Nice ‘n’ Sleazy does it every time

nice n sleazy

By @briantheroomie

When one considers representation and inclusion within the arts then it seems there is a huge omission in relation to people with a learning disability. Goddard (2014) argues that people have very little or indeed no say in the in the development of the inclusion agenda when considering the professional arts from a UK perspective. The lack of any real and meaningful engagement with the arts would undermine any notion of being taken seriously as a starting point. The field is highly competitive and success is often based on existing relationships. Menger (2006) asserts that any work or opportunity is generally ‘piecemeal’ this then links to reputation or standing within the immediate community or group. Accordingly this then serves to magnify the power of differences in talent and work opportunity to increase inequality.

When considering people with a learning disability as a “professional artist” then one could argue that identity and the ability to grow and understand self are the prerequisite within “creative learning” but if as Menger offers the field is limited then how are people going to access the chance to perform on their own terms and equally develop a sense of self value as an artist? Fundamentally if access is the issue then where are the spaces where people can access the arts and contribute on equitable terms?

I was introduced to the “Nice n Sleazy” festival four years ago and it has been overwhelming watch it grow and develop. The festival is named after The Stranglers hit song from 1978 and has been part of the live music scene for fifteen years. I initially I thought it was a ‘punk’ festival though defining that term is virtually impossible. Tait Coles (2014) refers to punk as a state of mind” and attitudinal. Danny Baker writing in 1977 in the D.I.Y magazine ‘Sniffing Glue’ argued it is “something new” and furthermore that confusion is all part of the underlying philosophy of the movement and therefore “f*ck it, you go and figure it out” Baker (2104)

With this in mind then what has been created by the organisers is a music festival – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy.

The difference here however is that it is evident that the team have adopted an approach to support equality, diversity and inclusion through their own understanding and definition of punk. If ‘actions speak louder than words’ then one can see the huge push to creating a space that is safe for all. It equally provides opportunities for employment and performance and then sets the scene for four days of music and entertainment.

In 2019 the festival was awarded ‘Disability Confident’ status. The tangible reality of this is that people with learning disabilities both perform and work on site For the full duration of the event. The Disability Confident scheme claims to support employers “to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace” (on-line 2020) Moreover the scheme is seen as a way of addressing how employers engage with people with a disability.

According to the web-site there are 8.1 million people in the UK that have some form of disability. Defining disability can be problematic however Shakespeare and Watson (2001) perceive the term as complex and assert that one cannot reduce a definition to just biological circumstances. Equally important are psychological and socio-political factors”. This seems to capture the idea that a disability could be a social construct, Hiranandani (2005) and here in is the overriding philosophy of the Festival.

When viewed through this prism ‘disability confident’ argues that by adopting more inclusive strategies for support then an organisation can change behaviour and cultures within “businesses, networks and communities “on line (2020) The reach is measured way beyond the immediate employer. By embracing inclusivity and by people having a visible and valued presence the potency of the message is magnified.

Running parallel with this is the notion that whilst exploring and having access to arts people with learning disability have a very real chance to “express themselves through different creative opportunities and media. According to (2020), people can “gain confidence” in terms of self-development. More importantly though is the idea of the person being seen and valued as an artist or performer in their own right. Creating our own selves through the arts reflects Stuart Hall’s concept of identity being understood as identification, that is an evolving process rather than a fixed identity that is often ascribed to us by society and particularly for people with a learning disability (Hall, 1990).

Whilst trying to steer clear of labels, Becker (1963) and being mindful of respecting how people may want to self-define it is noticeable that “Sleazy” has given a platform and equal standing to the following bands

The latest track by the White Ribbons band is available for download with the funds going towards supporting the EC-Tix to be supported to tour Norway during summer 2020.

It is easy to see why the bands sit well within the festival due to their own punk ethos. Aligned with this therefore one could argue that “Sleazy” is a world away from how other festivals organise and promote what they do. There is no fuss and no huge banner proclaiming and asserting inclusivity. This reflects Beresford and Croft’s ‘democratic / citizenship’ approach to inclusion that emphasises people’s rights as citizens (as artists) to create and set their own agenda and identities, rather than as ‘consumers’ or ‘service users’ to be consulted in an often reactive manner to ‘tick the box of inclusivity’ (Beresford & Croft, 2003).

