MUSIC INTERVIEW: Lucan Mills – The rapper from Winchester who vows to always keep it real and acoustic

Rap that sears its way forcibly through a blues band while at the same time overwhelms you to close your eyes and sway, is a winning combination when executed properly.

Winchester rapper and songwriter Lucan Mills, whose debut EP Level 1 awaits its official iTunes release – 10 years on from gracing stages as a support act for Tinie Tempah and G Unit – marks the beginning of a new chapter for the 26-year-old.

To keep the music in its rawest form, Lucan has composed his own sound – an uptempo fusion of hip hop, jazz and funk – weaved together with realism and lyrics that puncture each note played by his seven-piece band. More than two years in the making ‘without them the live shows wouldn’t be what they are,’ Lucan admitted, and they go by the names: Graham Henderson (Bass); Alex Villar (Guitar); Louis Yalaz (Drums); Jen Watson (Saxophone); Kit Marsden/ Herty Hill/ Jacob Stoney (Keys); and James Tashario (Vocals).

In the lead up to national tour dates, the first being tomorrow at MK Dons Stadium, myself and Lucan had a lot to talk about – like how he learnt to rap so quick, the ‘weird’ music industry, and why he’ll be forever grateful to the likes of David Bowie and Jay Z.

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Now you’re from Winchester but my geography is poor, so I can see that it’s kind of close to London. Was music a bit part of the scene growing up there?

Well Craig David was Southampton based and it was very much the garage and hip hop scene down there growing up. He would emcee in a club called Rhino, which I did too a few years after, so there was definitely a buzz around it and everybody listened to the music – but don’t get me wrong, I was probably the only one rapping in my school at the time so that was different.

You must have definitely stood out then.

That’s a good way to put it! Especially back then it wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now so I definitely got ‘but you’re white’ all the time and people would take the mick, but I’m still doing it now so that faded off over the years.

What was your response to that ignorance?

Back then I used to just laugh it off. I loved doing it so much and knew that I could do it, that I just ignored it and got on with it. But when I got to college and was making more tracks, people understood that this is what I wanted to do and accepted it.

Listening to your voice now, you don’t sound like how you rap – you rap quite hard which reminds me of grime. Did you take influences from grime when you were crafting your sound initially?

100 percent. I’m a massive Kano fan and when I was growing up, he was just lyrically brilliant and in the US – Jay Z and Eminem were the biggest influences for me. I would study their tracks, not just their lyrics but it was more about flow, and I was also listening to a lot of UK grime. I can switch between all of them, it just depends what beat I’m listening to, but at the same time I’m very careful because people will say I’m not a grime artist. There’s a fine line between what’s going to be credible and believable.

I understand that. You mentioned Kano and Jay Z – were they the rappers that you would imitate when you were developing your rap skills and speed?

Definitely, some of the early tracks I learnt like So Ghetto, a really old track off one of Jay Z’s first albums and Imaginary Player, all those songs about flow and lyrics, and the way he would change tempo was similar to Eminem and Kano in P’s and Q’s. It was all about tempo for me at the same time as being lyrically impressive and thinking quick on my feet. David Bowie was also a big influence for me, I went to a show of his just before he’d finished touring. I’d listened to Bowie all my life because my dad was a huge fan and I took a lot in from watching how he’d perform and his stage presence.

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You probably get told often that your music is distinctive but there’s obviously been some conscious decisions you’ve made to achieve that sound.

It was difficult because when I first started making music I would rap over mixtape beats and other people’s stuff but with my own music, I was always very conscious that I wanted to have a live band. So once I’d made that decision it was a case of bringing together really good musicians who wanted to be part of it. I spent a long time crafting the sound – adding saxophone, having keys and synths – and trying to incorporate everything together to give it a live jazz feel that’s funky and different, at the same time as keeping the hip hop element strong. I’m still working on it – it’s constantly evolving but it took a while to get the sound that we have now.

IMG_1160 smallHow is it that you and the band work together because there’s a lot of creative heads to factor in?

It’s mad, when I first got them together I had my songs, we’d go into a room and go through them all but it’s different with a production track. You’ve got the band that play it but then I very much wanted their input into the music as well, so the tracks completely changed from the production version that we had into the live version. What you hear on the EP now is not what they originally were and with all these creative people as you say, they all had a different flavour that they wanted to bring to the table. Those songs evolved over a year or so before I actually went in and re-recorded the EP from scratch live. It’s a real collaboration of ideas but I want to take it even further because there’s so much that we can do to merge the live and electronic sound together and make something huge.

