Friday, 23 November 2012

THE VACCINES, 22/11/12

THE VACCINES @ Mountford Hall, Liverpool Guild of Students, 22/11/12

My review of The Vaccines' first gig in Liverpool is available to read now on here. It was an amazing night and if you haven't already bought their second album Come of Age I suggest you do so now.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


My pick of bands to watch out for (Haim and Death At Sea) appears in the new issue of The Student Guide, which will hit the shops on October 1st! You can see my article here or check out the full magazine here.

Monday, 3 September 2012



I talked to Ed Moyse, graduate entrepreneur and co-founder of, about looking for jobs and jumping out of planes. [Originally appeared in issue 5 of Ellipsis magazine.]

Have you got The Fear yet? The crippling realisation that University doesn’t last forever, and that at some point in the near future you will have to find a career in the most competitive graduate job market for decades? Ed Moyse and Ross Harper, who studied Economics and Neuroscience at Cambridge, certainly did. Now, however, they have their own international business in the shape of, a viral marketing concept which happens to involve a lot of face paint.

“We weren’t completely sure what we wanted to do when we graduated,” says Ed. “About halfway through our final year we were still on the lookout for jobs; we didn’t really have a clue.” Instead they decided it was time to get creative. “Rather than going down the conventional careers path and being faced with massive amounts of competition, we quite fancied trying our hand at our own thing.

“We’d been keeping this little black notebook of any ideas we came up with. We wanted to make some money and have a good gap year, but the problem was that we didn’t have any money to invest.” Ironically, the flash of inspiration they needed came to Ed while he was travelling to an interview for a job.

“As soon as it was done I went straight back to Ross’s at university, and I didn’t care at all about the outcome of the job interview. I just said, ‘Come on, we’ve got to sell advertising space on our faces,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, alright.’ After that we had a few bar sessions, just mulling it over and trying to come up with something that was workable really.”

At the time of writing, has been up and running for only 182 days, but its founders are already £33,182  closer to paying off their student debts [the total at day 338 is currently £47,080]. It’s a fiendishly simple idea: companies or individuals can buy Ross and Ed’s faces by the day, with the price going up over time as the website gets more hits. They will then paint an advert on their faces and upload pictures of themselves which become links to the company’s website. This new approach to marketing has proved incredibly successful, but I imagine their families must have been shocked when they announced their new business plan.

“We were very wary of telling anyone that we were going to be doing this before it actually got going. The first thing we did was to get the help of our friend Tom from university to set up a website for us, and we gave him a share in the business too. After the website was looking really good and we were ready to start selling, we actually told our families at graduation. So I met Ross’s parents, then he met my parents, and we said, ‘Instead of getting a job, this is what we’re doing…’

“They were a bit shocked I reckon, but they’ve been very supportive and they’ve been surprised at how well it’s gone. We couldn’t have done it without them because I have to kind of live with Ross the whole time, so we’re always at Ross’s house in London or my house in Poole. I’ve seen Ross more than I’ve seen my girlfriend in the past few months.”

As well as creating a lot of publicity in the UK (as a recent front page feature in the Sunday Times confirms) the website has become surprisingly international. The two graduates have even featured on Australian TV.

“Weirdly, we really took off in Germany. We’ve been on all three national TV channels, as well as in all their national newspapers. We’re bigger in Germany than in the UK so we’ve had quite a few German companies buy space. An American company called Revolver Studios sent us to the Royal Opera House to see a ballet dressed up in our suits with our faces painted up as well. It was pretty ridiculous; we had champagne reception and stuff because they wanted us to get some funny photos.”

Of course most adverts exist purely online, but Ed and Ross do occasionally get asked to venture a bit further in order to spread the word; accounting firm Ernst & Young bought their faces for a week and used the time to send them skiing with students, which Ed describes as my “best week of work.” They have even been asked to jump out of a plane. 

“My girlfriend was talking to someone from Altitude Solutions about this weird idea I had, and the guy she was talking to said he’d heard about us on the news. Instead of just getting advertising space on our website, he wanted to send us sky-diving, in the hope that newspapers and our blog readers would be interested. It worked out pretty well for him.”