This philosophy is captured perfectly by Pauline Murray lead singer of Penetration who when asked what is it like being a woman in rock offered she never considered her gender an issue. Murray explains “I just thought I was part of the band” in retrospect however “it seems quite revolutionary, the way women were behaving. Females in bands were breaking down stereotypes” PR Intern (2017) Could the same be said of the bands appearing at Sleazy?

If pushed it is doubtful the bands above would describe themselves as having a learning disability. The idea that a group of musicians would want to be categorised in this way seems wholly at odds with my understanding of the rock persona. Joe Strummer of The Clash in defining ‘self-awareness suggested it has something to do with ‘an ability to trust your own judgement’ and more importantly “an ability think for yourself” as cited in Coles (2014) The chances are the respective bands just want to be musicians, performers and artists and consequently this is how they see themselves.. Doubtless that is exactly how the promoters at “Sleazy” make sense of it all. One is left to ask therefore, is there any other way to see it?

I wanted to do a piece here about inclusivity within the arts and I have focused on this festival as the yard stick by which others could measure their impact. In considering Sleazy I haven’t spoken about the broad range of opportunities it presents for people (with a learning disability) to work as sound engineers, stage managers, lighting technicians, stage runners and the wealth of talent it embraces to do this.

I haven’t discussed how the festival supports and promotes the White Ribbon Campaign which was founded in 2005 and is “part of a global movement concerned with ending male violence against women. “Much of the work we do is concerned with engaging men and boys regarding attitudes and behaviours, raising awareness, influencing change and providing resources to make change happen in relation to domestic violence and abuse of women and girls” White (2020).

I also would have wanted to raise the work that Sleazy have been doing since 2016 in promoting The Sophie Lancaster Foundation. As part of their developing agenda regarding equality and diversity the organisers have been instrumental in challenging ‘hate crime’. This has allowed a further opportunity to increase and raise awareness and address discrimination and prejudice on an individual basis. Sophie Lancaster was a young woman that was murdered and her death was treated as a Hate Crime by Judge Russell who sentenced the murderers accordingly. Under the current UK Hate Crime Legislation (Section 146), as the motivation behind the murder was hateful, he was able to use his discretion to class it as a “Hate Crime”. The work the foundation does focuses on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures in our communities. Where better to do that than at a punk festival?

It is probably worth mentioning that the team also support Morecambe food bank. There is a donation point in the foyer at the festival where food can be left and once the weekend is over the donations are then transported to the charity. Again this evidences how “Nice n Sleazy” has an alternative perspective when considering how to promote and host a music festival.

The tangible reality of this is not only do people with learning disabilities perform and work on site during the weekend, there is a massive emphasis on inclusion, diversity and equality. This is a world away from how other festivals organise and promote what they do, so in conclusion one could say “Nice and Sleazy does it every time” The Stranglers (1978)

Do Anything You Wanna Do


A guest blog by @briantheroomie

I have just found out the lead singer of Eddie and the Hot Rods has died. Heartbroken doesn’t even come close. There are gentle reminders everywhere that we are all living and breathing in world that can be cold and harsh. The poet Samuel Decker Thompson offers that “we are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a new found love or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person” Today of all days I don’t want to be a different person. I certainly do not want any more news that leaves me hurt and wanting to cry. I am caught in the headlights, wide eyed and lost to pain, grief and the far reaching impact of a profound sadness.

The song ‘do anything you wanna do’ has been with me all my life, or it feels that way. As a teenager the words reverberated and were like a clarion call. Come with us and ‘be you’ seemed to be the central message. Don’t let ‘them’ tell you anything and make your own mind up. Barrie Masters (Eddie) sang in full roar and his words hit me like a sledgehammer. Eddie had all the charm, charisma and cheek of ‘the artful dodger’ as played by Jack Wild in the 1968 film version of Oliver Twist. On first seeing Eddie and the Hot Rods on ‘Top of the Pops’ I loved them and him with all of my heart.

Eddie had that ‘cheeky chappy’ persona about him. He epitomized independence and had a real working class swagger about him. Long before the Gallagher’s, Eddie rode in with fistful of arrogance and a stage presence to hang it all on. More than that though, he had that tune. It felt like it was written for me, just for me. It suggested rebellion was close to hand and I could be one of the main instigators. The central theme to the song was concerned with ‘self’.

Years later when introduced to the writing and thoughts of Carl Rodgers it seemed to me Eddie had been heavily influenced by psychological theory. That ‘do anything you wanna do’ embraced the notion of self-actualization was not in question to me. From that moment social work and rock and roll were inextricably linked and intertwined. I had fallen in love with music and here I was about to give my heart away all over again.

