Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ten Past The Tempest: Spoken Word by Testament

The Tempest has to be one of Shakespeare’s stranger plays. This year the show, ‘Ten Past The Tempest’ takes the renowned work and reimagines it – in a northern bus station. This is a gritty and startling re-telling, with all the mind-bending magic of the original.

The story is given its special twist by Testament, the acclaimed beatboxer and spoken word artist, who uses words to take us on a journey as dark as it is wondrous. His version was penned to commemorate 400 years since the death of the bard. He uses rap, beatbox, song and spoken word to transport us from the past to the present; from the world of Shakespeare to a grim, stark concrete bus station in a post-industrial north.

See ‘Ten Past the Tempest’ by Testament on 20 October 2016 at Hopwood Hall College Theatre Middleton as part of Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival.

No-one From Nowhere – 21 Pilots

What makes a super fan? Watching 21 Pilots at Leeds Festival the cult of the fan is on my mind.

“Where we’re from, we’re no one…” That certainly was not the case at Leeds Festival 2016 as the 20,000 capacity NME tent heaves from the front to the back, an excited buzz hanging over the audience in anticipation of the band that has captured the attention of so many people in such a short space of time.

On the face of it, it’s easy to look at the crowd at a Twenty One Pilots concert and say “that’s a dedicated bunch right there.” It’s completely obvious. However, as I’m standing in the crowd at Leeds Festival’s NME tent, crushed between groups of bubbling fans sporting red beanies, red eye shadow and shirts sporting the band’s logo all struggling to get to the front, it’s very apparent that there’s a lot more to the dedication the fans feel than meets the eye.

twenty one pilots

Despite fifty minutes being a relatively short time compared to the slots other bands had at the festival, it becomes clear very quickly it’s all band members Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun need to have their audience in the palm of their hand. Throughout their set, Joseph comes across as a conductor, whether it be standing on a raised platform with his arms above his head as he guides the audience through the squealing synths and Dun’s breakbeats of explosive set opener ‘Heavydirtysoul’ or slowly swaying as the nuanced bassline of their hit song ‘Stressed Out’ rumbles throughout the tent, with the audience hanging on (and usually screaming) every word.

The question of what it is that makes this particular fanbase tick has stuck with me ever since I started listening to this band, and it was very prominent in my mind as I moved with the crowd, jumping and screaming every word back at the band (my voice still hasn’t completely recovered). And so, I decided to find out, by asking a handful of fans at the festival what it was about this particular band that meant so much to so many people.

Talking to a fan at the main stage prior to the band’s set, she points out that more often than not with the band, it’s not just the music, it’s the subjects that they tackle within the songs such as mental health issues and inner turmoil. She goes on to say that Joseph articulates his lyrics in such a way as to connect with the audience making them feel like they’re not alone, which she describes as “beautiful.” Her point is really driven home as I watch the huge crowd passionately belting all the words to every song.

Tara, a fellow fan of the band, reached out to offer her thoughts on the band and what they meant to her. She pointed out that the band and many of their songs represented “the two sides of you” as well as “accepting your dark side and learning to overcome it.” These two concepts have influenced the band’s most recent album, ‘Blurryface’ and its supporting tour, with Joseph’s on stage persona representing the battle between what we see on the surface and the alter-ego of Blurryface, the embodiment of all his anxieties and insecurities.

While awaiting the start of the band’s set, I spoke with another more mature fan embodying the cultish nature of the fanbase, sporting a dark colour scheme in his clothes and a red beanie, mirroring Joseph’s on-stage character while simultaneously proving that their appeal is not limited to strictly younger generations. He highlighted the positive, almost self-help attitude the band holds towards mental health issues, suggesting that it played a part in their rapid rise to the world stage, with lots of struggling people connecting to the songs and using them as a lifeline. In addition, he also brought a more straightforward point to the table.

“They’re just good at what they do, and when someone’s that good at what they do, you can’t keep them a secret forever.”

And as Joseph leapfrogs from his piano, fist clenched and punching the air while the twenty thousand fans scream in delight to the crescendo of a song, it’s hard to disagree.

words Will Walton

Nothing Can Kill Me – Adil Omar

How I found my way to Adil Omar – The underground rapper from Pakistan

I was first introduced to rap aged seven by a ten year old neighbour playing the 50 Cent song ‘In da club’. When I was at school it was the age of bluetoothing songs to friends. This made me listen to music which I knew my friends liked. In my early teens I was listening to black American rappers and British Asian mainstream rappers, including Ice Cube, Xzibit, Dr Dre, Mets & Trick and Bohemia. Then a new rapper surfaced – Yo Yo Honey Singh. One listen to this guy and I questioned all the music I was listening to. I now enjoy a mix of soulful music, rock as well as rap. And my favourite rapper at the moment is an underground rapper from Pakistan called Adil Omar, who raps in English to broaden his appeal. So how did I find my way to Adil Omar?

