lancaster were out in force for the evening. It was gratifying that the audience was so attentive and indeed apparently so healthy (no coughing). As is common at piano recitals, many chose to sit on the left side of the hall to gain a good view of the keyboard. What is not generally appreciated, however, is that, pianos being percussive instruments, unless you have the nearest thing to a direct line between your ears and the points at which the hammers strike the strings, you will not hear the delicious attack of each note of these costly mechanical contraptions. The best position is standing beside the piano so that you can look down on the strings. Not practicable though, so the next best place is where you can see the hammers by a single reflection (off the underside of the lid). That means you should be sitting somewhere on the right. If you can see the keyboard, you will not be able to see, and therefore will not hear at their best, those carefully voiced strings being hit by all those expensive hammers!

H. Prince

Gabriela Montero's website:  http://www.gabrielamontero.com/

Tickets for the show cost: Adults £17.50, Seniors, unemployed and disabled (essential companion free) £14.50, students and under 16s £7.

To find out about future Live at LICA events visit https://www.liveatlica.org
or call the box office on 01524 594151.

Archaeology checks to start on Heysham link road route

Lancashire County Council is to start checking for archaeological finds along the proposed route of the Heysham to M6 Link Road - so they obviously don't think the project is likely to be buried any time soon, despite vociferous objections.

Work will begin on Monday 11th March on land at Cottam's Farm off Caton Road to excavate trial trenches, with sites along the length of the route to be explored over the coming months.

The council has a duty to check sites which could be historically significant before beginning construction of the road, which is scheduled for this summer.

Steve McCreesh, project director, said: "A report on sites which could be of cultural and archaeological interest was presented as part of the planning process.

"We've already carried out a number of geophysical surv! eys and will start digging the actual trial trenches next week, so people will start to see some activity in the area.

"We're doing this preparatory work now to put us in the best possible position to start work on the road itself later in the summer."

The archaeological excavations will result in around 90 trenches, each measuring 50 metres by two metres, being dug along the length of the route.

The proposed link road will connect the peninsula directly to the M6, providing better access to Morecambe and industrial areas which include the Port of Heysham and the Heysham power stations.

The County Council claim it will also reduce congestion in the Lancaster area especially on Caton Road, Morecambe Road and the Greyhound and Skerton bridges, although those claims have been hotly disputed.

Construction alone is expected to employ over 3,000 people with around 100 local unemployed people to receive training and jobs during construction.

Lancashire County Council is awaiting a final planning decision on the Heysham to M6 Link scheme from the Secretary of State for Transport, which is due to be made by Tuesday 19th March.

• For more information go to www.lancashire.gov.uk/heyshamlink

In Review: Return to the Forbidden Planet


Return to the Forbidden Planet
Performed by students of LGGS & LRGS
At The Dukes, Lancaster
Reviewed by Jane Sunderland

Performed by students of Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, this production of Return to the Forbidden Planet (scripted by Bob Carlton) is fun from start to finish. It is an ambitious choice. But while not everyone will follow its sometimes creative links with the narrative of The Tempest, and almost no-one will pick up all the intertextual references to a whole range of other Shakespearean plays, it is hard not to have a good time watching the crew of the USS Albatross and their visitors from planet D'Illyria: Doctor Prospero (played with suitable gravitas by Jonny Daley), his robot servant Ariel (Sam Baldwin), his daughter Miranda (Lucie Moore), and a sort of Caliban counterpart (or is that my misinterpretation?) in the shape of the unique Ruaidhri Johnston plus three monstrous purple tentacles. As an example of facial comedic acting, magnified on screen, this creature's entrance cannot be beaten.

Return to the Forbidden Planet cleverly incorporates song lyrics into the dialogue, but what it thrives or wilts on is its music, and this production does not disappoint. Of the thirteen-strong very professional-sounding band, several are on stage throughout. There are some strong singers among the cast, in particular the very professional Lucie Moore, Ellie Danson, who plays Gloria, Science Officer and Prospero's evil (or is she?) wife and Will Fielding's thoroughly sympathetic Cookie. If you were, or wish you had been around when gems such as 'Teenager in love', 'Who's sorry now' and 'Great balls of fire' were first released, are always moved by a well-sung 'Go now', or are more of an Easy Rider sort of person and look back fondly on 'Born to be wild' (sung by Krishnan Ram-Prasad's suitably reluctant-to-commit Captain Tempest ), then you will feel completely at home watching this production.

There is a large cast (the Albatross needs a large crew with a wide range of skills), which works well in that this enables several large ensemble singing-and-dancing pieces, all of which are very carefully choreographed and timed. Of the crew, Madeleine Shields shines as the Navigation Officer who frenetically steers the Albatross through an ever-changing universe.

