North Korea has said it is still willing to talk “at any time in any form” after US President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled his meeting with Kim Jong-un.
Vice-foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan said Mr Trump’s decision was “extremely regrettable”.
President Trump blamed the North’s “open hostility” for the cancellation.
The summit would have been the first time a sitting US president had met a North Korean leader.
The details of the meeting in Singapore on 12 June were unclear. But talks would have focused on ways of denuclearising the Korean peninsula and reducing tensions.
Just hours before Mr Trump’s announcement, North Korea said it carried out its promise to dismantle tunnels at its only nuclear test site.
Mr Trump announced the cancellation in the form of a letter personally addressed to Mr Kim.
A senior administration official in the US later gave further details, saying North Korea had shown “a profound lack of good faith”.
There were a series of “broken promises” from Pyongyang, the official told reporters, including when the White House sent the deputy chief of staff to Singapore to meet North Korean diplomats ahead of the summit.
“The North Koreans didn’t show up. They simply stood us up.”
The official also said President Trump had “dictated every word” of his letter to Kim Jong-un after talking with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
What did Mr Trump’s letter say?
Mr Trump said he had been “very much looking forward” to meeting Mr Kim.
“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have the long-planned meeting,” Mr Trump said in a letter to Mr Kim.
“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” he added.
But he called the meeting a “missed opportunity”, saying “someday, I look very much forward to meeting you”.
In a later statement at the White House, Mr Trump said the step was a “tremendous setback for North Korea and the world”, adding the US military was “ready if necessary” to respond to any “reckless” act from North Korea.
What was he referring to?
Mr Trump was apparently responding to statements from a senior North Korean diplomat attacking his administration and casting doubt over the meeting.
Choe Son-hui had said the suggestions from US Vice-President Mike Pence that North Korea “may end like Libya” was “stupid”.
Ms Choe, who has been involved in several diplomatic interactions with the US over the past decade, said the North would not “beg” for dialogue and warned of a “nuclear showdown” if diplomacy failed.
A White House official quoted by Reuters described the comments about Mr Pence as the “last straw”. They stressed, however, there was a “backdoor that’s open still”.
References to Libya have angered North Korea. There, former leader Colonel Gaddafi gave up his nascent nuclear programme only for him to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later.
North Korea says that, unlike Libya, it is a fully fledged nuclear state. It is insistent it will not engage in any peace process that jeopardises its leadership or its survival as a state.
What’s the reaction been?
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he was “very perplexed” and that it was “very regrettable” that the summit was not going ahead.
It was South Korean officials who first informed the US earlier this year that Mr Kim was prepared to discuss potential nuclear disarmament.
In April, the leaders of both Koreas had a historic meeting at the border, promising to end hostilities and work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the US and North Korea should not give up, saying “nerves of steel” were required.
In the US, Republican Senator Tom Cotton praised President Trump for “seeing through Kim Jong-un’s fraud”. But Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said the move was what happened “when amateurs are combined with warmongers”.
The popularity in owning “designer dogs” popularised by celebrities from Cheryl Cole to The Rock has been blamed for a rise in dog thefts. Some breeds can fetch hundreds or even thousands of pounds on the black market – and criminals are taking advantage, according to campaigners and insurance companies.
Dog theft has been rising since 2012.
And insurance firm Direct Line is the latest to publish figures, from police forces in England and Wales, showing that 121 more dogs were stolen in 2017 than the year before with almost 2,000 reported to the police last year.
These numbers were released under Freedom of Information legislation from 38 police forces in England and Wales.
There are 44 police forces around the UK with Scotland and Northern Ireland each having a single centralised force.
A similar exercise was carried out by another firm, the Insurance Emporium. It also obtained data under FOI from 38 forces, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The Insurance Emporium looked at dog thefts between 2015 and 2017 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding a rise from about 1,700 to 2,000 a year in that time period, although the average number in Northern Ireland actually fell by a quarter.
Neither company managed to get hold of Scottish data.
And animal charity Blue Cross, which provides advice for people on how to prevent their animals being stolen, has been carrying out similar research since 2010.
Blue Cross’s Louise Lee said that it’s “impossible to say why there was a drop and worryingly now a rise in crimes involving pet theft”.
