It’s often said that all the best ideas are born in bars. With the pandemic closing pubs across the country, it’s a wonder where the next great creation is going to come from.
The concept for LooseHeadz was one of many lightbulb moments flickering into life across British boozers back in 2017.
Three men were propped up at the end of the bar at Wilmslow Rugby Club when they had this crystallizing moment that stopped them mid-sip; turning their heads away from the Lions Tour on tele.
During conversation, Dave, Mark and Rob all realised that they knew someone in sport who’d had what they called a ‘life wobble’; a moment where they’d been seriously down in the dumps.
In the past, they’d tried to raise their pal’s spirit with a cold beer, a reassuring slap on the back and distracting sports talk.
It was all they were qualified to do. And at times it did help.
But the more the trio talked about it, the more they realised that these ‘life wobbles’ were too big for a pint to fix.
Some of these issues were serious – and maybe even had the potential to last a lifetime.
Dave, Mark and Rob knew they didn’t have the expertise to help. But they could build a network of people who did.
It was at that moment they launched LooseHeadz – a brand that didn’t just talk about mental health in rugby but ‘banged the drum’ as loudly as they could so it was impossible to ignore.
The founders drew up four core aims – prevent, promote, educate and signpost issues around mental health – and partnered with some of the best wellbeing support teams in the business, bringing the toughest athletes on board as ambassadors.
The outdated concept of masculinity as stoic defiance is so deeply embedded in sport that many male athletes have kept schtum even when they’re struggling. Sometimes with tragic consequences.
“Nobody ever wants to talk about mental health,” Rob tells us.
“But we realised that needed to change. Suicide biggest killer of men under 45.
“What makes us a bit different is that we use rugby as a vehicle to inspire and educate people as to what we’re all about: Normalising the conversation and tackling the stigma.
“We’ve got 26 ambassadors on board now. If the likes of Ugo Monye, Gareth Anscombe, Brad Shields, Josh Matavesi – these big macho characters – are saying it’s ok not to be ok, people will listen.”
One ambassador, Saracens’ Alex Lewington, says he’s “loved being involved in LooseHeadz”.
“The world is constantly evolving and providing new and challenging issues for people to deal with,” commented the winger.
“The more we talk about it, the better equipped we are to understand and combat mental health issues.”
Amber Reed, England and Bristol Bears player, has also voiced her support for the brand – labelling herself a “LooseHead and proud”.
“I didn’t hesitate when asked to be part of the LooseHeadz movement that looks to tackle the stigma around mental health,” she added.
“LooseHeadz do a fantastic job in reaching out to the community, sharing relatable stories, and supporting those in need.”
Another big name on the roster is rugby league legend Shaun Edwards – who acts as patron of the LooseHeadz Foundation.
Another arm of the brand is the LooseHeadz Academy – which offers a membership scheme and open forum for people to talk about wellbeing with confidence.
The Academy is now home to 100 global fans who fervently believe in the LooseHeadz mission and do their bit to spread the word.
There’s also the Partnership Programme – which sees LooseHeadz work alongside clubs at grassroots, amateur and professional level to raise awareness of just how important great mental health is – and the Wellbeing Through Sport initiative; which is designed to nurture the positive mental health and wellbeing of children through physical activities.
To make all this happen, money is generated through the LooseHeadz fashion range – which is worn by athletes right the way around the world.
“We made an effort to create some really cool clothing,” Rob explains.
“We wanted to create a really high quality range.
“With most charity t-shirts, you wear it once or twice and then it just gets left in the bottom of your wardrobe.
“But our stuff is something people can be proud to wear.
“The logo is an ‘L’ and “H’ – made up to look like rugby posts.”
The company is currently working with as many as 62 clubs in multiple countries.
Domestically, the brand is already well-recognised. But long-term, the plan is to ‘get a LooseHead’ (a mental health support officer who champions wellbeing) inside most rugby teams.
That way, they can start to make a real difference.
“Having a LooseHead in a team removes the stigma,” Rob informs us .
“They do different roles depending on the needs of the club, but they also create constant awareness too – spreading the world and educating people about mental health.
“There’s so much more we can do to keep normalising the conversation and we need to keep doing it.”
It’s been a busy few years since the three owners found the idea for LooseHeadz at the bottom of a pint glass. But the hard work has only just started.
With lockdown sending mental health plummeting in 2020, having the likes of LooseHeadz keeping a close eye on rugby isn’t just advantageous – it’s essential.
“Looseheadz is not for us – it’s for everyone,” Rob says.
“We’d love to grow and expand into more rugby-loving nations beyond Britain. But right now it’s all about striking up great relationships wherever we can.
“Hopefully we can change things.
“Of course, we’ll never truly know how many people we’ve helped.
“But one thing for sure is we’ll just keep on going.”
The thousands of hours it takes to perfect making some of the best sushi in Manchester
We’d wager if you took a survey of people on the street in Manchester and asked them what food they find most intimidating, a very big chunk of the answers would be sushi and raw fish.