Return to the Forbidden Planet is also an ambitious choice because of the 'back story' of what on earth Doctor Prospero is doing so far away from home, and this is beautifully and melodramatically told in black-and-white on a large screen at the back of the stage. This device also enables Ruaidhri Johnson to make an appearance as 'Newscaster', but perhaps this segues with his other role as Assistant Director? Ruaidhri writes in the programme "I couldn't be happier with the last joint school production I'll be involved with, and I'll miss it an awful lot". The loss is really that of the LRGS/LGGS drama community.

Jane Sunderland

Dates still to run: Friday 8 March, Saturday 9 March, 7. 30 p.m.

Venue: The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster LA1 1QE
Tel. 01524 598500 or visit
http://www.dukes-lancaster.org/theatre/return-to-the-forbidden-planet
Tickets:  £10.00 (£8.00 concessions)

Lancashire Big Energy Switch collective to bid for People Power

Residents across Lancashire could save more than £2m as part of a county-wide community energy switching scheme which launched in February.  The initiative called ‘People Power’ is led by the 13 local councils which could see energy savings of up to £250 per household over the year, if the target of just 15,000 residents sign up to the scheme.  They are almost there.

Residents are therefore being urged to review their bills and combine their purchasing power in the innovative scheme to ensure they get the very best energy deal possible. Register at www.peoplepower.co.uk (part of the Big Community Switch) before midnight on Monday 8 April giving details of your most recent energy usage to express your interest in joining the scheme.

As the old adage goes ‘there is strength in numbers’ and by coming together as one collective  there are significant savings to be made through People Power and the bulk buying approach.  The principle is tried and tested but this is the first time it is being run by the councils across Lancashire and it could have a significant impact on the cost of heating and lighting homes which is even more important during the current economic downturn which has seen household bills increase by 40% since 2007 and amid fears of higher bills in the future.

There is no obligation from registering your interest in the scheme, as registering includes you in the collective group taken to auction on 9th April where energy suppliers will bid for the business which residents can either accept or decline.  The more residents that are registered with the scheme naturally makes this a more attractive proposition for the utility firms, effectively achieving considerable economies of scale with significant savings passed to the consumer.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, Leader of Lancaster City Council said:  "This Lancashire wide scheme is an excellent example of how, by working together, your local councils are helping people save money from their energy bills. Energy costs take up a large proportion of household incomes so any money we can help people save will be helpful during these difficult times.   I would urge residents to sign up to the scheme and ask their families to do the same. This way we will be able to get the best deal from the energy companies."

The People Power scheme is targeted at all residents in Lancashire, although anyone outside of the county can also register to be a part of it.  The scheme is also open to residents who use pre-payment metres.  Whilst registration is easiest online, those who don’t have email access should contact their local council about where to register.  Furthermore, one email address can be used five times to allow for additional family members, friends or neighbours with no internet or emails accessibility.

• Register your interest at www.peoplepower.co.uk before midnight 8 April 2013

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Morecambe man pleads guilty to manslaughter

A Morecambe man has pleaded guilty to manslaughter following the death of a man in the town last year.

Christopher Kearns, 40, of Marine Road East, Morecambe appeared before Preston Crown Court today and pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 55 year old Paul Ormerod.

At around 1.15am on the 5th of November 2012, Paul was assaulted outside the Joiners Arms pub on Queen Street.

He was punched in the face and fell to the floor. He was taken through to Royal Preston Hospital where he remained in a critical condition until he sadly passed away as a result of his injuries on the 14th of November.

Detective Inspector Martin Clague said; “This is a particularly nasty and cowardly assault which has resulted in a man losing his life.

“I am glad that Kearns has entered a guilty plea today purely because it means Paul’s family will not have to sit through a trial and have to revisit all the details of the mindless assault that led to them losing Paul.”

Kearns will be sentenced on the 8th April.

Morecambe man jailed for perjury and forgery

A Morecambe man who was jailed for 18 months for hiding assets from his wife during divorce proceedings, has now been ordered to pay her £47,611 under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA.)

Stephen Hughes, 49 was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in July 2012 for the offences of Perjury and Forgery, he has now been released.

On Tuesday March 5th 2013, at Lancaster Crown Court, following a continued financial investigation carried out by Lancaster CID and the Proceeds of Crime Unit (POCU), Hughes was subject to a POCA Confiscation Order.

The money will be used to pay compensation to his former wife.

Stephen Hughes will be subject to a further 18 months imprisonment if he fails to pay this sum within the next 12 months.