She added: “Perhaps more forces are better at recording this sort of data or more owners feel like they can come forward and report their pet as stolen, not just missing.”
This is a sense shared by the Insurance Emporium, whose spokesperson said: “Dog thefts are rising due to more accurate reporting of crime statistics by regional forces, we think.
“This means the public are able to get a more fair reflection of the problem of dog theft.”
Pedigree cats are also stolen but in much smaller numbers, with certain breeds far more likely to be targeted.
The top five most commonly stolen dog breeds in 2017 according to police reports, were:
Staffordshire bull terrier
And according to the Royal Veterinary College, the most commonly-owned breeds in the UK are:
Staffordshire bull terrier
Direct Line says the fact that specific breeds are stolen suggests the influence of celebrities driving up the popularity – and therefore the value to criminals – of “designer dogs”.
Head of pet insurance at the firm, Prit Powar, said: “The fashion for certain types of dogs means people are willing to pay thousands for an animal, which unfortunately makes them prime targets for thieves.”
The insurance company said the rise in the numbers of crossbreeds being stolen coincided with the rise in popularity of breeds like cockerpoos and puggles.
And another commonly stolen breed, French bulldogs, may have been popularised by celebrity owners like Leonardo DiCaprio, Lady Gaga and Madonna, it claims.
The company also puts the rise in ownership of huskies and “other wolf-like breeds” in part down to “the Game of Thrones effect” although this is hard to pin down.
In some cases these dog-nappings are thought to be carried out by organised criminal gangs who sell the animals on the black market or demand a ransom.
While on average, thefts are rising, that’s not the case throughout the UK. Dog theft is far more common in certain parts of the country than in others.
In the West Midlands police force area there’s been a 24% fall in thefts between 2016 and 2017 while in the East Midlands there was a 43% rise in the same period.
We’re talking about relatively small overall figures so these changes aren’t quite as dramatic as they sound, but that still equates to the difference between about 40 more, or fewer, animals being stolen from their owners.
Richard Jordan, from campaign group Pet Theft Awareness, said: “We actually want to pay tribute to the police for starting to take this type of crime more seriously.
“Some of the regions with the highest figures are actually the ones we know are taking steps to tackle it, which include more effective recording of data.”
He added that an estimated one in three people who have their pets stolen report the incident to the police.
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Britons are known as animal lovers and dogs are the most popular choice of pet in the UK, while in the rest of Europe, cats take the lead.
And we favour animal charities with our pennies, too.
When people who have donated to charity in a previous month were asked which causes they gave to in a 2016 survey, animal charities were the second most popular recipient after medical research charities.
They came in ahead of charities for children and young people according to the Charities Aid Foundation. Combined, those three categories accounted for three-quarters of all causes donated to in the UK last year.
There was some seasonal variation, however. Homelessness charities don’t appear in the top five causes people gave to throughout the year but accounted for almost a quarter of giving in December around the Christmas period.
But that’s just looking at what proportion of donors gave to those causes, not how much they gave.
Once you look at that, the proportion of all donations going to animal charities fell to only 7%, and medical research charities to 8%, while 20% of all money donated in 2016 went to religious organisations despite far fewer people donating to them.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this pet-loving culture, the RSPCA says it receives more than a million calls a year reporting concerns about an animal’s welfare.
They say that on average every 30 seconds someone in England and Wales dials their helpline.
About a tenth of these calls lead to an animal being rescued and around half of these go on to be re-homed.
The SNP is to launch its “growth commission” report on the economics of an independent Scotland.
The 354-page analysis document, which promises a “new case for optimism”, will be published online later this morning.
Encouraging immigration and growing Scotland’s population is a key target among the report’s recommendations.
Opposition parties said the SNP’s pursuit of independence was doing nothing for Scotland’s economy.
The growth commission was set up in September 2016 by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as part of a “new conversation” on Scottish independence.
It is now being published to “restart the debate” on the topic, and is to be debated by special assemblies of SNP members around the country in the run-up to the party’s autumn conference.
Ms Sturgeon has pledged to set out her thinking on when there might be a second independence referendum in the autumn, once there is more clarity about Brexit.
