Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Matt Alber in Birmingham (not Alabama!)

For a keen cinéaste who has had to cease frequenting the cinema, as the noise levels literally cause me to collapse, I was somewhat daunted to be attending my first live music gig in years. My health condition means I can rarely listen to more than a few tracks at a time before the pain becomes too much. However I am still on a high from yesterday evening’s (openly gay, California-resident) Matt Alber benefit concert at Birmingham LGBT Centre. Matt sang accompanied either by his own guitar or keyboard. The sound levels were just right so I did not faint and my ears did not bleed!

[Image description: Matt Alber standing playing his acoustic guitar]

 [Image description: Matt Alber sitting playing his electronic keyboard]

We set off from Manchester at five to be sure to arrive for the seven o’clock doors' opening. Normally I would have slept for the journey down, for car-travel I find to be monotonously soporific. On this occasion I was wide awake with excitement like a wee child on an outing. Miraculously we hit no hold-ups on the notorious bottle-neck that is the M6 motorway (freeway) nor in Birmingham’s outskirts nor the city centre itself, as most vehicles were travelling out-bound. We managed to find a parking space (as recommended by Birmingham LGBT Centre) on Thorp Street in a pay-and-display zone. We had arrived a full twenty minutes early!

The reception door was opened to us, and we strolled into a plush reception area with a bright Barbie-pink accent wall and a selection of comfy chairs, one of which matched the aforesaid colour. One of Matt’s London fans, the immaculately hirsute Steve, was already ensconced along with some staff and/or volunteers. A couple of minutes later another London fan arrived having dashed from Birmingham New Street train-station, a short walk away. We were all happily chatting together when the door opened in a flurry of energy and in breezed Matt himself. He shook everyone’s hand, passed a few pleasantries, collected his shopping-bag and dashed up the stairs all in a whirl of motion.

With his exit we were all ushered into the café, offered a beverage of our choice and permitted to select our viewing station. Another advantage to being so ahead of schedule was that we early-arrivers could all take up positions at the front of Matt’s performance area. Within minutes Kelly & Nick arrived from Lincolnshire & Hull respectively. Folk had really travelled distances. (For those not familiar with the UK, transport links are generally poor and congested so it takes æons to get from a to b.) This dedication of Matt’s fans made up for the paucity in numbers: the event was always going to be intimate with forty covers; but we were finally a happy band of twenty-five.

[Image description: the stage is set with Matt's guitar & keyboard]

Matt appeared again, having changed into his performance attire: shirt with sleeves rolled up above the elbow revealing a tattoo on his right forearm; a stripey school-type tie knotted tightly and slackened from the neck of an unbuttoned collar; a buttoned-up woollen waistcoat (vest); black jeans; and, black Nike trainers (sneakers). Like a marionette he moved over to the speaker and connected some background music. He then came over to me and my assistant to introduce himself after again shaking hands. His orbs kept contact with either the one or the other of us as he mellifluously spoke. Matt enquired after potential performance venues in Manchester, preferably with a piano. And then he was off to mingle with the other attendees.

Only ten minutes later than advertised, his set began. He performed many of his well known tracks including “End of the World”, “Fieldtrip Buddy”, “Monarch”, “Tall Tales”, The River”, “Tightrope”, “Velvet Goldmine”, “Wallingford”. He also sang covers inter alia Madonna’s “Take a Bow”, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, Eva Cassidy's "Songbird" and Florence & the Machine’s “Only If for a Night” (which may be Matt’s next single release after he recorded it in Manchester last week). Probably I am a tad biased but I hold Matt’s version to be superior - don’t tell Florence! We were also treated to the public première of Matt’s latest London-composed song, “House on Fire” - I can already imagine the dance remixes!

