TEDx Salford- an inspiring, mind blowing day of talks – reviewTedx Salford has been a pretty interesting day.

There are not many backstages where you can spend an hour talking about the origin of the universe and the big bang and how it’s been worked out to the last trillionth of a second and how there may be multiple universes and that the end of time is the sudden evaporation of everything into an eternal glowing white light with the world’s leading researcher on the topic. Then a minute later you are chatting about grappling and wrestling moves and hardcore training with the ‘world’s most dangerous man’ – leading US wrestling superstar Ken Shamrock or about what it feels like to win an Olympic gold medal in canoeing with someone who has done just that.

But then this is not most backstages- this is TEDx.

I’ve been asked to speak at TED X in Salford- talking punk rock, hooligan, shotgun blues about the death of modern culture for 18 minutes along with a wildly diverse array of speakers. There are 1600 people in the audience in a tightly packed auditorium that goes up in three steep tiers to the roof. It’s a spectacular space and it’s sheer size makes this the biggest TEDx conference in Europe.
I’m speaking alongside a fantastically varied line up of speakers from Salil Shetty the secretary general of Amnesty international, Ken Shamrock the wrestling superstar and self styles, ‘the Worlds Most Dangerous Man’, Joe Incandela, the team leader of the Higgs Boson Experiment at CERN, Sir Ian Wilnut- leading cloning pioneer, Ray Hammond- Europe’s most experienced futurist, Jim Al-Khalili the TV scientist and leading physicist and Akala the rapper and poet, Etienne Stott- British gold Olympic gold medal winner, Julie Meyer entrepreneur, Debra Searle -TV adventurer, Geoff Burch alternative Business Guru, Paul Zenon the UK’s leading trickster and Felicity Goodey, former BBC journalist.
It’s a solid gold line up and with the speakers from all kinds of different fields and disciplines giving 18-minute inspirational talks covering a wide range of topics from science to contemporary culture it’s impossible to get bored.

The 18 minute talk formulae works perfectly, with each expert in their field given the tight time frame to talk about anything that is close to their heart or what they are involved in. It can be about the origin of the universe or the history of hip hop culture, it can be about human rights or how to empower people. It could then be about future studies or how to screw up airport security or how to win a gold medal. Each talk is inspirational and also thought provoking- each one an 18 minute brain sprint that makes you feel totally alive with their ludicrous micro brilliance.

TED, itself, started in 1984 in the USA with the idea that the speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Rodney Mullen, Bill Gates, educator Salman Khan, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners. TED’s current curator is the British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.

Louder Than War win Olympic gold medal
Louder Than War win Olympic gold medal

TED grant special licenses to anyone who wants to present their own version of the concept which then goes under the name of TEDx.

The Salford TEDx is now the biggest one outside the main TED conference and today there are 1600 people crammed into the impressive three-tier auditorium at Salford Lowry centre.

It’s an impressive event pulled off by two former Salford University students Mishal Saheed and Uzair Butt with a team of smart and sassy volunteers. Within one year they have gone from ambitious startup to the leading lights and have attracted an impressive and highly varied array of speakers to the event.

There are far too many highlights in the Salford event to run through them all but Paul Zeon was hilarious as he detailed how to wind up airport security with a series of pranks and Akala’s history of defiance and poetry that eventually created the bedrock for hip hop culture was powerful and moving. Joe Incandela’s latest bulletin from the frontline of the science of the big bang and the beginning of time was mind blowing and Ken Shamrock and Etienne Stott both showed the better side of sport, with Ken detailing his initiative to help kids from disadvantaged homes and Etieene detailing the heartbreak and the slog and the almost Zen like determination of a gold medal winner with the humour and lack of bullshit that has made the UK Olympic champions so popular this year- maybe the pair of them should be giving talks to the sulking cry babies of the premiership.

There were inspiring talks about empowerment and the future and someone playing a homemade percussion instrument that looked like a wok and sounded like the hypnotic drone from the end of time- maybe the sound of the end of the universe- I will have to check back to Joe with that one…

I got to do my talk about punk rock culture and our own spirit of defiance. it was an amazing space to do a talk. The top rows of the venue were really up there in the gods with tiny pinprick faces appearing out of the gloom in the far distance like dying stars in the last days of the universe.
The running gag all day had been the letter ‘r’ in the stage prop that read ‘TED x Salford’.

Ironically, in an event where the nature of gravity had featured in so many of the talks, the letter r in ‘Salford’ kept falling over. I picked it up and waved it at the audience telling them it was ‘r for rock n roll’ which I had come to reclaim and was surprised that it was actually made out of polystyrene and fell apart in may hands.

A wanton act of hooliganism that was my own small version of the sudden evaporation of everything at the end of time, it was hastily repaired later with a piece of sellotape, unlike the universe itself.

