A discussion about music and misogyny with Chris of Christine and the Queens, the 1975’s Matty Healy, DJ Matt Wilkinson and Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes

Matty Healy (second from left) accepts the Brit award for best British group, 20 February 2019.
 ‘It felt like the right thing to do’ … Matty Healy (second from left) accepts the Brit award for best British group, 20 February 2019. Photograph: David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock

When the 1975 won the best British group award at the Brits on Wednesday, singer Matty Healy used his acceptance speech to quote from an article by the Guardian’s Laura Snapes about misogyny in the music industry. The next day, the two of them sat down with Chris of Christine and the Queens on Matt Wilkinson’s Beats 1 radio show to talk about their personal experiences of sexism in the business, the need for male allies, where the industry should go from here and how soon we can expect its #MeToo movement.

Here is the transcript of that discussion:

Matt Wilkinson: For me, the biggest talking point of the Brits last night was when the 1975 won their first award, and, Matty, you got up, and your speech was a direct quote of an article that Laura wrote about misogyny in the music industry. I was sat at the tables, and I have to say the whole room went quiet. The tone totally changed in the auditorium during the ceremony. And Chris, you tweeted about it as well, saying this was the best moment of the night. Matty, when did you decide to do this?

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Watch the 1975’s Brit award acceptance speech on YouTube.

Matty Healy: [Wednesday] morning I’d read it. It was such an amazing piece. So then, I suppose I was like, what do I say? I’m not doing anything like that to be a woke king, or to earn brownie points, it’s just that it was the best thing that I’d read. It didn’t read to me as an opinion, it read to me as a truth. It was all I was thinking about that day, so I just thought that everybody else should think about it. Laura had said it better than I think I ever could, and I think it’s important that we hear a woman’s voice over a man’s voice. It felt like the right thing to do. So thank you so much for the words.

MW: I kinda looked at it almost as if you were using your platform as a vessel to get a wider message, a bigger message across.

MH: Of course, yeah. And it is frustrating, being in that room – if I was to speak about it, I wouldn’t be speaking from ideology, I’d be speaking from experience. Every man in that room knows a woman in that industry who has been at one time subject to misogynistic behaviour by a man when professionalism should have been at play. End of story. You have one of those anecdotes, I have one, I’m sure everybody here has one, and it still happens. So that’s a question that surely everyone, all men have to ask ourselves in our industry: why? It must be [because it’s] permitted, somehow.

MW: Do you guys think, and I wanna bring all of you in here, that we’re heading towards a bit of a snowball moment in music and we might be seeing what happened with #MeToo in film finally happening in music?

(L-R) Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes, 1975 frontman Matthew Healy and Chris of Christine and the Queens.
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 (L-R) Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes, 1975 frontman Matthew Healy and Chris of Christine and the Queens. Photograph: Beats

LS: I’d like to think that it might start happening. I had a Damascene moment the day after the Ryan Adams news. When people say, “Why hasn’t #MeToo happened for music?”, I think it’s reasons like power isn’t concentrated in individuals like Harvey Weinstein – there’s not a big power broker like that – and also, as I wrote in the Ryan Adams piece, the myth of male genius props up music, and people are loth to pull that down.

MH: It’s so true, man.

LS: But then I realised, I work at a national newspaper. We’re in a position to do something about this. And I spoke to Joe Coscarelli, who was one of the authors of the New York Times’s Ryan Adams report, and he said that, they sometimes lack the resources to do that kind of story, and most mainstream newspapers don’t consider music a news item. I thought, we have to be the people who consider these stories a news item and go after them.

MW: What you’re saying, Laura, is exactly right. People slag off music journalism and say it’s not as good as it used to be, but for me, it’s better than it’s ever been and it’s getting to more people than ever before.

Chris of Christine and the Queens arrives at the Brit awards.
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 Chris of Christine and the Queens arrives at the Brit awards. Photograph: Matt Baron/Rex/Shutterstock

MH: Our relationship, for example – there was a time when I said something wrong, just outright misinformed. I apologised for it publicly because I just said something that was a bit ignorant. Laura called me out on it and we had a dialogue behind closed doors about it. It seems that there’s part of this relationship where if you accept that if you’ve not done anything wrong, you’ve not got anything to be scared of, and you shouldn’t avoid criticism from those who have objectively different experiences than you do in things that probably you’ll be less informed on. What’s cool is that we’ve established this dialogue where we’re kinda like mates, but we’d hold each other accountable for stuff.

MW: The other important thing that I wanted to say to you guys, Chris and Matty, is I think we need more musicians taking a stand and using their platform to get this message across. That doesn’t really happen enough, in my opinion.

MH: Chris is the ultimate example of it.

MW: Also you’re so eloquent when you talk, you have great ideas. They’re normal ideas that everybody really should have, but you put them across very, very openly. As do you, Matty.

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The 1975 performing Sincerity Is Scary at the 2019 Brit awards.

Chris: I think also the violence is systemic. As a musician myself, I encountered many, many, many moments of misogyny, also because some of the key technical places were occupied by men who couldn’t see me, for example, as a producer. My whole career is made of moments where I had to fight five times more than maybe a man to say, “Actually, I can use my own computer, actually I am writing the tracks and I can produce them.” I think it’s really exhausting when you’re a female trying to navigate in that reality, and I think sometimes it can be scary to take a stand, especially at first, when there were very few women talking about that, because then you’re immediately pinpointed as, “Ugh, she’s going to be the bitchy one who always opens her mouth.” And then you’re reduced again and you’re made to maybe shut up more. So I think that the great thing is that with more allies that can actually help make this a problem for everybody in the industry, not just women, it gets more and more comfortable to speak about those things because it becomes more a safe space for everybody to express themselves.

MW: This is what I mean by the #MeToo thing happening in music – even if I look back to your original article, Laura, in 2015 that came out, that was a different world back then. Things have moved on, it seems like we’re in a better place now. We’re not there.

C: Not really.

Christine and the Queens performing at Hammersmith Apollo, 21 November 2018.
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 Christine and the Queens performing at Hammersmith Apollo, 21 November 2018. Photograph: Gaelle Beri

MW: But it feels like [we’ve taken] one step in the right direction?

MH: It so speaks volumes, doesn’t it, that everybody, woke Twitter, everybody gets together on this statement that’s very now and part of hopefully propping up some movement. But you’ve been saying this for four years!

LS: I’ve been saying this for 10 years. Something I wrote about in that Ryan Adams piece: on one hand you’ve got #MeToo-related issues and you’ve got sexual harassment and direct examples of misogyny in the industry, but then you’ve got all the systems that prop it up. I was saying these things nine years ago in my first job, and they didn’t make me popular. You would point out that a bloke that we were potentially going to cover had a dodgy reputation, and you’d be the person in trouble. We would still continue to cover the guy, and you’d be more than in trouble.

C: That’s the problem, also.

