Food in the 21st Century

Food in the 21st century

This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 9th February 2016. It has been transferred to this blog (the magazine having closed down.)

The people of Leicester today eat food from everywhere in the world. That is largely because the people of Leicester come from everywhere in the world. This has not always been true. If you walk through the centre of Leicester today, you will see several kinds of people: white Europeans from a variety of origins, Asians who came here from the Indian Subcontinent, Africans and Peoples from the Caribbean, some Asians from the far east, people from the Turkish region of Asia… our population is diverse in ethnicity and cultural heritages. Our popular is so diverse that no one group has a majority.

Well, you can see straight away that Leicester’s demography has important implications for its food. In our city centre there are many restaurants and specialist supermarkets catering for ethnic foods. In our outdoor market you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world. If you want to be gastronomically adventurous and try out the cuisine of other cultures, Leicester would be a great place in which to do that.

That is where we have got to today but it has not always been so. If we start to explore the history of out city’s eating, we will find that food has changed as the people living here have changed. This great feast of culinary cornucopias has not always been a feature of the Leicester community.

Even going back 50 years in time, we would find things to be very different. Let’s start with the end of the second world war. After the war, rationing was gradually phased out. People began to find more things to eat; the shops began to stock more varieties of food products and the contents of larders became gradually more elaborate. Where did people buy their food? A lot of people would have done their shopping in Leicester’s outdoor market. The market was established in 1229 by King Henry III, who allowed an already established fair to change its day from June to February. A permanent market has stood in the centre of the city ever since. The collection of stalls was given a roof in 1971 and even today the whole area is undergoing change and reconstruction.

Between the end of the second world war and the start of the nineteen fifties, cooks had it hard. Food was meagre, supplies limited and the choice of what most people eat was limited.

In the 1950s things began to change. Supermarkets opened, new food products were introduced and tastes began to change. One thing that changes what people were prepared to eat was foreign holidays. British people started to take packaged holidays in Europe and Spain and Italy were popular destinations. A thousands of British people descended on the fishing villages of the Mediterranean resorts, holiday-makers were exposed to radially new dishes – such as Pizza, Risotto, lasagna, Paella, – and when they got back they looked these foods in the shops and gradually they were introduced into the British diet.

Another thing changed the way people cooked: the rise of convenience foods. As supermarkets grew in number and as kitchen appliances became more affordable – particularly the refrigerator and later the freezer – housewives could buy and keep a much wider variety of perishable foodstuffs. I use the term housewives because in the 1950s it was women that did most of the work in the kitchen. Men did not start to cook at home until the 1970s and 80s. One company that changed people’s eating habits was Birdseye. Clarence Frank Birdseye II is credited with the foundation of the modern frozen food industry. He was a New York businessman whose pioneering work on freezing food led to the formation of the Birds Eye brand of food products. Fish Fingers became a staple of the British diet since their invention in Great Yarmouth in 1946 (although the term fish fingers first appeared in 1900.) Many other foodstuffs began to appear in the freezers of Supermarkets, including pea, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables and the consumption of these foods was promoted by television advertising.

During the period of the 1950s to 1970s, life in the kitchen became increasingly easy as the range of convenience and processed foods grew ever larger. Continental products such as pasta began to appear in the shops and English family developed a liking for dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese and pizza. Olive oil became a common culinary ingredient – though before the 1950s it was available only in chemists shops for the treatment of ear wax.

In Leicester the Indian community developed following the independence of Indian in 1947 and the Nationally Act of 1948. As the Indian community grew so did their shops and restaurants. In the 1960s there were many shops selling the kind of spices and vegetables that would be cooked at home and the number and range of restaurants increased accordingly. Today, many people would claim that Leicester is one of the best destinations in the UK for Indian cuisine. The various communities from the Indian subcontinent might seem to dominate the city but in fact there are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, cafes and bars that existing today to serve the tastes of the people of Leicester.

Medieval dishes from KingRichardIII website

The culinary world comes to Leicester

Most supermarkets these days have shelves or isles devoted to ethnic cuisine; curry sauce, as a lot of people know it, has become an established product for English people, both as a dish or as an addition to fish and chips. It has become commonplace for people to ‘go for a curry’ during a night out. According to the BBC, the UK has adopted ‘curry’ as one of its national dishes [BBC Food]  and about 23 million in the UK eat curry on a regular basis. But what is curry? Other than a term wrongly applied to all Indian food. If we go back far enough in history, we find that the word ‘cury’ meant simply hot food, from the French word Curie, meaning to cook. The first recipe for curry (in England) appeared as early as 1747. since it began to appear in this country, curry is a term commonly applied to any spicy sauce that could be said to have been inspired by Indian cuisine.

In England, there was an explosion in demand for European cuisines from France, Spain, Italy and Denmark. This was fuelled partly by foreign travel and partly by the appearance of programmes about food and cooking on the TV. From the 1960s onwards restaurants opened that could offer international menus to cater for the increasingly varied tastes of English consumers.

In the early 1960s shops and supermarkets started to stock an odd food product made from milk and called yogurt (or yoghurt.) It quickly became popular and sales of the little plastic pots soared. A Swiss company called Ski was a major force behind the mass production of this stuff, offering it in convenient pots with the addition of sugar and fresh fruit.

 

Art Education

The History of Art Education in Leicester

by Trevor Locke
This article was first published in Arts in Leicester magazine in 2013.

The history of what we now know as De Montfort University revolves around art. It was in 1870 that the first students attended classes in a disused warehouse in Pocklingtons Walk. Neither they nor their tutors could have imaged the institution of today – one of the most prestigious centres of learning in the country with its campus of award winning architectural splendours. In the same year, the Reverend James Went began to teach a series of technical classes at the nearby Wyggeston Boys School. Demand for lessons was so high that the Leicester School of Technology was founded in 1882.
Funds were raised to construct a new building and The Hawthorn Building came into existence in 1897, this being extended in 1909 and a new west wing being added in 1927. A £4 million refurbishment was completed in the year 2000. The first headmaster of the Leicester School of Art, Wilmot Pilsbury (1840-1908.) He was a noted landscape artist who arrived in Leicester in 1870. Pilsbury studied at the South Kensington Schools and at the Birmingham School of Art and was headmaster of the school from 1870 to 1880.
By the 1930s, the schools had been renamed the Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology.

dmu_crest_overdoorway
City crest over a doorway at De Montfort University.

The Leicester Pageant

Art students helped to create a fabulous event held in 1932 – The Pageant of Leicester. It was a celebration of the city’s history that saw a large procession snaking its way through the streets. Costumes were made to depict key scenes from the past up to the opening of Abbey Park in 1882.

Participants dressed as Roman Soldiers through to Victorians and an Ox Roast was held. The event lasted from 16th to 25th June. even Stephenson’s Rocket made an appearance. Decorated floats advertised local industries.

A silent, black and white film exists of the Pageant, which can be viewed over the Internet on the University of Leicester website My Leicestershire History.

This remarkable piece of archive film and reveals a great deal that is of interest from Leicester in the 1930s. It was a substantial event involving a large cast of characters dressed in period costumes. The film shows the Roman Army, complete with a large number of live horses, a battle with the Vikings and the visit by Cardinal Wolsey, whose memorial can still be seen in Abbey Park. There are also scenes showing the Ox Roast and those showing the procession of motorised vehicles and some horse drawn floats through the streets, one of which was entered by the Leicester Hosiery Union. It was a bright sunny day and large crowds had lined the roadside to see it.
From the Crusades to the Wars of the Roses, the Pageant marked the landmark events of the history of Leicester. The various scenes were filmed in the grounds of Abbey Park and later in Leicester as the parade went past.

DMU is now homes to a number of specialist centres. One of these is the Institute of Creative Technologies. Launched in 2006, the Institute has initiated hundreds of collaborative research projects.
Working across the whole of the University and across many disciplines, its main concern is with the practice, theory and history of creative technologies. These include creative computing, interactive arts and media and networks and collaboration. Of particular interest is the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre. Activities here are concerned with a range of artistic creation focused on innovative application of new technologies to music. There is an active agenda to do with electroacoustic music studies and sonic arts.

Music, Technology and Innovation Research Center.

The Institute of Creative Technologies

Boots and shoes

There was a time when Leicester was an important centre for the boot and shoe industries. Boot and shoe makers began to increase from about 1793, driven by the needs for foot ware for the army. In 1835 Thomas Crick and J. Dilkes entered the shoe trade in Leicester and became large-scale manufacturers. Stead & Simpson became well known in the shoe trade from the 1850s. By 1934 the firm had 186 retail shops in the British Isles. The shoe industry grew steadily throughout late Victorian times and into the middle of the twentieth century.
See Foot ware Manufacture (McKinley Ed.)

At its height, the Leicester boot and shoe industry manufactured more goods than were produced anywhere else in Britain.
By 1900, the firm had over 300 shops. The rapid development of shoemaking and distribution in Leicester attracted a variety of associated trades, so that Leicester became the main source of production of shoe machinery and materials. David Holmes has lived in Leicester since 1960 and spent all his working life in the boot and shoe industry, working for the British United Shoe Machinery Company. David Holmes (University of Leicester) has undertaken research into the development of Leicester’s shoe industry.

Lace making

Whilst the making of lace has never been a large segment of Leicester’s manufacturing economy, it has played a significant part in the life of the city and its outlying towns such as Loughborough. The East Midlands became a centre for textile production in the late eighteenth century. It has been argued that lace making was introduced into this country by the Flemands or Huguenots.

Education and the economy

As Linda Butt’s account reveals, the history of development of Art Education needs to be seen in the content of the various industries and trades that have been dominant in Leicester. Whilst there has always been education in fine art, courses have also been a conduit for employment and skills, channelling people into the local factories and manufacturers.

The early days of art education in Leicester

This article is based on an Interview we did with Linda Butt, the Archivist of De Montfort University, made on 5th April 2012. The pieces in [square brackets] have been included by the Editor, based on separate research.

The School of Art opened for lessons in 1870. The development before that was quite long. They had been trying to get an institute going for about ten years before that. It kicked off with the Mechanics Institute. As was the case in so many of the industrial cities, efforts had been made to get an art school going until finally various philanthropists in the city got involved. Plans were put in place and preparations were made throughout 1869; in April 1870 the first classes were held, at a disused warehouse in Pocklingtons Walk. I don’t know the precise location of that building.

The history of art education went back before that at a national level. The Great Exhibition of 1851 kicked off the interest in good design in industry, The London School of Art (or school of design), had started in the 1750s, somewhat as a result of the European Tours that great people undertook. They were bringing back influences from Europe – from painting sculpture and architecture – and thought that Britain needed to start its own cultural efforts in that direction. In London the School of Design became the Royal College of Art (founded in 1837.)

[The RCA was founded in 1837 as the Government School of Design. In 1853, it became the National Art Training School with the Female School of Art in separate buildings, and, in 1896, it received the name Royal College of Art. During the 19th century, it was often referred to as the South Kensington Schools. See Richard Burchett, an early Headmaster, for more details on this period. After 130 years in operation, the Royal College of Art was granted its Royal Charter in 1967, which gave it the status of an independent university with the power to grant its own degrees.]

It always had an emphasis on design and applied rather than fine art. The Schools of art in the regional cities, were also set up primarily for design and there was a lot of pedantic teaching for shading, for drawing, from life or still life. The ultimate goal was to feed designers and artists in to industry, to whatever industry that city was supporting. In Leicester it was textiles, shoes, printing – Leicester was a very big centre for printing. They needed the kind of draughtsmen skills that could be taught at an institution.

So in 1870, the first classes were centred around art of various kinds. In the 1880s there were technical classes, starting at what was then the Wyggestons Boys School, organised by the Reverend James Went. Those carried on there and were augmented by the various engineering and draughtsmanship courses.

dmu_hawthornebuilding
The Hawthorne building at De Montfort University

In 1890 the Hawthorn Building was built – although, at that time, is was known as the Leicester School of Art – it was named Hawthorn some time later. The building derives its name from John H. Hawthorn, the first headmaster of the newly established technical school. The technical classes then joined the art classes which had moved from Pocklingtons Walk up to a building that was on the side of the current New Walk Museum building, which was started as a school begun by non-conformists for their children. The art classes went into a wing on the side.

When the Hawthorn building opened in 1897, everything came on to our current site. The classes expanded to take in a lot more vocational education – architecture, building, food trades, textiles – art was very central to what was done and still is. The vocational courses that we teach now in textiles, shoe design, graphic design, interior design, still pull very much on that core of applied art.

A very good modern example of that would be the shoe that was designed for Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. That is so close to the original purpose of this establishment. You can see the link between 1870 to 2012.

Early courses were qualified. They were validated by the South Kensington body which was tied to the Victoria and Albert Museum, when the whole of arts and technology education was based in South Kensington. I believe that a lot of the examination papers were sent down there to be marked. Prizes were awarded from that body and the various standards were decided by that body. Our courses always have been externally validated and nationally accredited.

Initially it was thought that part time courses would be better for people who were already in employment, or who had other commitments, although there were always full time courses available, a lot of courses at that time where in the evening or at the weekends, when working people could come.

The tutors on those courses were highly qualified people. The first headmaster was Wilmot Pilsbury who was a very talented water colourist. He specialised in landscape painting and particularly that which included water. He got the school up and running and off the ground.