But then again, most of them haven’t been to MUSU yet.
Listen, we get it, even tasting menus sometimes sound a touch upmarket and a bit out of their wheelhouse to some people, but this two AA Rosette-winning Japanese restaurant is helping make fine-dining and seafood experiences more accessible whilst delivering a truly unforgettable meal.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Head Sushi Chef André Aguiar after he served us MUSU’s ‘omakase’ tasting menu straight from the counter, which features some of the most amazing sushi, nigiri and all-round high-end produce we’ve ever come across. This guy knows his stuff.
Can you give us a brief overview of your background/journey as a chef?
I started my career in Brazil which was my home country. I was in the army and met a captain who was passionate about Japanese cuisine. After he introduced me to the world of Japanese culture and cuisine, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I then opened a Japanese restaurant in 2010 in Brazil and stayed there for two years before selling the restaurant in order to move to Ireland in order to learn English.
I met a Japanese master at Taste by Dylan McGrath in Dublin who wanted to retire and move back to Japan but the deal that he had with the owner of the restaurant was that he had to find a new head chef before he left so I started to train with him, he was very strict and it was really tough but I persevered for three years until I was ready to take over the head sushi chef position and was there for 4 years.
After Taste, I moved to Italy for 6 months to open a restaurant and train the staff then came back to Dublin in 2019 and continued to work there but then Covid hit and unfortunately they closed down due to the pandemic.
After the pandemic, I went to Portugal to open another restaurant and to train staff and when working there I was approached by the directors of MUSU who were on holiday there and were looking for a head sushi chef to join the team.
After they tried my tasting menu at the restaurant in Portugal, they offered me the position immediately, so I moved to the UK the next month and I’ve been here ever since.
Amazing. What was it that drew you to MUSU and the ‘omakase’ concept specifically?
The fact I was able to build a team from the ground up, develop a menu from scratch and work with the finest ingredients in the world.
At the end of the day, that’s what every chef wants.
Simple as that. What about your favourite sushi creation?
During the development of the menu at MUSU I was able to experiment with lots of different ingredients. While I can’t name one favourite creation the three stand-outs are the Chu-toro seared with Japanese charcoal; the carabinero prawn with miso butter and then the salmon with foie gras.
During development, I was able to create a selection of ‘Edomae’ nigiri that really pushes the boundaries of traditional Edo-style sushi — if you visit I’d recommend trying a few of them.
Yep, we can vouch for all three of those dishes. What advice would you give people new to sushi/seafood/tasting menus?
Most of the people who come here and say they are afraid to try raw fish or have usually had a bad experience with sushi due to low-quality ingredients. When they try it here, we always get asked why it is so different and why it is so good.
I always tell them the details behind the sushi we create including the ageing and curing process to improve flavour and texture as well as the rice quality, temperature and seasoning.
We use the best ingredients in all of our sushi, including the best sushi rice, nori seaweed; A5 wagyū beef; aged soy, aged vinegar and the freshest wasabi on the market shipped directly from Japan.
I always recommend that people just be open-minded when it comes to trying new things. Sometimes people have one bad experience and never venture into it again, whereas when people are open to new textures and flavours they have the best experience.
Absolutely. And if you had to describe the omakase experience in three words what would they be?
Literally translating to, “I’ll leave the details up to you”, that’s how we’d sum up the whole omakase experience: you get to watch a craftsman carefully examining every minute detail as he builds some of the most incredible seafood courses we’ve ever had the pleasure of eating right in front of your eyes.
Chef Andre is a master in every sense of the word and not only do you get to see his skills on show but his knowledge of the cuisine and pure passion come across as he explains each and every dish.
Every incredible ingredient is lovingly presented and you get to witness the clean, military-level precision and almost surgery-like operation unfold up close as the freshest of produce is turned into little plates of art. It’s quite fascinating to watch.
So if you’re guilty of being nervous try sushi and seafood in this kind of setting, there aren’t many better places to push the boat out and dip your toes in. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed — and better still, if you sign up for the MUSU Rewards scheme, you can get 30% off your food bill this March and even more throughout the year.
The 1975 prove they’re some of the best performers on the planet with homecoming gig at the AO Arena
Last night, The 1975 reminded Manchester and fans all over that they’re some of the very best performers on the planet when it comes to music right now, it’s that simple.
Not hyperbole, just an honest opinion from a fan who’s seen them multiple times now and has only seen them get bigger and better each time, not to mention become more impressive as all-round entertainers.
Managing to get a standing ticket to the first of their two packed-out nights at the AO Arena, almost exactly a year on from seeing them from the seated section in 2023, it’s fair to say that being in amongst it certainly played its part in somehow topping the previous and already unbelievable gig.
Dancing around like prats, shaking our knees and screaming our heads off; jumping up and down, and drinking in every drop of the serotonin-soaked atmosphere, we can’t remember many other shows that have genuinely got better with each second that passed — and it all started with an amazing support act.