Mr Wilson has already revealed that the report studies 12 successful small countries around the world, with Denmark, Finland and New Zealand highlighted as examples to take lessons from.
Ahead of publication, he also set out details of a “come to Scotland” campaign to drive immigration and population growth.
This would include tax relief for highly skilled migrant workers to attract the “best and brightest” talent, measures to encourage international graduates to stay in Scotland, and a new visa system modelled on “the most efficient and easy to use in the world”.
Mr Wilson warned of a “real danger” that current UK policies could see the working population fall, and said Scotland has a “great opportunity to strike a completely different tone”.
He said: “Growing our working population and, through it, our economy is perhaps the greatest national challenge we have – and is made even more urgent by Brexit and the threat it poses to our working age population.
“Scotland needs more migration to drive our economy forwards and we need to extend a friendly welcome to international talent.
“Our package is designed to attract people to Scotland to study and to stay here, to build a career a fulfilling future for themselves. We need investors, entrepreneurs and a skilled workforce to achieve our potential.”
The “optimistic” report is also expected to include proposals about what currency an independent Scotland could use and policy ideas to grow the economy through greater participation in the labour market and improved productivity.
The Scottish Conservatives said the Scottish government was failing to grow the Scottish economy because it was “obsessing about independence”.
Finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Of course we want to attract the best and brightest to come and live and work in Scotland. But you don’t do that with high taxes and you don’t do it by trying to tear up the UK.
“Four years on from the independence referendum, it really is time for the SNP to stop building castles in the sky, and to get on with the job of building a stronger Scotland now.”
Scottish Labour said that there was “no case for separation” that matched the party’s own vision of “an anti-austerity, pro-public ownership economy”.
Leader Richard Leonard said: “The real divide in the UK is not between the people of the four nations – it’s between the richest and the rest of us. Rather than building borders between Scotland and England we should be building homes, schools, and hospitals.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said there was “nothing hopeful or optimist about inflicting yet more division and economic risk on our country by separating us from the UK”.
He added: “The SNP should learn from the chaos of separating us from Europe with Brexit. On the back of Brexit, independence would be a negative and damaging development.”
Emile Cilliers tried to murder his wife by sabotaging her parachute. To get what he wanted, he was willing to condemn Victoria Cilliers to a terrifying death: the unimaginable panic as she cut away her main canopy and waited – in vain – for the reserve to deploy.
But as she fell to earth, it was her husband’s life that was unravelling.
It was the second time in the space of a few days he’d tried to kill Victoria, and the culmination of years of emotional and financial abuse.
One person who is well aware of the dangers the charismatic South African poses to women is the mother of his first two children, Nicolene Shepherd.
At his trial at Winchester Crown Court, Cilliers told the court he had not been in contact with his oldest two children – he has six – and their mother since he left South Africa in 2000.
According to Nicolene, that is not quite true.
She got together with Cilliers when she was 13 and he was 16. She gave birth to their first child shortly after her 16th birthday.
She was delighted by the attention of an older boy, especially one so handsome, confident and manly.
“He was charismatic and romantic. We used to go out for our monthly ‘anniversary’ and he would give me a long-stemmed rose every time.”
Ms Shepherd told the BBC that even at a young age he had an easy charm.
“All of the girls adored him.”
And he adored the girls.
“You’re young, you think you’re in love. He cheated on me time after time and I always took him back,” Ms Shepherd says.
“He proposed to me using his grandmother’s ring. We never made it to the altar, though. He was cheating on me with my best friend.”
Cilliers came to the UK on a working holiday visa and found employment in pubs and bars.
As far as Nicolene was concerned, the two were still in a relationship.
They had two young children and had recently moved into rented accommodation together in South Africa. Emile was simply going on a working holiday and would then return.
On a trip home to visit his family at the end of 2000, he had not said anything to suggest otherwise.
It was a bolt from the blue when Cilliers’ mother told Nicolene he had married a British woman called Carly Taylor.
Several years later, Nicolene had followed her ambition and moved to the UK as well.
One day her daughter asked if she could get to know her father.
Nicolene contacted Cilliers via his mother and he was keen to meet. They went out as a family to a water park.