Benjamin Fletcher was another pivotal character and Principal of the school from 1900 to 1920, had been and still was a very able artist. When Augustus Spencer was appointed headmaster here he brought Fletcher along with him as a teacher. So Fletcher began his career here in 1888, taking up the principalship in 1900. Fletcher was an able artist and designer and also a noted pedagogue, who wrote pamphlets on how art should be taught. He was very influenced by the arts and crafts movement. He was a great friend of William Lethaby (1857 – 1931) and was close friends with Harry Peach who set up the Dryad business. That started by making cane furniture but widened out to arts and crafts in general. At that time the two of them were very influential in furniture design and tied up with the arts and crafts movement. Fletcher was pivotal to art teaching within the institution.

Some of the milestones in the development of art education?

I think it is difficult to give artistic milestones. The education that was offered and is offered, was built, very much in those early days, around the needs of local industry. The institution of course has changed out of all recognition, in that we went from being The College of Art of Technology, to being Leicester Polytechnic, and then to becoming De Montfort University. The training in art history and fine art has always been there. What has been added on have been specific courses, in graphic design, interior design which are now strong courses, and are leading directly into industry, which is really what we are here for.

They now run very much in the way that they always have. The Institution has changed around the courses, rather than the courses having changed around the institution. So there are very strong threads, of fine art, of history of art, of applied arts, of various kinds. These have continued through the changes in the institution, and are continuing now.

We are still training artists and designers, to go out into industry, into fashion, in to architecture, into shoe design, interior design, graphic design, which of course are the new names for printing, dress making, all the things that we did back in the early days. The Scraptoft campus offered teacher training and health studies, and youth studies, and dance. Community dance developed there, one of the earliest in the country, that has been continued now here, and links very closely with the Foundation for Community Dance. Performing arts were at Scraptoft but Fine and Applied arts were always here on the City Campus. Performing arts are still very strong. The departments have branched out into media studies, theatre and film studies. All of the new media have been incorporated into that.

Music and computer gaming

We are also now strengthening our teaching into computer gaming, which is a new strand of art education, so the new technologies have been brought in. Music forms a part of performing arts, particularly cutting edge modern music in that we have the links with Gavin Briers, that kind of very forward looking minimalist music, which was carried on there and that links with the American minimalist music.
That has actually branched out now, and seems to be basing itself again in the Baltic countries. There are composers in the Baltic countries, who have taken on that minimalist aspects of music, and there is some phenomenal work coming out of there. People like Arvo Part is a slightly different aspect of it but the strands are still there.
Scraptoft was linked into that and that is being continued here on the City Campus within the Institute of Creative Technology, which is pioneering electronic forms of music. We have the link with the Curve Theatre. We are training students go into theatre.

Our Theatre Studies students do productions at Curve, they are looking at modern play writes, and producing extremely good theatre. We are becoming increasingly known for music technology.
DMU Institute of Creative Technologies | DMU Music, Technology and innovation research centre.

Shoes and fabrics, dresses and corsets

We began teaching dress making, tailoring and shoe design, from quite early days when the college came into the Hawthorn building in the late 1800s. That would have been for people who were already in the trade, who wanted to learn that kind of skill. Dress making, tailoring was taught as a formal subject. There were also general craft classes, where embroidery would have been done, certain types of lace were made, competitions were held to design lace. Lace making was taught to women from Ireland so that they could augment their family income.

I don’t know what kind of lace that was, but there are mentions in the Annual Report – that prizes were given to students for their designs. Unfortunately we don’t have those designs now. The dress making courses fed into the city industries, as did tailoring.

In 1946 we began corsetry classes which fed into what we now call ‘contour fashion’. As rationing came to an end, after the second world war, the materials for that kind of garment started to become available. The college decided that that was a good area to go into and to get into an an early stage. That has always been one of our most successful courses, within the textiles area. We are still the only full time degree course in the country in Contour Fashion.

Shoe design was done from quite early days, but in various guises. In the early days it would have been called ‘cobbling trades’. After the end of the second world war when soldiers were de-mobbed, and needed a trade, we held classes, to teach those soldiers, how to make and repair shoes, so they could then go into civilian life with a trade.
Our most recent success is the student who designed a pair of shoes for the Duchess of Cambridge on the recent Royal visit. That is really coming full circle from 1870 when we started teaching designers and artists to feed into city industries, we are still doing this now.

Lace making

Lace making was particularly interesting. I found a photograph that was taken in the 1930s, of a women’s craft class. Most of them are doing embroidery; some of the women are working on large embroidery frames, so I would assume they are working on quite complex pieces.

One girl, right at the front of the class, is working on a bobbin lace pillow. The photograph is quite clear but not clear enough for me to see what kind of lace she is making but she seems to be using East Midlands Bobbins with a continental pillow. Quite how that combination came about I am not certain. I am not sure what kind of lace was made then, East Midlands-type laces had not at that time been developed.

There is a large collection of East Midlands Bobbins in the Museum and I do know that there was bobbin lace making in Leicester as early as 1610.

I wonder whether that girl in the photograph had brought her skills with her. If you look very carefully at the photograph, the girl sitting next to her, who is working at an embroidery frame, is wearing very antiquated clothing, that you would almost associate with peasant garments: a long skirt, hair in a coil round her head, shawl, and a frilly blouse. This does not look like the kind of garment that a 1930s girl here, would be wearing. It looks Eastern European.

Those two girls – if you look very closely at their features – I have a feeling they are sisters or possibly cousins. Now, if those two girls are related, and they have those skills, the centres of bobbin lace making (apart from England and Northern Europe) were in the region of what became Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia. I do wonder whether those girls came out of Eastern Europe, prior to the outbreak of the second world war, brought their skills with them, and then were honing their skills in order to fit themselves for employment. It is just a surmise, because I have not had time to research the registers, but they look very much as if they might be of Eastern European extraction.

The Midlands would have been known in Eastern Europe as a centre for lace making at that time. Nottingham was machine lace, which is a very different discipline to hand made lace. The machines were developed in Nottingham because the technology was already there. There is no tradition of hand made lace in Nottingham – that resided in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and in Devon. Those were the centres of hand made lace.

Nottingham started to make machine lace because the skills and the factories and the know-how about to the build and maintain them was already there. Machines were then taken to Northern France, so the industry spread out but I am not aware of machine lace being produced in Eastern Europe.

There is some bobbin made lace in Leicester from 1610 and there is a notice (at that date) of money being given by a particular charity to a lace maker in Leicester to employ girls to make bobbin lace. Leicester was right on the very periphery of the hand made lace area but I do know that one of the Ellis family was a very competent lace maker and her collection of bobbins and lace appears to have formed the foundation of the collection within the museum. Agnes Ellis may have known some of the girls who trained here in the very early days. I am not aware of bobbin lace being taught as a separate subject here, which me think that the girl in the photo probably brought her skills with her rather than having learnt them here.

Published on 13th October 2015.

See also:

The history of music technology.

 

 

Part 2 1990 to 2005

The History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005

by Trevor Locke

This page was edited by Trevor Locke. Read more about Leicester on his blog.

See part 1 of this article

The 1990s

We start by looking at some of the key characteristics of Leicester’s music scene in the 1990s. In this section, reference back to earlier years is made in order to set the context for certain points. More detail will be provided in my next chapter which looks at the era of the radio and record player, starting in 1940 and ending with the start of the 1990s.

The 1990s on the Internet

It was during the decade of the 1990s that mass use of the Internet got going in the UK and Leicester and people went on-line in increasing numbers.

My first experience of going on the Internet, was when I worked for DeMontfort University in 1995 at the Scraptoft campus. The first pages I ever saw, from the Internet, were in monochrome (green text on a black background) and there were no graphics. That was probably because the only access the campus had at that time was through the specialised Universities system called ‘Superjanet’, which was mainly concerned with bibliographic references and research papers.

It was not until 1997 that I got my own Internet connection at home; in those days we had to use a modem connected to the telephone line which dialled up the ISP and frequently dropped out.

Some international websites appeared in this period. The Internet Underground Music Archive Collection (IUMA) was started in 1993 by three students at the University of California at Santa Cruz. They worked together to create an online music archive that would help musicians and bands who weren’t signed by a major label. The site allowed these unsigned artists to upload files and send them to fans; it also gave artists the opportunity to talk with their fans. At first,  The IUMA was part of the Usenet newsgroups. In 1998, Emusic bought the Internet Underground Music Archive and changed the look and feel. Unsigned artists would sign up with the service and receive a website and URL devoted to their name [IUMA website]

In 1994, a number of key developments changed what the ‘Web could offer to the music industry. Music tracks started to be made available to fans on a global basis and technologies that allowed streaming were becoming increasingly powerful. One important consequence of this was that the record labels lost their strangle-hold on music; underground or alternative music could now be made available by the bands themselves. By 2001 the big five labels had begun to realise the importance of the Internet and to colonise and cash in the market for digital tracks. [Spellman, 2002]

America Online (AOL) began in 1983 but it was not until 1993 that it began to offer an all-purpose Internet service. AOL was, at one time, the UK’s largest Internet access provider. Not everyone liked it but it seemed that everyone was on it. As a multi-media platform, it catered for the musical interests of its users. I worked for AOL from around 1997 onwards, and I remember someone asking me (in a chat room) if I had ever heard of a band called Kasabian. I think this must have been the first I had ever heard of them. I continued working for AOL into the noughties. I remember chat rooms being provided, in which famous music celebrities held real-time, interactive conferences with subscribers from around the world.

Logo of America On Line
Logo of America On Line

In 1999 AOL cut its rates for Internet access; much of the company’s success was due to the way it distributed CDs that gave access and installed its interface client on to personal computers. People used these CDs as coasters and beer mats and some even used them to make art installations and sculptures. They were even given away free as inserts in magazines. In the early noughties and late 90s, AOL was competing with providers like Freeserve and Virgin and distribution of these installation CDs was a core part of their strategy.  Love them or loathe them, it is true that AOL gave many millions of people their first access to music over the Internet. The millions of CDs distributed by AOL led some to claim it was an environmental hazard because they were not biodegradable.

Bands too started to register domain names to provide them with tailor-made web addresses. The domain dead.net was registered on January 20, 1995 for the American rock band formed in 1965 – The Grateful Dead.  A British rock band –  Marillion –  formed in 1979, registered Marillion.com on December 19th, 1996, but this was not the first.

A band formed in 1990, appeared in an article about technology published on the BBC website. The article claims that an image of the band is thought to be one of the first ever upload to the World Wide Web.

An all-female doo-wop band whose image is believed to have been the first photo uploaded to the fledgling world wide web is to play its final gig. Les Horribles Cernettes take their swansong at the Hardronic Festival at the Cern laboratory in Geneva – the birthplace of the web. A picture of the women was uploaded to the web on 18 July, 1992, by web creator – and fan – Tim Berners-Lee. He wanted it to test out the version of the web he was working on at Cern. [BBC website]

The English rock band Muse is thought to be one of the first bands, in this country, to have a website. Queen, the English rock band formed in 1970,  registered its domain name queenonline.com in June 1999. In November 1998,  thebeatles.com was registered and is till online today. One of the very earliest domain names to be registered was music.com in 1993 and you can still view this today.

I myself started to register domain names for the websites I worked on; one of the first was blaby.net which I registered in 1997. It was not until the early noughties that Leicester bands began to make their own websites.

Bear in mind that it was not until 1993 that the first web browser appeared. Inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, started work at CERN in 1980 and began to develop software that would display the HTML pages he had invented. It was not until 1995 that web browsers became commercially available when Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1995.  Netscape produced its own browser, Navigator, and by 1996 had won 86% of the market. Earlier people used Mosaic, a browser was that was developed from late 1992.  Web browsers continued to become more and more sophisticated and gradually developed the capacity to display complex images and multimedia components such as video and music.

The 1990s – venues

In Leicester, as in many other cities and towns, live music venues allowed bands and artists to put on their own gigs. This fuelled the growth in bands; it became unnecessary to be signed to a record label to achieve anything meaningful and, for thousands of young men and women in Leicester, producing music for their fans became a realistic possibility. In the 80s and 90s, Leicester saw the rise of permanent music venues that supplemented the well-established supply of opportunities provided by pubs and bars.

These small venues provided ‘amateur’ bands with an outlet for their music; they were amateur in the sense that they played music in their spare time, as opposed to being professional musicians. These venues were small – ranging between 50 to 200 in audience capacity. The venues were important to the development of music, both in Leicester and at a national level. As one report put it

These venues have played a crucial role in the development of British music over the last 40 years, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills. [The Music Venue Trust, 2015]

The rise of the small venues greatly increased the total volume of live music being performed in Leicester and provided music fans with a wider range of musical choice than was available in the pubs and bars. Venue managers were willing to book bands that played the kind of music not generally found on the commercial scene. These small venues provide Leicester with much of its musical heritage. Whilst larger theatres, mainly the DeMontfort Hall and the Granby Halls, and some of the big nightclubs, provided national touring acts, it was the little venues that were the lifeblood of the music scene. The advent of the Internet and the small venues gave ‘amateur’ music a huge boost.

The Granby Halls
The Granby Halls

In a recent article, Rhian Jones comments that

The biggest bands today started their careers playing to modest audiences in pubs and clubs; if the places available to do that diminish, where will the future festival headliners learn their performance skills? If there’s a dearth of fresh live talent, you get festivals that just book the same bands to headline again and again, without giving newcomers a chance. [Jones, 2015]

The age of the DIY music artists had begun. Hundreds of bedrooms became recording studios. Shops began to sell recording equipment; in Leicester, retail outlets like Maplins did a roaring trade in microphones, amps and mixing devices. As laptops became increasingly affordable, musicians could download software and begin to mix and master their own work in a way that was impossible before. All kinds of electrical equipment, for the recording of music, could be purchased on the Internet. This trend ended the reliance of musicians on third party publishers of music, such as the record labels.

