And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

International Women’s Day 2018

I’m fortunate to have worked with, been inspired by and be aware of a whole bunch of incredible women. While I’m firmly in agreement with Rachel Coldicutt about how women “shouldn’t need a special day to get public visibility”, I’d also like to highlight (in no particular order, and almost certainly missing people I’ve forgotten) a selection of those women who I’m inspired by, grouped by (somewhat arbitrary) category.


I work in software development and although it’s still far from a healthy position with regards to female representation, these are some of the brilliant women I know there:

Sally Goble – an awe-inspiring swimmer (and writer, and speaker), a formidable engineering manager and a warm, compassionate person.

Jenny Sivapalan – a force for good on whatever team she’s on, super-smart developer and manager, and her softball skills speak for themselves.

Huma Islam – an artist as well as technologist and someone who brings unity and finds understanding with the Agile teams she manages. Also brings cheese to the pub.

Annabel Church – a globetrotting convention-challenger who’ll question you, listen to you, support you and then disappear somewhere else completely doing equally inspiring stuff.

Mariana Santos – a whirlwind of colours, ideas, leadership and creativity. Mariana travels the world exploring journalism/tech and bringing more women into newsrooms in Latin America.

Tanya Cordrey – my first female boss and a woman who took a chance on me early on in my career. A strong leader who both listens and inspires.

Annie Moss-Quate – a restless innovator who’s too impatient to sit back and wait for change to happen on its own, so makes it happen herself instead.

Jess Rose – a Birmingham tech legend and seemingly everywhere at once, bringing underrepresented people into focus, asking the difficult questions and shaping communities every day.

Florence Okoye – UX/service designer who gave one of the best talks of TEDxBrum last year on inclusive design. Also good at karaoke.

Katie Connolly – a digital content / social media guru who instinctively understands audiences, planning for them, and producing things they’ll love (as well as being an expert in 90s pop music).

Lynsey Reynolds – a talented designer and illustrator with an intuitive understanding of communicating ideas and concepts via visual mediums, as well as being a massive Harry Potter nerd.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher – author, UX specialist and challenger of tech industry “norms” and toxicity. Read her book!

Erin Kissane – as much in the journalism category as tech, Erin combines supportive outreach via OpenNews with RIGHTEOUS FURY about abuse of power, tech bullshit and everything else in between.

Community / Birmingham

This was a difficult group to create and it’s perhaps a disservice to the women listed here to mark them solely as “Birmingham” – my point is that this is where I’ve discovered their inspiring work.

Immy Kaur – organiser, agitator, teacher and athlete. Immy holds Birmingham to account via her Impact Hub Brum collaboration space, and challenged us to think harder (and work together) with TEDxBrum. Plus her journey to cycling 100 miles last year was fantastic to follow.

Kath Preston – As part of 383 agency, Kath runs Canvas, Birmingham’s biggest tech conference, and somehow manages to fit in a bunch of other events on the side without going completely haywire. Super friendly and always happy to share her knowledge with others too.

Kate Andrews – a Stirchley superhero bringing all kinds of cultural happenings (not least Boardly Games, south Brum’s best gaming meetup!) to our city and helping organising food banks and more. Great surname too.

Kerry Leslie – designer, Loaf mastermind, organiser of community markets and film nights, Kerry does a ton for her community and we’re lucky to have her. Probably as bad as me at reading swapped books, too (I’ll start the Monbiot book soon Kerry I promise).

Laura Creaven – blogger of many colours and keen explorer of Birmingham’s various offerings, Laura always has an interesting, informed and timely take on what’s happening, challenging our city to be better (or just sort the buses out).

Ruth Harvey – another Stirchleyite working hard on making her city great, bringing art, gardening and culture to our lives. Great taste in hats too.

Vicky Osgood – can win round a room of strangers in minutes (and not just because she’s a whisky expert) – witty, smart and funny. Music geek, and somehow knows all the newest places to go. Best hair in B30, too.

Claire Spencer – a hero of local politics and relentless critic of the status quo. Won’t stand for injustice and highly principled.