One of the songs I really like on the EP is Stay Lucky. Although it’s not the lead single, it’s very pretty and heartfelt – where was your head at when you wrote and recorded it?

That song I wrote originally as a poem, it was never a song. I can’t even remember what inspired the rhythm or what beat I was listening to, it was just a block of writing, but I loved the words so much that when I first started performing live with just me and a guy on piano, I got him to play this nice riff and I would rap the lyrics, almost like spoken word. I carried on doing that for a year maybe more and it just evolved. It wasn’t until a few months before I did the EP that I decided I wanted it to be a proper song and literally within a few seconds I came up with the Stay Lucky chorus, which stemmed from a story with my granddad and this ring he gave me with a horseshoe on it. The chorus isn’t complicated but it really fitted the tone of my singer’s voice. It’s one of James’ favourite songs to sing, who is my vocalist when we perform live, but on the EP it’s Wadé singing.

You’ve been gigging over summer and on the 31st October you’re playing at the MK Stadium so @menmademusic asked on Twitter if you’re an MK Dons FC supporter?

I’ve actually got a season ticket for MK Dons because my dad used to live in Milton Keynes and when they got promoted to the championships it was a really good deal. I haven’t had a chance to go to many games recently because I’ve been away, which is annoying, but I’ll be at the home game with the band. It’s a good atmosphere when I’ve been so to be asked to perform there is really cool and random because I don’t know how they knew I was even a musician – but it should be a good day.

Tell me about Ed Sheeran – you performed on stage with him and I know it was a lucky coincidence.

I was at a night in Clapham a couple of years ago and Jamal Edwards from SBTV came in and had bought Ed along. A mate of mine was running the night at the time and I happened to be sat chatting to him [Ed] about it. He went on stage to perform You Need Me and then he said, ‘I want to call some rappers up I was chatting to earlier’ and I had to take the opportunity when it was there, so I jumped up on stage and made it up as I went along. I’ve got the video forever so hopefully if I meet him again, I’ll show it to him.

Most artists have a bigger vision and motivation for why they’re an artist, what would you say that yours is?

I just know it’s what I’ve always wanted to do from the minute I can remember – the pictures of me putting headphones on, strumming away on a tennis racket watching Bowie on the TV when I was about four. My vision has always been to be respected for doing what I love and if another rapper turns around and says, ‘You know what? You’re a brilliant rapper’ – that’s my dream. When you see artists like Ed Sheeran sell out Wembley and the crowd are chanting the songs – just pure respect for your talent – that would be special. It’s not about the money. I know people say that all the time, it’s a boring cliche, but money can only go so far. If I could have a massive crowd of people all singing my songs and actually the songs do something for them, that would be everything to me.

And what stadium would you love to sell out?

Oh, Hollywood Bowl, Wembley, Coachella, Glastonbury – but for now Brixton Academy would be awesome.

For tickets to see Lucan Mills headline at Bloomsbury Lanes, London for their Hot Vox music launch night click here.

Website/ Twitter/ /Instagram

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Abigail Jackson: Healing women’s hearts one literary anthology at a time

In searching for a way to combine her joint passion for literature and women’s rights, 24-year-old teaching assistant and aspiring novelist, Abigail Jackson, from Lewisham South-East London, founded the Red Ink Project a not-for-profit anthology which documents the female experience.

Abigail Jackson Founder of the Red Ink ProjectLaunched in 2012 during Abi’s second year at Greenwich University where she’s now a PHD candidate examining emotion and identity in post-colonial Caribbean literature she ’wanted to give women a chance to express themselves under the banner of human rights’.

On a bus journey home, Abi decided to start the project once and for all.

A themed anthology published every two years, with the first year’s proceeds going to charity, the project champions storytelling as a way to ‘break the cycle of silence’, while its name represents that although ‘we all have the same blood, we’re treated differently’.

She said: “Sometimes it’s easy for us to believe that our story is the only one and by putting yours out there, you’ll never know how you’re affecting somebody else who’s reading it.

“One thing that’s important about sharing stories is so that people know they’re not alone and although not everybody enjoys reading non-fiction, I think biographies are so popular because we want to know about people’s lives and to see if there’s anything similar in our own.”

Moved to tears by some of the first submissions under the theme, Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood, which included stories of sexual abuse, ‘coming out’ and loss Abi was particularly moved by one woman’s grief, which forced her to relive a painful moment in her own life.