TEDx Salford was a bug success. An ambitious project that was pulled off by an enthusiastic and very capable young team. After the event I was struck by how diverse the audience was and had a great conversation with some Chinese students and many other people from all over the world underlining the vast appeal of such a concept.

An even the letter ‘r’ was finally standing straight- if a little battered and taped together…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Sounds excellent. Wish I could have been there!
    In the light of this Jimmy Savile enquiry, I wonder if there is room for a talk about how the mind is fed with opinions/ideas, how it is controlled and by who. Because just as the Catholic church controlled the minds of many .. and then was discredited by the reality of child abuse… it seems as if a similar thing is happening right now it “TV land”. For the TV generation, (pre-computers) it wasn’t unusual to have your ideas and opinions and to a certain extent, your moral outlook on life, dictated to you by TV producers via the programmes that they made. Some brilliant children’s TV was made in the 70’s, by my Dad’s best friend John Coop, and other ex-teachers who really did care. But there was alot of dodgy stuff too. The Savile enquiry will reveal what a few of us who attended auditions as kids, already knew. That child abuse was a problem in TV circles.. but it was formed in the question, “Are you fun to work with?” Arched eyebrows and snigger from the elderley public school boy type who was directing and thus conducting the audition. Not too much morality going on there. But these people “fed” the minds of at least two generations via TV programmes….and of course they turned a blind eye to Savile and his ilk. So.. does this fall into the TED X re-mitt? Who is feeding the mind of the public? Do we sit as passive as we used to? Do we just accept that because its offered to us as a “joke” that it is funny? I don’t have a TV anymore, but not before I saw a “Little Britain” sketch that consisted of four older women, naked from the waist down, knitting, with one being sick ..projectile style.. from time to time.. The message was “women are disgusting so lets ridicule them”, but it was a “joke”.. so that was ok. Hmm. Why not start asking questions as to who is it who decrees that this is a “joke?” What’s behind it all? Does the DIY Punk ethic stop at music, or does it go further? Does it challenge those who say “Ah, but Comedy like this breaks the boudaries…so its ok” (more public school boy elderley snigger….curiously the sound brings back memories of a 1970’s snigger.. see above.. surely the man didn’t pull strings to get his son into a cushy tv producer job did he?)
    Is our society “our” society, or are we being told what to think? And if so, how does the Punk ethic respond?

  2. How does the punk ethic respond?
    Maybe we should identify what the punk DIY ethic exactly IS in terms of TV.
    Back when I was married and still watching TV, there was a programme called Big Brother’s Little Brother… James Corden, (in order to mock one of the females in the Big Brother house,) put on a blonde wig, a welsh accent and proceeded to drink a pint of sperm. The audience laughed. It was too much for me.. did i want the mind pollution? No.
    I made some enquiries as to who the producer was…who was it who gave the “yes please” to that particular section of the show. Turned out to be a friend of a friend of a friend, who is an upstanding member of his happy clappy church and a “nice christian chap”. Ah, back we go to Church being the epi-centre of abuse of women and children.. at no point in this Happy Clappy Chappie’s “walk with jesus” did it occur to him that cruelty wasn’t comedy. If questioned, I think he would say “I did say yes to that sketch because I am producing ground-breaking comedy.. I am using the punk-ethic, the in-yer-face ethic.. I am being shocking and revolting.. i am the Mr John Lydon of the Comedy TV world…and I will now spit.. got that? Jolly good and praise the Lord” hmm… what to do with such people? Silently hand them a copy of “The Abuse of Power.. a theological problem” by james newton poling ISBN 0-687-00684-8… and leave while TV Punk man goes, “oh wait.. I meant gobbing.. sorry.. not spitting.. gobbing.. ” and aims at your departing back?
    TV people have had a problem with punk it seems, from when they made Pan’s People dance to a Sex Pistols song… to now, with the endless re-runs trying to define what it is… from the strange duallistic morality of “Oh, we’d never tell a racist joke, or an anti-gay joke, but a joke that degrades women..? Yes .. thats fine… no problem”
    Time to extend the “Oh bondage up yours” attitude into the TV world….isn’t it? Time to talk about it with thinking people at next year’s TEDX.. Time to say “yes, racist and anti-gay jokes are wrong.. indeed.. two out of three aint bad… ” but make sure you speak slowlly and use words of one syllable.
    Because these TV people aren’t the brightest bunnies in the field.
    And I’m think of the “Big Brother’sLittle Brother” producer… Praising the Lord on Sunday and then on Monday rubbing his prayerful hands with glee and enthusing “Yes, lets have James drinking a pint of sperm.. marvellous…how radical is that? It will put that Welsh tart in her place wont it? ”
    Come down to us oh Arch-angel of the Punk spirit.. and alight on the BBC… and cause a bit of anarchy.

  3. I saw you talk at TEDx and thought that you were awesome! I’ve hated the modern music culture as long as I can remember and it was excellent to hear someone else articulate it. Thank you so much.


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