Rebecca Cowley – a jewelsmith and artisan who makes amazing creations using terrifying machinery. She’s an artist with a great outlook on life and a boundless creative energy. She also makes a mean gin and tonic.


It’s my favourite sport, despite its flaws and failings, and these women, whether riders, writers or advocates, are essential following.

Ayesha McGowan – on a mission to become the first female African-American professional cyclist. She’s funny, motivational and above-all fiercely determined.

Jools Walker – known as “Lady Velo”, Jools writes about cycling in all its forms. She reviews products, is writing a book and presents on TV – all about our favourite two-wheeled machine.

Suzy Clemitson – a hugely well-informed cycling writer who’s also a fierce critic of the doping culture and drugs controversies that inevitably come with it.

Jess Duffy – a bike racer whose tweets and pictures of her riding adventures always make me feel guilty for not going out on the bike more. An advocate of professional women’s cycling and a race organiser as well as a rider.

Sarah Connolly – a hugely important voice in women’s pro cycling, she’s risen from a Twitter feed covering the races nobody was broadcasting to a commentator and journalist well-known in the sport.

Adele Mitchell – an award-winning cycling writer and mountain bike rider whose work has helped encourage more women into the sport.

Amanda Batty – recent author of an awe-inspiringly furious open letter to cycling’s podium girls, as well as being a professional mountain bike racer.

Hannah Nicklin – equally at home in the arts/journalism category as well as bikes, Hannah’s chronicles of her racing and riding is fascinating, inspiring and challenging.

Arts and academia

“Arts” is a bit general, but these women work and explore the creative and academic worlds and are some of the cleverest/most creative people I know.

Namiwa Jazz – still really young and yet a big achiever, she’s organised Namiwa Change Formation to bring women of colour together in the arts, and is a hugely talented singer and songwriter as well as event organiser. One to watch.

Affie Jam – though we’ve never met, I follow her music and thoughts via Twitter and am always blown away by her talent, honesty, challenges and thoughtfulness. And that guitar is incredible too.

Josie Long – not only a comedian, Josie is an activist and agitator who speaks up for those who can’t and firmly points us in the direction of things we should support. I once saw her finish a set in a pub and immediately sit down alongside a Tory heckler and spend 40 minutes debating him, politely but firmly interrogating his divisive beliefs. Josie talks the talk and walks the walk, too.

Soofiya – an artist whose zines and exhibits are always riotous, hilarious and challenging all at once. I saw her speak at an event and was impressed at her quick-fire ideas, and her work and illustrations are always multi-faceted and engaging.

Elaine – we’ve known each other online from back in the days when Livejournal was still a thing, and her rise to pun-driven activist has been fantastic to watch. Another person it’s impossible to categorise, you should just stop reading this and go and follow her for her insight and wit. Especially during Eurovision.

Laura Mulkerne – Laura is an inspiring example of someone who’s been dealt a bad card (in her case, IBS) and ripped it up and made it work for her instead (launching a food diary company to support other people with gut health issues). She doesn’t give up (she’s from Yorkshire), she’s adventurous and smart and can rap all of Hamilton.

Connie Wan – Connie is a polyglot academic, expert not only in art history but also in the realms of gin, shoes, and DIY. She’s pretty much singlehandedly run arts institutions and is currently travelling the world being awesome and doing research engagement.

Emily Collins – Em is one of my most accomplished friends in both the world of language and cyber security, as well as the world of dogs. She’s been on TV, she’s got a PhD, and she’s also massively into weird goth/punk rock and isn’t even embarrassed about it.

Rachel Eskesen – Rachel is super-smart, compassionate, bold and adventurous. She’s lived in more countries than most people have even visited and is constantly highlighting the struggles of people who need our support.

Lizzy Finn – Liz is a kind of polymath, excelling at everything she turns her hand to and not afraid to rise to new challenges in spite of adversity and obstacles. We lived together as housemates for years and throughout university she helped me get my head around academia (her PhD helped) as well as terrible movies, experimental cooking and the rules of a game called “wine”. She’s also from a family made of strong women that I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and it’s where she gets her strength.