She said: “This lady wrote a letter to her dad who had passed away around the same time as my grandma, so it brought up a lot of the emotions that I felt and things that I could’ve said that I wasn’t able to.”

Abigail’s grandmother died suddenly on the same morning she and her family had planned to visit.

“To arrive and be told that she’d passed an hour ago was very upsetting,” she said.

She added: “There was also another lady who’d gone through a very difficult childhood experience where she’d been sexually abused and at the end of her story she wrote a poem to express another aspect of how she felt. It was an unusual way of doing it but her story ended positively, she’s now happily married.

“I loved that all Rites of Passage; Rights of Womanhood anthology the stories didn’t stop at the suffering or struggle, at the end they overcame their issues and that’s very important too.”

Surprised by the success of the first anthology that began as a WordPress blog, Abi initially struggled finding women to submit.

Men showed more of an interest in the page, something she found ‘really strange but encouraging’, and it wasn’t until she posted an advert online through the Guardian that ‘things started getting serious’, which prompted a relaunch and brand new website.

Fast-forward post its release, Abi was daunted at having to reinvigorate people’s interest in the project for its second edition and explained how a chance meeting with Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, helped renew her confidence.

She said: “At the secondary school I used to work at as a library assistant, the head of the library was such an activist. His issue was sexism in school and so he managed to get Laura in for the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get this opportunity again so I spoke to her and we had this long chat about feminism and womanism.

“Since then we’ve kept in contact and she’s said that whenever something is happening that she’ll retweet and share it for me, so she also gave me the confidence to think it was a project that could go further and get people’s attention.”

Now technically in its fourth year, submissions for the 2016 anthology, Out of Body Experience, an exploration of the female body in today’s society, have now opened.

Provoked by the need to address ‘something not quite right’ in conversations happening across communities and the media, current events such as the politicising of Nadiya Hussain’s British Bake Off win and comedian Nicole Arbour’s controversial, Dear Fat People video, all inspired this emotive theme.

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She said ‘it went viral for all the wrong reasons’.

“There was just no compassion at all which is why people feel how they do about themselves.

“Although it’s personal, the female body is something that’s quite political.

Source: The Guardian online. Photograph by Linda Nylind.

Source: The Guardian online. Photograph by Linda Nylind.

“I loved Great British Bake Off so when Nadiya won I was happy because she was the best one there, but it was interesting how quickly features about her appeared in the media because ‘she’s actually British’ and wears a hijab.”

The proceeds of anthology sales will this time support Daughters of Eve, a charity founded by prolific female genital mutilation campaigner, Leyla Hussein.

Her 2014 Channel 4 documentary, The Cruel Cut, helped put FGM back on the national agenda and ‘debunked the myths’ that it was a strictly African practice not happening here in the UK.

‘Speechless’ after watching the hour long programme, Abi had already been following the charity on Twitter and was ‘impassioned’ by their work, but felt they deserved far more exposure.

With the anthology priced low at £1 for an e-copy and £4 for a printed version, Abi hopes to raise close to £100 for Daughters of Eve this year, but is unsure of what to expect when proceeds from the first book totalled half of this.

Down the line she would love to be able to transition from self-publishing to using an independent publisher, but more importantly, Abi wants the anthology to have a wider audience and regards it as a springboard for budding writers.

She said: “The main reason why I started the Red Ink Project is for people to have a platform but also for these women to share stories.

“They’ve been so brave and it’d be great if they had a huge audience so people can be touched in the same way I was.”

In between studying for her PHD and working with young people, Abi has recently submitted her own short stories for publication to an anthology and is putting the finishing touches on a novel.

She added: “I’m hoping to send it off to agents within the year, if I just pull my socks up and start editing it properly.”

Submissions for RED INK Vol. 2: Out of Body Experience close on January 1 2016.

For more information visit: www.redinkproject.org

Follow Abigail on Twitter here.

Wisdom Writers – Apply now!

Wisdom Writers, new creative writing programme in Birmingham with the self-published Annika Spalding. Deadline for submissions is just three days away on October 14.

Annika Spalding

If you’ve followed me on my social media for a while now, you’ll know that I work closely with the phenomenal Marcia M. Spence of Success Makers.

It was with Marcia that I did my very first book reading at an event, way back at the start of 2014 and since then I have spoken and delivered workshops at her events.

wpiIt’s been brilliant actually because I have always been inspired by her own story of surviving domestic violence and living with mental health, and she has seen my personal and professional growth first hand. So much so that she recently awarded me as an honoury member of her Women of Power & Influence programme, which was a massive honour and gesture.