Adil started writing at nine years old and immersed himself in music after his father passed away when he was 10. He started recording at 14. He mentions his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s amnesia in his song Daddy’s Eyes. At first he put his music on the internet for free, but this caught the attention of American rapper B-Real and he was invited to LA. At first his mother refused to believe that he could make a living out of his music, especially when he dropped out of school. He now has 80,000 followers on Facebook and has made songs with international artists including Xzibit, Hard Target, Bun-B and Everlast.

Many artists in Pakistan write political songs against government corruption or terrorism. Adil Omar does not follow this trend, and if he preaches anything it is individuality. There are subtle references so people know which side of the fence he is on. However when the Pakistani government banned Youtube in response, they said, to the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, Adil Omar was moved to make a song against censorship, as Youtube is the main source of income for many artists in Pakistan. He also believed that the real reason for the ban was a series of anti-government videos which surfaced at the same time.

The song, #KholoBC, was recorded in 2014 with producer and partner Talal Qureshi and comedian-rapper Ali Gul Pir. Kholo means ‘open’ and BC stands for Ban Chor. This sounds like a swearword in Urdu, as well as combining the English word ‘ban’ with ‘chor’ meaning thief. The song went viral and is credited with the lifting of the ban in 2016.
Some lines from his songs really resonate with me. He sings “I’m stuck with my father’s personality”, and I too feel stuck with my father’s personality, some good bits and some bad bits. I have his temper and large vocabulary of swear words. I don’t have his punctuality. I do have his love of cars.

In Broken Man, Omar sings, “I’m the raw deal, No drugs, so it makes the pain more real, so tough, rock hard, nothing can kill me.”

Rappers are known to influence young people into taking drugs. Not this one. This particular line reminds me of work experience at school, when three other students were trying to get me to smoke weed. However, I stayed “rock hard” and didn’t’ allow them to persuade me.

Adil Omar was not in fact the first Pakistani rapper I was interested in. That was an American Pakistani rapper called Lazarus (Kamran Rashid Khan) who is a doctor and rapper. This made me want to find more Pakistani rappers and I discovered Adil Omar on Youtube with his controversial but fun song Paki Rambo. Adil Omar and Lazarus are equally talented writers, but Adil varies the mood of his songs from happy to sad, from controversial to emotional. This means that I don’t know what to expect from him next. He does not have fans in the millions, but those he has really value his talent. Adil says ‘I don’t have a target audience – I target the audience’. I am a British Pakistani and Adil Omar has successfully targeted me as well as many Pakistanis whose first language is not English.

words Farriss Aslam

Hunting for the Baum Rabbit

“It’s haunted, Rochdale, y’know!” Who’s afraid of the big bad rabbit?

words Daniel Lamb, illustration Evelyn Taylor


Picture the scene. I am standing in the shadow of St. Mary-in-the-Baum at the bottom of Toad Lane in Rochdale. It is fast approaching the witching hour. The moon is hovering in the sky like a silver grin. I am cold. I am alone. I am waiting for a rabbit.

“Mark my words, it’s haunted, Rochdale, y’know.

An old man once said this to me while I was wandering through Rochdale one grey afternoon. His eerie proclamation came after he had just told me, apropos of nothing, about a Victorian woman he’d seen floating along the corridors of the Town Hall. Some might have laughed. Others would have dismissed the old man as crazy and got on with their lives. But I was more open-minded to his claims. After all, I knew about The Baum Rabbit.

It’s quiet out here in the churchyard and in the quiet I am remembering the tales I have heard about The Baum Rabbit since it was first brought to my attention some years ago. It would be easy to dismiss them as nothing more than silly stories, easy to call the whole thing an urban legend, easy were I not standing directly within its haunting grounds. Right now, while my imagination transforms shadows into spectres, I remember the stories. And I begin to wonder.

A ghost rabbit with fur as white as snow and eyes as red as blood that haunts the grounds of St Mary’s Church – the earliest account of the ghostly apparition seems to be the one included in Rochdale Past and Present: a History and Guide published in 1876. There, it is suggested to have been spotted nightly and said to be invulnerable to pellets or air guns.

‘The Baum Rabbit was seen at certain times and was held up as frightener of children. ‘The Baum Rabbit will get you,’ they used to say,’ Mrs. Mary Issacs, a retired schoolteacher, writes of the rabbit in her memoirs. ‘This, together with the litter of rusting cans, dog and cat dirt, paper, old rags and so on, and a peculiar feeling of isolation, gave the area a very sinister atmosphere, even in summer.’
“I’ve seen it, lad,” the old man told me, nodding hard, his eyes wide, when I asked what he knew about The Baum Rabbit. “Years ago, this was. Believe me. Rochdale is haunted.”

And so the legend persists.

But when was the last time it was seen? I had heard tell that it follows a cycle, appearing every 125 years, and before I left my house to go hunting I couldn’t help but wonder whether that cycle had come around again.

So I stand in the grounds of St. Mary’s Church and I’m starting to feel a little silly. I’m thinking about calling it a night. I start to leave the churchyard, but before I can reach the cobbles at the bottom of Toad Lane, I find myself glancing back.