PC Stephen Dixon, Financial Investigator, said: “ We are pleased with the outcome of this investigation. Perjury and Forgery is a criminal offence and we hope that the substantial amount that Mr Hughes has been ordered to pay back, may work as a warning to anybody else thinking about doing the same thing.”

Working-Class Suffragettes of Lancashire: International Women's Month at the Library

Image from the Lancashire Archive
Historical documentation about the women's suffrage movement in Lancashire will go on display in the county's libraries this month. 'Suffrage' means having the right to vote in a democracy, and to stand for election.

Lancashire County Council's Community Heritage Team have been researching the history of the women's suffrage movement which had some very active members in Lancashire. The displays will coincide with International Women’s Month.

Susan Holden, a community heritage manager at the county council, said: "The suffrage movement campaigned over many years to improve the lot of women all over the world, and particularly to get them the vote.

"In 1913, women in Lancashire were at the forefront of the campaign for suffrage both locally and further afield. It is appropriate that 100 years later, during International Women's Month, the displays in several Lancashire libraries will chart the history of the movement and will explain the differences between the various factions.

"What distinguished the suffrage movement in Lancashire from other areas of the country was that many of its leaders came not from the educated middle classes, but from working class women.

"They became involved in the movement as a result of their experience of factory work and of organising working women. It is difficult to say how many women were involved in the radical suffragists’ campaign. Only the names of the most active are known and only a handful of these leading suffragists have been considered in any detail.

"The displays will be on show from March 8 and I have no doubt that, for people who are interested in the history of the early 20th century, they will find the material to be totally fascinating."

It is not the first time that working class women have been written out of history. Many schools of left-wing political theory dismiss campaigns for women's rights as predominantly the interest of female middle-class academics and a diversion from the 'true' struggle. This they see as being rooted in class divisions and certainly nothing whatsoever to do with male middle-class academics.  (And if your union holds that policy it might be wise to shop around.)  On the plus side, they don't shoot them in the head on the way to school, which is encouraging. VL welcomes your dissertations in the comments below.

Current displays at Lancaster Library include a shelf selection entitled 'Fifty Shades...', a study in sado-masochistic literature available to borrow, which, when last seen, featured covers depicting a blissfully blindfolded woman and heavy innuendo about 'discipline'. Someone artistic has drawn a lipstick on the sign and a stilleto-heeled shoe, which will be helpful to junior readers struggling with the gist. Is there nowhere you can take your kids these days without them having to face some tediously programmed invitation to w***k over the dehumanisation of women?

The history of the suffrage movement is about solidarity, democracy and social cohesion and has also provided the inspiration for a national campaign to encourage people to learn basic computer skills.

“Start something special online” is a national campaign currently under way to encourage people to learn basic computer skills.

Beginning on March 4 and throughout the week, the Community Heritage team will be conducting learning sessions at many library locations throughout Lancashire. The sessions will give participants a tour of some of the websites that can be used for family history and local history using two local suffragettes as examples.

The Library offers drop-in sessions every Monday and Thursday from 2pm - 4pm  for people who want to learn how to use computers and the internet. Library staff and volunteers are on hand to provide one-to-one support in a relaxed atmosphere. Learn at your own pace, from using a mouse and keyboard to email and internet use.
Tel: 01524 580700
Email: lancaster.library@lancashire.gov.uk

More information about the courses available at local libraries is online at www.lancashire.gov.uk/libraries

For further information please contact: Tom Walker on 01772 534372
tom.walker@lancashire.gov.uk

Lancashire Constabulary celebrates Women'sDay




Staff from Lancashire Constabulary will be celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD) on Friday 8 March 2013. IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

Lancashire Constabulary tell us that they are celebrating  the amazing work that all their female staff and officers do as well as raise awareness of the various female roles within the force.

Several female staff will be tweeting throughout the day to give an insight into a day in their working lives and to show what kind of things they deal with on a day to day basis. People can see the tweets by following ‘LancsPolice’ on Twitter.

The police tell us that there will also be several biographies about members of their staff on the Lancashire Police Facebook page, showing the diversity of jobs done by women in the police force.   At 11am on Friday there will be live web chat with PC Claire Van Deurs Goss, famous for starring in the documentary “999: What’s Your Emergency? , so get your questions in for Claire.

Last October PC van Deurs Goss was disciplined as, during the programme, she was shown applying lip gloss while in charge of a police vehicle and saying "lipstick is more effective than a Taser" when dealing with some dangerous situations. You can see her dealing with a few on the Youtube video about her at http://youtu.be/xJZ5ynVquC4.

The web chat can be found on the force website www.lancashire.police.uk/international-womens-day  and also via the Live Discussions app on the on the force’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/lancspolice.

