By Neil Harrison
If you think students have a monopoly on doing cool stuff during the summer break, think again. One Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) tutor has spent this summer touring the UK, playing in bands including indie legends The Wedding Present.
Diane Rodgers is an associate lecturer in Film Studies at both MMU and Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). As well as being a mother, Diane, under the pseudonym Missy Tassles, is also very active in the creative sphere – making films, comics, vintage clothes and playing guitar in her regular band Black Light Ray.
Humanity Hallows spoke to Diane to find out all about her, or rather Missy’s, exciting summer. Being fans of The Wedding present, we rather jealously asked how the gig playing with that band came about. Diane told us,
“Well, my partner, Paul, used to be in the band about 20 years ago. I’ve been in a band with him and another friend who also used to be in The Wedding Present on and off for a few years. Then, in May this year David Gedge [of The Wedding Present] sent us an email completely out of the blue, saying ‘I know this is a mad idea but there’s a festival I really, really want to play in Glasgow and the normal bass player and guitar player can’t do it, would you two like to fill in?’
“So we looked at each other and thought ‘is this crazy?’ But we said ‘yeah, why not? We’ll have a go.’ I’d never played bass guitar before! So I had a steep learning curve. I think David just assumed that I played bass because Paul and I are in a band together, but we both play normal, 6-string guitar. So I started thinking that I’d better get a lot of practice in. Plus I didn’t really know any Wedding Present songs! I had to learn eleven in two months.”
So, we asked with growing envy, you weren’t already a fan of the band?
“No! Not really. They were one of those bands that I’d heard of but never really listened to their records – it kind of passed me by. The most I knew about them was that I had a couple of friends who used to be in that band. But I never really listened to them myself, not because I disliked them, they just passed me by.”
Few students returning to university from the summer break would think to ask their lecturers how their summer had been and what they had gotten up to. Maybe Diane’s answer to exactly that question will make you think about doing so this term. We asked, what had been the highlights of an obviously busy summer for her?
“As Black Light Ray we played a festival in Brighton – that was really fun. We got loads of people coming up to us after the gig saying how great they thought it was. People were asking us to sign our CDs and having photos taken with us, it was crazy. It was a lot more than I expected.
“Then it was a similar experience with The Wedding Present. People were asking for autographs and stuff. Because I didn’t know the songs very well and I realised that they are a very important band, and the songs mean a lot to the fans, I thought ‘oh no I’m going to ruin loads of people’s favourite songs.’ But people seemed to think I did quite a good job so that was nice. It was a bit of a personal challenge I guess. To learn a new instrument and to learn a load of songs that I didn’t know and to be in a famous pop band at the same time, it was all a bit scary but very exciting. I feel quite proud of myself that I pulled it off.”
“We did a little warm-up gig the night before Glasgow in a little town called Leslie. So that was on the Friday night, then on the Saturday we played the East End Social Festival. Mogwai were headlining. It was a very big stage and it was a bit scary at first but I got through it.”
Mogwai were headlining! This just gets better and better. So just how does Diane’s creative and family life fit in with her work as a lecturer?
“I have no idea. I’m one of those people who is always doing mad projects. I have a little boy so I take him to school then it’s just a case of finding a spare couple of hours or a weekend here and there. It helps being an Associate Lecturer because it isn’t like a traditional nine to five job, you get the occasional day off here and there.
“I would say that the creative aspects of my life tie in to everything I do, as I’m lucky enough to do a job that I love and my subject area (film and media) is strongly related to arts, music and visual media that I’m involved with. For me, it’s all part of the same organic process; studying and working on art, music and media relates directly to the creative process in any field, and feeds into knowledge and understanding of alternative cinema and outsider art filmmaking and animation, which is one of the specific areas I teach on. Most artists and filmmakers I admire often turn their hand to a number of mediums, for example, Andy Warhol made films, paintings, was involved in music and other things.
“Writing and playing music, making art, comics and doing filmmaking in my personal life allows me to enthuse to students at both MMU and SHU about all areas of what they are studying and hopefully give them some deeper appreciation and understanding of the background and history of their subjects, and see it in context within the world, and how it might apply to a number of different areas of creative interest in their lives. I also teach and support students looking to become employed in the creative and performing arts, so my work history – in digital and creative media, video editing and computer games – and interests outside of work, in the music and creative industries, allow me to speak directly to them from a practical understanding of the world outside of academia, meaning I can advise them from the point of view of someone directly and currently involved with it. Beyond that, it has also allowed me to develop a network of contacts and friends, which I can use to the benefit of both my contacts and any future students.”
Finally, we asked (angling for tickets) “Will The Wedding Present be asking you back?”
“[David] said that if a similar situation arises he’d be very happy to have us back again. So, yes, I think so. I also did a comic diary of the tour and he’s asked if they can include that in a book that they are putting out soon, so that’ll be quite nice.”
So maybe in your next lecture or seminar, it might just be worth asking your tutor what they did over the summer. There might even be a signed CD in it for you.
For more info on Black Light Ray please visit blacklightray.wordpress.com