The spark between Nicolene and Cilliers was still there – and it just so happened, Cilliers claimed, that he and Carly were getting divorced. Nicolene, still under Cilliers’ spell, got back together with him.
One morning, as Cilliers left Nicolene’s house, he left his phone behind. It rang. She answered and asked who it was.
“It’s the wife,” Carly replied. They were actually still together.
Nicolene and Carly, who each had two children with Cilliers, met at the Cilliers family home at Larkhill Barracks in Wiltshire. They waited for him to arrive.
“He came in and spoke to me in Afrikaans as he knew Carly wouldn’t understand,” Nicolene says.
“He asked what the hell was I doing, and we confronted him.
“He was as calm as anything. He looked from one of us to the other, as if he was thinking ‘who wants me the most?’
“He chose me. And I knew then that I needed to walk away. Carly could have him.”
Nicolene says that in South Africa, she was struggling to afford nappies for their baby son. She asked Cilliers for help, but he said he had no money.
The same day, he bought himself a pair of expensive golf shoes.
Treating himself to luxury items when his money could be better spent elsewhere was a continuing pattern in his life. His father was unwell in South Africa and needed money for medical treatment, Cilliers told Victoria.
She gave him the money – which he kept for himself.
He was about £24,000 in debt but would splash out on skiing equipment, golf clubs and gadgets.
The British Parachute Association investigated Victoria’s fall and discovered both her main and reserve parachute had been sabotaged. They handed the inquiry to the police who seized Emile Cilliers’ mobile phones and computers.
They discovered he was having an affair with a woman called Stefanie Goller. He was planning to leave Victoria for the Austrian woman, and sent her texts including: “I will sacrifice and give up so much for you… From April onwards I can do random and spontaneous.” He later adds: “To be with you I would do anything.”
According to the prosecution barrister, Michael Bowes QC, much of Cilliers’ behaviour as a witness showed signs of having been “learnt” rather than being a display of genuine emotions.
When giving evidence, Cilliers stayed completely calm, a trait various other witnesses at his trial mentioned. He was not a demonstrative man, and kept any emotions tightly in check.
When Victoria asked her husband not to smoke in her car, he didn’t rant, instead his face “went blank with fury”, she told police during an interview.
A colleague who was owed money by Cilliers was so enraged by him he “grabbed him by the scruff of the neck”. Cilliers did not react. He just said he didn’t want to talk about the loan.
Nicolene agrees that Cilliers would not get roused in anger but once, while they were dancing, he leant over to her and whispered in her ear: “If you ever hurt me I will hurt you 10 times over” before carrying on as if he had merely whispered sweet nothings.
Nicolene, now happily married and with five children and one grandchild – a grandchild she shares with 38-year-old Emile Cilliers, although they’ve never met – is relieved she managed to walk away when she did.
“I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet.
“He doesn’t know how to tell the truth; he’s too arrogant to believe he’s not the most intelligent person in the room.”
Speaking before the verdict, Nicolene said: “Unfortunately, he’s always had the ability to make you believe that black is white. He’s controlling and manipulative,
“I wouldn’t be surprised if gets acquitted. Some people just manage to get away with anything.”
Cilliers is due to be sentenced for two counts of attempted murder and one count of reckless endangerment on 15 June.
With strawberry picking season well under way – but migrant labour in short supply in several countries – we look at the various robots being developed around the world to help producers harvest this most popular fruit.
Next time you buy strawberries take a look a good look in the punnet. Do the berries still have the stem attached or has it been plucked off leaving only the green hat of leaves called the calyx?
You may not think that matters, but it’s a key consideration for growers as they contemplate the merits of a range of robotic prototypes that promise to pick strawberries as fast and as carefully as humans.
Whether the berry is plucked or whether the stalk is snipped through and kept attached is one critical difference between the concepts that Spanish, Belgian, British and US engineers are testing, ready to roll out in fields as soon as next year.
Harvesting soft fruit mechanically represents a huge challenge – each berry needs to be located, even if it’s behind a leaf, assessed for ripeness and then harvested and boxed with enormous care to avoid bruising.
But recent developments in visual sensor technology, machine learning and autonomous propulsion have brought the goal within reach.