Small music venues were (and still are) the lifeblood of local music; acts that performed in them were selected for festivals and many of the nation’s emerging super bands toured the  small venues in order to build up their fan bases. The Charlotte began in 1989, when it was known as The Princess Charlotte. It closed in 2009, although a couple of attempts were subsequently made to re-open it.

The Shed opened in 1994 and is still open today; this makes it the longest running venue in Leicester. On the other side of the city, The Donkey has been a venue for live music since 2005.  The year 2000 saw the start of The Musician. Many people still fondly remember The Attik which ran from 1985 to 2006. The De Montfort Hall also put on live music acts and was the destination for a large number of nationally famous bands and singers. Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Several music shows were held there.

What singles out Leicester, as a music city, was that it never got chosen as a place where national companies wanted to open branches.  Chains such as Barfly, never came here.  It was not until much later that big name companies like The Academy Music Group (with its chain of O2 Academies) and Sub91 in 2010.

Alongside the live music venues were the night clubs. Mosh, at the top of the High Street, opened in 2003. From 1971 to 1981, Baileys, near to the clock tower, provided live music and some big named bands played there. Helsinki club opened in 1983 and many of the city’s top DJs played there including the now internationally renown Lisa Lashes. In the High Street The Bear Cage opened in 1987. The old Palais de Dance, in Humberstone Gate, had been a venue for dancing and music since the 1930s and provided the venue for Ritz’s Club in 1987. The club was substantially enlarged in 1971. The Palais played an important role in the social life of Leicester for many years. The property had a chequered history and its ownership and management changed many times. It was recently called Sosho which launched in 2012. It is now closed. So, the 1980s was the golden age of night clubs;  today (2015) almost half of the nation’s discos and clubs have closed. Club Republic, in Sandacre Street, opposite St. Margaret’s bus station, had a number of names over the years, including Zanzibar. Close by, another of Leicester’s long-running and popular clubs which is now called Liquid and Envy. In 2012 it was called Krystals.  In Wellington Street, The Basement bar served as a bar, nightclub and live music took place there over a number of years. Quebec was, in its time a large and popular nightclub in Belgrave Gate; it opened as a gay club and was once a very popular venue providing DJs and very occasionally live acts.  Not far from there was Streetlife, which also started as a gay club. Both of these venues were taking over as general nightclubs. Although not open for very long, Harveys, a small bar in Belgrave Gate, had an iconic reputation. In the cultural quarter a club called Soho stood on the site now occupied by an Indian restaurant and in its day was popular with people who liked underground and alternative sounds.

If we look at 2009, we see a number of venues in operation, according to information annotated at the time by Alan Freeman [Freeman, 2009]. In his article he mentions the Criterion pub in Millstone Lane, the Firebug previously known as The Firefly (also in Millstone Lane) and the Y Theatre in East Street as being places where music was performed. He also mentions De Montfort University (previously known as Leicester Polytechnic) and we know that live music would have been performed there in the student’s union. It is said that Bob Marley performed at one of its shows in the 1990s. Leicester University’s Queens Hall would also have seen a programme of important bands visiting the room that is now in use as O2 Academy 2). I was involved in putting on gigs at The Pavilion, the cafe that sits on the London Road side of Victoria Park. I also ran gigs at the Sun Bar, in Church Gate.

In fact it is not difficult to identify a large number of buildings that were used to mount live music events during this period. Outside of Leicester, in the county, music was largely confined to pubs. The Three Nuns, in Loughborough, for example, put on bands at the weekend. The rise of local festivals has already been covered in Chapter 1.

The 1990s – Types of music

Ska and reggae are two musical genres that have been important in the musical life of Leicester, just as they still are today. In fact a film about Black Music in Leicester has documented the important contribution made by local artists and musicians to the national music scene. The Spectrum project tracked the city’s history of soul, disco, reggae, R&B, gospel, drum ‘n’ bass, hip hop and ‘urban’ music over the last 40 years. It covered singers, bands, DJs, sound systems, dancers, musicians and record labels, across music of Black origin. [Arts in Leicester, 2014]

The 1990s – Bands

1991 saw the formation of the band Cornershop, formed by Tjinder Singh, his brother Avtar, (both of whom lived in Leicester at the time), David Chambers and Ben Ayres. Their music was a fusion of Indian music, Britpop and electronic dance music. Cornershop was  an Anglo-Asian agit pop band, that became famous for the 1998 Number 1 single Brimful of Asha Perfume and Delicatessen both also rose to critical acclaim.

Wikipedia states that ‘The band Prolapse, was formed by a group of Leicester University and Polytechnic students in 1992. The band rose in popularity, and quickly gained a record deal with Cherry Red Records, recorded a number of John Peel sessions for Radio 1, and toured with Sonic Youth, Stereolab and Pulp.  Leicester is home of the influential Rave – Drum & Bass Formation Records label and associated 5HQ Record Shop, which was reopened in 2012 as an active recording studio.’ [Wikipedia] Prolapse has recently reformed.

Gaye Bikers on Acid band
Gaye Bikers on Acid band

Gaye Bykers on Acid  was formed in late 1984 by Ian Reynolds (Robber) and Ian Hoxley (Mary). They were later joined by guitarist and art student Tony Horsfall and drummer Kevin Hyde. Their first gig was at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester in mid-1985.[Wikipedia]

The formation of Kasabian (previously known as Saracuse) happened in 1997. The band, as Saracuse, played their first gig at The Shed in 1999. The original band members were from the Leicestershire villages of Blaby and Countesthorpe. Kasabian have won eight major music awards and have been nominated 27 times for major awards .They are one of the biggest indie bands ever to have originated in Leicestershire. Kasabian went on to become a world-class band, the biggest music act to have come out of Leicester since Englebert Humperdinck.

The Young Knives formed in 1998 in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in North West Leicestershire. The band was known for its energetic live performances and trendy tweed outfits. They broke into the music industry in 2002.

Ska band Kingsize formed in 1999 and is still going strong. The band played its first gig at the Royal Mail pub in the city centre.
Several Leicester bands from the 1990s are mentioned by Alan Freeman on his web page [Freeman, 2009]

I plan to cover Leicester bands of the 90s in more detail when I write the chapter on this period in my forthcoming book.

The 1990s – Rehearsal rooms, recording studios and record labels

Pink Box Records opened in 1994. Pink Box was set up as a hobby business by record collecting fans Sue and Chris Garland in 1994, not as a record label but to sell rock and indie records at record fairs around Central England. The name Pink Box came from the record storage boxes they used. Frustrated by the lack of national coverage to bands from the East Midlands they decided to release a record on their own label – Pink Box Records.

Stayfree (founded in 1992) opened in Conduit Street in 1995. Before that they were housed in Friday Street.  The Conduit Street premises offered rehearsal rooms and a variety of other services. Stayfree Music still exists today (2015) at its present location on Frog Island but started in 1992 in Friday Street, moving to Lillie House in Conduit Street in 1995 before moving to its current location in Frog Island in June 2009. Stayfree is known for proving rehearsal rooms but a number of other activities and projects have taken place in its premises over the years. There were rehearsal facilities dotted around the city and the suburbs.

1990s – Broadcast media

1996 saw the start of Takeover Radio. This radio station was set up to provide children and young people with opportunities to learn radio broadcasting. It provided an outlet for local music and many new bands and artists received airplay from the station.
Mention was made in my last article to BBC Radio Leicester, Demon FM, Radio 2Funky and other stations. These are played a role in broadcasting tracks by local artists, along side other music. Leicester Sound was one of the commercial stations that played music, sometimes broadcasting tracks by local bands and artists; it was once based in a building opposite Victoria park.

1990s – Festivals

Small venues were often places where local bands were discovered and invited to play at the increasing number of music festivals that were starting up in Leicestershire.

The Abbey Park Show was axed in 1995, nearly 50 years after its inception. The annual Abbey Park Festival event provided a key launch pad for many new bands. It’s importance to live music in the 90s cannot be understated.

Moving back

This chapter has sketched a period in the development of Leicester’s music to provide a very partial picture of what it was like between 1990 and 2005. As with all of these chapters, a more substantial account is envisaged for the book when it comes out.

In my next chapter I will move on to consider the era of radio and records –  from 1940 to 1990.

Trevor Locke

References

Reference to all these articles are given on a separate page

See also:

Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Related article: Music and technology

 

1990to2005part1

Chapter 2 – Music and the rise of the Internet – 1990 to 2005 – part 1

by Trevor Locke

This article forms part of a series called The History of Music in Leicester.

Chapter 1 of this series Music Today has already been published and covered the period from 2014 back to 2005.

This is part 1 of Chapter  2.

Part 2 looks at the 1990s.

In this chapter we look at the period from the early noughties (2000 to 2005) to the 1990s (taken to be the start of the Internet, roughly speaking.) As was noted in Chapter 1, all music of a particular period had its roots in the past;  the music of an era cannot be understood without looking back at the roots that nurtured it at that time. Hence, our journey back through history to see how music has changed and how people’s musical tastes have been shaped and formed by what was happening to them and the people before them. The outstanding feature of the period 1990 to 2014 was the growth of the Internet.

The Rise of the Internet

All kinds music has depended for its growth, development and distribution on the technologies available; music in pre-technological society was exclusively live and its distribution was dependent on the printing of sheet music. Before that, it was all about oral traditions being handed down from one generation to another. All this changed with the invention of the gramophone player, the radio, television, the CD player and then the Internet. Technological development changed the way people listened to music but it also changed the musical tastes of the majority of people by giving a broader access to music. This is covered in more detail in our article Music and Technology.  Peoples’ access to the Internet had two parts of it: email and the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet these were the two services that most people used.

The noughties and the ‘web – 1990 to 2005

The growth of the Internet, particularly from the late 90s onwards, brought huge changes to the way that music was distributed.  It also allowed bands to reach a wider audience, through the medium of the world wide web. This period saw a growth in music festivals and live music venues. The advent of personalised music-playing devices, from the Walkman in the 1970s through to the iPhone’s launch in 2007, allowed listening to become a personalised experience. By contrast, the rise of the big festivals, raves and the construction of high-capacity arenas, brought back a social element to the experience of music, one not seen since the demise of the music halls in the early years of the twentieth century.

One other thing, that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about, was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels.

Mass broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the DIY artists – those who could record music in their bedrooms and reach a large market, usually very cheaply. This revolutionised the means of musical production, compared to the days when the production of gramophone records was prohibitively expensive for the unsigned group or individual. YouTube, Reverbnation and Soundcloud further aided the rise of self-production of music.

In 2005, Arts in Leicestershire was founded. The domain name was registered on 22nd February; this was soon followed by the publication of the early version of the Arts in Leicestershire website, which later became a magazine. The site published content on all forms of art but half its content was about music. By its hey day, over 600 pages existed on the site (covering all genres of music) and, at the height of its popularity,  it had over 28,000 readers per month. The first gig reviews were published on it in 2007. This was made possible by the availability of inexpensive hosting services.  In 2013 the music content was transferred to a new site called Music in Leicester.  When the music content of the old Arts in Leicester website was removed from the Internet, I began making plans to re-publish the gig reviews as a book. Fortunately, I archived the whole of the Arts website to disk and then extracted all the gig reviews, hundreds of them, to a separate file and arranged them into chronological order. The resulting ‘book’ was given the working title A compendium of Leicester gig reviews; it contains a year by year account of many of the music events that took place in Leicester from 2007 through to 2013 when Music in Leicester started. The only other publication to comprehensively record live music over a period of time was The Monograph. Live music is an ephemeral phenomenon and evidence of what happened quickly disappeared. Anyone wishing to research music will find it difficult to extract material from verifiable sources.

At Leicester University, the Oral History Archive has recorded over a thousand interviews with local people and in some of them,  they talk about music, gigs and the shows they went to. Music journalism often misses an important side of life – what people remember about their experience of music events. Today, music fans post their thoughts and experiences on social media every day but this rapidly disappears and there is no easy way to gather and store it for use by the researchers of the future.

Apart from social media platforms, independent websites were set up that provided information about the Leicester music scene. In 2009 Alan Freeman published a list of Leicester rock bands on his website. Arts in Leicester maintained a listing of local rock bands for many years; this captured the names of bands that were playing and sometimes where they came from and style of music they played. Analysing this data enabled Arts in Leicester to claim that ‘Leicester had more bands per head of population than most other cities of comparable size.’

It was in the mid-noughties that Facebook began to challenge MySpace as the ‘must have’ presence on the ‘web for bands, singers, rappers and music artists, alongside countless thousands of music fans who followed them.  There were some early adopters, from Leicester,  such as the singer and songwriter Kevin Hewick who opened an account on it in 2005. Trevor Locke also joined Facebook in the same year. Val McCoy, who was the promoter of the OBS, joined Facebook in 2007. Twitter was launched in 2006 and as its presence grew in the UK, bands started to open accounts to tweet about their activities.

