Musical Chats with Carl Anka

I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! Uploads Thursdays at 12pm.


Carl Anka is a London-born journalist and broadcaster, and is currently writing for The Athletic. He has written for BBC, the Guardian, VICE, NME, GQ and BuzzFeed among other publications online and in print and specialises in writing about pop culture, video games, films and football. We chatted about his listening habits, what inspires him and being a black man in journalism in the UK. Enjoy!

RS: What does a week of music listening look like for you? What role does music play in your life?

CA:  I’d say I listen to 2-3 hours of music every single day, minimum! I’m born and bred in London, and in that London-type world you wouldn’t be caught dead without a pair of headphones! On the commute – Spotify playlist, headphones in. Walking around town – headphones in. I normally go back and forth through 6 or 7 playlists, and listen to my Discover Weekly every single Monday. I now make a secondary playlist which I name after the year where I take the songs I like from my Discover Weekly and just feed that into the playlist – that’s a good tip for adapting the algorithm to your needs, because it means Spotify will keep making you better playlists for your Discover Weekly!

As far as gigs go, when I was in London I’d go to a gig probably once every 3 months – that is the thing I miss living in Southampton now. It took me a really long time to appreciate that in London every major musician came to see me, whereas now I have to travel to see them more. Though my last gig before lockdown was Craig David in Southampton – that was great!

RS: London is definitely the place to go for that variety, but Southampton does have some pretty good live venues! Do you use music for writing inspiration, or mainly for enjoyment?

I’ve reviewed music for FACT Magazine and NME, so I actually write about music a bit. I do write to music; I have a writing playlist, an editing playlist, a sports playlist. I would say, the one time people would expect me to listen to music and I don’t is in the gym! Though I do have a gym playlist, which I listen to on the way into and out of the gym…!

RS: Oh, of course! At the moment you’re working as a writer for The Athletic. What about cultural journalism inspires you, and why did you choose to do that as a career?

I truly did kind of fall into it! I went to university to be a screenwriter, and then partway through 3rd year I got in contact with someone who made nature documentaries for the BBC, and when I sent him my CV. Then, he phones me up on a Wednesday night and says: “Why have you sent me your CV? This is the CV of a journalist, not a filmmaker. Go be a journalist!” And I pretty much just went from there.

At the time I didn’t know I was chasing to be a ‘culture writer’. In my case, if I find something interesting, I will try and write about it. Sometimes I write about football, sometimes I write about dance, and sometimes film or computer games. I don’t have a guiding ‘I want to be… this’; it’s always been what interests me. It does mean I’ve written for quite an interesting batch of places!

RS: On a similar note, you’ve written a real variety of articles. There’s some on music listening styles, mental health and the representation of black youth in the media. Do you feel some responsibility as a writer to tackle some of those more difficult topics, or is it a case of it just being a topic of interest for you?

CA: It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I am black man who is a full-time journalist in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, that makes me rare. You can imagine how busy I was when Black Panther came out, for example! There was 2 or 3 times where I said: “Are you just ringing me up because I’m the only black person you know, and you need someone to write about Black Panther?!” And one of them actually said yes!

The thing is, I want to write about Black Panther – I grew up loving Marvel, and I’ve been reading Black Panther comic books since I was 15. So yeah, I will happily write about Black Panther and get paid to do it. But there was also a sense of people wanting me to write lofty, high-brow ideas about it, and sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes an incident around race will happen, and I’ll know that clearly I need to write about it because it’s in my wheelhouse. If an example of racism happens in rugby, I can probably write about it – I’m a black man, and I played rugby for 10 years. I have knowledge in that area. But on the other hand, there have been times I have passed on work because people have got in contact asking me to talk about grime music, or explain racism. I’m not the best person to write about that, I’m just clearly the only black person you know. Then it falls on me to help that person find the best person to talk to.

RS: Do you have a favourite thing to write about? Is it these challenging topics, sport, or music?

CA: It comes and goes in cycles. When I was a freelancer, I’d spend the first half of the year writing about movies, then I’d write about videogames and then it’d be movies again, a little bit about news and culture.