For some time now we have both discussed writing and have put together a writing programme, called Wisdom Writers, for women who are dedicated and committed…

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Collaborative marketing project in Birmingham launches new magazine

Earlier this week when I came across Forge Magazine, it was described as ‘interactive’ and something that aimed to highlight creative talent across the Midlands, from varying disciplines – but I had no idea what to expect.

What I later found out is that Forge wasn’t founded by a single individual, despite what I thought initially, but in fact a collective of young marketers who themselves have formed The Icing Agency, under the Mac Birmingham’s ongoing Next Generation Project.

A scheme designed to offer young people aged between 14 and 30 opportunities to learn and break into the creative industries, the Next Generation Creative Agency produced Forge – a slick collection of insightful features, illustration and photography.

Source: Twitter @tombirduk

Source: Twitter @tombirduk

Ashleigh Moore, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, though she was keen to point out it was a joint effort between some 10 plus contributors, explained that it was important for Forge to create a publication for emerging creatives and something that would benefit this demographic.

She said: “Sometimes they just need that platform, that little thing that says, ‘Look I’m here’ which will then take them forward.

“We also wanted to give a broad overview of the creative opportunities that are available and the ways you can get into the creative industries so everyone put their heads down and thought about them, what they were passionate about.

“When you look through you’ll see that each person has contributed to this.”

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Ashleigh Moore addressing the intimate audience. Source: Twitter @KristinaOMedia

With the magazine’s layout designed by Fused Media – the publishers responsible for the renowned culture bible, Fused – Art Director, Anya Jung created Forge’s iconic cover illustration and designed the exclusive black and white sleeve which was available at the launch.

She said: “It was a collaborate between me and Louise Byng, who works at the Mac, we really wanted to create something pleasing to look at but not too high brow, we didn’t want to go into contemporary art magazine style at all.

“We were influenced by wrap magazine which is an illustrated magazine and also Oh Comely magazine which is lovely – we like it quite a lot.”

To find out more about what was a mysterious new offering in Birmingham’s print world, I spoke with both Ashleigh and Anya, for a not so ‘random’ podcast. (My phrase on the audio, not theirs.)

For more information about the Next Generation programme click here.

To request a free copy of Forge magazine head to their Facebook page.

Tissues and tampax: #TheStruggleIsReal – but never hurt anyone

North West in a power struggle with mum Kim Kardashian. I throw these tantrums all the time too but I'm too big to be picked up so they exist in my head. Source: Instagram

North West in a power struggle with mum Kim Kardashian. I throw these tantrums all the time but I’m too big to be picked up so they exist in my head. Source: Instagram

When people say, “The struggle is real,” I do wonder how real their struggle is and find it funny that along with myself, nobody really shares their struggle.

Superficial ones, yes, but unlike the champagne lifestyle, lemonade money fraudsters, I don’t feel that admitting to being ‘financially challenged’ – this is my replacement phrase for ‘broke’ – is embarrassing, because I know when I reach that place of success, my backstory will be invaluable.

But let me give you a snapshot: today with the £1.94 in my purse, I had to forfeit a pack of digestive biscuits for sanitary towels – thank God you can find them for less than a pound. For that moment stood glancing left to right at the packs of Bodyform, Wilko own brand and the unaffordable Tampax, I resented my monthly cycle. And the fact that I didn’t put the coppers in my purse because I could have made that up to a round £2.

What made me contemplate sharing this is a friend who just vindicated me by admitting she was once chose tissue over sanitary towels because she couldn’t afford the latter. This confession completely changed my face, for one, I found that hilarious, but compelled me to retell the story and show people that they’re not alone. Let our struggle, be your freedom, especially since I haven’t finished yet…

I then, after just buying the sanitary towels, had to make a choice later on between milk from Tesco and UHT milk from Poundland (but skimmed, not semi, there’s around a 5p difference, if I remember rightly). As I’d already picked up a flapjack for 29p, I had to sneakily use my calculator just to make sure I had enough to buy the milk too before I got to the till. (Air high-five if you do this too). 

Some people might be wondering why on earth I’m airing this on my blog but I have no intention of editing it like I do everything else in my life to avoid embarrassment, it stays how it is because this is how it is. At least this week. So when you say your struggle is real, think of me who ate slices of cucumber and garlic tea for breakfast this morning and lasted the whole day, I don’t know how, and who’s restricted to one piece of protein per day until her bank says otherwise.

Of course, I could call home and I’d be sent money but where’s the lesson in that? Or even the entertainment.