Between songs Matt recounted biographical snippets: his boyhood crush; his first unplanned stay in New York (whence his song “New York City”) with a handsome chaperon; his Ohio love; his director & friend’s Sasquatch tale; his own fanship of pop divas; an impossible mutual attraction; films (movies) and television programmes which inspired him; and the incredible life-cycle and peregrination of Monarch butterflies. We also learned of the serendipitous use of the barbershop for the video of “End of the World” due to no other location permitting a gay love story to be filmed on their premises. Our gain their loss I should say.

After all, who would not want the presence of such terrific talent, such supernal singing, such wonderful warmth, such a magical Mensch. Matt is all of these and more.

Afterwards, there was an opportunity to purchase Matt’s current CD, DVD and copies of the June edition of “meat” the San Francisco “SF” edition for which Matt and his chums posed and so forth.

Whenever I meet famous folk, I inevitably clam up. (I recall meeting my long-time crush Peter Skellern years ago and being unable to even move!) However, I put into practice the little CBT tips I had been taught: I pushed myself to ask Matt to sign my CDs; I chatted with him for a few minutes; as well as again shaking his hand twice more. I did not even get out my wet-wipes or anti-bacterial gel à la Big Bang Theory's Sheldon afterwards. Matt is so affable that I am certain it was he who put me at ease. And as if any further evidence were needed to prove what a human-being Matt is, the proceeds of the benefit concert were donated by him to TOPAZ, Brum's older LGBTI folk's own support group. Bless him!

Having viewed a fair few youtube videos of Matt performing 'on stage', this concert iterated my sense that live he sings with far more passion and with an extra spark that is not necessarily present in the recording-studio vocalisations. Or maybe his beatific smile has enchanted me and altered my perceptions.

I do so hope you will give Matt Alber a listen. %)

[Image description: Matt Alber's acoustic guitar in its stand]

For my article on Matt from last month, "Matt Alber: All My Ginger Fantasies In One Man", see here.

Matt has his own website:

He can be found on facebook under “Matt Alber” band/musician.

Also on twitter: @mattalber

There is also a dedicated youtube channel.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

In/accessible Europe (5): Glasgow Gay Nightscene

Last year I blogged on disabled in/accessibilty in Manchester's Gay Village. Manchester City Council are not interested in determining what venues in Manchester are accessible, whether for its own residents or for (potential) tourists. Manchester's main LGBTI organisation, The Lesbian & Gay Foundationis similarly disinterested, although they have given me the opportunity to write about the issue for them. With one in eight folk in the UK being disabled, one can but assume in the absence of any research that one in eight of Manchester's population, that one in eight queer folk are also disabled. Businesses and thus taxpayers are losing out on a mainly untapped market. Disabled folk's lives are diminished by not being able to fully participate. And this is despite it being eighteen years since the original Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995.

The following is a reblog with permission from the author Rob McDowall of LGBT Network. It highlights related issues in Glasgow's LGBT service industries.

[Image description: gay rainbow flag background; international disabled symbol on top.]

Is being LGBT and disabled: The final taboo?

You may have heard of the story of Robert and Nathan Gale who were refused access to Glasgow’s Polo Lounge on 14th June due to Robert being in a wheelchair. The couple decided to attend the gay club to celebrate after winning an award at the Scottish Charity Awards for their work on the Scottish marriage equality campaign and soon discovered the door staff and manager had other ideas.

Glasgow’s gay scene is dominated by one organisation with the lion’s share of the most well-known and well attended gay bars being owned by millionaire businessman Stefan King’s G1 Group. Aside from the usual consideration of lack of competition some believe there can be positives in marketplace domination which can result in cheaper prices for the customer due to the stronger buying power the establishment wields. Having lived and socialised in Glasgow for the last twelve years I have noticed the increasing grip that G1 has on Glasgow’s gay scene and have seen the prices rise, choices reduced and the ‘shut up or stay out’ attitude flourish. Gone are the days when complaints are seen to provide an opportunity for improvement and when the business will take great care and attention to ensure the customer is happy. In Glasgow many gay people are only too aware of the hasty sanctions dished out by G1 managers for daring to write a letter or email of complaint.