“If you can put a man on the moon you can get a machine to pick a strawberry,” says Tom Coen, founder of Octinion, a Belgium-based start-up conducting a final phase of field trials this summer in partnership with growers in the UK and continental Europe.
“Today we can say we have a [robotic] arm that is competitive with a human in terms of price and speed,” he says.
Octinion’s arm is mounted on a self-driving trolley. It reaches up from below and, using 3D vision, grips a ripe berry between two cushioned plastic paws. The gripper then turns the fruit by 90 degrees to snap it off its stalk, mimicking the technique a human picker would use.
The prototype is picking one strawberry every four seconds, says Mr Coen, and depending on the cultivar, will collect between 70% and 100% of the ripe fruit – results that he says make it competitive with human pickers.
The berry is left with only the calyx, which is the way European consumers are accustomed to buying their berries.
“We don’t believe in cutting,” he says. Stalks risk bruising other berries in the punnet, he argues.
But Cambridge-based start-up Dogtooth is taking a different approach.
Founders Duncan Robertson and Ed Herbert have just returned from Australia where they’ve been testing a picker that delivers berries with a centimetre or so of stem still attached, the way UK retailers prefer, because it extends shelf life.
Dogtooth is cautious about giving away too much about how its robot works, but like Octinion it is based around robotic arms mounted on a mobile platform.
It uses computer vision to identify ripe fruit and machine learning to evolve efficient picking strategies. After picking, the robot grades berries to determine their size and quality, and places them directly into punnets.
Dogtooth also prides itself in working around the needs and current practices of UK growers.
So while Octinion’s machine will only work on fruit grown on raised platforms, usually in polytunnels, Dogtooth’s will pick traditional British varieties in the field.
“Adopting robotic practice will be a big ask, so I don’t want to ask growers to pull out existing infrastructure to support our robot,” says Mr Robertson.
“We’re trying to reinvent an important part of how soft fruit is grown, not reinvent the whole thing.”
Robots can operate at all times of the day or night – harvesting during the chillier night hours can dramatically lengthen shelf life and avoid bruising.
But developers emphasise the motivation is not to replace migrant labour with cheaper, more efficient robots. In fact, it’s not proving easy to replicate the standards that human pickers deliver.
Strawberry farmers say they are increasingly struggling to find people to do the work. They need the robots.
In the UK, the fall in the value of sterling following the EU referendum vote has made it increasingly difficult to recruit overseas workers. UK citizens seem reluctant to do such seasonal, physically laborious work.
In the US, growers say they have had to let fruit rot in the fields. Tighter immigration rules, a rise in the minimum wage, and a dwindling birth rate in Mexico, have all meant there just aren’t the workers available to harvest them.
So producers will have to scale up robotic picking if they’re to survive, many argue.
Agrobot, built by Spanish entrepreneur Juan Bravo, should be commercially available in California next year. And in Florida, the Harvest Croo team, led by former Intel engineer Bob Pitzer, is also close to launch.
Both of these are much bigger than the robotic arms being developed by Dogtooth and Octinion.
Both boast tractor-like vehicles spanning several rows of plants with arms that reach down to locate and pick fruit.
Each Agrobot arm grabs a stalk and snips, carrying the fruit off by its stem to minimise damage.
The Harvest Croo (Computerized Robotic Optimized Obtainer) uses paddles to gather up the plant’s leaves to expose the fruit. Rotating grippers then grasp and snap the berries off the stalk. Americans, like most Europeans, are accustomed to stemless fruit.
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Mr Pitzer says two thirds of the country’s strawberry production is backing the move to mechanisation.
“Growers advertise and pay a lot of money – a good picker can make $30 (£22) an hour [in Florida]; in California it’s $50 an hour,” he says.
But they still can’t recruit enough workers.
“People like to say if you paid them more they’d do the job, but it’s just not true. We know in future that labour won’t be available.”
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First, Angelina Jolie directed a film about the effect of war on a young girl in Cambodia, First They Killed my Father. Now, she has produced a film set in Afghanistan, saying at the premiere: “There are few countries in the world where it’s harder to be a young girl.”