Late last year, The Manc Audio had the pleasure of going along to see ever-rising Dirty Hit labelmates, The Japanese House, at New Century Hall where Amber Bain’s vocals nearly had us in tears and Saturday evening was no different.
Even in the space of just a couple of songs — the majority of which 1975 fans know pretty well too given how close the two acts are and certainly more than most supports usually enjoy the pleasure of when playing huge tours like this — we could fully envisage them headlining this arena themselves.
While The Japanese House is technically just Bain and her touring band, the record company’s influences, paired with production from Matty Healy himself and drummer George Daniel means that there are 1975 notes all over their sound, so it’s no surprise the two dovetail so well on a billing.
We were a bit gutted we didn’t get to see him come out and sing his part on ‘Sunshine Baby’ for their final song, but you can’t win ’em all. A very, very special singer-songwriter you should all be paying very close attention to.
As for the headliners themselves, while much of the set and stage design has remained pretty much the same from last year, the biggest difference right from the off was that Healy was on top form in every sense of the word, having played the previous AO Arena gig hopped up on Lemsip and red wine.
We didn’t think his voice sounded too far from its best in 2023 anyway, but it’s safe to say that everyone benefitted from him looking visibly healthier and perhaps a little less tipsy than last time, and the well-delivered vocals from minute one made the super cinematic opening credits feel even more considered.
And while there were plenty more of those movie-like scripted moments throughout the show and clever uses of the set (we’re not going to spoil too much), this latest iteration of the live set still has the same gorgeous aesthetic but now feels like just the right amount of abstract.
That being said, we don’t think anyone was expecting to see the Marmite frontman suddenly appear from a platform rising out of the ground and start singing the stripped-down version of ‘I Like America’ to a naked waxwork of himself…
Seeing The 1975 is now just as much of a visual experience as it is a musical one.
But this was all part of what made the performance special last time and again last night. It isn’t just the joy of kicking the crowd off with those 80s-infused bangers they’re so good at like ‘Looking For Somebody to Love’ and ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ — it’s all the other stuff around it.
The fact of the matter is, we have genuinely never seen shows like the kind that The 1975 write; they swing from well-rehearsed and thought-provoking to hugging your mate as you sway together before the whole arena suddenly turns into one big dancefloor and you’re just partying again. It’s seamless.
It might not be Pink doing a dozen backflips as she flies across the air in a harness at Bolton Stadium with loads of pyros and dance routines (though we did get the Love It We Made It choreography, back by popular demand), but these lot have come a long way from just drinking wine and smoking fags as they play the hits. It definitely feels like the rest of the band all had their hero moments this time too.
From saxophonist John Waugh shining in multiple spotlighted moments, Healy introducing bassist Ross MacDonald to the “ladies, especially” and more, they all had their hero moments. A special shout-out to the truly wonderful session player Polly Mooney as well, who took the lead on ‘Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America’ and smashed her ‘About You’ bridge. She’s far from just a backing player, believe us.
The sax is such a big part of their sound now.Polly has quickly become a fan favourite.
Playing a little something from every era as we hoped they would, adding in a few older tracks into the setlist compared to the previous tour, there weren’t many moments as happiness-inducing as bouncing around to ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’, ‘The Sound’ and, well, ‘Happiness’. Pure euphoria.
There was also plenty of catharsis in there too, as we also got cult classics like ‘Robbers’ and ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’, as well as probably the saddest and yet still the funkiest slow jam in ‘Somebody Else’.
We have no shame in admitting we welled up during a few, but you’ll just have to see which ones may or may not set you off.
As alluded to, there are plenty of surprises in store over the course of the 26-track and roughly two-and-a-half-hour set, and we also enjoyed the Wilmslow group giving a nod to their old stomping grounds like Satan’s Hollow and Deaf Institute where they headed for the afterparty. They’re local lads as far as we’re concerned.
1975 gigs require non-stop energy and Manchester crowds never disappoint.
For the last two tours or so now, Healy has somewhat flippantly referred to The 1975 as “the best band in the world” up on stage and while being a bit cocky and braggadocious is far from new territory for the self-proclaimed nepo baby, we’re starting to take that claim more seriously each time.
The 34-year-old has been a controversial figure in music for a good long while now and understandably so — he certainly hasn’t always hit the mark as a ‘character’ and sometimes says things we don’t agree with, whether sardonic or not — but what it comes down to is him being a showman first and foremost.
Better still, he took a lot of the recent criticism for his comments and on-stage antics and pivoted to write almost all of it into this new show in a genuinely interesting way. Finding rockstars that have just as much self-awareness as they do self-obsession is pretty rare but, above everything else, the group as a whole have created a truly incredible live experience. On their art alone, they’re up there with the best.
For anyone going along to night two of The 1975’s Manchester homecoming at the AO Arena this Sunday, if the band bring even half of the energy and charisma that they did one night one, you’ll be in for an absolute treat and we’ll jump at every chance we get to see them again – so should you.
This pretty much sums everything up you can expect from The 1975 in Manchester.