Bands too began to register domain names and to use them for their own websites. Kasabian was one of the earliest UK bands to register its own domain name, in 2002, as we noted in chapter 1; Leicester bands like ICTUS, Autohype and The Screening were early adopters of free-standing websites with their own tailor-made web addresses (i.e. domain names.) Maybeshewill band registered its own domain name in March 2004.

Logo of Stayfree
Logo of Stayfree

Stayfree music, then based on offices in Conduit Street, was home to a web hosting service that its own servers in the same building.  Many local bands used this service at that time.

Whilst there were a few content management platforms, a lot of websites, in those days, had to be hand-crafted using HTML code. Software, such as Dreamweaver, made the task of designing websites easier. Having been created in 1997, Dreamweaver was taken over by the Adobe corporation in 2005. Its killer function was its ability to write code whilst presenting the page in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format. Also at that time, Microsoft provided its own proprietary software called Frontpage. There were plenty of people around who could make websites for bands and artists but some musicians were savvy enough with the Internet and computers to do it themselves. The Internet provided people with a means to communicate on a mass basis, something which, in previous periods,  was limited to the printed page and newspapers, along with the broadcast media.

Music in the noughties (2000 to 2005)

This section looks at the period we call ‘the noughties’ before moving on to the 1990s (in part 2)

The period 2000 to 2005 saw much activity on the Leicester music scene as bands formed, gigs and events took place on a regular basis and there was a high level of activity across all areas of the city’s music industry. The growth of the Internet, from 2002 onwards,  brought significant changes to the way that music was publicised and distributed; it also allowed bands to reach wider audiences, through the world wide web. This period saw a considerable growth in music festivals and live music venues. One other thing that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels. The mass use of broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the  DIY artist – those who could record in their bedrooms and reach a market very cheaply via the Internet.

Leicester developed a vibrant live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow. The number of live music venues increased, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed or listened to. The small venues allowed bands and promoters to put on their own gigs, hiring the venues and selecting their own line-ups of acts. Gig promoters were usually individuals who had a passion for live music and would hire bands to play in a variety of local venues. Some of them also secured bookings for bands to play outside of Leicester.

Apart from the weekly round of gigs, several large-scale events took place in Leicester, including One Big Sunday, which was organised by the BBC’s Radio 1 and took place on Victoria Park on 20th July 2003. It attracted an audience of over 100,000 people.

One Big Sunday on Victoria Park
One Big Sunday on Victoria Park

In February 2000, a big show was held at the DeMontfort Hall ‘featuring the very best bands from Leicester’ and ran from 2 pm to 11pm.  On the advertised line-up were Saracuse (later to become Kasabian), Pendulum,  Last Man Standing, The 13twelve, Marvel, Slider, Fusion, The Incurables and several others. The first Original Bands showcase was held in 2004. The band that won that year was The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS is till going today (2015). In 2006 we saw the beginnings of the Fringe Festival with its mammoth Fringe Thursday, an event that had it’s beginnings as the Summer Sundae Warm Up party. On Fringe Thursday, buses transported music fans around all the live music venues in the city.

It can be argued that such series of shows supported the local music scene and encouraged people to see bands, who might not otherwise have bothered. The value of serial events, such as the OBS, is unclear, in a long-term perspective, but each year they have created live music opportunities for large numbers of acts and the fans who went to see them. Taking part in something like the OBS is enough reward in itself, it could be said. Leicester has not developed any kind of awards recognition institution to celebrate the best of its local music; in fact, as far as amateur local music is concerned, only a handful of cities in the UK have established annual awards ceremonies. Awarding music band and singers is something that was done at national level. This might seem odd given the large number of TV programmes devoted to singing and entertainment competitions that enjoyed massively big audiences. Perhaps local recognition is not so valued as that conferred at national level. Things like Battles of the Bands have occurred regularly in Leicester throughout the noughties and 90s. As a way of organising live music, such series of gigs attracted considerable controversy from bands and fans alike. Leicester bands participated in the national competition Surface Unsigned, often with considerable success.

Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009
Alastair, Alex and Rooster of The Heroes at Surface Unsigned in Birmingham in 2009

Compact disks and vinyl records were popular in the noughties and Leicester supported a range of retail outlets for them.  Ainsleys record store, once a popular retail outlet, closed in 2004. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001.  He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.

Ainleys music shop
Ainleys music shop

We looked at record shops and stores in Chapter 1. With the growth in digital media, sales of plastic sources of media declined but many fans still value the ability to own CDs and vinyl records and bands continue to provide them for their fans.

Leicester has never been noted for its music industry agencies but in Horus Music, established in Birmingham in 2006, later moved to Leicester which is where it is now. I ran Get Your Band On from June 2005 to November 2009; it acted as an agency for rock bands, providing training, bookings, management and bookings. GYBO worked with a number of bands from Leicester as well as supporting bands and artists from all over the UK. During this period, several people became promoters, putting on gigs and events; in most cases they were individuals. Alongside those who worked with rock bands, there were several entertainment agencies that provided a range of artists for music-related clients. What Leicester lacked in modern times was band management; people or agencies specialising in providing management, bookings and publicity services have been few and far between, given the very large number of bands and artists that have existed in the city. The majority of bands and artists had to do all these things themselves.

Venues in the noughties

The year 2000 saw Darren Nockles take over the Bakers Arms in Wharf Street South, a public that had been active since the 1970s, turning it into the venue we know today as The Musician. The old Musician closed it’s doors on 31st December 2004 only to re-opened in 2005. The Donkey, a pub in Welford Road, became a music venue in 2005. In the following year Gaz Birtles began work there as a promoter. Many will have fond memories of the small venue in the city centre called The Attik. It ran from 1989 to 2006. Andy Wright, who ran The Charlotte remembers that on “16th January 2009, the police shut the doors to stop anymore people getting in and shut the bar down .. was fun that night.” Concerts were held at the University of Leicester, mainly in the Queens Hall and the DeMontfort Hall continued to put on performances by rock bands and orchestras playing classical music. Several large music events were held at The Granby Halls (demolished in 2001 to make way for a car park serving the nearby Tigers Rugby Club.) The Who played there on the opening night of their 1981 tour on 25th January 1981. Churches, including the Cathedral, also provided music-lovers with concerts of music; they kept alive Leicester’s choral tradition which started in the middle ages. It was not just venues that grew over this period. Nightclubs were also popular for those who wanted to hear DJs playing recorded tracks. MOSH nightclub opened in 2003. ‘Red Leicester’ was The University of Leicester Students’ Union Wednesday official night out from 2004 – 2014.

Festivals in the noughties

The first Summer Sundae festival was held in Leicester in 2001. It became one of the most important events both for national bands and artists as well as for the many local acts that played. It attracted an audience from all parts of the country.  A festival was held in Abbey Park in 2002. The Abbey park music festivals played an seminal role in the development of Leicester’s music, from1981 until their demise about twenty years later.  In 2009, Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey park’s bonfire night. A similar-sized crowd was present in 2014 when rising pop stars The Vamps were the headline act, supported by local artists Jonezy and Curtis Clacey. Glastonbudget festival started in 2005 (as mentioned in the previous chapter) and has continued to run every year up to the present day. Strawberry Fields festival started in 2010. Quite a few small local festivals were organised, sometimes on a one-off basis. In 2009 and 2008 Arts in Leicester reported on Summer Sundae, the Big Session festival held on Victoria Park, Glastonbudget, Fristock, and regular events that included music in their programme, such as Gay Pride, Diwali, Caribbean Carnival and the Belgrave Mela. Just over the Leicestershire border, Download attracted large numbers of people from our local area and Arts in Leicester listed the bands that played there. Batfest took place on 21st August, 2010 near Ibstock and was organised by Elliot O’Brart. Batfest was an annual event held for charity in the tiny but pretty village of Battram. The festival was primarily a music festival with a couple of stalls selling home made cakes and a raffle stall [Arts in Leicester magazine] This was typical of a large number of local music events that took place in the city and county during the noughties. Other examples included Cosby Big Love, the Braunstone Carnival (which usually featured a music stage), Glastonblaby, and the Oxjam festivals.

Bands of the noughties

I cannot speak from personal experience about Leicester’s live music scene much before 2005.  My very first reporter’s notebook goes back to 2006. I did not start writing about local music much before 2001; in that year I started a website called Travel to Leicester which had a section about the entertainment which visitors to Leicester could find and which mentioned gigs, bands and venues. During the 1990s I wasn’t living in Leicester; my home was outside the city in Blaby district and in those days we didn’t come into the city at night – unless we had to. It was not until November 2002 that I went to The Shed for the first time. Hence, I missed out on music, as far as Leicester was concerned, in the ’90s. I did, however, attend One Big Sunday, on Victoria Park in July 2003.

It was in 2005 that I started Arts in Leicestershire, a website that took over the content about the arts, including music from the Travel to Leicester website. I have written about the history of this Arts website, now called a magazine [Arts in Leicester] and have covered its history [Arts in Leicester]

Skam playing at The Shed in 2005
Skam playing at The Shed in 2005

From 2005, I really got to know the local bands. Under a heading ‘2007’ I noted many of the bands that were popular at the time. In May 2007, an extensive listing of gigs was well under way. This page showed some of the promoters that were active at the time, such as 101 Promotions which was run by Paul Matts (who previously managed the Attik live music venue.) As far as I know I wrote my first gig review in 2006, the same year that I joined Facebook; in just ten years the Internet had gone from being a fairly limited system to one that offered an array of services, many of them multimedia, and new platforms were coming on stream on a regular basis. I started to write gig reviews for Arts in Leicester magazine, together with collaborators such as Kevin Gaughan; at one time there were as many as 600 amateur bands based in the city and the county. ‘Leicester is home to over 400 working bands, playing all styles of music. Here we give a guide to our pages that are about bands in 2012’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]

The magazine also featured local bands in its Band of the Month, pages and listed of all known bands in the East Midlands from 2011 to 2013. Here is the list of bands that were given featured (band of the month) status:

The Manhattan Project, Backline, Messini Assault, Beat Club, The Utopians, Breek, Subdude, Full Circle, Forty More Autumns, Razmataz, Smoking the Profit, The Heroes, The Truth, The Chairmen (Oct 08), Kids in Cars (Nov 08), Formal Warning (Dec 08), The Steptoos (January 09), The Pennyhangers (February 09), Project Notion (March 09), Skam# (April 09), Shortwave Fade (May 09), The Waits (June 09), Kill The Batman (July 09), The Fazed (August 09), Autohype (Sept 09), Weekend Schemers (Oct 09), AstroManiacs (Nov 09), Azidify (Dec 2009), Kicking Habits (Jan 2010), Drive By Disco (early Feb 2010), The Stiggz (late Feb 2010), Iziggy (Mar 2010), Third Time Lucky (May 2010), Neon Sarcastic (June 2010), Silent Resistance (Jul 2010), Ashdowne (Aug 2010), Go Primitive (Sep 2010), The Black Tears (Oct 2010), Us Wolves (Nov 2010), Maybeshewill (Dec 2010), Skam# (Feb 2011), Glassfoot (Mar 2011), Aphtershock (April 2011), The Boobytraps (May 2011), SuperEvolver (June 2011), Rassoodocks (July 2011), The Chairmen (August 2011), Midnight Wire (September 2011), Muleta Smiles (October 2011), By The Rivers (November 2011), Arms of Atlas (January 2012), Raptusound (February 2012), Resin (March 2012) No band of the month in April, May and June 2012. Vengeance (July 2012). Smokin’ The Profit (August 2012), Axis Mundi (September 2012)

Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005
Skam playing at The Firefly in 2005

The very early Band Of The Month entries have been lost but were very limited (just a highlighted mention and not much more). Covers and commercial bands were listed separately. The magazine also published pages about new bands that had started and young bands. The news sections reported on local bands, venues and music events. Two sections specialised in coverage of African and Asian music (the latter being edited by the late Harjinder Ohbi.) There was also a page about underground and alternative music. The old website – Travel to Leicester – included details of where karaoke evenings took place. In those days these frequently featured high quality singers who attended them and sang for fun; some of them were professional artists and others were simply very good vocalists. Rock was not the only type of music to be covered; the website also had a page about jazz in Leicester and this content was carried across to the new Arts in Leicester web site when it was created in 2005. Bands mentioned in 2007 included The Eaves, Tommy’s heroes, My Amour, Taste The Chase, Ictus, Quaternary Limit, The Iconics, The Jack of Hearts band, The Beat Club, M48, Drumlins, Screwloose, The Chairmen, NG26 (from Nottingham), Proud to have met you, Manhattan Project, The Utopians, 1000 Scars, Killquicks, Sub-Rosa, Firstwave, Kid Vicious, The Codes, Ailse 13, The Elite, Backline, Silent Devices, September Flaw, Messini Assault, Half of Nothing, Rise as one, Black River Project, Internal Conflict, The Authentics, Pink Strip, Blue Light District, Breek and many more. Most of these were local bands, a few were out of town bands that regularly came to play in the city.

Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009
Capture The Flag at The Shed in 2009

In September 2004, Kasabian released their debut album.  Having started life as Saracuse, they played one of their first gigs at The Shed, in 2009. The name Kasabian became associated with Leicester,  in much the same way as Arctic Monkeys was associated with Sheffield and Oasis was associated with Manchester. Engelbert Humperdinck said ‘It’s so wonderful to know that we have another up and coming big name on the horizon from Leicester.  I am proud to be from  Leicester.’ [Shooman, 2008] Five musicians, most of them from Blaby and Countesthorpe, formed a band called Saracuse which made an early appearance at The Shed in September 1997. The band also played at the Three Nuns pub in Loughborough and later performed at the town’s University. They also played at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester, in 1999, the same year went back to play again at The Shed. In 2005 the band performed at Glastonbury festival on the ‘other stage.’ It was Kasabian’s third single Club Foot that brought them chart success in 2004. The band won the best live act award at the 2007 NME ceremony. The band became signed to Sony Music. [Shooman, 2008]

Dan White the singer in 2009
Dan White the singer in 2009

Leicester band Roxum formed in 2005 and went on to become a very popular act on the local scene. The year 2008 saw the formation of a clutch of local bands including Neon Sarcastic, Little Night Terrors, The Chairmen, Axis Mundi, The Boobytraps, and many others. In 2009 we saw the emergence of Formal Warning, The Furies, Arms of Atlas, The Weekend Schemers – all of these bands went on to become popular on the local scene and had active careers in music.  Because Arts in Leicester was an arts magazine, it could cover a much wider scope of music than rock and pop; concerts of classical music, opera, ballet and musicals were also reviewed and it made some attempt to report on music from ethnic communities, such as the Indian community. Several local bands achieved national notoriety and success. Among these we would include By The Rivers, The Displacements, Midnight Wire and These Furrows. Many other acts achieved notable successes. For example, The Heroes played at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. Other Leicester bands to play at the coveted Glastonbury festival included By The Rivers.

In July 2008, The Heroes won a competition to be opening band on the main stage at the Summer Sundae festival. ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ Guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band. [Locke, 2015]

Rehearsal rooms and recording studios in the noughties

Several recording studios have come and gone and some are still open today. Deadline Studios, in Aylestone Road, started in 2001; others include Quad Studios, in Friday Street, Yellow Bean Studios (from 2010), in Western Road, (another studio Western Studios, operated in the same premises in around the year 2006). HQ in Charles Street opened in 2012, providing a small recording room. Some Leicester bands went to Nottingham to record their music and some even to London and places further afield. In 2011 Flat Five Records was set up by the Potts brothers, in honour of their father the legendary jazz trumpeter Mick Potts. They published the work of many important bands of this period, such as Kenworthy.

Trevor Locke

References

References are given on a separate page.

See also

Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Music and technology

 

History Music in Leicester

The History of music in Leicester

a series of articles by Trevor Locke

See below for links to the articles in this series.

Introduction

This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. These articles are to be published in the magazine Arts in Leicester. The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, the focus is on the music of the people.

The Splitters at the Charlotte, October 2003. Photo: Harjinder Ohbi
The Splitters at the Charlotte, October 2003.
Photo: Harjinder Ohbi

All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time is was performed. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music.

The Delis Mix at The Exchange in 2012
The Delis Mix at The Exchange in 2012

The articles therefore annotate the life and times of the city of Leicester through the lense of its musical activities. It is both a contribution to local history and a timeline of the development of music.

Quaternery Limit at The shed in 2007
Quaternery Limit at The shed in 2007

My plan is to work backwards from the starting point of 2014. How far backwards? Well, in my original plan I go back to the time of the Romans; that being pretty much the start of written history. Anything before that period would require the results of archaeology because we would then be talking about pre-history, about which not a lot is known.

Kasabian in Leicester, August 2004 Photography by Harjinder Ohbi
Kasabian in Leicester, August 2004
Photography by Harjinder Ohbi

Articles already published

The music of today (2005 to 2014)

1990 to 2005

Part 1 – the noughties (2000 to 2005)

Part 2 – the 1990s music and the rise of the Internet (1990 to 2005)

Articles in preparation

The era of radio and records (1940 to 1990)

At some point in the future, my plan is to published a book about the history of music in Leicester. This will include a much fuller and more details account that the brief annotations in these articles.
My hope is that, by publishing the brief articles, people will offer details and contributions to the final book.

See also:

Chapter 1 – Music in modern times

Chapter 2 – part 1 – The 2000s

Chapter 2 – part 2 – The 1990s

Music and technology

References (referred to in the articles)

MusicTechnology

Sunday 9th August 2015

The History of Music in Leicester

The second in a series of articles. These articles lay the foundations for a book bearing the same title. In this respect the articles sketch and outline a more substantial work into which much more detail will be deposited. This article has cantered through the content and has omitted a great detail of detail. My aim in publishing this article (and those that will follow) is to stimulate interest in the subject of Leicester’s musical history. The problem for me, in writing these articles, is not what to leave out – but what to put in.

Music and Technology

Imagine, if you will, that you are suddenly transported into a world where electrical gadgets do not exist. Perhaps this is our world, of today, and an alien power had beamed around the globe, rays that have disabled every small electrical appliance. We have no computers, laptops, smart phones, pads, tablets, radios, televisions… everything that we used to listen to music had been disabled. Now you are living living a world where, the only way you can listen to music is to hear it played live, in front of you, by musicians playing wooden instruments or other kinds of devices that can make sounds but without the use of any electrical power.

You are now in a world that existed before the invention of electricity. The only way you can hear music is the way that our ancestors heard it. It is always live and it is always played on instruments that are powered by the hand or the lungs of those using them. Since the creation of the very first musical sounds, that is how people heard music.

In Leicester, the introduction and mass ownership of electrical goods defined and shaped musical tastes. The gramophone, the radio, the television, the Walkman, the transistor radio and eventually the Internet changed the way people listened to music and changed access to music. Music lovers were increasingly given access to the music of other countries, cultures and eras. The depended on the introduction of either batteries or the availability of public electricity supplies. The first homes in Leicester started to be lit by electricity in 1894. The electric light bulb was invented around 1880. Electricity supplies began from around 1894 in Leicester.

What I want to do, in this article, is plot the time line of the way that electrical technology has changed the way that the people of Leicester have found and listened to music. Peoples’ access to music was revolutionised by the mass availability of the radio and the record player. Later the widespread adoption of television sets further increased access to music in the everyday lives of ordinary people. In Leicester the broadcast media, the growth of record stores and later on the emergence of the Internet, gave people more access to music than was the case when their only choice was live music venues.

Radios, record players and the television

Prior to the emergence of radio and record players, music was performed live and listening to it would have been a relatively rare event for the majority of people. This was changed by the advent of the mass ownership of the record player or phonograph

an early phonograph
an early phonograph

The record player was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison. Also known as the Phonograph or gramophone, the record player began with a rotating cylinder, being replaced by flat discs in the 1890s. It was not until the 1980s that the traditional large record was replaced by the compact disk

Phonograph cylinders
Phonograph cylinders

To begin with, the phonograph was the preserve of the rich and did not achieve mass ownership until the 1930s, when factories began to mass produce players at a price that was affordable by the average household. This happened in tandem with the mass production of cheap records.

The rise of record players gave people access to music on demand and meant that people could listen to songs far more frequently than was previously the case, when going to a live performance was the only way that people could hear music.

It was not until the mid to late 1980s that the record player would be widely replaced by the Compact Disk player.  The CD became commercially available from 1982 although its mass availability in the UK would have followed a few years later. A recordable CD – the CD-ROM – came out in 1983/5. It was not until the early 2000s that the CD player began to display the widely used audio cassette player. The first commercial CD was released in 1982 but it was not until 1988 that CD sales began to overtake those of the vinyl record. In the 1980s (and probably into the 1990s) unsigned local bands would have recorded their music on to cassette tapes, unless they were wealthy enough to produce their own vinyl records. In the 2000s, bands started to produce music CDs for their fans when players became cheap enough for the majority of fans to own one.

The early 1960s saw the introduction of the music cassette, a compact tape-player which began to reach a mass market when Sony introduced its Walkman in 1979.

Sony Walkman
Sony Walkman

During the late Victoria period and early twentieth century, musical instruments became more widely available. The guitar became a popular instrument that was easy to learn and which could be purchased either new or from shops that sold them second-hand. It was in late Victorian times that pianos became affordable and many homes began to have them. Prior to that it was only the better off in society who could afford to purchase and play musical instruments. This created a sense of being able to participate in music rather than being just a passive consumer of it.

It was the mass ownership of radio receivers that really transformed access to music as well as musical tastes. In the late 40s and early 50s,when I was a child, I remember the radio being more or less constantly switched on. Our family home also had a record player which was played frequently. My childhood was filled with music. We listened to the Home Service, the forerunner of what we now know as Radio 4. Whilst all members of my immediate family owned music instruments and could play them, my main access to music was through the radio. When I became a teenager, I had my own radio and could choose which programmes I wanted to listen to; so, in this regard, my experience is typical of my generation.

An early radio set
An early radio set

The first radio transmitter was erected in London in 1922. The BBC’s Broadcasting House opened in May 1932. Radio Leicester was launched on 8 November 1967. During the years of the second world war, the television service was suspended and everyone listened to the radio (mainly the Home Service.) Programmes such as ITMA attracted 16 million listeners. The Forces Programme was launched in 1940 initially for the troops in France.

I remember Family Favourites, which started in 1945, and, having parents from a naval background, this was required listening in our home. The programme had a huge influence on my childhood and my familiarity with popular music. Other programmes, such as Listen with Mother – boosted the importance of radio broadcasting in our home and I think that was the case for a very large number of other people born in the post-war period.

In 1959 the BBC began to broadcast Juke Box Jury and DJs like David Jacobs, Alan Freeman and Pete Murray, started to become household names. New programmes started like Pick of the Pops. Music stars were born; Elvis and Cliff Richard owed their emerging popularity to the radio, as well as to record sales in the shops. The radio introduced the top 40 chart programme and, on Sunday afternoons, a quarter of the population tuned in to listen to it.

Juke Box Jury 1959
Juke Box Jury 1959

This period also saw the rise of popular music magazines and newspapers, such as The New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. Paper-based national daily newspapers also printed stories about the world of music and its celebrity stars. The forerunner of The Leicester Mercury began in 1874. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Mercury was a widely read local newspaper and it had begun to include photographs. When World War Two ended in 1954, the paper reported ‘Hot off the press, the Mercury captured the mood of the nation by producing a special VE. edition, while 10,000 people attending a thanksgiving service in Town Hall Square.’ Even in those days, great moments in history saw people celebrating or doing things face to face. They might have read the news but their immediate reaction was to take to the streets in large numbers.

Even though the BBC had a legalised monopoly on broadcasting, people listened to pirate radio stations, such as Radio Luxembourg and Radio London in the 1960s. The 1970s and 80s saw a considerable growth in commercial radio stations. The English version of Radio Luxembourg began as early as 1933. Radio Caroline broadcast from a ship in the North Sea, outside of UK waters.

In the years from 1933 to 1939 the English language service of Radio Luxembourg gained a large audience in the UK and other European countries with sponsored programming aired from noon until midnight on Sundays and at various times during the rest of the week. 11% of Britons listened to it during the week, preferring Luxembourg’s light music and variety programs to the BBC. [Wikipedia]

Commercial radio made its mark on the audiences of Leicester in the 1980s.

Centre Radio was the first independent local radio station to serve Leicestershire. It was based as at the lavish Granville House, Leicester, England. Centre Radio launched on 7 September 1981 in a blaze of publicity. The station’s licence was re-advertised and won by Leicester Sound, which commenced broadcasting on 7 September 1984. Leicester Sound merged with Trent FM and Ram FM in January 2011 to form the regional station Capital FM East Midlands, based in Nottingham. [Wikipedia]

With the advent of mass ownership of television sets, people began to watch rather than to just listen to broadcast programmes. As a child, I vividly remember watching the live broadcast of the Coronation (2nd June 1953) on a small black and white TV set in my parents home.

An early TV set
An early TV set

Top of the Pops started in January 1964 and for many years of my early life, this was a ‘must watch’ programme, as much as listening to the radio on Sunday afternoons, to hear the latest chart hits. Today, festivals such as Glastonbury, can be watched on the television. On YouTube there are innumerable video films of artists performing at Glastonbudget and other open-air live music events in our local area.

The first music festivals began

Live music was by no means killed off by the broadcast media and the record industry. Music festivals began to be organised in the UK, bringing a whole new approach to live music and access to bands and singers.

1989 – believed to be the start of the Abbey Park Festival – would have been influenced by the growing national scene for music festivals, the largest of which began in the 1960s. Glastonbury began in the 1970s and the forerunner of the Reading Festival in the 1960s. It was not until 2003 that Download started on the borders of Leicestershire as a follow-up to the Monsters of Rock events held at Donnington Park between 1980 and 1996.

Free festivals were held in the UK between 1967 and 1990. Some people might remember Roger Hutchinson, who who created the iconic Stonehenge Free Festival poster of 1987.

Roger developed a passion for local history and for much of the decade was busy preserving barges and canals – seemingly light years away from tripping at Stonehenge, but I think connected . Whatever Roger was involved in, he gave it his all and he was, despite not being very well in the last three years of his life, creative and positive and keeping busy, whether it was making a film about taking his dog for a morning walk , or creating his superb drawings of his beloved Leicester for the canal group.

He died in 2010. Su Barton knew him. You can find out more about Roger Hutchinson on Facebook

Poster for the Stonehenge Free Festival
Poster for the Stonehenge Free Festival

Many people with a knowledge of music from the 1950s through to the 1980s have contributed to articles available on the Internet.

My friend and one-time publisher Alan Dearling’s book Travelling Daze vividly evokes the early times of the free festivals.