The Breadwinner, made by Irish film-maker Nora Twomey, is an animation written, produced and directed by women, and adapted from the Canadian bestseller by author Deborah Ellis.
It features the voice of teenage Canadian actor Saara Chaudry as Parvana, an 11-year-old growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana disguises herself as a boy to save her mother and sisters from starvation, as women are unable to leave their house without a male relative.
Although it’s a story for children, it doesn’t disguise the details of life under the Taliban – including what happens when a woman is caught in the street without a burka.
After its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie was nominated for Best Animation at this year’s Oscars, with Jolie, its executive producer, urging a younger generation attending the festival to promote tolerance by “getting to know people in your neighbourhood who have different backgrounds”.
“Diversity is the most wonderful part of our world,” she said.
Twomey had already been nominated twice for Oscars, for her work on Irish animations Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, when she was approached to direct The Breadwinner.
“The idea of Parvana started to rise within me,” she says.
“You don’t get many stories like this for the screen, particularly with animations, and Deborah Ellis has a way of writing for a young adult which is very unique – she doesn’t talk down to children, she writes in a very matter-of-fact way, and her stories are based upon her experiences in refugee camps in Pakistan during the Taliban era.”
The other great help, according to Twomey, was Jolie, who came in very early on when the writer, Anita Doron, was working on a draft of the script.
“She had more than a decade of experience with Afghanistan. She supports the education of girls there. She also encouraged me to employ as many Afghan voice actors as possible. And she helped me understand the way in which the world has changed since 2001 and how we in the West view these parts of the globe,” says Twomey.
The film-makers also employed Afghan artists and musicians. And the film has been translated into Dari and Pashto, the languages of Afghanistan. The film was screened in Kabul before the Oscars.
“But I don’t want young people to be hit over the head with a ‘message’ film about what girls face in some societies. In many ways I hope the character of Parvana transcends gender,” says Twomey.
“She’s looking at a very serious situation in a very childlike way that I think both girls and boys can relate to. It’s a universal film like that – even as an Irish woman, the conflict in Northern Ireland when I was growing up gave me an outlook on the complexity of war and the vulnerability of peace, and how we should cherish it where we have it.”
Saara Chaudry, who was not much older than the character of Parvana when she played her, says The Breadwinner “opened my eyes to my privileges”.
“I have food, water, education and healthcare that I take for granted and yet other girls around the world don’t have access. I was nine years old when I first read the books and I loved Parvana for her determination and her optimism, I just wanted to have her spirit.
“Since playing her, I have been passionate about trying to help other young girls around the world even if it’s just by donating online to charities or spreading awareness, in whatever small way girls my age can help. It’s just hard to hear of other girls facing problems I could never dream of.”
But Twomey says: “I don’t think The Breadwinner offers any easy answers to the situation of women in Afghanistan, and nor should it.
“The story is a symptom of a situation which has become ingrained in that society. And it’s from generations of hurt. You can’t just come in and impose what you think, you have to empower those young women to transform their own society.
“Right now, standing up to those societal restrictions, you are asking a great deal of women and families and fathers who love their daughters, who wouldn’t want them to lose their lives over a principle. Standing up would have an impact on you, your family and your community.
“These are things we don’t take lightly. We just provide a character in the film who is an embodiment of hope. And hope is what we need to hang on to.”
The Breadwinner is released in the UK on Friday, 25 May.
The biggest names in pop, rock, grime and classical music will be playing at BBC Music’s Biggest Weekend over the next four days.
The likes of Taylor Swift, Liam Gallagher, Camila Cabello, Beck and Snow Patrol will play on stages across the UK, with full coverage on TV, radio and online.
But dig a little deeper into the running order and you might find your new favourite band among the up-and-coming acts BBC Music Introducing are showcasing.
Here are a few names to look out for, whether you’re attending a show or catching up on the Biggest Weekend website.
Welsh rock trio Trampolene get to headline the BBC Introducing stage in their hometown of Swansea, looking out at the school they attended just a few years ago.
“We’re headlining, but everyone’ll probably be watching Taylor Swift, won’t they?” says frontman Jack Jones.
“Our mates don’t come to watch us anyway. We played in Swansea the other day and I couldn’t get my mate to come from Townhill.