Claire said: “I really wanted to get involved in International Women’s Day because I’m always keen to fly the flag for women and promote all the great work that our ladies do within Lancashire Constabulary. I think it’s so important to celebrate this global day and I’m really looking forward to chatting to people on the web chat and sharing my experiences of being a woman working in a largely male working environment.”

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

City Council opposes 'pernicious' Bedroom Tax

People who have nursed a partner or a child through a long, painful and expensive terminal illness have also lost their homes shortly after the funeral thanks to the 'bedroom tax' that has penalised benefit claimants for 'under-occupation' of property since 2012. Thousands deemed to be under-occupying have lost their homes already.

From April 2013 these housing benefit regulations will also be applied to council and social housing tenants. Labour MP Ivan Lewis said, "“In the North West 43% of people living in council or housing association homes who receive housing benefit will be hit. This means 110,000 will be worse off by £728 a year when the Bedroom Tax comes into force."

The bedroom tax rules affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. Big changes are already being implemented in the private sector and you can read about those in our previous reports here (March 2011) and here (December 2012).

Council and Social Housing 

Council and Social Housing is allocated by a points system based predominantly on need. From April 2013 tenants deemed to have been allocated too much living space by their local authorities will receive a reduced payment.

Only those of working age will see reduced payments. If tenants are deemed to have one spare room, the amount of rent eligible for housing benefit will be cut by 14%. If they have two or more spare rooms, the cut will be 25%. The number of bedrooms in the property will be determined by the landlord’s tenancy agreement, so you cannot claim a bedroom is actually a living room. The government says that will mean an average loss of about £14 a week for council tenants. Those who rent from housing associations are facing an average loss of about £16 a week, from benefits already assessed as being the bare minimum for survival, as fuel costs rocket.

Under the government’s “size criteria”, families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need. Benefit will only be payable on the basis that children under 16 of the same gender will share a room, and children under 10 will share a room regardless of their gender. Health issues or disability that require night-time care are not taken into account, meaning that children with profound disabilities are forced to share with siblings, regardless of how much care or space they require.  If a family member should die or leave, the household might be found to be under-occupying and see their rent assistance cut by 14%.

Foster parents will receive a cut even where their bedrooms are occupied by foster children, who for benefit purposes do not count as part of the household. Separated parents will be penalised for keeping a “spare” bedroom for when their children visit.

Disabled tenants will be allowed a bedroom for over-night full-time carers that are from a care provider, ie an agency. But unpaid carers, such as relatives or friends, do not count.

If your son or daughter joins the army, he or she will be away for more than 13 weeks at a time and their room will be assessed as unoccupied, meaning a 14% benefit cut.
See http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bedroom-tax-army-mothers-soldier-1593987

A tax on caring

Essentially, the cuts are a tax on caring. I have found its effects shocking to witness, this past year. If you stand by your partner when he or she gets a terminal illness, sleeping in the boxroom or having a relative over at times to help out (it is practically impossible to lift a weak adult gently single-handed) you can find yourself facing ruin and eviction when you are at your most vulnerable from recent loss. Same when you care for your sick child at home. Or when you lose the elderly parent you took into your household when they couldn't manage alone any more and couldn't face the care-home.

Disabled people who need night-time help cannot have space for relatives or friends to sleep-in and provide it unpaid. They must pay a private agency £11+ an hour to qualify for space to get the sleep-in help they need. The carers thus employed are usually paid  minimum wages themselves, hardly enough to make their own rent, so no disrespect intended, but surely the freely-given care of committed altruists merits a few hours sleep too to keep them going and sane?

When a family member gets very ill or disabled, if they are not to be taken away to be 'managed' in an institution by strangers (often at considerable state expense), someone - usually a partner or family member - must take care of their needs at home. That someone may find themselves unable to hold down their job or education when a family member or partner desperately needs their care, day and night. When serious or chronic illness and disability strike, they are expensive, massively time-consuming and stressful. It can be the longest haul,  day and night, day after day, testing not just backbone but every ounce of resource that can be scraped from every sinew, brain cell and friendship, to be the person who is is needed. You will get no medals or pay, and few can recognise the true extent of your contribution. In fact your social status can drop through the floor. If you are a woman, such sacrifice is often assumed to be your natural role, regardless of your aspirations. And you will do your best to make it look easy. But if you need to call in state benefits to get through it, you are likely to hear yourself referred to as 'lazy scroungers'.  For the very elderly, illness or disability are hardly uncommon, and most of us inevitably face a period in our lives when we will rely on the kindness of others, whether they deem us to have earned it or not. The bedroom tax penalises such kindness.