As someone who lives in chronic pain following a horse-riding accident as a child, I use a crutch most of the time and can find it very difficult on a bad day to ascend and descend stairs. It is equally difficult to try and squeeze into a small cubicle while keeping my foot against the door due to the broken or absent locks within the Polo Lounge toilets. I refuse to stand at the urinal due to the two-way mirror to the right of the urinals which would give anyone walking into the toilet clear sight down the line of urinals. Happy to report however that the growing disgust over the two-mirrors in the female toilets of G1’s Shimmy club has led to the two-way mirror in Polo Lounge’s male toilets being covered up with a black vinyl and gold material—not very fetching, but it serves its purpose

In my capacity as Chair of the LGBT Network, I was contacted by three disabled patrons in April who reported similar entry refusals at Polo and I put pen to paper and sent a complaint letter to Polo Lounge and G1’s head office. Needless to say I am still awaiting a substantive reply. In what I have come to expect typical G1 standard operations my follow up emails, letter and telephone calls have failed to raise any reply at all, let alone a satisfactory one. G1 are no strangers to controversy; as mentioned above the Shimmy Club attracted widespread repulsion at the revelation that men could hire out a room which featured a two-way mirror facing into the women’s toilets and since the news broke Glasgow City Council have imposed a week long closure order by suspending the club’s liquor license for putting women and teenagers at risk from “predatory behaviour”. In April 2010 a blind musician was told she wouldn’t be allowed into G1’s Underground nightclub in Dundee because the club’s insurance “did not cover blind people” and her cane was “too dangerous” for other patrons.
The LGBT community are marginalised enough in a hetero-normative society and many seek a safe and courageous space where they can be themselves without any pressure, we are told, to confirm or to adhere to societal ‘norms’. Gone are the days of the dark, dismal and shoddy clubs that only the regulars knew about with entrances at the bottom of alleyways replaced by glitzy and glamorous, ‘loud and proud’ establishments with glamorous promotions, street PR teams and pride flags standing proudly above doorways. One only has to look to Manchester or Soho to see the influence the LGBT community have had on the area in which they live and socialise. Parts of the Merchant City is to Glasgow what Canal Street is to Manchester; a collection of ‘gay’ or ‘gay friendly’ pubs and clubs within a well-defined area. Glasgow currently has nine licensed premises which define as ‘gay’ or ‘gay orientated’ with all of them being within a 10 minute walk of Glasgow Central and Queen Street stations. In addition to the main ‘gay’ nightspots a number of establishments dotted within most areas of the city are very non-specific and offer a welcoming and tolerant nightclubbing or beer swilling experience to heterosexual and the LGBT communities alike.
You may imagine that with the Stonewall riots etched into our memories and years of blatant homophobia, intolerance and hate that ‘gay’ pubs and clubs would throw open their doors and welcome the LGBT community, in all their shapes and forms, with open arms… well, you would be wrong! Image is everything and, regardless of the labels we wear, intolerance is all too rife within the LGBT community especially when it comes to socialising in an LGBT orientated nightspot and you happen to be disabled. Disability is a label which comes in all sizes and fonts and some people identify as disabled while others don’t. It is a label like all others and it’s one which in one respect may improve one’s life with regards the ability to secure the support, care and assistance one needs to play a full part in society but is one which all too often can be used to hit one over the head and create division and barriers to the enjoyment and living of life. Disability is a reality for someone living as a disabled person and disabilities come in all shapes and sizes… gone are the disability registers and Hello is the Equality Act with its very open and legalistic definition of a disability and who may be treated as a ‘disabled person’ in law. Accessibility, or in the cases highlighted above, the lack thereof, is a major point of consideration for any disabled person when choosing where to visit and when, and while where your friends prefer going is important, for a disabled person the existence or absence of a ramp, accessible bathroom and wider doorways for access and egress may be the deal breaker. After one too many beers or shots many of us may end up crawling at the end of the night but who would expect to start their night by having to demonstrate their ability to convey themselves from point A to point B while causing themselves pain, discomfort, and probable embarrassment by crawling across the floor like Robert Gale in the Scotsman article mentioned above. It isn’t my idea of fun and I’m pretty confident it wasn’t Robert’s or his doting partner’s either.
