Release the Pressure

Release the Pressure

We met Earl Stephens of Smile Video enterprises as he opportunistically flogged his ‘complete and exclusive’ video package at the Polytechnic graduation ball. Later as enterprise and start-up agencies like Project Fullemploy and the Prince’s Trust hit Manchester as a social response to the riots and economic deprivation, we met Mike Slaven and Bernie of reggae band T-Dynamix. Racially, socially and politically they were right on it and ostensibly we were all in the same boat as young entrepreneurs. Long before the world bought Reggae-Reggae sauce, start-up agencies such as Project Fullemploy were helping bakeries, window cleaners, computer firms, plumbers, fruit and veg merchants and small graphic designers to name but a diverse few. In post-riot Britain, these heavily critcised small business agencies in our inner-cities made a significant difference to many young people. When in the late eighties, Bernie of T-Dynamix invited me to a gig in Hulme, I felt really accepted. 28 years on, I still recall his intro before each song – ‘Drop it’. Similarly Earl Stephens introduced me to his sister in the Deansgate Library car-park. As she stepped into her Merc we would see Earl in his distinctive smilemobile blasting soft melodic tunes out on the streets of south Manchester. Yet it’s Mike Slaven who sticks most clearly in the memory. He was a Liverpool University economics graduate with a calm authoritative manner who got us an entree into the Moss Side and Hulme Task Force team. The Moss Side Centre not far from Alexandra Park where the Task Force was situated, had a foreboding look to it. Before our first meeting, I did a recce of the place and stumbled across three youths ‘Hey rude boy, watcha doin ere, mon? Come to do some good Mister Social Worker?’ Deadpan I asked them where the Task Force office was and although laughing at me, they pointed the way, resuming a Jamaican patois I later learnt. It was ok and we were on their manor. I felt comfortable, especially after our controversial designs for a new brochure were accepted by Hartley Hanley, an outspoken and charismatic community leader. Bernie and Earl were buck-chasing entrepreneurs as were we. Both had flair, guile and street nous and both were successful. But Mike Slaven had vision and tranquility with problem-solving qualities, the like of which I had never seen before. He later took his team and about twelve young businesses on a residential training weekend at a posh hotel near Wilmslow. Here, as we trooped in, I saw him clock the disdainful shocked look of the all white staff. We all learnt much that weekend. Sometimes in life you learn a load of important stuff and don’t always realise it at the time. Slaven had natural empathy and a strong faith in God, allied to intellect and modesty. This was 1987-88 – when in 1992 a drugs civil war broke out between the Cheetham Hill gang and the Moss Side possee I did not see Mike Slaven. A scout on a BMX bike and a young boy were shot, several men seriously injured. On national TV Hartley Hanley spoke out – ‘Stop killing the sons of your mothers, your own flesh and blood’. His speech and his plea to the Afro-carribean community stirred some national hacks into action. More broadcasts followed and eventually the killing stopped. I suspect though that it had very little to do with Fleet Street or Eddie Shah. Karlene E. Smith wrote a novel, Moss Side Massive. Try and read it sometime.

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