The time of loss

Caring can often form a powerful bond. But when death breaks it, the survivor has little time to spare for grieving. First there is the funeral to pay for, and if it is for a partner you never married, you may have to raise these thousands yourself.  Far from getting care yourself in your time of loss, your benefits will be stopped and you must immediately make a fresh claim as a Jobseeker if you are of working age.

Your housing benefit will also require a fresh claim and reassessment. That tiny boxroom that is too small to sublet counts as a 'spare' bedroom. It means that you somehow have to find 14% extra to make the rent out of benefits that are a fraction of what you were receiving when you both worked or later as a couple with sickness or disability increments. Your savings may be gone, spent on a dying person's final weeks, or months, or perhaps even years of struggle and hope. The heating bills alone have been formidable.  You may well have debts, usually an overdraft.

You must run straight out into the world and get a job, and fast, and look for new digs, at a time when you so stunned by loss you can barely function.  A room in a shared house or a bedsit is your allocation if you are under 35. A 1-bedroom flat if you are older. A 2-bedroom if you have children. Rents rise without regulation and you will find nothing as cheap as the housing benefit allows. If you can find anything at all. You are likely to have to leave your neighbourhood and friends, at the time when you most desperately need stability and emotional support. You must raise money, somehow. And if you find a place, to squeeze into your new 'home' you must get rid of most of your possessions - and those of the person you have lost. You don't have time or strength to get a sensible price, or give things where they are most needed, or sort through your memories, it must all just go. The dispossessed are easy pickings and the vultures and pawnbrokers and quick cash shops are already waiting for you. At your most vulnerable, the state steps in and kicks away everything that remains of your life, throwing you to the dogs. I have seen it happen, exactly as I have described it.

Legal Challenge

A legal challenge against the benefit reduction has been launched against Iain Duncan Smith on behalf of 10 disabled and vulnerable children. (see Guardian report) All 10 of the children in the claims are expected to share a bedroom with siblings.  However, all have also been assessed as needing their own bedrooms – either due to disabilities, because they are at risk of violence from a sibling, or because of trauma experienced as a result of abuse and domestic violence.A Judicial Review hearing is expected in May - a month after the new rules come into effect.

Lancaster City Council

On 27 February Lancaster City Council, who are being forced to administer this cut by central government, passed the following resolution, proposed by Labour councillors:

This Council believes that the Government’s New Bedroom Tax is an unnecessary burden on hard-working families and will have devastating consequences on those people affected in Lancaster and Morecambe districts and resolves that the Chief Executive informs the Secretary of State Ian Duncan Smith, Minister for Works and Pensions, to register the Council’s opposition to this measure and request that it be reviewed”.

(Other local councils have raised an avalanche of similar objections.)  Scotforth West Green Councillor Chris Coates proposed a friendly amendment (which was accepted) that the council should look at re-classifying 2 and 3 bedroom council houses as smaller properties where extra rooms are not being used as bedrooms.

He said “This is a pernicious tax that will fall on some of the most vulnerable families in the district; we need to look at all options we can to help people affected by it. The retrospective nature of the tax makes it particularly unjust as people did not know about the limitation on benefit when they originally took up the tenancy. Up to 600 households could be affected across the district."

Labour Councillor David Whitaker said “The Bedroom Tax will have a detrimental impact upon many people on low incomes.  It will penalise people who are unemployed through no fault of their own and those people who need housing benefit to cover their rent.

“We have already seen drastic and unnecessary attacks upon people on low incomes in the last two years and with rocketing fuel bills this latest tax could risk putting many people into lifelong poverty and also put them in danger of losing their homes.

“With rents rising all the time and many people losing their jobs this Tax is unworkable and unrealistic.  It is another poll tax that attacks the wrong people and will cause hardship – it was formulated in order to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.  

“No one should be in fear of losing their home because they happen to have a spare room after children have left home. Access to decent housing is a human right and so is the right to remain in your home. Council housing was never meant to be a short term housing option.  The Government has moved the goal posts and changed the reason why council housing was provided in the first place – namely to provide a fundamental human right to decent housing.  It lifted people out of slum dwellings operated by unscrupulous landlords.

“The Bedroom Tax will result in mass evictions and homelessness and all the related challenges these issues will bring.  Many people affected will fall behind with their rent and other bills. No consideration has been allowed for disabled people who require a spare room for their carer to stay, or indeed many other reasons why a spare room might be needed.  The Government’s own figures show that almost two thirds of the people affected are disabled.

“This is a blatant attack upon a sector of society that often suffers financial hardship and frequently exists on low incomes.  There are alternatives, such as a mansion tax.  How shocking that this policy is introduced in the same month that David Cameron is cutting taxes for millionaires by almost £100,000
."