Mona Chalabi – her inspired charting and data visualisation work has made complex issues understandable to millions of people, and even manages to amuse them along the way.

Jess Parker – we worked on the student paper at university and now Jess reports on Westminster for the BBC (after stints on the radio and more). Unflappable, hilarious and brilliant.

Hannah Jane Parkinson – a writer whose work is unflinchingly truthful, engaging, witty and cool all at once. She’s a vital voice and her work on mental health in particular is crucial.

Elena Cresci – an expert in memes, but with a flair for writing, presenting and crafting to boot. Len is a proud Welshwoman and her writing/thoughts on feminism, mental health always stands out.

Erica Buist – a features writer with a gift to make you burst out laughing on public transport, but also to catch yourself in the middle of a paragraph becoming lost in thought as her words uncover something you’d never realised before. Ask her about her (Instagram-friendly) pets!

Leila Haddou – a data journalist with a flair for the technical as well as reporting, Leila runs tech meetups and training events in London aiming to bring together journalists and developers and share her impressive abilities with others.

Jemima Kiss – former head of technology at the Guardian and an all-round beam of energy, ideas and collaboration. Never happy to sit back and accept limitations, she’s always pushing for change, closer working and breaking down boundaries.

Jasmine Andersson – co-founder of The Second Source, a women in journalism group aiming to challenge sexual harassment in the media. Her writing on LGBT issues and feminism is particular urgent too.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett – her Guardian columns are always personal and yet relatable, and her writing on autism and housing in particular is moving and challenging all at once.

Frances Perraudin – a much-needed northern correspondent at the Guardian, Fran’s writing is incisive and insightful. She also worked to better integrate journalists and developers while we both worked at the Guardian – always a challenge but never not worth it.

Aisha Gani – former BuzzFeed and Guardian journalist with a strong eye for a story (and a photograph, too). An important voice on British Islam and global politics.

Sophie Warnes – a data journalist full of curiosity and ideas, some of which she shares in newsletter roundups each week. Always entertaining and her work is clear and engaging too.

Lyra McKee – a proper investigative reporter from Belfast covering media, Northern Ireland, LGBT issues and more. She’s also a speaker and mentor for other young journalists.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael – formerly of BuzzFeed and the FT and owner of a distinctive voice in online writing, she’s inspiring because she constantly challenges us to be better and accept no bullshit.

Ali Schofield – a former colleague and now a freelance writer, Ali has probably covered every topic you can think of and written about it with wit, eloquence and warmth. She’s also an artist and columnist for the Big Issue, with lots to say on the environment.

Reni Eddo-Lodge – author of “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and responsible for awakening plenty of ignorant folks (myself included) about the structural racism that continues to dominate our country.

Paris Lees – writing candidly on sex, mental health, trans/gender issues and politics, Paris is provocative and challenging and a really important voice (and figurehead) in the gender movement.

Misc / other

I also want to highlight some other great women in my life: those in my family and loved ones.

My sisters: Katie and Georgina Andrews, two women who are strong, powerful, emotionally intelligent and clever – just like the connecting chain of strong matriarchs in our family who lived through tough times and brought up families and communities through it all. Likewise my mother, Irene Andrews, who’s the woman I’m most proud to know above everyone else on this list (come on, she’s my mum) – her strength, understanding, love and support (while achieving some enormous things along the way, not least being a CEO and studying for an MA) is key to any success I’ve personally had. Similarly my extended family (cousins, aunts, etc) is made up of amazing women who’ve shouldered huge burdens, taken on big challenges, and beaten them. They’re all inspirational.

And finally, there’s Madeleine McGarrie, my partner of the last decade and the woman who inspires me every day. She doesn’t give up, she finds solutions where others only see problems, she’s endlessly creative and playful and brimming with ideas, and she’s a resourceful leader with ambition and focus. She’s also a ruthless board game player and will take you to town without mercy at Cluedo or Carcassonne. She’s a unifier and unique and I’m incredibly lucky to be her partner – just as I’m lucky and grateful to know all of the women in this list.

