Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Bettakultcha 8, 12th April 2011

Picture a good night out and an evening sat watching slideshows is not necessarily what springs to mind, conjuring up, as it does, images of The Mighty Boosh’s Howard Moon preparing yet another an interminable lecture on his fossil collection, or your dotty uncle insisting on showing you his neverending holiday snaps. Such trepidation would be entirely misplaced though. As Bettakultcha makes clear, slideshows are quite possibly the most fun it's possible to have with your clothes on.

The brain child of marketing director Richard Michie and professional speaker and artist Ivor Tymchak, Bettakultcha is based on a simple format: each speaker gets five minutes (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) on any topic they wish. It's become a bit of a word-of-mouth success and tonight around 300 people pack into the palatial surroundings of Leeds' Corn Exchange for a slice of slideshow action.

The talks are uniformly excellent, covering everything from the cystic fibrosis to the history of North Korea to pinhole cameras and the joys of Iceland (home of Bjork, rather than the budget supermarket). There's a handful that particularly lodge in the mind, including one by Martin Carter (AKA Maria Millionaire) about drag queens, complete with dramatic entrance down the staircase of the Corn Exchange (he later confides: "I did think 'Oh no, the floor’s laminated, I’m going to go arse-over-tit down these stairs!') and Jayne Rodgers' inspired reimagining of Star Wars as a perfectly-crafted Mills and Boon tale.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's Angela Whitlock's presentation "inspired" by creative thinking guru Edward de Bono declaration that no-one inspired him. She discussed her inspiration - her friend Dave, a man with lymphoma who was blanked by his hero Ian Botham and so renamed his tumour in Beefy's honour. It manages, in the short space of five minutes, to be both very moving and hysterically funny.

Such diversity is weaved into the design of Bettakultcha. As co-founder Richard tells me when I grab him at the end for a brief chat:

"I receive all the slides, and all I ever see is those slides. I have no idea what these people are going to say. So you look at the slides and start to juggle it and say “well, that one seems to fit with that one” and you try and pace between the serious things and what you think might be the more amusing things. The trouble is until they start speaking, I really don’t know. Sometimes it’s a happy accident, and sometimes it’s just a...[facial expression indicates a very much non-happy accident]. I think – or I like to hope – that we’ve got a nice balance between more energetic people and people who are a bit more nervous."

Maria Millionaire
Drag queen Maria Millionaire, AKA Martin Carter. Thanks to Jon Eland ( for the photo.

There is, however, one major rule: no pitches. As Richard explains, the Bettakultcha ethos is simple: "we want people to talk about their passions, what we don’t want is people turning up saying 'I sell cars' or 'this is my business'. Adds Ivor: "As soon as you start introducing this commercial, corporate-type element, people just want to switch off. I’ve seen it too often. There’s some ulterior motive – 'actually we want you to spend money on our product'. Bugger off."

There's one presentation that veers close to a pitch, but otherwise the speakers talk with passion and knowledge about their chosen subjects. As the evening draws to a close, three or four people get the chance to do some Bettakultcha freestyling over some random slides.

Bettakultcha has hit on a powerful formula, and it's so nice to come to event that brings together Leeds' alternative cultural community, or what Ivor calls "the arty, cultural, kind of eccentric people". Tonight, as well as Richard and Ivor, I meet the lovely Jess Haigh (AKA the Travelling Suitcase Library), Ellie Snare, Kirsty (the girl behind the brilliant Foldageddon) and, well, more nice people that it's possible to catalogue. As I grab the ravishing Maria Millionaire for a quick chat, he sums it up perfectly:

"It's one of those things that makes you think ‘Actually, Leeds is amazing’. Why isn’t there more things like this?” When people ask you what it is, it’s an evening of slide-shows, but it’s so much more than that. It’s one of those things where you need to get people to come here to understand it."

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Bettakultcha co-founder Ivor. Thanks to Jon Eland ( for the photo.

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