The Greek philosopher Plato observed that music is a kind of moral law and that “it gives soul to the universe’ and this in turn can allow us to fly from this earthly realm and imagine an existence where anything is possible. Baudelaire (1857) takes this one step further in stating “music fathoms the sky”. One might think all of this to be rather fanciful and too idealistic. However even Pythagoras maintained that there was a certain geometry to the noise strings make and that “there is music in the spacing of the spheres. 

Greicius (2017) argues the universe is alive with sound and that at its heart is a rhythm, as every night, our sky beats with the pulses of radio light waves, most of which go unseen. This would suggest we are surrounded by percussive back beats and these are an everyday part of the natural world. One could therefore assume there is a very real connection in terms of the effect this has on the human condition. Levitt (2019) asserts the spiral in a snail shell is mathematically equal to the spiral in the milky way. He further argues this ratio is the same in human DNA. Furthermore it is manifest in music that ‘transcends cultures all over the world.

It is difficult to find ‘rational logic’ in this statement but a huge part of me wants to believe  so to quote the famous 1960’s popular beat combo The Monkees “I’m a believer” 

When considering my own practice I would argue there is an inherent bias toward the arts within social work as much of what we see and observe is the basis for what we do next. Music seems to offer a unique way to both engage and give us insight of the lives of some people. Hannu (2107) argues that within some “social work practitioners experience, there is a wealth of evidence to support the idea that music can reach people in quite a profound way. This would sometimes negate the need for words. This might then be a manifestation of people telling their own stories without the need to provide elaborate personal detail in relation to what they might feel to be a very personal and painful narrative. In one sense the music itself becomes the voice, as for many of us the relationship with the sound or words is in itself an expression of our own inner being. 

Music as a tool can be widely used in the fields of both social work and health and social care. Sacks (2007) explore these themes further and asserts that music “can tap into “long-buried memories” and also help people move from their existing situation into a feeling of the familiar, thus making it an especially  “valuable tool in the treatment of aphasia, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia”

There is something in offering ‘art therapies’ alongside some of the more ‘talk’ based approaches to intervention. Art can offer the opportunity for a more expansive discussion as it allows for a broader understanding of the person within their own personal narrative. When one considers choice of music and the link with how people interact with the world and in what way they then position themselves when considering certain songs, the discussion could be freer flowing and provide an invaluable insight into another person’s life. 

From a right based perspective this approach sits well within an anti-oppressive discourse and intervention, in that it is important to recognize that  social workers see people that are being supported as having their own unique history. It also starts from a point of establishing a positive understanding of strengths, choice and independence. The dialogue regarding arts and music could equally give the worker an understanding into how people self-define when considering culture.

If one needed evidence of music as complimentary mechanism for relaying one’s personal narrative then Radio Four, Desert Island Disc’s is exemplary. Guests are invited on to the show and guided through an interview where ” they explain their choices and discuss key moments in their lives, people and events that have influenced and inspired them and brought them to where they are today” BBC (2019) This all starts to sound very familiar from a professional social work perspective. Life stories and personal testimonies are central in establishing identity as well as exploring processes for ‘positive change’. 

Christine Stevens (2009) examines the notion of ‘healing through music’ and claims that we are biologically wired to rhythm and we can’t hold still when a good beat is playing. Judging by some of my own recent public performances I would agree as I have a lifetime subscription to ‘Dad dancing magazine’ or would have if it existed. More importantly studies evidence that drumming and percussion can aid the immune system and there is a school of thought that would offer it can counter burn out. Stevens also argues that this approach to art based therapies can alleviate mood disturbances and give temporary respite from chronic pain.

When one considers the potency and impact of art it would seem sensible to view it as a tool to expand our limited understanding people’s lives. People’s loves, wants needs and desires can be writ large through the voice or music of another. Equally their fears and negative life experiences can be represented through this medium with little recourse for the person themselves to actually say anything.

When I starting typing this it was to remember Eddie and his Hot Rods I wasn’t really expecting to discuss art based therapies, right based practice and social work. However if music or art has relevance to the person we are supporting then why would we ignore what could us invaluable insight in to another human being. If Eddie is offering liberation through self-actualization and we can use this approach to support practice development then who am I to disagree, To quote the man himself “do anything you wanna do”