On being #woke (or: privilege, minorities and ignorance)

I’ve experienced being a minority twice in my life.

The first time was in 2014 (when I was 27) at a Guardian event featuring Sheryl Sandberg promoting her “Lean In” book. My girlfriend bought me a ticket and I attended in solidarity despite not being the target audience. In a room with a capacity of perhaps 500, I was one of maybe 20-30 men in the room. As I looked around me, all I could see were women (both on the stage and in the seats).

I began to feel uncomfortable, feeling that I was taking the seat of a woman who could’ve benefited from the talk content more than me. As the talk began, Sandberg asked the men in the audience to raise their hands. She got the audience to applaud us, making some crack about us being boyfriend material. It was cute, but immediately afterwards I felt that guilt return as I realised that I’d been given extra credit for showing up and contributing nothing, solely because I was a man.

This was balanced somewhat by the brilliant Jemima Kiss who was interviewing Sandberg on stage – in the Q&A section I debated asking a question but decided not to (with the same reasoning as above). In the pub afterwards I mentioned this to Jemima who immediately said “good – because I wouldn’t have picked you”.

The second time in my life that I experienced being a minority was midway through 2017 (when I was 31) at an event called Wile Out in Birmingham. It’s an open mic night aimed at (and run by) women of colour performing music, poetry and live art. I went along partly to support a new event in my city, partly to hear some new music/poetry, and partly because I realised there was a huge subculture in the city I lived in that I knew nothing about.

I was one of perhaps four white people in a room of 50 or so people of colour – the first time I’ve ever experienced this. Of course this speaks to the lack of diversity in my own social groups and events, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. At no point did anyone make me feel unwelcome (quite the opposite) but throughout the whole experience I felt—for the first time in my life—like an imposter. This event was intended as a safe space for people of colour, a gathering for their community and a space to be together and collaborate. As a white man entering that space, was I breaking it apart just by being there?

Again, nobody there made me feel unwelcome and I chatted to folks and enjoyed the music and poetry hugely. I was again reminded of my own cultural ignorance: as poets performed and dropped lines that resonated with the audience, people clicked their fingers in appreciation of strong words well-spoken. I’d never come across this before—in my ignorance—and was impressed. At the equivalent white events I’d been to (okay, so nobody markets an open-mic night as being aimed at white people, but we all know the kinds of performers you typically see here) there was nothing like this; just po-faced performers with Radio 4 intonation.

Bridget Minamore performed and read some fantastic work, and she introduced her poems by talking about how she felt she was at home and with friends who’d get her references – again, I felt that imposter status: I wasn’t part of this world and she was only comfortable performing like this because there weren’t more people there like me. At one point she asked for a beat and audience members clapped out a bass rhythm while someone beat the wall with their feet to make a snare noise while she spoke over the top of it – it was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

Getting out of your comfort zone is important and attempting to get a feeling for what actual minorities experience every single day is essential. I can never claim to know what that feels like and I never will thanks to my privilege and status.

Even in my pathetic two instances here, I was given treatment above and beyond what others would experience because of my status playing life on “the easiest difficulty setting”.

I walked away from Wile Out feeling both inspired, embarrassed at myself and motivated to do more to support this kind of stuff and to offer up the spotlight that disproportionately targets me (and other folks like me) onto others.

I’ll still fail and I’ll still embarrass myself at my ignorance but knowing that ignorance is there to be eradicated is the first step in itself, I hope.

Buying a house

We left London in 2015 because getting on the housing ladder seemed impossible. Our landlord in our small 1-bedroom flat in zone 3 offered us “first refusal” on the place he was kicking us out of to sell – £370k. We refused.

Birmingham was a place that seemed on the up: interesting job prospects, a large, diverse city with a good food/arts scene, and close to all the places our friends/families lived. We moved and began saving in earnest.

Two years later we were in a good position to buy a house. This post summarises what we learned along the way.