LS: And the thing that I really worry about at the moment is, the Brits is patting itself on the back over the fact that it’s got 50-50 gender representation in its nominations and they seem to think that’s enough. But it’s not. If you look at the Brits last night, most of the women who were nominated, especially in singles categories, were guest vocalists on male producers’ songs. And you have Calvin Harris who’s winning best producer – in the entire 27-year history of that prize, only two women have ever been nominated for it and, obviously, they’ve never won. It’s great that we have representation and gender equality but we have to think about the behind-the-scenes roles and how women are actually being allowed to use their voices. Spotify has made it so that this trope of the male producer track with the female guest vocalist on it – that’s what pop music is now, and so it’s refashioned A&R, and that’s what people want, it’s what labels want, it’s what female artists are being forced to do and it means that their voices are being heard, but they’re only ever an adjunct to men. It stifles creativity, and it’s demoralising, I think. For artists, I’m sure, as well as listeners.

Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris accept the Brit award for best British single.
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 Dua Lipa and Calvin Harris accept the Brit award for best British single. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

MW: It’s systemic, it’s exactly what you said as well, Chris – it goes through the whole of music, and it has done for the last 50 years. It was a good moment last night that Matty, you used your platform, to actually say, “You know what, I’m not gonna go up and just say, ‘Thanks to the label, thanks to whoever’. I’m gonna say this, I’m gonna walk away and leave everybody who’s watching to make their own decisions [and think:] ‘Wow, what was that, where did that come from?’”

LS: Especially as, at last year’s awards season, with Time’s Up and the white roses, women have been making these comments at awards ceremonies – which is great, and I never want to underestimate that. But when women talk about misogyny, people don’t listen, and so, like Chris was saying, having a powerful male ally who is willing to do that is important. It depresses me that that’s the point [at which] people listen, but it’s important that it happens.

C: It’s useful, definitely.

MH: And my point, also, is that women need to be listened to. If it requires men to say it outright, that that behaviour is not tolerated, then there you go. It’s not alright.

C: It becomes everybody’s problem. It was great yesterday because of that. It was a real subject for everybody in the room, which was perfect, and the fact that you quoted the exact words of Laura was also respecting the original source of the voice, so it was the right thing. I think it felt right for many women in the room.

The Guardian

His plays have shocked audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Is David Ireland bothered about the walk-outs? Will he give in to demands for trigger warnings?

Now without the N-word … Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue.
Now without the N-word … Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in Cyprus Avenue. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Cradling his grandchild for the first time, a man looks into the baby’s face and sees the bearded, bespectacled features of Gerry Adams, former president of Sinn Féin. This would be alarming for any grandfather but even more so to a Belfast Protestant who sees Adams as a threat to the union between Ulster and Great Britain that Northern Irish loyalists cherish.

Eric, in David Ireland’s play Cyprus Avenue, is clearly in some way demented, but Stephen Rea makes him a complex and even moving examination of the consequences of one people being raised to hate another. The climax is so brutal that, at the performance I saw at the Royal Court in London in 2016, some audience members walked out. When the play ended, they were telling ushers that theatregoers should have been advised about the content in advance.

“I think most playwrights are against trigger warnings because they remove the tension,” says Ireland. “I had a play on in Belfast called Summertime. And I didn’t know it had a trigger warning until I came to see it. The usher said, ‘Oh, by the way, there are themes of child sexual abuse.’ And I thought, ‘If you tell them that, it gives away a big twist at the end of the play.’”

‘Subconsciously, I may want to offend people’ … David Ireland.
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‘Subconsciously, I may want to offend people’ … David Ireland. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

For the Royal Court’s revival of Cyprus Avenue, there is an age advisory (14+), and, as with all the London venue’s productions now, a phone number that the potentially upset can ring, to ask if their particular triggering issue is going to come up. There might be a case for a hotline dedicated solely to the work of the burly 42-year-old Ireland. Ulster American, his most recent play, won awards at Edinburgh last August and is under discussion for a London production. It too caused walkouts and demands for advisories, especially for a scene – premiered soon after the #MeToo movement began – in which a Hollywood actor suggests a scenario in which criminal sexual behaviour might be justified.

 

So does the writer regard such reactions as a tribute or an irritation? “I really don’t like it. Some people think that I like offending audiences. But I don’t. Well, I suppose that, subconsciously, I may want to upset people, or I wouldn’t write the things I write. But, consciously, I don’t. I’d really rather that people who were going to be offended stayed away.”

In a possible sign of softening, for the new production of Cyprus Avenue, Ireland is rewriting the opening scene to remove the N-word, after a cast member expressed unease. “I’ve always disliked that word in performance and questioned its relevance in the scene,” admits the writer. “But I don’t think I’d have changed it if it hadn’t been raised by the actress.”

Commissioned by the Abbey theatre in Dublin, Cyprus Avenue did not reach the stage until three years after it had been written. The Abbey’s lawyers were concerned about Adams’ possible reaction. European privacy and image legislation raises questions about whether a living individual can be dramatically depicted without their permission, which Adams was unlikely to give.

“I don’t know all the legal ins and outs. But then I only expected the play to be on for a couple of weeks in Dublin. So I thought he was unlikely to come after us.” He laughs loudly. “Maybe he will now!”

Having initially regarded Cyprus Avenue as a play “about the state of unionism”, Ireland is now surprised to see it contains a private subtext. “I’d got married and we were talking about having children. I now realise that all this stuff went into it – about becoming a father, and my anxieties about what I would teach my children about their heritage, and who they are.”

‘Irish-Americans intensely hated it’ … Ulster American.
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‘Irish-Americans intensely hated it’ … Ulster American. Photograph: Sid Scott
 

Apart from testing audience sensitivities, Cyprus Avenue and Ulster American share an exploration of political and national identities. Rea’s character in the first play has a 10-minute monologue in which he talks about the experience of going to an “Irish pub” in north London and being warmly welcomed by men with London accents, who regard themselves as Irish and consider Eric to be a fellow countryman. It shows the tragedy of Ulster Unionists, thinking of themselves as proudly British but being regarded by much of the UK as not British at all.

“Cyprus Avenue was commissioned by the Abbey theatre, which is the national theatre of Ireland,” the writer says. “So the starting question was, ‘Am I Irish?’ And I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer for myself.”

In Ulster American, an Oscar-winning actor called Jay regards a script by Ruth, a Northern Irish playwright, as a “great Irish play” in the nationalist tradition of JM Synge and Seán O’Casey. He is bewildered when the writer explains that she is an Ulster Unionist and therefore proudly British, while her central character hates the IRA, of whom Jay is, like many American showbiz liberals, a supporter.

Chris Corrigan in Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court.
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Chris Corrigan in Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

The designation Irish-American almost always means Catholic Irish nationalist, as typified by the Kennedy clan. Are there unionist Americans? “Not to my knowledge. And, if there are, they certainly didn’t come to see Cyprus Avenue when it was on in New York. The Irish-Americans turned out in force and were completely horrified and confused by it. They really intensely hated it. The theatre asked for trigger warnings. But I said no.”

The writer was born in 1976, in Belfast’s Sandy Row, a heartland of the Orange Order and loyalist paramilitaries. He never went on marches but did watch them. He accepts that growing up during the Troubles has made a “deep impact” on his plays. “I find it really hard to end plays without violence. I watch other people’s plays, which don’t end in violence, and I think, ‘How do they do that?’”

