Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Once upon a time in the East Midlands

At the start of the year, Nottingham venue/recording studio/rehearsal space JT Soar turned ten. Reading this LeftLion interview with Phil Booth, the man who transformed it from a fruit and potato warehouse into a DIY cultural hub, I'm absolutely certain that it would have been a firm favourite of mine if I still lived in the city when it first opened its doors.

However, it's hard to read that final sentence - "in a wildly unscrupulous industry, it's heartening that a venue like JT Soar, with an ethos that prioritises communality and character over commerciality and 'cool', can survive and, better still, thrive" - with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that coronavirus was just around the corner. Booth has dismissed the idea of reopening for gigs any time soon - "the thought of encouraging folks into a confined space makes me real nervous" - but hopefully the place can stay afloat thanks to income from the studio.

Another Notts venue in which I definitely did spend an inordinate amount of time (and money) between 1997 and 2004 is Rock City, which is celebrating its own milestone birthday this year. Happy 40th to a place that opened in style with gigs from The Undertones, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Kinks, has gone on to play host to a phenomenal array of artists and has given me some of the best nights of my life. It too must have been massively impacted by the pandemic, and it doesn't have alternative sources of revenue to fall back on. Fingers crossed it can survive.

On a more positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory lane that was the special issue of Overall There Is A Smell Of Fried Onions. The mag largely existed before my time, folding less than a year after I arrived in the city. Nevertheless, the special issue - produced to commemorate the fact that, with the help of LeftLion and a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, all back copies are now archived online - was a fantastic reminder of old haunts (including Rock City, naturally) and some of the people who made the city's cultural scene what it was back then (especially gig promoters Lynda and Anton aka The Night With No Name and Darrell Martin, whose stellar bookings at the Just The Tonic comedy nights at the Old Vic invariably resulted in split sides).

However, the piece on Selectadisc by former store manager Jim Cooke was a painful read. More than ten years have passed since it shut up shop, and still I can't believe that a genuine local institution was allowed to die. Some of the records picked up there form the backbone of my music collection, and its specialist sections catered to tastes that I didn't know I had. In a parallel universe, it's still in existence, and the dream of constructing "an arthouse cinema with music, food, drink and DJs" next to the Market Street store (as mentioned by Cooke) has become a reality. What was, for a music-obsessed student, an already awesome city would have been even better.

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