1. House-hunting takes ages

We spent 2-3 months doing house viewings, which quickly became exhausting as we spent entire weekends trooping around Birmingham on public transport, or leaving work early trying to squeeze in a 2 bed in Kings Heath before 5.30pm. Maddy liked the very first place we saw (located on the street we already lived on) but I felt like we needed to see quite a few so that the novelty wore off and we got a bit more discerning.

Trying to get a feel for a place you’ll spend a significant chunk of your life (and income) in/on is quite difficult when you only have fifteen minutes and there’s three other couples wandering around and examining the boiler. I knocked on walls and switched on taps, uncertain what I was meant to be looking for, but conscious that I might miss something obvious.

Some estate agents left us to it, while others followed us round pointing out obvious things. Some were rude (one openly laughed in my face when I asked if he thought the house would go for the asking price). Some were sick of trying to sell impossible places (one house we viewed was filled with cabinets of the current owner’s collection of little statues of dogs dressed up as historical figures) and looked unsurprised when we left quickly.

Soon it became a case of making a booking to view a place on-the-spot because they were being snapped up so quickly, and Rightmove alerts became our friend. You know within seconds of walking in whether the place is right for you, but after a while the process deadens you to the reality.

2. Making an offer is rubbish

Once the mystery of trooping around someone else’s home and trying to imagine it as yours is over, you’ll be faced with the poker-like scenario of making an offer on the place. Better experts than me have written about the tactics and techniques to master this. All I can say is that it’s rubbish. As a first-timer, you probably have no idea what everyone else is bidding (and estate agents will say anything they can to stoke the fires), and likely won’t have enough experience to really sense when you should—or shouldn’t—improve your offer.

One viewing we did surprised me when the agent told us exactly how many offers they’d had and what the highest one was. Nobody else had ever been as upfront as this – every other agent was very cagey about this (“can’t tell you” was a common refrain). In the end we had to just work out what we could afford and take a gamble on how close we could get to/from the asking price for the seller to accept.

3. Chains are as frustrating as everyone says they are

We lost six months waiting for a chain to resolve before we found a better house and pulled out. It was massively frustrating (not least for the sellers, who lost their onward purchase almost immediately after accepting our offer) as we just felt time ticking away. Not all chains take this long but the lack of updates made things difficult to bear, and the sense that the sellers didn’t seem to be doing much to find their next place or keep us happy (though this is difficult to blame them for – their place was lovely and would be quickly snapped up again if it went back on the market). We asked if they’d consider moving out and renting, but no dice.

In the end a bigger place came up for a good price which was chain-free and we jumped at it – after waiting half a year in the previous chain to progress little further than surveys/searches, we progressed from viewing to completion within two months on the second house (which included Christmas/New Year).

If you’re like we were and first-time buyers, consider holding out until you find a chain-free place. Otherwise be prepared to wait. Indefinitely.

4. The entire process is stacked against the buyer

I was surprised at the amount of things we had to pay for that seemed like they should be the seller’s responsibility. I understand that a survey on a house is in my interest as the buyer, but it seems bizarre that if we decided not to purchase based on its results, someone else might come along, commission a similar survey, and make the same decision. Is it not possible for the seller to commission a single, independent survey, and provide this to (serious) buyers? We lost hundreds of pounds when we pulled out of the first purchase on the various searches and surveys that were completed – all of which would presumably be paid for again (returning the same information) by whoever ultimately purchased the house. I guess this kind of thing keeps the property industry going.

Likewise at the offer stage, we were being asked to make “blind” or “best and final” offers against others with no context or knowledge of their circumstances. This can result in nervous one-upmanship where there might not even be any counter-bids (for all you know). Many estate agents asked to see proof of our funds, which handily meant they could make reasonable guesses at our total budget (and therefore encourage us to increase our bids).

5. Nobody tells you about the guilt

Compared to my friends where I grew up in Nottingham, we’ve purchased a house quite late (at 30/31). But other groups of friends (eg. most of my London mates) aren’t in our position due to the costs there, and I feel a quite strong sense of guilt for our privilege despite buying our home with our own money and savings.