Music festivals have, since their inception, rejuvenated interest in live music. By 2010, around two million people attended music festival in the UK. National events, such as Download, Reading and Leeds festivals and Glastonbury, have attracted large numbers of music fans from Leicester. These days, we can get some ideas of this from the postings they make on Facebook and Twitter. Many local festivals have attracted large numbers of people: Simon Says…, Summer Sundae, Glastonbudget, Strawberry Fields, Cosby Big Love, Foxton Locks, White Noise, all of these have proven to be popular with the people of Leicester and Leicester shire over the years. Many other large-scale public events such as Caribbean Carnival and The Belgrave Mela have provided live music alongside their other activities.

My previous article gave details of the rise of music festivals in Leicester.

Record stores in Leicester

The mass ownership of record players changed the way that people in Leicester listened to music. Previously, only wealthy people could afford to buy them. As the electrical equipment manufacturing companies began to produce ever cheaper players, more and more people owned them and also the records to play on them. This gave rise to the record retail trade in Leicester. Rockaboom opened in 1988; it joined Facebook in 2010.

Rockaboom on Facebook

An early transistor radio
An early transistor radio

Ultima Thule was established in 1989, originally in Exchange Buildings in Rutland Street, moving later on to Conduit Street. It was run by Steve and Alan Freeman.

Ten years ago Leicester was full of independent record shops and they were a recognisable feature of our City Centre. Music fans spent hours flicking through hundreds of records on a weekend looking for that special edition picture disc, admiring the album covers referencing politics, fashion – you name it. [Raegan Oates writing in The Monograph in 2013].

St. Martin’s Records, originally in St Martins Square, later moved to Horsefair Street. Martyn Pole told me that he bought nearly all his records there when when has a DJ in the early 1980s. Leicester people will remember Ainsleys, Archer Records, Back Track Records, Boogaloo Records and St Martin’s Records. HMV’s store in the High Street and Virgin Records in The Highcross centre (then called The Shires) also provided retail outlets in the city centre. After 15 years 2Funky closed in 2012. In its time it was a popular destination for record-buyers, especially those wanting the more esoteric and experimental genres of music.

This web page gives a comprehensive list of Leicester record stores

The record label – as a company that published recorded music – is less important now than it has been in the past. This is due mainly to the rise of Internet-mediated sources of music such as iTunes.

The rise of the record labels and their relationship with live music created a constantly changing scene in many parts of the country during the 1950s [Firth, 2010]

BBC Broadcasting house
BBC Broadcasting house

Music and technology

What is clear is that how people gained access to, and listened to, music was dependent on, and was reflected by, the availability of technology, as far as the electrical epoch is concerned. We can therefore divide musical history into periods characterised by the technologies that gave people the music they wanted to hear. Before the invention of, and distribution of, recorded music in the nineteenth century, all music was live. As the availability of electrically-operated music players grew, so various periods of music emerged: the era of the radio, the record player, the television, the personal devise and the growth of the Internet. These all figure in the timeline that I have used to divide my account of Leicester’s musical heritage.

Trevor Locke

An early record player
An early record player

References

Firth [2010] Firth, Simon, 2010, Journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, 1,1

See also:

Previous Article The Music of Today

MusicToday

The History of music in Leicester

by Trevor Locke

Chapter 1 – Music Of Today

As soon as you write about today, it passes into the past. The word ‘today’ is an inherent misnomer. Today quickly becomes yesterday and ‘now’ is simply the present sliding into the past.

This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. Contemporary times are those of the immediate past. Our journey starts in 2014; and works backwards.

The reason for this is that no music ever exists in isolation; all music (like any other form of art) has its roots; it takes its nourishment from the soil of its previous periods. Music is a tree that is sustained by the music of yesterday. What we hear ‘today’ cannot exist without the music made yesterday; this year’s music flowed from last year’s music, and so on, as far back as we can try to go.

These articles lay the foundations for a book bearing the same title. In this respect the articles sketch and outline a more substantial work into which much more detail will be deposited.

The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, my focus is on the music of the people. It is right that we should take, as our frame of reference, the whole community of Leicester. The music of Leicester is, and always has been, the cultural product of a wide variety of peoples. The people of this city are not, nor have they ever been, a monolithic group. Leicester is the typical city of diversity.

All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time it was made. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music. Music of the people will always reflect the times in which it was made.

Jak Skelly (left) and Tim Wilson (right) and the chorus of 'Rent' Photo: Pamela Raith photography
Jak Skelly (left) and Tim Wilson (right) and the chorus of ‘Rent’
Photo: Pamela Raith photography

Music for the Facebook Generation – 2005 to 2014

I am going to call the period from 2014 back to 2005, The Facebook Generation. Music in this period was (and of course, still is) influenced and mediated through the growing power of the Internet and, on the Internet, the social media platform of Facebook was (and is) pre-eminent.

Logo of Twitter
Logo of Twitter

Prior to the rise of Facebook, it was MySpace that provided musicians with their on-line existence. In 2014, nearly every band, singer, musician and rapper had a page on Facebook. From such pages, links took fans to other providers, such as Soundcloud, YouTube and Bandcamp, to name but a few of the many places in which the world of music could be found. Lists of Leicester bands, published before the ubiquity of Facebook, linked each group to its page on MySpace.

As soon as a new band was formed, a page for it was created on Facebook. MySpace was launched in 2003. Up to 2008 it was the most visited social media site in the world, until it was overtaken by Facebook.

Alongside the rise of these social media sites, we saw the growing dominance of the Google search engine. Previously, Internet users used devices such as Yahoo and Alta Vista to find things. YouTube was founded in 2005 and taken over by Google in 2006. Twitter began in 2006 and quickly became a popular item in the social media universe, with a large proportion of music acts opening accounts on it. All this is as true for Leicester and Leicestershire as it was for the rest of the United Kingdom and the world.

People on Facebook

It was not just the bands and singers that began to colonise the world of Facebook and social media. People concerned with and involve in musical could also be found there.

Trevor Locke joined Facebook in 2006 with a personal account in his own name. He added a photo album to his account called ‘Leicester rock stars’ in 2007. Andrew Stone of the Displacements and later Little Night Terrors joined Facebook in 2007. James Shaw and Jason Westall of The Utopians joined Facebook in 2007. The Utopians set up a group on Facebook in 2007 and had a single release at The Shed, on 9th October, using social media to publicise it. In July 2007, The Utopians played a ‘guerilla gig’ at a warehouse in Leicester, the secret location was messaged to friends at the last moment. The band set up a band page in January 2009. They also had a page on MySpace. Luke D’Mellow of The Utopians joined Facebook in June 2007. An events page for the Utopians, in 2007, included a show at The Shed on 20th December 2007 and indicated 17 guests going, including musician Raj Mohanlal, the members of the band and some of their close friends. Connor Evans (of Weekend Schemers) joined Facebook in August 2008. DJ Lisa Lashes joined Facebook in May 2009. These are examples of early adopters of what Facebook had to offer.

Lisa Lashes in 2014
Lisa Lashes in 2014

Between 2006 and 2014, the whole music in scene of Leicester found its way into the virtual reality of the brave new digital age. Bands recorded their music and made it available on the Internet. Singers filmed themselves for YouTube. Many music artists provided tracks on Soundcloud. For local music the Internet allowed something previously denied by the music industry – self publishing and self promotion.

Music and bands on the ‘web

In 2004, the domain name arcticmonkeys.com was registered. The Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys, which formed in 2002, was signed in 2005 but before that they had established a sizeable fan-base on MySpace. Reverbnation was launched in 2006, as a site for the independent music industry. Soundcloud was started in Germany in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 it began to challenge MySpace as the main site for distributing music tracks. Bandcamp was founded in 2007.

By 2014, access to the Internet had become almost universal in the UK. The advent of mass ownership of mobile phones (connected to the Internet) began to replace the use of computers and laptops as the main devices that people used to see social media sites. Whereas access had been through computers connected to broadband, now people we spending their time on social media via their smart phones and a variety of hand-held devices. This increased the utilisation of social media.

The impact that this technology had on popular music was fundamental and far-reaching. It would be wrong to say that the Internet brought an end to the CD and the vinyl record but the significance of these media declined; music had become mediated through streaming and downloads through devices and websites such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Bandcamp were being increasingly used to provide those tracks.

The Internet had a profound effect on music of all kinds. Music venues and festivals depended on social media to attract fans and to make ticket sales – at minimal cost. Most social media is free to use and this made it possible to put on a concert and sell tickets for it as almost no cost. Gone were the days of having print tickets and pay for expensive advertising in paper-based media.

Previously paper-based music magazines and newspapers began to close down in favour of on-line versions. In Leicester, The Monograph was published on paper for a relatively brief period of time. Even though the paper was supplemented with a website, its days were numbered. It could not be sustained as a physical product in a world where advertising revenues were increasingly gravitating towards online.

Record label A&R scouts began to work more on the Internet than at music venues. Whereas music scouts once depended on attendance at venues to see and to discover bans and singers, they now had only to sit in their offices and log on to Facebook and Twitter to find what they were looking for.

Website hosting became comparatively inexpensive up to 2014. Domains names could be registered for a few pounds and the emergence of content management services like WordPress, allowed websites to be constructed without recourse to the expensive fees charged by web designers. Having a band website became an increasing possibility for even the smallest of unsigned new groups. Although social media provided the mainstream of Internet presence, bands and singers continued to maintain websites as part of creating a professional image.

Miss Penny performing at Leicester Pride in 2014
Miss Penny performing at Leicester Pride in 2014

Getting your band on

The music of Leicester’s bands, singers and rappers (as presented on Facebook,Twitter and other parts of the Internet) began to take off from 2006 onwards. A few music acts started their own websites. In Leicester, there were some early adopters of customised domain names and websites.

In a list of Leicester rocks bands, published by Arts in Leicester, in 2009, links were given to each band’s website and the majority of these were on MySpace, most of them having dedicated addresses, like http://www.myspace.com/bandname.

The domain name kasabian.co.uk was registered in 2002, one of the earliest domain names to be used by a band that originated in Leicester. Someone registered thescreening.co.uk in 2004 for Leicester band The Screening. These were early adopters of the do-it-yourself breed of Internet users. By 2014, almost all of the musicians in Leicester’s rock bands had grown up with the Internet. Utilising it for their music was not difficult. Many of the city’s recording studios did well from this easy access to DIY outlets. Businesses grew up to service this market – such as companies specialising in the printing and replication of CDs. A Leicester company called Horus Music provided technical services for the publication of music.

The circumstances leading up to these developments are discussed in Chapter 2 of this series of articles.

The rise of the small venues

In the period between the early 90s and today, Leicester’s music scene became increasingly dominated by music venues, including The Charlotte and The Shed. The Shed started in 1994 and is still a significant venue for rock music, especially as a launchpad for new bands and singers. In 2000, Darren Nockles became a promoter at the Musician, a venue in Wharf Street East, previously called The Bakers Arms (there was also a pub called The Barkers Arms in Blaby and that too played a significant role in the history of Leicestershire music but for very different reasons.) The old Musician closed it’s doors for the last time on 31st December 2004 but re-opened in 2005. The Musician reopened on 1 February 2005, actually smaller than before because of the repositioning of the toilets, and live music continued unabated until May.

Venues closing down and reopening was not uncommon. The Charlotte closed several times only to re-open again under a new management. In 1989, Andy Wright took over the Princess Charlotte pub, having worked there since 1985 when it was a traditional public house. It’s name changed to The Charlotte and it began to be a permanent live music venue until it closed in 2010. 

Andy Wright, who once ran The Charlotte, mentions some of the bands that played there in 2006:

’22/01 Random Hand 25/01 Deaf Havana 27/01 Bad Manners 28/01 The Courteeners 29/01 Blood Red Shoes 30/01 King Creosote 03/02 Elliot Minor 10/02 The Subhumans 13/02 Robots In Disguise (From Mighty Boosh) 24/02 Rolo Tomassi 25/02 Turin Brakes 28/02 Ginger 29/02 One Night Only 06/03 Sonic Boom Six 17/03 The Rifles 19/03 Little Man Tate 29/03 Young Heart Attack 30/03 Malcome Middleton (Arab Strap) 03/04 Slaves To Gravity (again) 19/04 The Automatic 21/04 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists / Red Light Company 28/04 Dogs 30/04 Lightspeed Champion 01/05 Cud 04/05 Twisted Wheel 09/05 Spunge 12/05 Jesse Malin 14/05 Wednesday 13 30/03 The Subways 10/06 Glasvegas 22/06 Holly Golightly 25/6 Mystery Jets 26/06 UK Subs 08/07 The Business 10/07 Failsafe My Awesome Compilation 11/07 The Screening 08/08 The Dickies 21/08 The Death Set 03/09 Golden Silvers 10/09 Spear Of Destiny 01/10 Jonny Foriegner / Danananananakroyd 05/10 Iglu and Hartly 07 10 Team Waterpol 08/10 Cheeky Cheeky and The Nose Bleeds 09/10 Little Man Tate 15/10 Does It Offend You Yeah 16/10 Bromheads Jacket 19/10 Strung Out 25/10 The Long Tall Texans 26/10 Jersey Budd 29/10 One Night Only 30/10 The Pippettes 03/11 The Hunters Club 06/11 The Airbourne Toxic Event 10/11 Example 11/11 Fight Like Apes 13/11 Half Man Half Biscuit 16/11 Skinnyman 17/11 Grammatics 24/11 The View 26/11 Twin Atlantic 05/12 The Wedding Present 0712 The Holloways 10/12 Dreadzone 11/12 Streetlight Manifesto 14/12 Bury Tomorrow 18/12 Bad Manners 20/12 999/ The Lurkers 21/12 Diesel Park West. That was the quietest year of The Charlotte hence it’s closure in Jan 2009.’