Labour Councillor Janet Hall noted:

"David Morris, our [Conservative] Morecambe and Lunesdale MP supported the welfare reform act. Unfortunately he isn’t quite as supportive of his constituents when they face hardship by the decisions he has made. 

"Despite claiming that the changes ‘were not intended to be punitive to individuals’ and acknowledging that ‘I have received a large amount of correspondence on this issue, which is clearly a cause of great concern to many people’ he goes on to say that ‘I, as an individual MP do not have the authority to ask for individual cases to be treated differently’, before laying the blame for any hardship suffered by a Lancaster City Council resident firmly at the door of Lancaster City Council. Having voted for the scheme, he now washes his hands of it. 

"Incidentally, David Morris claims £390 per week for the rent of a flat in Westminster. A rent paid by the taxpayer, much like housing benefit. I wonder how many bedrooms it has?"

• Labour Left is organising a National Day of Action across the country on Saturday 16th March to protest against the Bedroom Tax. To find out how you can get involved, visit
www.labourleft.co.uk/labour-lefts-day-of-action-against-the-bedroom-tax

These demonstrations are not exclusively for Labour Left or Labour Party members. If you are a local campaign group, union or just an individual who would like to express your views against this policy then you are welcome to get involved.

• You can email your MP to let them know your thoughts about these cuts targeting the most vulnerable and the most caring. Contact details can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Appeal following indecent exposure in Heysham

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a man indecently exposed himself to a dog walker in Heysham.

The offence took place around 12.10pm on 1st March 2013 when the 24 year old victim was walking her dog along an alley off Lordsome Road when a man has exposed himself to her.

He is described as being white, aged in his early 20’s, average height and build, with short dark hair, shaven close at the sides. He was wearing a horizontally striped blue/grey jumper and grey tracksuit bottoms.

PC James Martin said: “This man appeared to follow the victim before walking ahead of her and masturbating as she walked past, exposing himself to her.

“This is a distressing incident and I’d appeal to anybody with any information about the person responsible to come forward and contact Lancashire Police on 101.”

People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

• You can now receive free crime alerts and advice. Sign up at www.lancashire.police.uk/intheknow

 

Lancaster City Council sets its 2013/14 budget, cuts spending

Lancaster City Council has set its budget for 2013/14, reducing spending by a further 3.3 per cent.

The budget protects those services that local people most value and there have also been additional areas of investment for next year, including:

  • £99,000 to fund PCSOs
  • Creating a special reserve of £50,000 to improve the district’s markets
  • Setting aside £10,000 for a city centre cycle race to continue the legacy of the Olympics
  • Creating a new post of an empty homes officer to bring empty properties in the district back into use
  • Introducing the Living Wage for the council’s lowest paid employees


The budget also looks ahead for the future and aims to balance the council’s priorities and plans with the reduced resources that will impact significantly from 2014/15.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “This is a balanced and sensible budget which protects those services that people most value and plans for the future.

“In the face of unprecedented cuts to our finances I’m proud at what we’ve been able to achieve but the focus must now be on future years to make sure we are able to cope with further reductions to our income.

“The council has lost 27 per cent of its funding over the last few years and over the next two years forecasts show we’ll need to reduce our net spending by £2.3million," she revealed. "The difficulty we face is that we can’t continue to make efficiency savings and service reductions without there being a marked impact on those services most valued by local people.”

To protect services in the future the city council’s portion of Council Tax will rise by 1.99 per cent. In real terms this mean households will pay an average (based on a Band D property) of an extra £3.84 a year – or 7p a week – to the city council from April 2013.

As 80 per cent of the district's homes are in the lowest bands (A to C) the actual increase will be even lower than 7p a week for the majority of households.

Low paid households who receive full Council Tax benefit will also not be affected by the small increase. The council has previously agreed that its new local council tax support scheme will maintain benefits at current levels for at least one year.

Council house tenants will also see their rents frozen at the current levels for the next year.

Lancaster-based creators head for Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Lakes International Comic Art Festival Poster
by Bryan Talbot. Competition below!


Lancaster-based comic creators will be joining some of the biggest names in comic art for the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival later this year.

Festival organisers have just announced some of the guests of honour who will be appearing at the event which will run from 18-20th October 2013 in Kendal in Cumbria, who include writers and artists from the United States, Argentina, Spain and the UK, working in a wide range of different genres.

The event, which is modelled on the European style comic art festivals, has a guest list running to more than 40 writers and artists - some yet to be announced. Organisers plan to reveal more names over the next few months, in the run up to tickets going on sale in May.