The fight over identity that drives his plays was fired by his teenage interest in theatre. “When I was 15 or 16, I went to this drama course in Cambridge, and it was the first time anyone had ever called me Irish. I got such a shock. It was a guy from Yorkshire who called me it, so I thought he must think I’m from Dublin. But when I said I came from Northern Ireland, all these English kids still called me Irish. That was very strange.”

 

Keen to escape the violence in Belfast, he applied to drama school in London, but was rejected for all the courses there and ended up in Glasgow, where he still lives. “It was odd for my generation of Ulster Unionists because, at the time of Riverdance and Liam Neeson, Irishness suddenly became cool. So people would want me to be Irish. Girls would say, ‘Ooh, I love your Irish accent’, and I’d say, ‘I’m not Irish!’ So you can see the conflict.”

Sandy Row in Belfast, where Ireland grew up.
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Sandy Row in Belfast, where Ireland grew up. Photograph: Ciaran Kelly/Alamy

Ireland’s acting career has been restricted to small roles (“I have two lines in the first episode of Derry Girls, but was glad to be in it”). Now he writes the sort of parts he would like to play, but admits to being “too nervy an actor” ever to attempt them.

With the British government currently dependent on support from the Ulster Unionists – and Brexit deadlocked by the future of the Northern Irish border – the writer’s homeland has become rich dramatic territory. Surely there must be a play there?

“It’s come up in conversations,” he says. “But I’m not sure what the story would be. Although I think one reason the Royal Court is doing Cyprus Avenue again is that they think it’s relevant. When I wrote the first draft, in 2012, I thought, ‘I really like this play, but it feels irrelevant.’ Because the union didn’t feel like a big subject.”

Soon afterwards, though, there were protests over Belfast city council’s decision to reduce displays of the union flag, and then came Brexit, increasingly pivoting on Irish issues. Now, the playwright jokes, “it feels as if the whole world is becoming like Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s!” President Trump, he thinks, is like the unionist firebrand leader Ian Paisley would have been “if Paisley had been American and had a Twitter account. I think it would all have been in block capitals.”

Ireland’s next play is a “wild, dark comedy” about paedophilia, which seems likely to upset more theatregoers. “I’ve thought about writing a play called Trigger Warning – just to keep away people who wouldn’t enjoy it. But I need to work out the plot. Actually, I had this play on in Edinburgh called I Promise You Sex and Violence. I called it that so those who are easily offended would stay away. But nobody came at all. So it was a disaster.”

The Guardian

Actor says stories about the youngster, inspired by his TV role as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, will be ‘fun and empowering’

Smith, in the The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, which aired between 1990 and 1996.
 Royal line … Smith, as the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Photograph: Rex Features

Will Smith would like you to take a minute, just sit right there, to ready yourself for the arrival of Destiny, a young black girl who moves to West Philadelphia and whose adventures are detailed in the forthcoming picture book: The Fresh Princess.

Based on The Fresh Prince television series, which starred Smith and ran for six years starting in 1990, The Fresh Princess will be the first in a picture book series about Destiny, “a cool, energetic, and strong-willed young girl who approaches every day with her own signature style”. Like Smith’s TV character, she “moves to a brand-new neighbourhood, where nothing looks quite the same as it did at her old house”, but “even with new challenges and new friends to make, Destiny always has a plan”, said publisher HarperCollins.

Inspired by Smith and illustrated by Gladys Jose, the series is being written by author Denene Millner, who said Destiny was “our new little star … a spunky, adorable, double-dutching black girl, her awesome family and their new city – West Philly”.

Will Smith told Entertainment Weekly: “I couldn’t be more excited that the character I played for so long could inspire such a fun and empowering book for kids everywhere. I know all of my children would have loved Fresh Princess growing up, and being a father who raised a strong daughter I know how important it is to see that type of strength depicted in stories … I’m down to follow Destiny through her growth and adventures, just as I had experienced the journey of the young ‘Will Smith’ as he danced, laughed, made mistakes, and created memorable moments on his road to becoming the Fresh Prince.”

HarperCollins children’s books editorial director Margaret Anastas said that Smith “made the Fresh Prince one of the most memorable characters on TV with his zest for life and willingness to be himself”.

“Destiny brings that same energy to a whole new generation by living her life with joy and confidence – a great message for girls today,” she said.

The first book in the series will be published in April.

The Guardian

It has spent 16 winters on its own. Now a playwright has turned one bat’s sad story into a gay parable full of deceit and longing

‘Chances are he will spend the rest of his life alone’ … a greater mouse-eared bat. Photograph: Alamy

Inspiration is often found in unexpected places and, last summer, Irish playwright Barry McStay discovered it while flicking through a Guardian Long Read I wrote about a lonely bat. The true tale of Britain’s only greater mouse-eared bat, which spent 16 winters hibernating alone in a disused railway tunnel in Sussex, inspired McStay to write Vespertilio, a new play that opens this week in another disused railway tunnel, this one beneath Waterloo station in London.

Vespertilio begins with a devoted conservationist guarding this rare bat. But what follows is fiction: a young homeless runaway, Josh, seeks shelter in the tunnel, and meets Alan, the middle-aged bat-lover. So begins a fraught relationship between two very different men. Through the poignant symbol of the lone bat, McStay’s two-hander explores loneliness within the gay community, as a story of love, deceit and possibly redemption unfolds in the tunnel.

The bat’s story, says McStay, “just made me really interested in something I didn’t think I’d be interested in. Why do we keep watching stories about two people falling in love? There has to be a new way of telling the story. This seemed like just another brilliant way of telling a very old story.”

He thought it would be ideal for the Vault festival, which is held each year in arches and tunnels beneath Waterloo station, and found director Lucy Jane Atkinson particularly enthusiastic. “I’ve always been a bat nerd,” she says, “and it just sung to me.” When Atkinson was six, rangers on a camping holiday taught her a pro-bat song: “Bats eat bugs / They don’t eat people.” Her song has flitted into the show.

Atkinson and McStay cast Benedict Salter as bat-obsessed Alan, who lives alone and devotes his life to protecting the creature. Salter cried when he first read Alan’s lecture about the lonely bat. “There’s a line – ‘Chances are he will spend the rest of his life alone’ – and that’s upsetting.”

His character Alan “believes he’s one of a kind, meant to be alone and doesn’t deserve love. To go on a journey with him, where he discovers he might have something to offer – as an actor, you want to repeat that night after night. I’m gay myself and seeing him struggle with his identity made me quite protective of him.”

‘It’s so dank, I love it!’ … Verspertilio’s torchlit tunnel stage.
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‘It’s so dank, I love it!’ … Verspertilio’s torchlit tunnel stage. Photograph: Jess Duxbury

Joshua Oakes-Rogers was so keen to get the part of 20-year-old charming, mercurial runaway Josh that he learned the whole of McStay’s play before his first audition. “I had a thing for bats,” he says. “If we ever went to a zoo, my mum would find me just standing in the dark room watching them all hung above.” Oakes-Rogers is particularly taken with Vespertilio’s torchlit tunnel stage, with seats arranged along both sides. “It’s so dank, I love it!” he says. Cast and audience can hear trains rumbling overhead.