Prejudice exists in all factions in society and is class, race and gender blind and sprawls across all territories and countries throughout the world. The presentation of prejudice may change from one region or country to another but the premise is the same and the effects on the victim and society are comparable. I am not a crazy far-left liberal who wants to create an ‘adopt a disabled person’ day or mandate for the compulsory closing of non-accessible establishments, all I am asking for Is for planning, common sense and compassion when it comes to accessibility and making reasonable adjustments for disabled patrons. I feel it is perfectly reasonable for a multimillionaire businessman to make adaptations to the building at the Polo Lounge which actually houses three G1 ‘gay’ establishments (or four if you count the club within a club) with all but one of them sharing the same toilet facilities.
I raised Robert’s and Nathan’s experience with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland and their Head of Legal told me ‘There is a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when providing goods, facilities or services. What can be considered “reasonable” will vary depending on the circumstances, but service providers must anticipate the needs of disabled people and ensure they meet the law. Every effort should be made to make the business/service as inclusive as possible.
‘A disabled person should never be made to feel humiliated or disenfranchised by the behaviour of a service provider. Unfortunately the truth is that not all services or buildings are accessible to disabled people, but at the very least everyone should be afforded basic dignity and respect.’
The building housing the Polo Lounge at 84 Wilson Street, Glasgow is a Grade A listed building and while the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) does not override other legislative provisions in relation to making adaptations to listed buildings and those businesses occupying listed buildings are still required to make the necessary adaptations to comply with the Equality Act. Service providers are required to make the necessary application to the relevant local authority, in this case Glasgow City Council for consent to carry out the adaptations required to bring the facilities to a compliant standard. While G1 may assert that their occupation of a Grade A listed building would prevent them from making any substantial changes to the fabric of the building, this would be a defence of convenience and unless permission from the council has been sought and refused then the defence asserted becomes transparent.
I trust that with the media spotlight on G1 again, that Stefan King will take this opportunity to put things right and will properly engage with and listen to the often silent members of the disabled LGBT community most of whom it would appear from recent events and behaviours are not welcome in G1’s gay venues within Glasgow.
Robert and Nathan Gale setup a Facebook group which calls for people to boycott G1′s establishments and lists ways people can assist their campaign including writing to Glasgow City Council’s licensing board and attending a demonstration which is still to be planned. The couple has asked G1 for a written apology and compensation in addition to various pieces of information regarding disability access.
What do you think? Is the LGBT community accepting of disabilities? Do you have any experiences of G1 regarding access problems for disabled people?


For Update see here.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Fathers' Day Lament

Unfortunately not everyone has happy memories of supportive parents and wonderful childhoods. On this year's Fathers' Day I have thought about the man who sired me and wish him well, wherever he may be. I am the man I am due to or more likely despite him. For this I am grateful.

it pierces

in your matching navy joggers
in your matching light grey
         woolly teddy-textured fleeces
with matching number two haircuts
the thirty-something man
          in yellow suede Caterpillar boots
and the pre-pubescent boy
          in Nike trainers
hold hands
one on one
the boy calls the man
with filial love in his eyes
the man calls the boy
with paternal love in his eyes
they chat intimately
and walk on
deep in conversation

and it pierces
their comfortable, mutual
I eye them both
I ponder
the reciprocal
of my Father
and me
his eldest son
spurned for the younger
my sporty
the prodigal
who will have nothing
           to do with the family
so my Pater makes do
with his first born
hoping some day
for the return of the submissive one
shaped and honed in his image
rather than the rebellious intellectual
who, despite all
never conformed
to the patriarch's tyrannical
now weakened
and lonely
it's too late for respect
too late for liking
perhaps too late
           for love
it pierces