On the day I went to pay the deposit for the mortgage I was waiting outside the bank when two homeless men stopped me to ask me what day it was (for real). After they left I reflected about how I was about to go and transfer tens of thousands of pounds for a house, while they didn’t even know it was Friday. As soon as we moved in I set up a regular donation to Shelter, but even then I felt like a middle class wanker.

We also benefitted from some Conservative government policies – a couple of weeks before we exchanged contracts the Tories axed Stamp Duty for first-time buyers, which saved us a couple of grand. This was great news and basically bought us some furniture, but we didn’t need the policy change – we were planning to buy anyway and had budgeted for paying it. Criticism of that policy suggested it wouldn’t help the people who really need it (what’s £1300 or so when you have to find £20k?) and we certainly felt like it.

Similarly, we both had Help To Buy ISAs which earned us about £2.5k in bonuses. Again, we were just using the system as intended and saving money for several years, but I still feel somehow complicit with the Tories by benefitting financially from policies that shouldn’t be helping fortunate people like me. I still don’t really know how to feel about this.

Closing thoughts

So, with all of that said, was there anything good about the experience? Well, getting the keys to our own home that nobody (well, besides the mortgage provider) can kick us out of was fantastic. Not having to put up with someone else’s bizarro decorating choices is awesome. And feeling like I’ve levelled up as an adult was pretty cool too. But I don’t want to do it again for quite a long time.

Things I’ve learned organising events

I’ve been running a regular music meetup event for over two years now, across two cities (London and Birmingham). While it’s a small event and a bit specialist/niche, I’ve learned a thing or two while running it and thought I’d share some learnings here.

Put it on Facebook

I know, I know – this sounds obvious. Maybe it is – I’ve not had a Facebook account since 2011 so for me personally, I don’t tend to discover events there. It turns out that everyone else does, though. A few people persistently nagged me to create a Page for the event, which I eventually did – it allowed me to tap into a wider network (I was previously just using Twitter), and I did a few paid ads right at the start to grow a bit of an audience. The first time I saw a user share an upcoming event with some of their friends without me knowing anyone involved, it was all worth it.

Rope your friends in


I’m very lucky to have a loyal band of friends who come out to the things that I organise – those folks are worth their weight in gold. If you’re starting something, make sure you rope in a few trusty people to come along and even promote the event amongst their own networks. It’s helpful to have a few friendly faces there for your own sanity, but also means conversation can flow a bit at the start as people arrive, rather than a roomful of complete strangers sitting in awkward silence. Just avoid it becoming cliquey where it’s a bunch of folks who already know each other just catching up instead.

Find a good venue and make friends with the people running it

I’m very grateful to Cherry Reds in Birmingham which has hosted Off The Record since late 2015. They gave me a small room for free which we’ve eventually outgrown, and they’ve repaid our loyalty by upgrading us to the bigger room (which used to carry a hire fee). I’ve gotten to know the staff a little and they’ve been super helpful, letting me come in to test out sound systems, sharing our promotional posts on their social media, and being really perceptive and accommodating about the event itself (eg. being sensitive to the fact we’re an album-listening event and not disturbing the room during quiet moments etc). It also makes it easier for attendees that they know where we’ll be each month. Take the time to track down a good venue, look at where other events host theirs, and explain to the owners your goals and schedule. They’ll be happy to have regular business if you can prove to them you’ll bring an audience.

Experiment with different promotion


I’ve already mentioned Facebook, but there are other tools. A fellow event organiser suggested I use, which would apparently help me reach a huge new audience. I paid my $15/month and, yep, I had 40 or so signups within a couple of days. Sadly, almost all of these people are no-shows when they list themselves as “attending”, or just never sign up to attend in the first place. It’s only because of the loyalty of three or four regulars there that I keep paying the subscription price. I’ve also learned to be brutal and delete people from the group who never turn up, as once I pass 50 members I have to pay even more.