 

McStay and producer Jess Duxbury have consulted regularly with Joe Nunez-Mino of the Bat Conservation Trust. “He’s seen all drafts,” says Duxbury. “He’s sent us information and everyone at BCT has been so generous. One of my favourite facts that came up when I first chatted to Joe is that he read the play and went, ‘You know the weird thing is that bats have one of the highest rates of homosexuality in any mammal.’”

“Yes!” exclaim Salter and Oakes-Rogers together. “Of course they do, they have capes!” adds Oakes-Rogers. “They’ve got drama, they’ve got height, they’ve got momentum, they are the gayest thing in the world,” laughs Salter.

One of Atkinson’s Vault shows from last year, A Hundred Words for Snow, is currently touring the country and begins a West End run in the spring. She senses that McStay’s story of bats, love and loneliness could be another breakout success. “Vespertilio has that potential,” she says. “It’s very relatable, it’s not London-centric and it’s also so compact it is easily tourable.”

While interviewing the cast, I realise I don’t actually know if the greater mouse-eared bat has been spotted again this winter. The Vespertilio cast don’t know, either. “Don’t tell me until after the show,” says Joshua. “If he hasn’t, I’ll be too busy mourning.”

“He’s alive,” says Ben. “I can feel it.”

I email to check. Good news: Britain’s most solitary animal has once again taken up residence in his Sussex tunnel for his 17th winter. The audiences for Vespertilio can rest assured. There is a real-life happy ending, this year at least.

Growing up, Yola had to hide her musical talent from her disapproving mother. Now, after years backing up everyone from Katy Perry to Massive Attack, she makes her powerhouse debut

Yola: ‘I was begging for food in my artsy harem pants and people were saying ‘What are you doing here?’’
 Yola: ‘I was begging for food in my artsy harem pants and people were saying ‘What are you doing here?’’ Photograph: Alysse Gafjken

It was the end of summer when Yola – or Yolanda Quartey, as she was then – fell behind on her rent. Her flatmate got sick and had to move out; Yola was 21, a young singer still finding her feet in London’s cut-throat music industry. When her landlord required her to leave, she was confident she would find someone to stay with until she landed her next job. “I knew it was going to be fine,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “If I could just hold on a teeny bit longer.”

It wasn’t fine, though. The friends and colleagues she called were all very sorry, but taking her in wasn’t convenient. “The rejections were all very gentle, very reasonable, but ultimately I was on my own,” she says. “Then I ran out of credit on my phone, so I couldn’t call anyone.” Yola spent the next few nights sleeping on the streets.

More than a decade later, the ebullient singer-songwriter is releasing her debut album, Walk Through Fire, at the age of 35. She shrugs off her spell of homelessness with characteristic good humour. “There’s a bush in Hoxton Square, and I made a big old hole in it,” she remembers. “I was begging for food in my artsy harem pants and people were saying: ‘What are you doing here?’ And I was saying: ‘It all went wrong, my friends suck.’”

Yola’s personality fills the room, just as it fills her record – a buffet of country-soul and break-up songs, backed with fiddle, mandolin, Wurlitzer and more, and produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys on his own Easy Eye label. It isn’t just the big, blunt end of Yola’s powerhouse voice that impresses – although that gets an immediate outing in the chorus of the opening track, Faraway Look. Its real magic lies in its depths of emotion and experience, and a dynamic range that can move from comforting whisper to full-on war cry within the space of a couple of lines.

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It’s a voice many will have heard without knowing it. Since she was 18, Yola has been lending her vocals (and her writing skills) to numerous artists’ tracks, from Katy Perry party songs to Will Young pop ballads and Chase & Status dance tracks; she has toured with Bugz in the Attic and worked with Massive Attack.

Only in the past couple of years, however, has Yola begun to make the music she always wanted to. “I never got to put my ideas out there because I was always the young girl in the band, and who was going to listen to her? It was always: hush, just do the singing.” When she launched her solo career in 2016, the response was instant: back-to-back honours in the Americana Music Association awards, and a warm welcome to Nashville, a city that has embraced her music so quickly that it has become her second home. It has been a life-changing affirmation for a woman who says that, as a young black woman growing up in the West Country, she always struggled to belong. The lyrics to Faraway Look – “Are you haunted and wanting more?”  are a telling summation of a woman who has been waiting and hoping for a breakthrough.

Yola doesn’t remember her Ghanaian father, who left before she was two. Her mother was of the “late Windrush generation”: a psychiatric nurse who emigrated on a one-way ticket from Barbados in the 1970s. Yola is certain she regretted it: “There’s a whole generation of people that did. It was the worst bait and switch. ‘You don’t want to be in Barbados! It’s really beautiful in Milton Keynes!’”

Yola’s mum was a practical, stoic woman who moved her family to the overwhelmingly white town of Portishead because she imagined a better life for them there. But work was hard to come by and Yola recalls her mum buzzing around on her motorcycle between dozens of different jobs. As well as nursing and care work, she was the Avon lady, and worked at the supermarket. When money was tight, she would plunder the bins behind the store for food that had been thrown out.

“The hustle was real,” says Yola. “We knew we were too poor for Santa. We used to get bath products for Christmas – end-of-line vibes, for a quid or so, that was the treat.” As almost the only black kid in town – aside from her older sister – Yola was never allowed to forget her otherness. “People might have seen us every day but they were still suspicious. They’d keep an eye out as you walked down the aisles to check you weren’t shoplifting stuff. I got used to being placatory and over-nice.”

Yola and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys
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 Yola and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Photograph: Alysse Gafkjen

Music was a place she could feel she belonged. Her mother’s record collection – Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Dolly Parton, Elton John – was a refuge and she was soon besotted. As a four-year-old, she told her mother she was going to be a singer when she grew up. “But because she was so practical, that was a fictional concept to her.”

Yola’s mother forbade her from pursuing her music, so when she was in her teens, Yola’s rehearsals and gigs became secret affairs, disguised as sleepovers with friends. She tried university, dropped out and, after her London crisis, returned to Bristol, where she became the frontwoman of a country-rock band called Phantom Limb.

They disbanded after eight years in what she describes as “fraught” circumstances, and the sense that her band members never took her seriously still interlaces her conversation. “I used to have throat tension before each show,” says Yola. “I lost my voice because of stress.” Now she is finally singing music she loves, she says, she has regained the ability to sing some of the high soprano notes she had lost.

After a lifetime of feeling like an outsider, Yola believes she has finally found her people – in Americana, and Nashville, and Auerbach. The album was a collaborative process, with contributions from country and bluegrass icons including Vince Gill, Stuart Duncan and Ronnie McCoury – not to mention the hottest guitarist in Nashville right now, Molly Tuttle.

Yola’s joy at joining that community is evident; being a black woman in a traditionally white genre is no big deal, she says, and her songs aren’t strictly country, in any case. But she is sensitive to race and colour issues in the music industry. “I feel I’ve got to represent right, because there’s not many darker-skinned women doing what I do,” she says. “Try and think of a female artist who’s darker than Kelly Rowland who’s fronting a band. It’s hard, isn’t it?”

Yola chose the album title Walk Through Fire because of an experience she had when her kitchen caught fire four years ago, and she stood outside watching her house burn. She found herself laughing, as she realised that, even in that moment, her life was better than it had ever been.