The Soundhouse opened in 2010, in Southampton Street, behind the old offices of the Leicester Mercury, Prior to that the premises operated as The Queen Victoria pub and it was here that bands played from time to time. The Soundhouse has, since it started, operated as a specialised live music venue with a stage, sound desk, dedicated PA system and professional stage lighting.

The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011
The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011

The Donkey, in Welford Road, became a live music venue in 2005. This large pub provides a weekly programme of live music and many notable acts have performed there.

A cafe in the High Street – The Crumbling Cookie, rose to become one of the foremost venues for live music when it opened its room in the basement, called The Cookie Jar.

Alongside these small venues, the music life of the area benefited from the shows and concerts provided by the De Montfort Hall. A large proportion of the city’s music lovers attended shows there by national, if not world class, bands and artists.

Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Opening in 1915, it was built as a training hall for the army in World War I. Having stood dormant for three years, the City Council pulled it down as it became an increasing cost burden. During the time when it was used as a large arena for rock concerts, it hosted shows by The Rolling Stones and Louis Armstrong among others.

It was not until 2010 that Leicester was to acquire a large-scale venue for music, with the opening of the O2 Academy in the grounds of the University of Leicester. One of the acts to perform on the opening night was Professor Green.

Prior to the opening of the O2, the University of Leicester students’ union held major rock concerts in the Queens Hall. The oak-panelled room now forms part of the O2 complex, being the medium-sized of three rooms, sometimes referred to as ‘O2.2’. The main hall of the O2 has a capacity of 1,450 and the smallest room – now called The Scholar, holds around 150.

Curve theatre opened and since then has provided a regular programme of musicals, dance shows and concerts. In the bar area, there are regular performances by singers and small acoustic groups.

Not far from Curve is Phoenix, the arts centre and cinema that has a large cafe area where live music concerts have been held from time to time. The names of both these venues have dropped ‘the’ from their titles. Phoenix hosted a series of shows, held on Saturday lunchtimes, mounted by Manic Music Productions. These shows were a showcase of talent for young music artists.

One of the larger venues in the city centre was The Firebug. It originally operated as The Firefly but changed its name to avoid confusion with another establishment. Gigs are held in a large room on the first floor, although music has also been put on in the ground floor bar area, on certain occasions. Upstairs the room has a stage with fixed lighting and there is a PA and sound desk operated by experienced sound engineers.

A venue called The Auditorium operated in the markets area of the city centre. Its premises originally served as an Odeon cinema and later a bingo hall and in its time it was one of the largest capacity centres in the city centre. The Auditorium music venue opened in September 2010. One of the best-known acts to perform there was the rap artist Example ( Elliott Gleave.)

The Exchange Bar opened, 20 January 2011, in Rutland Street. In its basement room live music events are held on a regular basis.

The Exchange Bar
The Exchange Bar

The Australian-theme bar Walkabout once hosted live music events. Standing in Granby Street, close to The Turkey Cafe, the bar closed in May 2015. The bar was part of a chain of venues operated by a company called Intertain. During the periods when live music was held in the bar, about one gig a week was usually held and often local bands were booked to play there.

In a large room above Walkabout bar, the venue Sub91 operated between its opening night in August 2010, when the show was headlined by The Damned through to its closure in December 2011.

The Music Cafe, in Park end Street (off Braunstone Gate) has been putting on live music gigs for many years. In 2005, Leicester organisation Get Your Band On put on a rock night there with Ictus, The A.I.Ds, No One Knows and Glitch. At that time the venue changed it name to The Music Cafe from its previous title The Jam Jar.

Many pubs in the city centre held live music events throughout the period 2005 to 2015. These included Time Bar (adjacent to the railway station), The Barley Mow in Granby Street, The Turkey Cafe (which held weekly open-mic nights), The Queen of Bradgate (in the High Street), Cafe Bruxelles (also in the High Street), O’Neills the Irish-themed pub in Loseby Lane, the building that housed Superfly and various other venues (on the corner of Wellington Street) and even Leicester’s longest established gay bar The Dover Castle has been known to put on live music events. One time gay nightclub Streetlife, now serves as a venue for music shows (though not for the gay community.)

Calamity Jane at Curve 2015
Calamity Jane at Curve 2015

Record shops

During the period when records were the usual media through which recorded music was heard, Leicester had a variety of record shops. Ainsleys record store closed in 2004. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.

Several other record shops in the centre of Leicester are remembered, including Back Track Records and Boogaloo, and in current times HMV, 2 Funky and Rockaboom records. People remember Revolver Records, Cank Street Records, Virgin records, BPM, Archers, Reef, Chakademas, Pliers, MVC, Village Square, A G Kemble, Archers, A T Brown, Brees, Dalton & Son, The Record Cellar, World Records in London Road, and Carousel.

The rise of the festivals

Mention has already been made of the importance of the Abbey Park festival, to the music of Leicester. Since the end of its era, several other annual festivals have grown to being important event in the musical calender of the city and county. The Abbey Park Festival, events between 2003 to 2005 formed a significant milestone in the development of the city’s festival-level live music.

The first Glastonbudget festival was held in 2005. Bands that played at the very first event included To Hell And Back, Meatloaf tribute band, Ded Hot Chilie Peppers, One Step behind (Madness tribute), Oasish and The Jamm. In 2006, the Glastonbudget Festival started to put on local original bands such as The Authentics, Ugli, Jack of Hearts, The Stiff Naked Fools, Ego Armalade, Proud To Have Met You, Platinum JAR and Ictus. by 2007, many more local original bands (called ‘new acts’ in the programme) played at Glastonbudget, including bands such as Ictus, Patchwork Grace, Skam#, The Mile, Subdude, Jack of Hearts, Black River Project, Utopians, Squid Ate Lucy, Codes, C*Bob, Purple and the Rains, Playing at Glastonbudget was for many of the new and original bands was a premium achievement.

The first Summer Sundae festival was held in 2001. The event is also called The Summer Sundae Weekender although when it started it lasted for only one day. It grew to become an important national event for indie and alternative music band sand artists. The festival was held in the De Montfort Hall and its surrounding grounds and lasted from Friday to Sunday. The last event was held in 2012 when the festival was brought to an end. Apart from acts of national standing, many local bands played on its various stages and along list of Leicester acts can be drawn from its programmes. All of the acts that performed throughout the life of the festival have been documented on Wikipedia. In July 2008, for example, Leicester band The Heroes won a competition to be the opening band on the main stage at Summer Sundae. A report at the time said: ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ The Heroes guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band.

A singer performing at Pride main stage in 2014
A singer performing at Pride main stage in 2014

The same building and its surrounding grounds are now the location of Simon Says… a music festival that employs a variety of stages as well as the main stage of the DMH. The first event was held in 2013.

The Hand Made Festival established itself as a major music event in Leicester’s yearly round of events. This festival also started in 2013, filling the gap, it is said, left by the disappearance of Summer Sundae.

Several general annual festivals also provide live music. At the Leicester Belgrave Mela, music was always present. When the event began to be held in Humberstone Gate, a large main stage included a day-long programme of music, singing and dance. The programme offered a mixture of classical Indian acts alongside the contemporary stars of Bollywood and the broadcast media. Mela events always had some kind of live music.

Leicester Gay Pride always provided a live music stage, since they began to be held at Victoria Park. National music acts performed as well as local artists. The festival site also included a dance tent in which DJs played recorded music.

Each year the Caribbean Carnival provided a large amount of music throughout the day. The parade had many floats on which were mounted sound systems to supply the dancers behind with the music for their routines. On Victoria Park, there was a main stage featuring singers and bands.

Dancers on the Caribbean Carnival parade
Dancers on the Caribbean Carnival parade

The City Festival began to provide music stages during its week-long programme of activities. In 2014, the stage in Humberstone Gate provided local artists with slots, the bands and singers being nominated by the local live music venues.

Alongside the festivals, a variety of other events have been held in Leicester, either annually or on a one-off basis. In June 2002 there was an event called Music Live that involved more than one thousands performers across six stages. A Golden Jubilee stage was held in Humberstone Gate and a Youth Music stage was situated next to the Clock Tower. World music was represented at a stage in the Town Hall square and classical music was provided at The New Walk Museum. Local bands that played included Ist, The Splitters, Stiff Naked Fools and many others.

In July 2014 the Leicester Music festival was held at the Tigers rugby ground. This ambitious event put on a number of big-name acts including Professor Green, Billy Ocean, Katy B and Tinie Tempah. Several local bands and singers also got to perform on the outskirts of the event but the only band to get a main stage slot was Violet Cities. They played because they had won a music competition called Play@LMF which had been organised to selected one band to play at the festival.

Several smaller festivals had established themselves by 2014 as part of the annual output of live music in the city. These included the Western Park festival, the Riverside festival, the Oxjam event, a music stage at the Foxton Locks festival and Cosby Big Love.

Just across the border, Download attracted a large attendance from Leicestershire’s music fans. One of the big national festivals, a few local bands got to play there on the smaller stages.

Strawberry Fields Festival took place each year in the Coalville area of the county. Founded in 2010, the festival has always provided openings for local bands and artists alongside big national acts and names.

In addition to festivals, some large-scale one-off music events have also been held in the city. Kasabian’s home-coming gig, held on Victoria Park, attracted a massive audience in 2013. The BBC held three events on Victoria Park, each attracting a crowd of around 100,000 people.  One Big Sunday was in Leicester in 2001, promoted by BBC Radio 1, with Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Nelly Furtado, Dido, Victoria Beckham, Faithless, Craig David and Jamiroquai on the stage. A similar event also took place in 2002 and again in 2003. The stages provided platforms for the kind of big-name acts broadcast by Raio1 but there was no attempt to engage the services of any local bands or artists. The Abbey Park Bonfire nights featured live music and attracted some of the biggest crowds seen in the city; in 2009 Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey Park and a similar size of audience saw Jonezy and Curtis Clacey performing in a line-up headlined by The Vamps in 2013.

The totality of the supply of music – from the musicians of Leicester to their fans – was enormous between 2005 and 2014. In addition, many big name acts played in the city; touring bands came here to perform, music from acts of national importance was delivered at a range of venues and festivals and the small venues supplied a weekly offering of gigs. All of this represented an economy.

The music economy

Leicester developed a live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow in size and number. As the number of live music venues grew, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed, bands and artists began to put on their own gigs. It became possible for bands and singers to hire a small venue and promote their own shows (although this has always been the case historically for all types of music in the city and county.) From 2005 and up to 2014, many promoters took on the business of providing live music gigs, just as they had done in previous decades. Some of these became established names in the city; such as Wakeup Promotions, run by Paul Collins and Dreaming in Colour Productions, run by Elisabeth Barker-Carley. Many other names were found in this sector of the local music industry, some well respected for their work, others less so. It was a totally unregulated market, restricted only by the general laws of the land and the requirements laid down by the local authority for public events. The rise (and fall) of the larger venues (O2 Academy, Sub91, The Auditorium and so on) provided new opportunities for promoters to put on shows. Big name acts were booked at play at these events, together with a wide variety of local bands and singers.

Alongside live music we have already pointed to the growing economy of allied services, such as rehearsal rooms, recording studios and shops selling instruments and spare parts for them. In London Road, Sheehans music shop was a notable outlet for instruments, strings and other music-related merchandise. In Lee Street, Music Junkie became a well-known retail outlet. In the western side of the city, Narborough Road’s Intasound was the favoured shop for many musicians. Stores selling records and CDs were many, including national chains such as HMV and a variety of small, independent shops dotted around the city.

Recording studios too became a key part of the music economy. Yellow Bean Studios in the Narborough Road area established a widespread reputation and Deadline studios in Aylestone Road. In the city centre, HQ (opposite Primark) provided a small recording room, much favoured by solo artists. Quad Studios, in Friday Street, provided a range of services and was one of the long-established destinations for bands wanting to record their music with the aid of professional sound engineers.

With many hundreds of bands and singers in the area, the music economy flourished. Demand remained strong throughout this period, fuelled by the ambitions of a large market of amateur bands and singers, rappers and musicians who funded their musical aspirations from their own pockets, in the majority of cases.

Botown 2015
Botown 2015

Broadcast media also saw many ratio stations playing local music. Between 2005 and 2014, BBC Radio Leicester provided air-time for many local music acts. Changes in policy meant that local music diminished in significance from 2014 onwards. Independent stations such as Takeover and Demon FM played an important part in giving exposure to local music acts. Some very localised stations also provided air play for local acts, such as Hermitage FM in the north west of the county. Radio 2-Funky was available on-line and this radio station was probably the best for hip-hop, Funk and African and Caribbean sounds. With the rise of broadband on the Internet, Podcasts began to make an appearance as an alternative to live broadcasting. John Sinclair (previously a radio presenter for the BBC) began a series of regular podcasts featuring local bands and artists.