Alongside names such as national Guardian cartoonist Posy Simmonds and Captain America and Batman writer Ed Brubaker, top British comic writer and former 2000AD Andy Diggle, who lives in Lancaster, will be one of the guests of honour and local artist Sean Phillips is one of the event's founders.

World-reknowned comic artist Sean Phillips is a founder patron of the new festival along with Costa Award-winning comic creators Bryan Talbot and his wife Mary. Sean has been working with Ed Brubaker for about 12 years, most recently on Criminal and Fatale.

“I find Ed’s work believable," he says. "We do crime fiction so there are obviously things like armoured car heists, pickpockets and other crime plots.

“But the important bit is the characters and how they react to their situations.  And the way the characters created by Ed react is always believable.  You have to be able to care about what happens to the characters and that is what he does really well.”

He is currently working on Superman and writing stories for Doctor Who, Thief of Thieves and a new supernatural comic, Uncanny. Andy has recently launched his own thriller called Snapshot with artist Jock. He has also been nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award for co-creating the New York Times best-selling action thriller The Losers, which was turned into a film.

Andy says: “The wider world is finally waking up to the richness, vibrancy and immediacy of the comics medium in all its diverse genres. Comics aren't just great art and great entertainment - they're also educational. Multiple studies have shown that kids who read comics have improved literacy, and go on to read more prose in a wider range of styles and genres than kids who don't.

“So it's great to see a European-style comics festival come to the North-West, bringing the joy of comics to a whole new audience.

"As for myself, I'm looking forward to meeting the fans - and the other creators. Festival Director Julie Tait has pulled together an amazing line-up of talent, especially considering it's the inaugural festival. Long may it continue!”

Judge Dredd fans will be particularly looking forward to meeting British writer John Wagner and Spanish artist Carlos Ezquerra, who are the co-creators of the famous law maker. They have both created many other characters for 2000AD including Strontium Dog.

John is also credited as being one of the people who revitalised British comics in the 1970s along with Pat Mills and others.

Founder patrons Bryan and Mary Talbot won the biography category in the Costa Book Awards earlier this year. Bryan Talbot, who used to live in Preston before moving the the North East some years ago, has also created a special festival poster which features Kendal’s town hall a lake and references to 28 different comic art characters. If you can name all the comic characters referenced in the Festival's poster which has been created by Bryan Talbot, they'll put you into a prize draw to win one of five signed copies and our festival mug. Email your answers to media@comicartfestival.com by 11.00am on Monday 18th March.

The festival will include events where people will be able hear from writers and artists, panel discussions, special live drawing events, films, several exhibitions, workshops and a kids’ zone. Authors and artists will be signing copies of their work and there will be a marketplace to buy comics and comic art.  There will also be some free events and exhibitions.

Festival Director Julie Tait says: “We’re very excited to give people their first real taste of the guest list for our new festival. We have a great line up which includes top creators from the UK, Europe and further afield who are recognised as leading lights or exciting new talent - all are pioneers in some shape or form.

“We’ll be revealing more big names over the next few months. We know people are eager to find out who all our guests are but we want to keep people in suspense for a bit longer!

“The festival will include a wide range of events, including some which are free.  We want The Lakes International Comic Art Festival to appeal not just to the people who are already big comic art fans but also to help bring new audiences to this fantastic and versatile medium.”

The founder partners of the event are the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal College, South Lakeland District Council and Osprey Communications. Founder supporters are Curious Road, Designworks and Jonathan Cape. The festival is also supported by Kendal Library and publishers Myriad Editions, Nobrow, Blank Slate, Knockabout and Selfmadehero.

The leader of SLDC, Councillor Peter Thornton, says: “I’m really excited about this inaugural Comic Art Festival. Super Heroes in Kendal, Spiderman climbing the Town Hall – who knows what will happen?

“Kendal’s a great place to have this festival and I know that it will draw in many visitors who will experience Kendal hospitality and return again and again. Great work by Julie and her team, South Lakeland District Council is pleased to be able to support this event.”

• More details about the new event are available at www.comicartfestival.com. It is also possible to keep up to date with plans for the festival by following @comicartfest on Twitter or by liking the Lakes International Comic Art Festival Facebook page.

Monday, 4 March 2013

In Review: Manchester Chamber Choir at Live at LICA

Manchester Chamber Choir
Manchester Chamber Choir at Live at LICA
Saturday 2 March 2013
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University.
reviewed by Sally Ryde


The American lady sitting nearby had the better idea. “I’ll read those later,” she replied when asked before the concert began why she was not ploughing through the 10 pages of programme notes. She was there to listen and enjoy. There would be time later for learning.