“I also realised how many houses I had to go to,” she says. “Everyone was saying: ‘You’ve got to come and stay with me!’”

The Guardian

Hundreds of symbols at gorge could be Britain’s biggest collection of protective signs

weird markings on a rock wall
 Some of the apotropaic marks believed to protect against witches at Creswell Crags in the east Midlands. Photograph: Creswell Heritage Trust/Historic England

If there is a gateway to hell, a portal from the underworld used by demons and witches to wreak their evil havoc on humanity, then it could be in a small east Midlands cave handy for both the M1 and A60.

Heritage experts have revealed what is thought to be the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK.

The markings, at Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved, at a time when belief in witchcraft was widespread. The scale and variety of the marks made on the limestone walls and ceiling of a cave which has at its centre a deep, dark, hole, is unprecedented.

Believed to protect against witches and curses, the marks were discovered by chance at the site, which is also home to the only ice age art ever discovered in the UK.

Paul Baker, the director of Creswell Heritage Trust, said the marks had been in plain sight. They had known they were there. “But we told people it was Victorian graffiti,” he said. “We had no idea. Can you imagine how stupid we felt?”

The trust was alerted to the marks last year by Hayley Clark and Ed Waters. The two keen-eyed cavers thought there were perhaps two or three markings; it soon became clear there were dozens and then on further investigation up to a thousand. And counting. “They are everywhere,” said Baker. “How scared were they?”

Members of the Subterranea Britannica group check out the witches’ marks at Creswell Crags.
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 Members of the Subterranea Britannica group check out the witches’ marks at Creswell Crags. Photograph: Historic England/PA

There is no public access to the cave but the trust is considering a multi-media presentation for visitors.

Up close the walls are a remarkable frenzy of marks. Everywhere you point a torch there are overlapping Vs, a reference to Mary, virgin of virgins. There are also PMs, as in Pace Maria, and crossed Is, referring to Jesus on a cross, and odd-shaped As.

Alison Fearn, a Leicester university expert on protective marks, recalled first shuffling on her backside in to the cave and realising what she was looking at. “I think I said a very naughty word.”

The letters and symbols were Christian but should not be looked at in that context, she said. From the 16th century to the early 19th century, when people made witches marks, there may have been a lack of association with religion, such as today when people might cross fingers or say “oh god”. She said: “It just becomes a protective symbol. It was a mark you always made to protect yourself.”

What the marks were keeping out, or in, can only be speculated on. “It could be fairies, witches, whatever you were fearful of, it was going to be down there.”

Creswell Crags

The cave markings fit in with local history since the post-mediaeval village of Creswell used to be much closer to the caves. The dukes of Portland had relocated the village 20 minutes walk away during a spot of 19th century landscaping for themselves.

John Charlesworth, the caves’ heritage interpreter, said natural landscapes were once regarded as scary places. “These are places where supernatural forces in an untamed non-human environment could be at work. Local people are in the jaws of this monstrous landscape.”

Ritualistic protection marks are most commonly found in houses and churches, in doors and windows, to ward off evil spirits. They have been found in caves but never on this scale.

witches in an illustration
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 Macbeth’s witches from the Illustrated Library Shakespeare published in 1890. Illustration: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Creswell Crags hit the headlines in 2003 when ice age cave art, including figures of birds, deer, bison and horses, were discovered.

The announcement of the latest find was made by Creswell Crags and Historic England. Baker acknowledged that the witches’ marks might bring a new type of visitor.

Ronald Hutton, a professor and leading authority on folklore, said the find was hugely important and exciting. “It looks like the largest assemblage of protective marks ever found in British caves, and possibly anywhere in Britain.”

The Guardian

Scottish dance producer wins his first two Brits after 14 failed nominations, while the 1975 take British group and British album – and Beyoncé and Jay-Z show support for Meghan Markle

Brit Awards 2019 - Show - LondonCalvin Harris accepts the award for British producer of the year.
 Calvin Harris accepts the award for British producer of the year. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Scottish dance music producer Calvin Harris and soft rock band the 1975 were the biggest winners at the 2019 Brit awards, on a night in which no single act truly dominated – but Beyoncé and Jay-Z made headlines with an emphatic statement about Meghan Markle.

Harris may be the highest-paid DJ in the world, with a reported £37m in earnings last year and collaborations with Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Pharrell Williams, but Brit award success had eluded him until now.

Following 14 unsuccessful nominations, he finally triumphed with both British producer and British single for One Kiss, his UK No 1 with Dua Lipa. During the ceremony, presented by Jack Whitehall at London’s O2 Arena, he was anointed with the night’s cornerstone performance, a medley featuring a trio of previous Brits winners: Lipa, Sam Smith and Rag’n’Bone Man. Lipa’s recognition for One Kiss follows her success at the 2018 Brits, which named her British female and breakthrough artist.

Hugh Jackman performs during the opening.
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 Hugh Jackman performs during the opening. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Harris, 35, grew up in Dumfries, and worked as a shelf-stacker in Marks & Spencer before his music career gradually took off, with his first Top 10 hit coming in 2006. He has since had 31 solo Top 40 hits, eight of them reaching No 1, including two in 2018: One Kiss, and Sam Smith collaboration Promises. Although he is the winner of the producer prize, he is also a songwriter and performer in his own right, playing lucrative DJ sets and occasionally singing on his own tracks.

The 1975 took home the night’s most prestigious award for British album of the year, for A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, a glossy, ambitious record that took stock of topics including Donald Trump, heroin addiction and 21st-century sex. They also won British group, having previously won in 2017, preventing Arctic Monkeys from winning the award for a fourth time – a tally that only Coldplay have achieved.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z threatened to steal their thunder, though, with a much-discussed statement as they accepted the award for best international group for their collaborative project The Carters. Replicating a scene from their video Apeshit, they posed in front of a portrait of Meghan Markle styled as Queen Victoria – an emphatic show of support for the duchess amid sustained press scrutiny.

Neo-soul singer Jorja Smith – one of the night’s only non-white British winners – underlined her rising-star status by winning British female, beating more established names such as Florence + the Machine and Lily Allen. She previously won the media-voted critics’ choice award in 2018, won this year by 24-year-old Tyneside singer-songwriter Sam Fender.

Matthew Healy (centre) on stage during the 1975’s performance.
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 Matthew Healy (centre) on stage during the 1975’s performance. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Smith lost the publicly voted breakthrough artist award to Scotland-born, Manchester-raised singer-songwriter Tom Walker, whose hit Leave a Light On is in its 46th week on the UK charts ahead of the release of his debut album next week. His success shows that soulful guitar-toting male singers remain one of the most popular types of pop star in the UK, following the huge popularity of Rag’n’Bone Man and Ed Sheeran, as well as newer artists such as Fender and Lewis Capaldi. Despite not releasing any new material in 2018, Sheeran won the global success award – awarded to the British artist with the biggest sales worldwide – for the second year in a row.

Essex pop singer Anne-Marie, whose hit song 2002 was co-written by Sheeran, had the joint highest number of nominations with Lipa on four, but couldn’t convert any into wins.