“I rang him and said ‘Look man, there’s people here from Japan and you can’t be bothered to walk two minutes down the road.’
“He said ‘Yeah, sorry mate, I’ve got alloys to put on my car and go and get a tattoo.’
“I was like, ‘Fair enough. Get your priorities right, son.'”
Dream Wife have evolved from an art school project to a jaw-dropping live act and one of the most talked-about new bands of 2018.
Their glittering pop-punk anthems bristle with attitude and bloom with melody. Lyrically, the band tackle oppression of women in Act My Age and gender equality on Somebody (“I am not my body/I’m somebody”).
Icelandic frontwoman Rakel Mjoll says the band have already started to see a change in how women are treated at their gigs.
“In America, everyone is talking about enforcing safe spaces at shows,” she says. “That’s incredible that it’s become the norm.
“But it comes in highs and lows. So don’t let this conversation die down again.”
“Being able to stand on stage and chat with people and laugh with them, that’s my favourite thing,” says Mahalia Burkmar.
The Leicester-born singer-songwriter has been working towards that goal ever since she wrote her first song at the age of eight.
She signed a major label record deal when she was 13 and was named one of BBC 1 Xtra’s “Hot for 2018” artists at the start of the year.
Her calling card was the debut single Sober, a song she wrote after drunk-calling her boyfriend.
“This guy was being a bit of an idiot,” she recalls. “I went out one night, got drunk and called him. Then I went home and wrote the chorus – drunk.”
The Guardian described her intimate, futuristic R&B songs as “emotional diary entries, full of relatable crises, rejections, parental advice and daydreams.”
For her part, the 19-year-old says she writes with “her heart on her sleeve” about love and break-ups. “Not that I’ve had loads of fellas!” she adds.
The Orielles are a young three-piece from Halifax comprising sisters Sidonie and Esme Hand-Halford and their friend Henry Wade.
They first met at a house party – although it wasn’t as cool as that sounds. “It was for a family friend,” says Henry. “I think it might have been a 40th birthday.
“It wasn’t like a raging, Skins-style house party.”
The band play the 6 Music stage in Belfast this weekend after releasing their debut album, Silver Dollar Moment, to rave reviews.
Packed with light-hearted stories (Let Your Dogtooth Grow is about the vagaries of dental surgery) and shuffling guitar riffs, it will instantly appeal to fans of ’90s indie bands like Lush, Kenickie and Blur.
Blur frontman Damon Albarn is a fan and recently turned up to see the band in London, only to nearly get turned away at the door.
“We were trying to make space on the guest list,” says Henry. “So we took Damon off as we didn’t think he was going to come!”
Interviews with other Biggest Weekend artists
Watford-born Connie Constance is a former dancer who abandoned her training when she realised music would give her a better form of self-expression.
At first she felt (self-imposed) pressure to fit the template of “an R&B girl” – before realising she didn’t listen to R&B and would be better off exploring her love of punk, indie and the Spice Girls.
The result is a quirky, elastic take on soul, with Connie’s husky voice front and centre.
After being championed by BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, she’ll play the station’s Introducing stage in Swansea for Biggest Weekend.
Connie says she can’t wait to share the bill with fellow female soulsters Jorja Smith and Mabel.
“It’s a good feeling being part of this new British sound,” she says.
“Its nice to have unity, making music, and we all back each other when we put stuff out. It’s very exciting.”
Isaac Gracie triggered a record label bidding war with a series of lo-fi demos he recorded in his bedroom in 2016.
Two years later, he’s toured the UK, scored a top 40 album and been compared to Jeff Buckley (with whom he shares a delicate, haunting falsetto) and Nick Cave (for the full-throated onslaught of his single The Death of You and I).
But the strangest comparison came in a live review by the Telegraph, who likened the singer to “a messianic Macaulay Culkin”.
“Oh my god! Can you imagine?” he says when reminded of the article. “My first ever review in the papers, and they put that in the frickin’ headline!
“But now I look at it I can kind of see why. We’re [both] blonde and slightly jaded. It’s all good.”
Decide for yourself when Isaac performs in Swansea on Saturday.
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