Now 85% of my time is writing about football, which is interesting. It’s a fun challenge! You have to teach yourself ways to keep it interesting and fresh, and try not to become formulaic. Before, if I got bored of writing about a particular topic, I’d go off and write something different. Now, I have to find all the different ways I can talk about football – it could be the statistics, sport psychology, sports and humanity. And you have to learn how to hold the attention of the fan-base! It is fun having multiple strings to your bow, but it’s been really fun just running around with one hammer for a bit.

RS: And to close up, what is your dream day off?

CA: Tomorrow is my day off actually, and I am going to sleep! I’m going to sleep, do a puzzle, drink red wine and do Duolingo Spanish on my balcony. That’s a day off in lockdown!

RS: Sounds like fun to me! Thank you so much for your time, Carl!  

FIND CARL HERE

REVIEW: The Audience (NST, Southampton)

Rating: ★★★★★
Quick Summary: For those who love good old Queenie, and for those who don’t.

 

A revival of Peter Morgan’s The Audience is currently showing at the NST City in Southampton. The play premiered in the West End in 2013, and stages the Queen’s private weekly meetings with her prime ministers. It poses questions of the Queen’s character and the necessity of the monarchy in our modern society, all the while showing us the comic and witty side of our serious figurehead. “Often funny, sometimes confessional, occasionally explosive” (NST Southampton), The Audience is a masterpiece not to be missed.

65 Years. 13 Prime Ministers. One Queen.

Queen Elizabeth is a public figure that we perhaps do not take much time to sympathize with. The Royal Family is steeped in tradition and protocol, and so it is very easy to forget that the head of that institution is also a person. Faye Castelow perfectly captures this tension between the figurehead and the people in her portrayal of Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is passionate about her country and the Commonwealth, but also about fairness and justice. She is not permitted to state opinion on political affairs, and yet her facial expressions and body language go a long way to show how she feels. Droll, intelligent, likeable and very upper class, we see Elizabeth as both a “postage stamp with a pulse” and as a woman trying to maintain her integrity in a position that demands she compromises it.

The staging for this production includes a large conveyer belt which wheels the Prime Ministers out onto the stage, adding a layer of comedy but also a more profound statement on the longevity of the Queen’s service as well as the seemingly never-ending trail of middle-aged white men that seem to occupy the PM position. Paul Kemp is a triumph as the male PM’s, where he embodies the essence of all of them with remarkable skill and finesse. His Harold Wilson was the stand-out, with witty comedy and poignancy in his diminishing health, showcasing a close bond with the Queen.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole show is the confrontation between Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, played by Lizzie Hopley. Thatcher storms into Buckingham Palace in a rage about a newspaper article that has been published stating Elizabeth’s poor opinion of her. A wonderful scene then ensues in which Elizabeth and Thatcher engage in a hostile confrontation, stalking up and down the conveyer belt towards each other in what feels like a hunt, yet we cannot quite tell which is the predator and which is the prey.

The combination of Morgan’s writing, Hodges‘ directing, Vize’s set design and the performances from Castelow and Kemp make The Audience unmissable. The private meetings liken to therapy sessions for the Prime Minister, and throughout we get a sense that all of the Prime Ministers are very similar men, just in a “different tie.”  By the end, we feel we have grown to understand the Queen, her PM’s, and the delicate balance that keeps it all together just a little bit more than we did before we started, all the while being entertained with Elizabeth’s wit and perfectly posh accent.

 

See The Audience at NST City, Southampton from 24 May – 22 June. Get your tickets here

 

 

 

REVIEW: School of Rock

Rating: ★★★★
Quick Summary: Young or old, Stick It To The Man, and go and see the feel good, uplifting and energetic School of Rock.

das
My Dad and I at the end of the show

School of Rock is an adaptation of the 2003 comedy film of the same name starring Jack Black. The musical is written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer), Julian Fellowes (playwright) and Glenn Slater (Lyricist), and is currently showing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in Drury Lane, London. 