I stare at the patch of grass for a moment.  Was that? Just a trick of the light, I think, and then disappear off into the night.

Estaters – Unmasking Kirkholt

Built in 1945 (building work was started by German prisoners of war) and named after a farm demolished to make way for the ambitious project, the Kirkholt Estate is one of the largest housing estates in the UK. Geographically the estate is a steep maze of streets and infamous ginnels giving way to rural spaces in its upper reaches; culturally it’s a proud community constantly battling decline and notoriety. So what do the unusually high proportion of young people who live there think of the estate that they call home?

words mariah bhatti
photography jonny boxall

I have lived in Kirkholt all my life, born and bred. When I was growing up we were the only Asian family on the estate and we did face racism at school but not on our estate. But so much has changed in recent years. It’s a much more diverse community now and the community still works together continually to improve reality for all, and recreate the safe and loving atmosphere which attracted people to the beautiful estate in the first place.

My granddad Haji Khadam Bhatti moved to the estate 42 ago. He used to work in Oldham and was drawn to Kirkholt by the lively atmosphere, well-built houses, the varied shops, and friendly neighbourhood. He doesn’t think much of the new houses and is sad at the destruction of the shopping area and the demolition of houses and flats contributing to the housing crisis. But we have settled a big family on a massive estate and our neighbours have become dear friends. My dad Anees Bhatti, says it was, and still is, a great place to live and mum Shazia loves the mannerisms of Kirkholt residents and their welcoming attitudes.

So, a community thriving with diversity and culture hidden amongst a forever growing society. A local community centre bursting with life – a gym, a dance floor and more. A youth club, the Youth Zone – singing, dancing young people, not causing trouble or messing around, just having fun and laughing like clowns. Tenacious Youth, run by Kirkholt Community Church, ever so resilient, providing activities for young people. Junior wardens, KPlay, The Well – all there for residents to take advantage of. Well, that’s the way it was..

A dark cloud covers the entire estate now. But glimmers of hope still remain. Rochdale Youth Service has been granted a small amount to fund youth projects. The park has been refurbished – a skatepark for kids to use, BMX bikes, skateboards, scooters all zooming down the ramps. Local people of all ages enjoy the Kirky Kitchen at St Thomas’s church. Instead of paying for what you eat and drink, Kirky Kitchen charges per minute for the time you spend in the café. It’s 3p per minute for ages 13+, 2p for ages 5-12, and under 5s are free, like the delicious food made by local people. What’s not to love?

Residents help to run Rochdale Help the Homeless, a charity run purely on donations and the generosity of the public. Hundreds of people have been helped, those that central and local government tend to dismiss. Homelessness is a real issue in Rochdale and one we must face up to.

Young people on Kirkholt have plenty of other ideas for improving our estate. “Something to do in our holidays – cinema trips, sports activities, days out.” “A bike shop, recycling and reusing old bikes and spare parts to make new bikes for people on the estate to use.” “Music and art clubs for every age group, especially teens – a way to interact and share emotions.”

It’s time to make a positive difference which will change people’s lives for the better.


Railroaded – Fast-tracking with Hannah

Train journeys are full of studied tedium, punctuated with jolts of intensity that pull you from your stupor. One of my most shocking moments was to witness a female passenger start to give birth and the conductor flailing as his charge screamed and yelped.

The artist Hannah Butterfield has made it her ambition to experience and portray the chance meetings that happen whilst travelling by train. ‘21,000 Miles of Rail’ is her one woman show – the result of material collected from oddball encounters and snatched conversations.

“I was witness to all sorts of behaviors, coincidences, challenges and acts of kindness. ‘21000 Miles of Rail’ is about the possibility of making connections with the people you haven’t met yet. It’s about communication, or lack of in some cases, and finding hope in the most unexpected places.”

From the distant and mundane to the personal, dramatic and emotional, travelling with Hannah is a non-stop ride.

Catch ‘21,000 Miles of Rail’ at Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival in October.

The Devil Speaks True

You are in almost total blackness; the characters before you appearing like ghostly shapes. You are wearing headphones so the sounds and words penetrate deep. The audio trickery and mix of video with live performance splinters your sense of reality until you succumb to the production’s own inner world.

The words are drawn from Shakespeare’s Macbeth – you are cast as Banquo as you trace his journey from the blood of the battlefield to ghostly banquet table. Add to that, the words of real servicemen who have risked their lives and seen comrades fall on modern battlefields, so even your sense of time shifts.

This is ‘The Devil Speaks True’. It messes with your head and your senses, but it’s the power of the words that stay with you.

Catch ‘The Devil Speaks True’ at Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival in October.

Welcome to Unmasked!

You are reading unmasked, a zine from Rochdale.

So what do you see? To prove we’re not all ‘juvenile delinquent wrecks’ we bring you tales from precarious times.

We are digital natives afloat in an ocean of technology. We are not enough and too much. We are unmasked.

So venture outside your comfort zone. Read, absorb, engage, pass it on.

This is issue one. If you’re interested in reading or even contributing to what comes next send us a message on

We’ll be tuned in.