I also tried getting coverage from local Birmingham music promoters/press, but none of them ever featured anything I sent them. I didn’t chase hard on this and I’m sure they’re more concerned with promoting live music (and fair enough) – I think if you already have a good social media network, though, you can work around this. Sometimes a good tweet can reach a relevant local audience regardless of what account it’s from.

Word of mouth works too – quite a few people I’ve spoken to recently have heard about my event now, even if they’ve not been. That’s partly because I’ve been running it on a monthly basis for the last year or so – at the start, it’s going to be difficult to build it from nowhere, but getting some momentum (and keeping it regular, not sporadic) will help.

Host it properly

My event is a discussion forum: once we’ve heard the album of the month, we talk about it. I’m not a strict moderator but I do try to intervene if someone gets a bit self-indulgent with their thoughts on 1970s prog, or dominates the conversation somehow. Equally I try to keep things moving along before the event just turns into people chatting down at the pub – this is fun of course, but makes things feel less like an event and more like, well… just being at the pub, and therefore people might be less likely to come back in future specifically for your event.

posterI always introduce the event formally (well, semi-formally), standing up at the start to greet everyone and introduce the concept, even though half the room are usually regulars who’ve heard me say it before. It helps contextualise things and set the tone. I also do a quick, fun intro where I get everyone to introduce themselves along with a quick, music-related fact that changes each month (eg. the first album they bought, their favourite Christmas song, etc). This helps loosen everyone up a little, and again, emphasises that we’re here to share an experience together, not just sit in a pub for a bit.

These things have all improved with time: I’m still improving on things like branding (I think we’ve outgrown the A4 paper and blutack for the event posters, for example) and promotion (my Twitter friends are probably sick of me posting about it at the end of every month).

Running an event can sometimes feel like a massive chore: you have to persuade loads of people that they should come out to your thing, you have to discuss with venues about audience size and room hire fees if you’re unlucky, and you have to stand up and do some public speaking. At the end of mine I’m always knackered, although this has been improving – again, great friends who are regulars often pitch in to help me out with setup tasks.

But on the other hand, I always get a massive buzz from doing it. Usually at some point in the night when I know things have got off without a hitch, I look around the room and smile, feeling proud that I’ve brought these people together for an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise had. You too can bask in that warm glow! Organise something, rope in some mates for moral support, spam everyone on social media – then have a beer at the end. You’ll have earned it.

#harkive 2017

Note: this blog entry is for the #harkive project, an annual popular music research project that asks people to tell the tale of HowWhere and Why they listen to music on a single day each year. You can find more about that project on the official site.

I wake up to the sound of Radio 4, perhaps the most middle class of awakenings. It’s on the alarm clock and I quickly switch it off: sometimes you need a coffee inside you before you can stand an extended John Humphrys monologue.

I travel to work in silence besides the noise of the bus, preferring to read a magazine without musical distraction until I arrive at work. My first proper music listening of the day doesn’t start until 11am when I finish all of my just-got-to-the-office catchups, discussions and meetings and am able to escape into my headphones.

I’m quite bad when it comes to listening to old favourites rather than new music so I start off with a classic: At The Drive-In’s 2000 album “Relationship of Command”. I was obsessed with this band in the early 2000s—just after they split—and was a bit disappointed by their recent new album, so I return this one for its sheer urgency and power. Every time I hear it fires me up and takes me back to being 17 and angry, presumably at something.

After this blast I need something a bit more casual so I decide to turn to Wikipedia to see if there’s any musical history happening today. It turns out that July 25th 1965 was the date that Dylan went electric at Newport Folk Festival, so I pop on “Bringing It All Back Home”, some of which featured in Dylan’s controversial set. I was all set to listen to a playlist of the actual songs he performed that day but it turns out nobody’s created one on Spotify and since I’m too lazy, I stick to the album. It’s a good mix: some ballads, some stompers and a classic or two. I still love the laughter at the start of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”.