T H E   S H O W

I first saw this show earlier this year, and alongside the ingenious fusion of rock, musical theatre and classical music influences, it was the vivacity and youthfulness of the cast that really stood out to me. I got the opportunity to take my Dad to see the show yesterday, and I knew he would love it simply because of the music; the show is saturated with nods to great rock songs such as Smoke on the Water, Satisfaction, as well as the rock concept album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 

The thought that my Dad actually came away from the show with went beyond noticing the obvious witty and comically written play, and great integration of well-known and loved music into the score. The overriding feeling that you get coming away from this show is one that is relevant at any and every stage of your life: don’t get tied down by other people’s limiting beliefs. This can be from something as small as whether you read Vogue or Sports Illustrated, as Billy has to choose, or as big as whether you compete in Battle of the Bands or not. The positive message of “You Do You” is woven tightly throughout the whole show.

The only reason I gave this show 4 stars as opposed to 5 was that by the end, I did start to feel quite tired. I was sitting 4 rows from the front (I talk about ticket details later on), and so the noise levels were high throughout. HOWEVER, this is a tiny, tiny point and generally did not detract from the experience.


T H E   C A S T

Obviously, if you are going to see School of Rock then you are expecting a bunch of talented kids – and I can tell you, they do not disappoint! With cheesy over-acting thrown out of the window, the child cast of this production provides stellar vocal performances mixed with a convincing awareness of themselves and what they are trying to say. The harmonies in songs such as ‘Horace Green Alma Mater’ and ‘If Only You Would Listen’ highlights their cohesion and commitment.

I could not write a review on School of Rock without mentioning the musical talent of the kids in this production that I feel is unmatched on the rest of the West End. As Andrew Lloyd Webber announces over the loudspeaker at the beginning of the show, the children play all of their own rock instruments. The best moment in the show to demonstrate this is in the final song where the pit musicians all stand up and watch the show alongside the audience, as the children in the show alongside their mentor fake-teacher Dewey Finn rock their way through ‘Stick It To The Man’ and ‘Teacher’s Pet’, full of guitar, keys, drum and bass solos, bringing the audience to its feet. The musicality and finesse in their playing is professional in its standard.

The standout vocal performance came from the shy but brilliant vocalist Tomika, played by Fayth Ifil, who performed a rendition of Amazing Grace full of innocence and killer riffs to prove she can sing, which induced a thunderous applause from the audience. Also highly notable was the bossy and indignant Summer, played by Freya Yates, who was very impressive in her ‘Time To Play’, hitting a belted Db at the end of the song.

Among the adults, both Craig Gallivan (down-and-out amateur rock star, Dewey Finn) and Rosanna Hyland (music lover turned uptight Headmistress, Rosalie Mullins) had fantastic performances. Rosanna Hyland’s ‘Where Did The Rock Go?’ was full of emotion, bite and effortlessly clear top notes. Her rendition of Queen of the Night was unassuming and highly enjoyable. Craig Gallivan’s Dewey Finn was hopeful, uplifting and unfailingly energetic, all matched by his perfect diction and fantastic voice.

Side note, the cast is changing on 22 August. Details can be found here


T H E    T H E A T R E

As far as the theatre itself goes, the Gillian Lynne Theatre is modern, spacious and well designed. No matter what seat you go for, you generally won’t get a bad one as the stage is so wide that you can see from most angles. From the furthest to the side in the front row, you will see the whole width of the stage, albeit with a few missing spots deeper into the set. The seating at the back of the stalls and the upper circle is well rigged so that you can easily see over the people in front of you, and don’t have any of those “back-of-the-head” viewing moments.


T I C K E T S

The prices for this show are fairly reasonable if you are savvy when buying your tickets, and the show is absolutely worth the price. If you buy in advance (and maybe get matinee tickets) then you could easily spend a maximum of £35 a head in the stalls, which for a West End show is pretty good – I was seated 4 rows from the front with excellent views in seat D52, on a Saturday matinee performance for £35 per ticket.

The School of Rock website tells you the best dates with the best prices, so this is a great website to use.  Also don’t be afraid to be seated slightly to the side of the theatre, as the view is very rarely compromised!

Top tip: if you are over 5’4″, then a great cheaper ticket to get is in the front row of the upper circle. It is advertised as ‘restricted view’ because of a barrier and lighting rig that hangs over the front of the upper circle, but for anyone over 5’4, this does not obstruct at all, and the leg room is great!
If you’ve seen School of Rock, share your experience either in the comments or on our Instagram page!

Rosie x