Sound like your sort of thing? Well you’re in luck, because are looking for new student recruits around the country…

“Basically Tom’s come up with this really clever code for the website, which means anyone visiting it from say, London, would see a London version of the website, and anyone visiting from America would see the American version. So we can get geographical targeting and get people in different areas doing it. It’s a good way of getting more people involved, because what we didn’t want was it spilling out into the real world.

“The role would basically consist of face painting, but there’s also quite a lot of work to do with the media because people are talking about it and they want to know more. They may have to get in touch with their local news for example. But we are trying to make it as little work as possible, so that a student could do this alongside their studies as a way of raising a bit of money, because we know what being a student is like.”

In a graduate job climate with an average of 83 applicants per job, students coming up with their own creative ways around unemployment may become something of a trend, a way to stand out from the job-seeking crowd.

“That’s the irony, really: we’re doing this crazy project because it’s a really tough time to get a job, and then because we’ve done this crazy project, we’ve had loads of job offers. In our first month alone we had five job offers, which is awesome.

“We’ve got some more ideas in our little black notebook and we’d quite like to give one of them a go. It’s just a question of do we accept a job offer or do we try something else out, and we’re not really sure at this stage.”

So while graduating may seem like a daunting prospect, especially when even Cambridge alumni are struggling, the boys from have proved that hard work and a fresh perspective can still get you noticed.

“My advice would be that if you’ve got a good idea and you think it’s worth giving it a go, then as soon as you graduate is an excellent time to do it. I’d say go for it.”

Monday, 20 August 2012



I talked to Max Pemberton, author of The Doctor Will See You Now, about his life as a student journalist and his anger over the NHS reforms. From Ellipsis magazine issue 4.

[I have since been informed that Max appeared as a medical expert recently on a Channel 4 documentary called 'Sex Story: Fifty Shades of Grey', which, if you so wish, you can watch here.]

Max Pemberton seems to be an unstoppable force. He has degrees in Medicine and Anthropology. He writes regular columns for the Daily Telegraph and the Reader’s Digest. He has published three semi-autobiographical books. He is adapting his books for television and is writing a new thriller. He has even appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show.

He is also a full time doctor in the NHS.

“I don’t have a television, and I don’t have children. If you don’t have a television, and you don’t have children, what else do you do in your evenings? You write books or you write articles. It’s quite straight forward!”

But there is more to Max than his self-deprecating humour suggests, and as I speak to him it becomes apparent that the secret to his success is an astonishing capacity for hard work.

“I think a lot of people look at me and think, “Oh you got your column when you were 23, that’s not fair,” but what they fail to appreciate is that I spent five years slogging away in journalism while I was a medical student. The number of tickets to the theatre that I’ve wasted, the people I’ve let down… You have to be really quite determined.”

In fact, Max’s career in journalism started not because of a passion for writing, but out of financial necessity. In his second year at UCL medical school and down to his last two hundred pounds, he applied for a job writing for an internet company that outsourced news content. Then when Max left university he realised that his life as a freelance journalist would not fit in with the busy schedule of a junior doctor so, unwilling to give up his aspirations of being a writer, he came up with a plan.

“I just wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph and said, ‘I’d like a column please. This is the idea I’ve got.’” After an interview with the editor the Telegraph agreed, giving Max a column in which to write about his first year as a junior doctor. It proved so popular with readers that he was kept on to provide opinions on current healthcare issues and has written a weekly article ever since. “I wanted to bring out a human interest angle in the big, political stories. There would be stories in the press about people on sickness benefits and it would all be very polarised; then I would see people on sickness benefits and think, ‘Well actually it’s a lot more complicated.’”

He has since written three books about his and his friends’ early years as doctors: Trust Me, I’m a Junior Doctor, Where Does It Hurt and The Doctor Will See You Now. The latter sees Max returning to hospital work after a year spent working with homeless people and drug addicts, and illustrates the incredible range of human experience doctors encounter every day. From Tony the school child who has taken an overdose because of homophobic bullying, to Mr Clements, who complains that a certain part of his anatomy has started to resemble an aubergine. One of the main issues of the book is the quality of care elderly patients receive, especially those suffering from dementia. Through stories of neglect and suffering Max challenges the way society views older people and exposes the major flaws in the way the NHS cares for them. 