After lunch I decide I should probably listen to something recorded in the last decade, then remember reading an interview with HAIM the other day which means they probably have a new record out. I caught some of their set at Glastonbury in 2014 and enjoyed it so I give their new release, last month’s “Something To Tell You” a spin. I end up adding “Nothing’s Wrong” to my “class” Spotify playlist (eg. good songs) for its Fleetwood Mac-esque soft rock beauty (and those backing vocals). The rest of the album blurred past as I worked and a few songs piqued my interest, but I find myself more interested in the code I’m writing for most of its duration.

With a post-lunch slump setting in, I decide to take a coffee break and head outside. Before, though, I banish an earworm and play “Ghosts” by the Jam, a song I habitually noodle whenever I pick up a guitar. I first came across it via a cover by Ted Leo, but the original version has a neat horn section in the back of the mix which really picks it up. This song also got used in an episode of Eastenders as the funeral music for Kevin Wicks (aka Phil Daniels of Parklife fame). Trivia!

I spend a little time paging through my music collection for an event I’m running tonight, “Off The Record”. It’s a record club (like a book club) with a different theme each time. This month our theme is “A European Union” so I scan through my library for bands made up of Europeans. It’s harder than I thought – turns out I listen to a lot of North American artists. Amongst the Euros I do track down, though, are Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, The Tallest Man On Earth, Jaga Jazzist and Django Reinhardt. I add these to my playlist for later and leave the office to head to the pub where I run my music event.

On the way there I listen to the ITV Cycling podcast on my phone. They produce a daily show for the Tour de France, recorded by the same staff who produce the TV commentary and daily highlights package for TV. They must do the podcast last and every episode is hilarious because they’re either desperate to wrap up, rehashing stuff they’ve already said on camera, or taking the piss out of each other (probably after a few glasses of wine, too). This might not sound like a great advert but it’s a fun show and the camaraderie between the presenters makes it an engaging listen.

This time I’m catching up on the final episode from Sunday’s stage into Paris, and at one point, presenter Ned Boulting makes a joke about what he can hear in his earpiece from his director when broadcasting live. He jokingly makes a radio fuzz noise into the mic, when suddenly my headphones come loose from the socket and the audio becomes muffled and just emits an irregular clicking noise. I listen to this for almost a minute, thinking it’s an extended joke about how bad their in-ear audio gets, before I realise it’s a problem at my end and plug the cable back in properly. Oops.

Soon I’m at the pub and get the equipment set up for that night’s Off The Record event. Our theme is “A European Union” so we’re listening to music from the continent. I switch on my playlist from earlier for background music but after a while I find Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros a bit too soft (sorry, Joe) so I put on Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (“Shake The Sheets”, perhaps their best record) to liven things up.

Eventually it’s time for our album: each month a group of 20 or so Birmingham music nerds get together and we listen to an album together, then talk about it. It’s an event I’ve been running for two years now and it’s a fun night. This month we’re listening to The Whitest Boy Alive’s 2009 album “Rules” which I’ve never heard before. It’s a danceable, upbeat affair with introspective lyrics and a clean, simple vibe. I enjoy the album, and the songs everyone else plays after it’s done (see the official site for that playlist!). I also contribute a song myself: “Day” by Norwegian jazz fusion pioneers Jaga Jazzist. I can’t stop myself from picking out the piano and guitar notes with my fingers on the table as it plays: it’s that kind of song.

The night draws to a close and I’m probably a few drinks ahead of where I should be, given I have an early flight the next morning. We grab a cab and hear the sound of the city receding behind us as we head home. The last sounds I hear before drifting off are a brief excerpt from the Alan Partridge audiobook—read by Steve Coogan—which is as ridiculous as it is funny.

With the exception of Off The Record this has been a typical day for my music listening, albeit one a little more focused than usual. Deliberating over what to listen to can turn into a Netflix-esque “nah, I don’t fancy that” so it’s refreshing sometimes to just jump into something without thinking too much, like I did with HAIM. Spotify is great at recommending me things I’ve missed, and perhaps I need that gentle nudge to avoid rehashing things I’ve heard a thousand times before. I’ll be checking out the collaborative #harkive playlist to see what other things I missed today.