It was too late for me to adopt her sensible approach. I had already learned a great deal from the programme notes and the pre-concert talk. But after only two or three bars of the first piece, I had forgotten everything. I forgot that Britten’s opera Gloriana had been composed for the coronation of Elizabeth in 1953 and that not even the Queen liked the piece. But then of course the audience would have comprised (I also forgot) “visiting diplomats and other dignitaries who may not necessarily have had particularly sophisticated musical tastes.

I suppose this could mean that those of us present in Lancaster University’s Great Hall on Saturday night did possess “sophisticated musical tastes” because we certainly liked everything we heard - from Gloriana right through to Britten’s ‘Hymn to St Cecilia’, including pieces along the way by Holst (both father Gustav and daughter Imogen), Poulenc, Welshman John Thomas and one by North of England’s Stephen Wilkinson composed specially for the tenth anniversary of the choir. But I don’t think we were “particularly sophisticated”. Instead, I think we were simply captivated by the skills of these twenty or so exceptional musicians.

The programme notes contained the vital clue as to why the evening was so well worth the effort all of us had made to be there. “The choir“, the notes say, “is driven by a love of singing to an excellent standard and its raison d’ĂȘtre [is] to fulfil its members’ musical desires.”

This choir is excellent. As individuals, they excel and their conductor knew exactly how to help them to excel as a group. Justin Doyle was clearly in his element.

Singing is more difficult than instrument playing. A singer has nowhere to hide. His or her voice is unique and to insert it into the sound of a choir takes nerve. Choirmaster Doyle supplied the assurance that each singer needed to achieve the magnificent phrasing and near-perfect intonation that we witnessed - the two qualities that render singing generally more challenging than orchestral playing.

To judge a choir’s phrasing is not difficult. But for a concert goer to confirm that a choir’s pitch remains true and does not drift during the performance of a section of music is nearly impossible. My ear was telling me that the pitch was not drifting but I sought ways to prove it. I listened, for example, for pitch corrections being derived from the conductor’s tuning fork and fed to the choir at the beginning of sections, perhaps lifting a flattish E-flat back up to a true E-flat. I even considered that the conductor’s tuning fork could be sounding a different pitch to the one he was humming to the choir: a deceit justified by the artistic judgement that the existing pitch was “near enough” and probably could not so easily be erased from the choir’s collective memory. But all to no avail and I finally gave up trying to spot any sleight of hand (or ear). Truth be told, I don’t think there were any fudges. This choir’s intonation was simply almost faultless. What a pleasure!

Possibly the biggest threat of the evening to pitch stability was posed by “slithering chromaticism” (!) in the ‘God’s Grandeur’ section of Britten’s “A.M.D.G”. Written for four professional singers amusing themselves at the kitchen table in the Red House in Aldeburgh (Beware the dog!), I expected this choir to laugh with relief at its conclusion, as did Joe Morello when Brubeck’s quartet successfully negotiated the complex rhythms of ‘Unsquare Dance’ on “Time Further Out”, but this ensemble took it all in its stride. (A Helsinki choir demonstrates the challenge.)

It is always gratifying to hear individuals step up to solo duties. There were not many solo opportunities in the programme but when the most of them arose in the ‘Hymn to St Cecilia’, the performers acquitted themselves well. Lovely individual voices, each with its own timbre and style.

AnnaKate Pearson’s two harp solos and her accompaniment to Holst’s ‘Choral Hymns’ were a delight. (How could she execute all those harmonics so consistently? Isn't that difficult? I must find out.)

Live at LICA events were everywhere on Saturday night. In addition to the Great Hall choir concert, Dance Cuts had taken over the Nuffield Theatre next door as well as most of the foyer! Plenty of excitement to be sure but a little attention to space planning would not go amiss. The cafe area was almost inaccessible at times. For addicts of the delicious made-in-Kendal cake and coffee deal, that counts as a near disaster!

S. Ryde


Tickets for the concert cost: Adult: £17.50, Seniors, unemployed and disabled (essential companion free) £14.50, students and under 16s £7.

To find out about future Live at LICA events visit:
https://www.liveatlica.org/whats-on or
Tel: 01524 594151
Email: boxoffice@liveatlica.org

CCTV appeal after Lancaster assault

Police have released a CCTV image of a man they are looking to speak to in connection with an assault in Lancaster last month.

At around 3.15am on Friday 1st February, a 20 year old student was stood with friends on Horse Shoe Corner in the city centre when a man from another group punched him in the face causing him to sustain a fractured jaw.

Detective Constable David Winn said: “An investigation is underway but I would appeal to anybody that recognises the man in the CCTV or anyone with any other information about this offence to come forward and contact us.”

People with information can call Lancashire Police on 101, alternatively, information can be passed to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.