“I appreciate how lucky I am to have this platform to talk about the things I feel passionate about. It’s really lovely and quite overwhelming, but it can also be absolutely petrifying. So sometimes when I sit down to write I have to pretend that I’m just writing for me, because otherwise I get overwhelmed with the anxiety that some people aren’t going to like it, or some people won’t agree.”

This would certainly have been the case for a series of articles he wrote recently denouncing Andrew Lansley’s NHS Reform Bill, claiming that the Health Service “will be spliced and diced into bite-sized portions to be thrown down the gullet of the corporate sector.” I found it refreshing to see someone defending the principle of care to all from cradle to grave, as well as explaining in simple terms the consequences of this complex piece of legislation. “I just thought it was absolutely disgusting and didn’t want to let them get away with it.

“I read the white paper, which is like the government’s explanation of what the legislation is going to do, and to me it bore absolutely no resemblance to the actual legislation I was reading. What annoyed me was not so much that it was essentially a roadmap for privatisation, although that would perturb and upset me, but that they were being disingenuous about what the actual legislation was. The white paper was all about patient choice and making things better for patients; in fact it is all about undoing caveats that had been put in to protect the NHS so that it can be sliced open for the private sector. It made me incandescent with rage.”

Fairness and honesty play a big part in Max’s writing, and he is committed to fighting for the causes he feels passionate about. “I suppose it comes from being in medicine: you realise that the world is inherently unfair. Some people get cancer and other people don’t, some people get knocked over by a bus and other people don’t. So society should be as fair as possible because underlying that is an inherent unfairness. When I see individuals behaving in a way that is unjust or unethical it gets me so angry because I think, well the world is so unfair anyway we don’t need people like you!”

When I ask if now is a difficult time for medicine graduates, he brings up another issue close to his heart. “I think the biggest and most significant thing that has happened to medicine students recently is the introduction of tuition fees, which I think is fucking disgraceful.

“It makes me worry. If you have gone through six years of medical school, and you’re paying £9000 a year, then who will want to become a community paediatrician? Or work with drug addicts in East End slums? People will want to go into the lucrative areas of private practice because they’ll think, ‘I bought the degree, I paid for it, what do I owe anybody?’”

Despite assurances that being a doctor is still his “main passion,” the balance must have shifted a little more towards writing as he became more successful, and I wonder if he would ever consider leaving the hospital to concentrate on journalism.

“I wouldn’t want to give up medicine,” he answers straight away, obviously not fazed by his many commitments. “I did have a bit of break a couple of months ago. I just couldn’t do everything so I took some time out of medicine and I actually really, really missed it. I love being a journalist and I love writing books but I also love working with people and seeing my patients, and I don’t think I really appreciated that until I gave it up.”

Tuesday, 24 April 2012



It is Death At Sea’s first gig in Liverpool and the sense of expectation and anticipation is almost palpable, mixed in with the heady atmosphere of sweat and beer at a packed Mello Mello. Ever since a Bido Lito! front cover back in February predicted that the relatively unheard of band would “blow a hole in Liverpool’s unsuspecting music community”, there has been a real buzz about them, despite the fact that most fans had only heard the three songs put up on YouTube. In spite of all this hype, which any band would be rightly wary of as a kiss of death before they’d even started, Death At Sea rise magnificently to the occasion, opening with the melancholy pop fuzz of ‘Sea Foam Green’ and showing off their lush three way harmonies to best effect. The band themselves acknowledge their sudden burst of popularity when they introduce the Cribs-esque ‘Drag’ as “one of our old songs… well, three months old,” but even at this early stage there is an almost sing-along moment during the chorus (“when he’s with her, she bleeds glitter”) which is testament to the swooning warmth of these tracks. Following up with the faster paced and heavier punk of ‘Selfless’ and new song ‘Driving Range’ it is clear that what worked well on record merely becomes more special when translated to a live setting.
‘Sea Foam Green’ opens with the lines, “In any other city in the world, tonight it gets dark- but not in Liverpool” and for the small crowd here to celebrate Record Store Day to the soundtrack of local talent, Death At Sea have definitely brightened up their night.