After a while the hunger pangs go away, tea does great at tricking your stomach, and when you’ve been glued to your laptop for as long as I have, they go anyway. Plus I have carbs here so life isn’t that bad.

Hopefully you’ve had a giggle, feel better about your own life or can smile in solidarity at my        ‘stru-ggle,’ but more importantly, the universe loves a hustler so keep on it, whatever your journey. Peace.

Two months in Manchester and still no friends – a snapshot of being in a new city

When moving away from home, a huge expectation tags along with the experience that it’s going to be life changing.

Sourced from: Weheartit.com

Sourced from: Weheartit.com

A new city offered new surroundings, to be enjoyed without boundaries when I left my parents, friends and everybody who knows me to become a stranger elsewhere.

It’s a liberating thought when you take a minute to reflect on it: being a stranger to every new person you encounter. Having the freedom to create a whole new existence or persona is inspiring. That’s what I felt before making the 86 mile trip in February and last Sunday afternoon, when I really considered the possibilities of what I could get up to, but as the headline suggests, there has been no rebirth, which is a little bit embarrassing.

Since migrating I’m habitually asked the question: “How’s Manchester?” and my response varies depending on who I’m reporting back to and how honest I’m being. Either I deflect the answer onto my course with a false display of overt joy: ‘It’s alright you know!’ or offset my true feelings with lightheartedness: ‘It’s cool thanks but I can’t tell you how Manchester is as I haven’t socialised since I’ve been here!’ – still with exclamation marks.

And it is fine. I get illegal free tram rides to the supermarket and back, have experienced no crime or racial abuse in deprived and all-Caucasian Salford, and there have even been advantages to my temporary poverty, like a diminished sweet tooth, but I exist within a hamster cage.

In fact I just dropped my old hamster cage into a new location. Some of this I anticipated and is necessary to achieve the results I intended. Venturing to Manchester was a purposeful decision, not frivolous, but there’s this niggling feeling of disappointment that I’ve not made more of it here when I’m dying to just initiate myself into some underground subculture or get involved in something that breaks me away from myself.

At the weekend, however, I was told sympathetically to go easy, “You’ve just moved. Everything you need to experience will come in due course,” which is perfectly logical advice. In the meantime though I’m looking for inspiration and content for new blogs with item number one being the London leg of the World Naked Bike Ride on 13 June 2015.

If I can secure an interview with the original founders/ organisers of the event then I plan to follow up with a news article so check back for that.

Cycling around Central London naked should be fun but much better with body paint to mask my clitoria – a flower with an uncanny resemblance to the vagina, but not the only one. (Click it) So on my to-do list is finding a bike, a creative individual who’d like to paint me and possibly a flesh-coloured thong.

GIG REVIEW: Bipolar Sunshine at the Ritz Manchester

Dulcet tones and hymnal backing vocals produced a calming sense of stillness at the Ritz Manchester last night.

Source: Chuff Media

Source: Chuff Media

Bipolar Sunshine lulled me into a trance only to rouse me from the slumber with beautiful melodies and lyrics that rang out like anthems.

It was an interesting experience, and yet somehow unexpected, despite the purposeful use of juxtaposition within his studio material and new creative direction.

Harmonic vocals ensnared the crowd and while lyrics, ‘I feel the fire’ echoed around the room so too did the rapturous applause once the last note was played. Sunset orange filled the stage for the aptly titled, Fire, and while Bipolar was quiet, the cheering continued.

Bipolar Sunshine, real name: Adio Marchant, knew exactly what he was doing on stage but yet didn’t need to do much at all. The audience were with him all of the way – phones and plastic cups of beer in the air, leaving Marchant and the band to continue without gimmicks.

Addressing the crowd near the end of his set, he declared: “I always make sure the last place I play is Manchester,” before rapping acapella in his uniquely crafted spoken-word style. Though Bipolar has made a conscious decision to step away from a sound synonymous with Manchester, you only had to look around at the indie crowd to know he’s made a mark on the alternative music scene here.

Relatable on stage without unnecessary decoration, reverberating drumbeats and synths added striking depth to his musical offerings. Magic was created when other genres like Ska seeped through and the crescendo of a four-piece band touched the soul of every person in the audience.

Performing all of the best tracks in his arsenal: Where Did The Love Go, Rivers, Love More Worry Less, I suspect we’ll be waiting until festival season to see him live again. Marking the last few minutes of his UK tour with Daydreamers, at least I have the album on my hard drive to see me through to summer.

www.bipolarsunshine.com

Originally published on Mancunian Matters