Another public vote, for British video, went to girl group Little Mix for their collaboration with Nicki Minaj, Woman Like Me. They were joined by British rapper Ms Banks for their own Brits performance, with Smith, the 1975, Jess Glynne, HER, and outstanding contribution award winner Pink among the other performers – the latter delivering a barnstorming, flamethrower-fringed medley of five songs.

 Women at the fore of the Brit awards 2019 – video report

Also performing live was George Ezra, whose album Staying at Tamara’s was the second biggest selling of 2018 behind the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman, whose star Hugh Jackman opened the ceremony. Some speculated Ezra would win all three of his nominations; in the end he made do with the British male award – an improvement on 2015, when he was nominated four times in his breakthrough year but lost out on all counts.

In the international categories, the aforementioned Beyoncé and Jay-Z project the Carters won best group, Ariana Grande won best female, and Drake best male.

Aside from the video and breakthrough categories, the awards are voted for by the Brits academy, a group of artists and professionals from the music and media industries. In 2016, following outcry over the almost entirely white winners of that year’s awards, the academy admitted 700 new members, bringing BAME representation to 24% and a near-equal gender split to the previously 70% male voting group.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z
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 Beyoncé and Jay-Z accept their gong in front of a portrait of Meghan Markle. Photograph: ITV

Christine and the Queens, nominated for international female, said she was encouraged by the gender and racial diversity of the nominees this year, telling the Guardian: “It feels amazing. It feels like women rule this year and the spectrum is really broad. I’m nominated with Cardi B and Ariana Grande and we are all really different women in this industry, but we are trying to be fierce.”

She added that the industry was only scraping the surface when it came to women’s equality. “We are only just starting to understand be struggle. From sound engineers to the artists, positions should be occupied by women. There are still lots of things to do.”

The Guardian’s deputy music editor Laura Snapes was namechecked by Matty Healy of the 1975 in their acceptance speech. Healy quoted a line she had written about misogyny in the music industry: “I thought we should all really, really think about it. She said that in music, ‘male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and examined as traits of difficult artists while women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don’t understand art.’”

Full list of winners

British male: George Ezra

British femaleJorja Smith

British single: Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa – One Kiss

British breakthrough: Tom Walker

British groupThe 1975

British video: Little Mix – Woman Like Me (feat Nicki Minaj)

International group: The Carters

International male: Drake

International female: Ariana Grande

British album: The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

British producer: Calvin Harris

Critics’ choiceSam Fender

Global success award: Ed Sheeran

Outstanding contribution to music: Pink

The Guardian

The self-described ‘alpha chick’ has weathered addiction, dodgy managers and the death of Prince to remain as funky as ever. She describes how she went from gun-toting activist to teetotal vegan

Chaka Khan, 2019
 Chaka Khan: at 65, she says she is ‘still looking forward to shit’. Photograph: Renell Medrano

Chaka Khan has a question. “What’s that TV show, where it’s just families sitting down and looking at the TV? Chat Box?” Gogglebox? She claps her hands delightedly. “Gogglebox – oh, I love that! And that quiz programme where the enforcer comes on and it’s like a big black guy, or a big woman.”

Erm, The Chase? With Bradley Walsh? She nods. “So good. I like funny shit.”

It goes without saying that I didn’t expect to end up discussing Bradley Walsh when I arrived to interview Khan, a woman who could call herself the Queen of Funk without much fear of starting an argument. A minute ago, we were talking about her vast influence over modern music, something that is evident from her new album, Hello Happiness, a collaboration with the producers Sarah Ruba and Switch, the latter best known for his work with MIA and Major Lazer. It is audibly the work of people who, as Khan puts it, “made it abundantly clear that they didn’t have to Google me”. Its sound is based on an intricate knowledge of her back catalogue – the vivid funk she recorded with Rufus 40 years ago, the effervescent disco of her early solo albums, the electronic dance-pop of her biggest hits – and given a subtle 21st-century makeover.

Khan was telling me that she was less aware of her influence than she might be, because she doesn’t really listen to music at home, preferring to relax in front of the telly. And now here we are, talking about Gogglebox and The Chase.

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It is certainly an unexpected turn of events, but nothing about Khan’s life or career seems straightforward. She was born Yvette Stevens 65 years ago in Hyde Park, a progressive, bohemian, racially mixed “island amid the madness” of 50s and 60s Chicago: “A great city, very rich in terms of the arts, but it’s so racist it’s hard get to the friggin’ arts if you’re black. You have to grow up in a specialised community, which mine was.” Her mother was a strict Catholic, but her father was a beatnik: “My sister and I used to go on his nocturnal excursions by the lake in the park. The weed was thick in the air, the wine bottles were flowing, music was playing – as tight as it was, I had a pretty magical life.”

Her father remarried, to a civil rights activist who encouraged Khan to speak at rallies; by the age of 14, she had been recruited by the Black Panthers. “I was a kid, so they really just had me selling the Panther paper on the corner, barefoot in jeans. I was totally against all the sock hops and shit my school had to offer to keep the natives quiet. We used to call them ‘slave gatherings’. So, I had my combat boots on, my green khaki pants. I didn’t feel in danger – it wasn’t like that. We were doing the right thing. However, when a gun came into my hands, a .38 that I hid in my room … I’m telling you, every moment I had that gun it changed me. I felt physically sick. I threw it away into Botany’s Pond by Chicago University, then I felt better. That finished me with the Panthers.”

Chaka Khan in New York in 1975
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 Khan in 1975: ‘The thing was to have a white band with a black chick out front.’ Photograph: Len DeLessio/Corbis via Getty Images

Instead, she concentrated on her musical career, singing jingles, performing with a succession of bands in the clubs around Chicago’s Rush Street before landing a gig with a racially mixed funk band called Rufus. “The thing back then was to have a white band with a black chick out front – that was major money, made the club owners interested.” She laughs mordantly. “Another racist phase that passed through Chicago.”

With Khan on vocals, Rufus were an immediate sensation: she had both a hell of a voice and a precocious, raw stage presence. She was 17 years old when they were offered her a record deal, still legally a child. When her mother refused to sign the contract on her behalf, she got married to her boyfriend, lying to her parents that she was pregnant. By the time of their first hit, 1974’s Stevie Wonder-penned Tell Me Something Good, she actually was. “Yeah, everything happened to me like that: bam. And, yeah, it left some scars, created some bad habits. Why wouldn’t it?”

Despite their success – six gold or platinum albums in five years, 25 hit singles on the US R&B chart – Rufus were a highly combustible band. There were endless line-up changes. There were fistfights in the studio, issues with managers. “I had nothing but rip-off artists, until just lately,” she sighs. The atmosphere wasn’t much helped when the record label started billing the band as Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, or by tension between the band members and Khan’s second husband, Richard Holland. “They didn’t want me to have a husband,” she shrugs. “When the band first went on tour, every night, after a gig, they would all do a walk-through of my room to make sure I was by myself. They didn’t care who it was – no one could come and visit me. They were just very possessive of their little diamond.”

Eventually, Khan struck out on her own, scoring an immediate hit with the Ashford & Simpson-penned I’m Every Woman. She kept making albums with Rufus out of “guilt”, although the results were often spectacular, not least 1979’s superlative Masterjam; ironically, their biggest hit together – 1983’s Ain’t Nobody – came after Khan had left for good. Her solo career was soaring. With the producer Arif Mardin, she made a succession of wonderful albums, on which, as she characteristically puts it, “every song’s a motherfucker”. She was prodigiously, intuitively talented – unable to read music, she would nevertheless arrange her own songs, singing the notes she wanted to the horn and string sections – and remarkably adaptable, throwing out albums of jazz standards alongside collaborations with Rick James. Just as Rufus had transitioned seamlessly from funk to disco, so Khan survived the disco backlash with barely a scratch.

Khan in 1975, when her band Rufus were riding high in the US charts.
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 Khan in 1975, when her band Rufus were riding high in the US charts. Photograph: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

But behind the scenes, Khan’s life was going haywire. She ended up locked in battles with her record label. “Assholes,” she says, flatly. “They didn’t know how to work me, what category to put me in. Hell, they didn’t have a clue. I get it – no category. That means do everything – let’s do it all! But, see, that’s too much work for them. I went in one time, they’d hired another A&R, who told me: ‘We need you to sound like Mary J Blige.’ I said: ‘You motherfuckers need to get Mary J Blige then, and leave me alone.’ That’s when I really decided, ‘I’m done.’”

She struggled with addiction – to cocaine, heroin and alcohol – for most of her adult life. Remarkably, it did not seem to interfere with her career: by her own admission, she was “getting fucked up” throughout her commercial peak. “Very good at compartmentalising,” she nods. “All through the 80s, I knew when to abstain, I really did. I had lines of demarcation in my life, and I practised them. And, also, I was very aware of my health; that was important to me. When I was with the Panthers, my girlfriends and I were all into breaking our own bread, taking our herbs, fasting one week out of every month. So there were certain other habits I got that I never did stop. It was the healthy living that brought me through drugs alive, I’m sure of it. I would get massively fucked-up for a couple of weeks and then I’d take, like, a herbal shut-down where I’d stop and just go on plants. So that helped me a lot.”

She says her last bout in rehab – for an addiction to opiate painkillers prescribed after a knee replacement operation – was provoked by the death of Prince in 2016. They were close friends – he wrote her 1984 UK No 1 I Feel For You, and they regularly collaborated. She signed to his NPG label in the late 90s, resulting in the brilliant overlooked album Come 2 My House – although her interactions with him seem to have been as bizarre as everyone else’s. They met when he rang her hotel room in San Francisco, pretending, for reasons best known to himself, to be Sly Stone. “I could have sworn it was Sly; Sly and I were very close. He said: ‘I’m at a studio in Marin County doing this album, do you want to come?’ So I drove for 100 years and get in there and it’s like dark and sterile and very eerie. There’s this little guy with a guitar. I said: ‘Excuse me, where’s Sly?’ and he put his guitar down and said: ‘I’m sorry, that was me.’ ‘Well, who the fuck are you?’ I was truly pissed about this. He told me who he was, I said: ‘OK, nice meeting you, but I’m really pissed now, so goodbye’, and I left.”

She says she had no idea of the extent of the Prince’s own issues with painkillers. “I never, ever got any indication that he was on pills. I knew he was doing certain things, I knew he had a couple of bouts with acid and all that. That’s OK. A one-off here and there, you got the money, you ain’t working. You like acid – go do it. But he was totally against drinking; he’d drink red wine occasionally, not a lot. He starved himself – he wouldn’t eat unless it was this or that; he was very particular. What comes to mind is someone who was very health conscious as opposed to …” Her voice trails off and she shakes her head. “Secrets kill. Secrets kill, and if he hid from me for so many years where he was really at, and I was like his confidante in many ways, you know … It’s hard to keep a secret like that from me. So I learned a lot, you know. I just said: ‘I better go check myself.’ And I’m alive maybe because he’s dead. I went to a doctor and I said, ‘Here’s the deal’, and he told me there are certain pains you’ve just got to live with, that’s part of life.”

Khan performing in Toronto, Canada, in September 2018
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 Khan performing in Toronto, Canada, in September 2018. Photograph: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Netflix

These days, she is a teetotal vegan, her only vice the packet of cigarettes on the table in front of her. In recent years she has spent much of her time raising her granddaughter – she won permanent custody after reporting her son and his partner as incapable due to drug addiction – whom she describes as “my best investment”, and whose own lack of musical ambition seems to delight her. “I love it – she’s not interested in my fucking shit. I can’t get her to come to a concert and see me sing all about her – she wouldn’t give a damn. She doesn’t care. She wants to be a doctor. She’s so in the right place.”

And so, Khan says, is she; despite the turbulence of her past, “at 65, I’m still looking forward to shit”, she laughs. Hello Happiness “has put a new spark in my career”. There’s a forthcoming collection of Joni Mitchell covers to think about, as well as her charitable foundation, which works with autistic children and is currently engaged in trying to re-establish the after-school music programme in Minnesota “that Prince went to when he was a kid, where he got a chance to play with older cats all the time. We’re just trying to play forward Prince’s dream – the shit that saved him may save others.”

And she is currently engaged in a battle with the aforementioned assholes at her old label over the rights to her back catalogue. “After 30 years, your shit should automatically return to you, but they’re trying to fight me on that. But not to worry, darling. I’ll be all right. I will be. I’ll be fine.” She lets out a throaty laugh. “You know,” she says, “I’m kind of an alpha chick.”

The Guardian

After too long a silence, art is finally tackling global warming. Here are the big players – including the photographer who’s lighting up Alaska

To the end of the Earth … Aialik Glacier in Alaska, covered in foil after being contaminated in the Exxon Valdez disaster, from the series Light by Michel Comte.
 To the end of the Earth … Aialik Glacier in Alaska, covered in foil after being contaminated in the Exxon Valdez disaster, from the series Light by Michel Comte. Photograph: Copyright the artist

In 1975, photographer Michel Comte stood up before scientists, business leaders and politicians at the Club of Rome to deliver a speech about the climate disaster he believed was on the horizon. Back then, he was still a student, and a little nervous – but he could sense the future. Now, Comte’s recent works incorporating black carbon fallout from the jet stream, shown in Rome, Milan and Hong Kong, prove just how right he was to speak out.

Comte’s message was echoed last week in the UK, when thousands of schoolchildren – inspired by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg – took to the streets to pressure the government into taking action on climate change. Like Comte, they have seen a bleak future ahead and are speaking out.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case for most artistic and cultural institutions, which have spent the last few decades responding to climate change with little more than silence. They have been dangerously complicit in desensitising society to what’s really at stake.

It hasn’t always been this way. In the mid-90s, when a post-Chernobyl generation made its voice heard, the ecological protest movement was nurtured by critical theatre, radical art shows, public debate and avant garde music. Then something changed. In response to the backlash against fossil fuels, major energy suppliers became involved with arts sponsorship. This was no harmless philanthropy. Parallel to the rise of the blockbuster exhibition the importance of Shell and BP to the artistic budget of arts centres grew, to a point where many major national institutions were on the payroll of the fossil fuel giants. Some still are today.

But even for those who have freed themselves of it (or exchanged them for carmakers), the damage to a generation has been done. For decades arts institutions have effectively engaged in self-censorship to pay for their productions, putting on amazing programming and covering critical topics, as long as it wasn’t a thorough debate of our addiction to fossil fuels. This strategic exclusion of a topic from public debate over more than a generation has led to ignorance, with repercussions in education, academic and public life.

But there is hope in the air. Tate Modern have an Olafur Eliasson retrospective scheduled for this summer – his Ice Watch project was recently invited to melt away outside the museum, with the carbon impact of each block accounted for. As for Comte, he is about to board a sailing boat for a challenging passage to the Arctic, creating a monumental light installation calling for us to change our ways before it’s too late. If we allow more artists such as these to become part of the conversation, we will have a culture fit for the generation of children who took to our streets.

detail from Lagoon by Yi Dai.
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 Subtle response to catastrophe … detail of Lagoon by Yi Dai. Photograph: courtesy House of Egorn

Nuclear fallout, rising sea levels and … nail clippings
When artist Yi Dai opened her first solo show in Berlin, she received rapturous reviews praising her subtle and intelligent coverage of environmental topics. Misfits, Offcuts and Castaways, in 2016, was an urgent statement reflecting on the aftereffects of nuclear fallout and rising sea temperatures, and the fragility of our ecosystem. Her exhibition was as much a personal account of her experience on the Marshall Islands as it was a call to action following the then-warmest winter in recorded history. Her show, Discarded… During My 20s (at House of Egorn in Berlin until 23 February), explores the subject of the human body: the artist juxtaposes bodily remains – hair, nail clippings, blood – with construction materials such as steel, concrete and glass that surround, contain, or reflect our bodies.

3D-mapping … Black Light, by Michel Comte.
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 3D-mapping … Black Light, by Michel Comte. Photograph: Copyright and courtesy the artist

Sailing to the Arctic for a climate vigil
Wavelength Foundation was formed on a sailing boat in late 2017 by an international group of journalists, writers, environmentalists, cultural workers, artists and scientists. One of the foundation’s fundamental principles is that a rich and meaningful cultural engagement with nature is needed to readjust their lost relationship. Comte will soon set sail to the Arctic with the foundation for his large-scale 3D-mapping light installation Black Light, inviting sailors from around the globe to join his monumental climate vigil. Meanwhile, the foundation’s Change Maker scheme is helping to build a sustainable arts and culture centre in South America, to bring the opportunities of a circular economy to the lives of children and younger people looking to escape the cycle of poverty.

Social Stratification Reflector by Nadine Rotem-Stibbe.
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 A view from the future … Social Stratification Reflector by Nadine Rotem-Stibbe. Photograph: courtesy the artist

Remembering Earth before the cataclysms
Paris-based artist Nadine Rotem-Stibbe explores environmental issues with a keen eye for design. Her installation In Loving Memory, 2018, 0.8°C can be found at an abandoned building site at the Ebbingekwartier of Groningen, the Netherlands. It takes a part mocking, part melancholic view of our time, looking back from a fictitious (yet by no means unrealistic) future in which a large cache of archaeological objects has been uncovered in the Trans-European floodplain. The artefacts offer an unprecedented look into human life in 2018, prior to the great cataclysms that struck. There is a profound obsession with objects created from the industrial processing of complex carbon-chain polymers – plastics – an industry that was a key factor in heavily increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These objects seem to have survived extreme climate changes and offer a glimpse into our perplexing culture.

Tidal art … Lines installation by Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyavirta.
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 Tidal art … Lines installation by Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta. Photograph: Timo Aho:Pekka Niityavirta

The art school on the edge of the world
Perched on the shore of a sea loch and overlooking the Minch and the hills of Harris and Skye, Lews Castle College in the Outer Hebrides has been referred to as the “art school on the edge of the world.” Sustainability is a key element to the teaching, with students responding to the environment and the unique wilderness of the unusual location. The college hosts talks from practitioners across a range of areas, from marine biologists and archaeologists to traditional makers working with natural materials. Part of the college building is the site of a recently commissioned light installationby Finnish artists Timo Moi and Pekka Niittyvirta, which interacts with the tidal changes, activating on high tide. The work provides a visual reference of future sea level rises and explores the catastrophic long-term impact of our relationship with nature.

Florian Reber arriving in Cannes on his Tales of Change trip.
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 Pedal power … Reber arriving in Cannes on his Tales of Change trip. Photograph: Florian Reber

Mountain biking through our tumultuous weather
Tales of Change brings together stories of how climate change is impacting communities in some of the planet’s most iconic mountain ranges. Its protagonist, Florian Reber, cycled across the Alps, starting in Trieste on the Adriatic coast and arriving in Cannes, at the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, he talked with farmers, foresters, conservationists, tourism experts, alpinists and professional athletes, psychologists, writers and journalists about climate change. Periods of tumultuous weather extremes are the consistent findings, including a pronounced drought that left many rivers and sources in the southern Dolomites dried out. This was followed by the strongest föhn storms in recent years, causing record temperatures in October 2018. Next came torrential rain and strong winds brought about by cyclone Vaia, uprooting thousands of trees and causing casualties. While this trip involved cycling 1,180 miles, climbing more than 35,000 vertical metres and mastering two dozen mountain passes in winter, the intrepid explorer is now getting ready to widen his reach towardsthe Rocky Mountains and Himalayas. The project has been on display in Switzerland and Italy but, like Reber, is constantly moving.

Glaciator robot that went to Antarctica for Quo Artis.
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 Solar ice machine … the Glaciator robot that went to Antarctica. Photograph: Frederick Bernas/courtesy Quo Artis Foundation

Solar robots transforming snow back into glaciers
Housed in Barcelona’s magnificent historical pavilion Sant Cosme y Sant Damià, Quo Artis is an international non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing the dialogue between arts, science and technology. Recent activity includes Glaciator, an art installation in Antarctica composed of solar robots that help to compact and crystallise the snow by turning it into ice, then adhering it to the glacier mass. As glacial melting is one of the most alarming effects of global warming, the mission of these robots is to accelerate the ice formation process, allowing glaciers to regain the mass they have lost as a result of the thaw.

Funkisfabriken.
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 Sustainability test bed … Funkisfabriken. Photograph: courtesy David Risley

The old furniture factory where ‘waste is a failure of the imagination’
This 1930s furniture factory, in southern Sweden, is being turned into one of the most exciting places for interdisciplinary research and innovation in sustainability. The brainchild of former gallerist David Risley, the hub brings culture together with science, philosophy, free thinking and business, and is scheduled to open in summer 2020. With more than 12,000 square metres of open-plan space set over several floors, Funkisfabriken could become a test bed for new sustainable approaches. “Waste is a failure of imagination,” reads its founding slogan. Located a short walk from the botanist Carl Linnaeus’s house and garden, the space will feature an array of labs (wet, dry, clean and dirty), an urban farm, a circular economy centre, and conference facility, exhibition spaces and sculpture parks – not to mention a hotel, indoor garden and a zero-waste restaurant set up by Doug McMaster of the Brighton restaurant Silo.

 The Guardian