Music publishing had a chequered history during this period. The only paper-based magazine devoted to local music that ran for an appreciable length of time was The Monograph. On the Internet Arts in Leicestershire provided a magazine-style website from 2005 onwards until it was replaced in 2013 by Music in Leicester, having split off its music content from the remaining outlet devoted to the arts and history. In 2014 a project called ‘Leics TV ‘ was started. Leicestershire TV stated on its web site: ‘The aim is to make Leicestershire the most video connected county in Britain.’ Its founder, Rob Potter, said “The way we consume TV is changing. Technology will allow us to watch what we want, when and wherever we choose. Other than the big budget and mass audience films and programmes, most TV will be online content that we can easily search for on platforms like Leics.tv that meet our needs and interests”. A general arts and creatives magazine From Dusk to Dawn also featured music and musicians during its lifetime as a paper-based outlet.

Many music-related websites were founded from 2005 up to the present day. Many people remember that Pineapster was, in its day, the foremost website and forum for local music, a position that it held until the rise of Facebook.

Leicester’s music economy comprised venues, festivals, music stores, a wide range of services for bands and singers, media broadcasting, publishing and specialised services catering for the needs of musical acts. One thing that the local area lacked was professional music management. Very few individuals became music or band managers. It is true that many people acted as the managers for bands and singers, but this was almost always in a part-time capacity. Many bands were managed by the parents of musicians in them. The creation of music management agencies in the area was almost unheard of.

It is difficult to give a reliable and credible picture of Leicester’s music economy between 2005 and 2014. Few surveys were ever undertaken to provide quantitative data. In July 2012 a report was published by Leicestershire Music Education Hub. One of its stated aims was: ‘The Hub will also act as an advocate for music education, encouraging participation in music and providing innovations in delivery locally to improve music making for and by children and young people.’ Leicester-Shire Music Education Hub was a partnership of over 30 organisations as well as all schools, both Local Authorities and the Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service. National and regional partners included The Philharmonia Orchestra, The Darbar Arts Culture and Heritage Trust, Sinfonia ViVA and Soft Touch Arts Ltd. Other partners range from charitable trusts, community arts organisations, small businesses, national providers of music equipment and technology, colleges and choral groups, the report stated. Holding a wide brief, where music was concerned, the report was mainly concerned with education. Ambitious though it was, its impact is unclear and little data was provided about music in the local community. The inclusion of Soft Touch arts linked it to the community; this organisation had an important role to play throughout this period and included music alongside a wide range of other youth-related activities.

The music economy was amplified by the existence of a number of night clubs. The role of Streetlife has already been referred to above. Many people will remember places such as Mosh and The Fan Club as being destinations where recorded music was played by DJs and very rarely these venues also put on live bands. Mosh opened in 2003 and was, at one time, a very popular choice for the city’s students.

THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction - Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs - Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit - Johan Persson
THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction – Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs – Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit – Johan Persson

In addition to the regular gigs offered at the eight to ten permanent live music venues in this period, a variety of events were held that attracted large audiences to hear bands and singers. In particular, the Original Bands Showcase (known as the ‘OBS’) ran from 2004 through to the present day and resulted in one band becoming the overall winner in each year. The OBS was organised by VJT Promotions; a similar series called obsUnplugged was also organised, each year, to feature singers, acoustics groups and solo artists. Early on its time, OBS heats were held at The Shed music venue; more recently, all its events have taken place at The Musician. Other competitions and battle-of-the-bands type series were also held. Mention was made earlier of Play@LMF, in which bands competed for a place at the Leicester Music Festival in 2014. Several such events were held at The Shed and at the little cafe used as a music venue from time to time – The Pavilion on Victoria Park. A series called Empire Band of the Land was held; it was an independently promoted series of shows that took place at a variety of venues. These competitions had a varied effect on the music economy and their role within it has been controversial. It could be argued that such series of shows increased audience attendance at the venues in which they were held and that this was of benefit to the local music economy. In many cases, participating bands were required to sell as many tickets as they could for their performances as part of the deal. A series called Wanna Be A Rockstar was held at The Shed, promoted by David Norris. Also at The Shed, the Glastonbudget Music Festival held its annual auditions and, at these shows, organisers selected the bands and artists they wanted for their festivals. One of the requirements of these auditions was that a band or act should demonstrate its popularity by selling at least twenty tickets for their performance. It can be argued that such events increased ticket sales at venues, but this could have had a detrimental effect on other gigs held on the same nights. A considerable amount of debate has taken place about the pros and cons of such live music events with people being for or against them, in principle.

I have written before on the subject of Leicester’s music economy; see for example my article The economics of local live music, published in 2010 on my blog.

also in that year I wrote an article: What makes a good live music scene?, in which many of the issues concerning the local music industry were discussed on my blog.

So far I have focused on what might be called ‘western rock music’ and have not talked about the music of the many other cultures that contribute their own music to the life of the city. In particular, the Indian community is very music-friendly and large numbers of events took place that featured Indian bands and singers. Bollywood in particular played an important role in the music life of that community. Leicester’s African and Caribbean community played a major part in the existence and development of the city’s music both locally and at national level. in November 2013, the film 40 Years Of Black music in Leicester was celebrated with its premier at Phoenix arts. A review of this was published by Arts in Leicester

Jonezy at The Abbey Park Fireworks, supporting The Vamps
Jonezy at The Abbey Park Fireworks, supporting The Vamps

A number of Leicester born artists, or those that came to live in the city, contributed to recognition of our local music, during this period. Sam Bailey (who lived and worked in Leicestershire) won the popular television series The X-Factor in 2013. In the programmes that were broadcast in the run-up to the final show, she was seen talking about her job as an officer at Gartree Prison. Although Sam was born and grew up in London, she moved to Leicester and was resident here at the time she won the show.

Singer Sam Bailey will be appearing at Leicester Pride 2015
Singer Sam Bailey will be appearing at Leicester Pride 2015

Many other famous names in music are associated with Leicester and Leicestershire. Engelbert Humperdinck has frequently been quoted as a resident of the county. Kasabian is a world famous band, whose members – in particular Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno – attended Countesthorpe College. The Displacements, at one point signed to Rough Trade Records, came from Blaby. Many local bands went on to have careers of national importance; including, for example, Family, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Showaddywaddy, Diesel Park West, Gypsy, Cornershop, The Dallas Boys, Prolapse and many others. Laurel Aitken, the singer, lived in Leicester. John Illsley, the bass player from Dire Straights, was born in Leicester. Lisa Lashes, the internationally renown DJ lives in Leicester. Jon Lord was born in the city and was a noted musician and composer, best known for forming the band Deep Purple. Mark Morrison achieved notoriety as a singer. The list goes on and many distinguished musicians, singers and bands were listed on the web page published by Visit Leicester in their list of famous people

Lisa Lashes on stage in 2014
Lisa Lashes on stage in 2014

A singer who lives in Leicester, Carol Leeming, has become nationally renown for her music as as well as for her contribution to literature and the arts.

The achievements of these artists, connected with Leicester, has contributed to the national significance of the city and county and this has had a positive  impact on the local music economy.

The Bands

During this period, Leicester (and its surrounding county) had many bands; so much so, that I once said that Leicester had more bands per head of population than any comparably-sized city. Between the years 2005 and 2014, I published lists of bands from Leicester.

The current bands list is on the Music in Leicester magazine website.

Radio Active at the Shed Young Bands night 29th May 2014
Radio Active at the Shed Young Bands night
29th May 2014

As part of the Archive Project, I plan to publish lists of bands from previous years. For more about this see Music in Leicester.

Lists of Leicester bands are hard to come by on the Internet; the lists published by Arts in Leicester magazine and later Music in Leicester are a rare resources for those who are interested in contemporary bands from the city and county.

Some of the articles in this series will refer to specific bands. Providing a comprehensive analysis of bands would be an exhausting exercise. One resource (for those interested in Leicester bands) for the period 2013 to 2015 would be Music in Leicester website.

In Leicester bands play all genres of music; including, for example, indie, pop, metal, ska, post-hardcore, hard rock, reggae, punk, pop-punk, jazz, blues, electronica, psychedelic… there is hardly a style of music that is not presented in what local bands play.

Alongside rock, music acts also play hip-hop, rap, acoustic and other musical genres. Leicester is also home to many singers and solo artists whose music ranks alongside those of bands. For both live and pre-recorded music, Leicester has an outstanding and prolific offering.

Musicians playing at the opening of the Food Hall in 2014
Musicians playing at the opening of the Food Hall in 2014

More to come

This article has cantered through the content and has omitted a great detail of detail. My aim in publishing this article (and those that will follow) is to stimulate interest in the subject of Leicester’s musical history. This interest will, I hope, lead to more information being submitted that can, eventually, be added to my proposed book on this subject.

If readers wish to contribute anything, I suggest that the best way of doing this is to log on to Facebook and post to my personal page 

I have also made a group on Facebook called Leicester Music History, where information is posted about the progress of my work and other contributions are welcomed.

References

References referred to in the articles are given on a separate page

Next

In my next article in this series, I will be looking at the period 1990 to 2005.

[This article was published on 7th August 2015. It was subsequently updated on 21st August to add some new material and to to make some corrections]

See also:

Music and technology (an article that forms part of this series)

What’s On In Leicester

News about the City Festival and Cosmopolitan Carnival

WatersideRegeneration

31st July 2015

Waterside Regeneration

set to move forward

AN AMBITIOUS vision for the multi-million pound regeneration of Leicester’s Waterside is set to be taken forward by the city council.

The Leicester Waterside Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), which will help guide development and investment in the 60-hectare area around the River Soar and Soar Island over the next ten to 15 years, is due to be formally adopted.

The adoption of the new guidance will mean that Leicester City Council can submit an outline planning application which, if approved, will pave the way for a first £9.5milllion phase of regeneration in the area.

This will focus on land to the west of the A50, between the Grand Union Canal and Friars Mill, and including Soar Island.

Funding available for the first phase includes £7.5milllion of Government cash from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, and £2milllion of council capital set aside for the Leicester Economic Action Plan.

This will enable the city council to acquire land and property in the area and prepare sites for development.

The city council is also proposing two new office buildings – providing around 1,000sqm of accommodation – at Friars Mill. The disused 18th century mill complex on the banks of the River Soar is undergoing a £6.3milllion redevelopment to bring it back into use as a base for growing local businesses.

The council plans to construct the new office buildings to support regeneration in the area and the intention would be to sell or lease them – on commercial terms – on their completion. Subject to planning permission, work on the scheme could get underway in the autumn.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “This marks an important next step in kick-starting the much-needed regeneration of Waterside.

“The area has suffered badly in recent decades, with the closure of key industries leaving many sites derelict, unused and ugly.

“The adoption of this new planning guidance, and the award of cash from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, will allow us to bring key development land into public ownership and set out the type of development we want to see in these areas.

“This will remove a great deal of risk for potential investors. It will also help us to find development partners that share our vision for Waterside as a thriving neighbourhood with great places to live and space for businesses to flourish.

“It’s our role to provide a catalyst for transformation of the area. The restoration of Friars Mill will stand as a beacon for regeneration in this area.

“Waterside has the potential to be the most exciting development opportunity in the East Midlands and is a major opportunity for the city’s growth.”

Once adopted as local planning policy, the Waterside SPD will help the city council encourage new development and attract further investment into the area and support bringing unused buildings or land back into use.

It will also set new guidelines for development in the area. This includes setting limits on the height of new buildings and types of new development, protecting the area’s heritage, green space and bio-diversity, improving the routes between the city centre and the riverside, and ensuring high standards of design in all new building.

A draft of the Waterside SPD was launched for public consultation earlier this year, giving members of the public, businesses and other stakeholders in the area a chance to comment on the proposals.

In total, around £20milllion of Government cash from the LLEP Local Growth Fund has been earmarked to kick-start the regeneration of Waterside.

A formal decision on the adoption of the Waterside SPD, the release of funding and the submission of related planning applications, is due to be made on Monday 10 August.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

See also:

More news about developments in Leicester

News just in

News about arts and heritage

A look at our sizable in-tray of press releases and announcements.

22nd January 2016

Moon Song at Curve

Leicester’s Curve theatre have partnered with Remploy to fund three performances of Bamboozle Theatre Company’s Moon Song, to be performed in its Studio at no cost to the audience on Mon 1 Feb. The intention behind these free performances is to offer assistance to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who are making the often difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Moon Song is an enchanting, space themed Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) production telling the story of Megan, who falls asleep and dreams of travelling to the moon. This production is carefully designed to accommodate the wide range of abilities within the autistic spectrum, through Bamboozle’s trademark interactive style.

The performances are part of a series of activities hosted at Curve and leading up to the Local Offer Live event which takes place at Curve on Wed 3 Feb.

Curve’s Chief Executive, Chris Stafford, said:

“Following the success of our recent Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances of Oliver! our commitment to making theatre accessible to all is stronger than ever. We are thrilled to be working with Remploy to stage these performances of Bamboozle’s Moon Song for young people with SEND. It’s really important to us that Curve is renowned as a theatre where everyone can engage with the arts, and we look forward to welcoming special needs schools and SEND practitioners from across Leicester to these performances.

26th October

Comedy

Organisers of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival are launching their search for the best Silver Stand Up Comedians. The Silver Stand Up Competition, organised in partnership with Silver Comedy and supported by Jasper Carrot, Arthur Smith and Sir Bruce Forsyth, will take place on Thursday 18th February as part of the annual Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival. Comedians aged over 55 are encouraged to enter for the chance to win the 2016 title. The deadline for the competition is Friday 8th January 2016 and further details are available by contacting aya@bigdifferencecompany.co.uk
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival set up the competition in 2012 to provide a showcase for older comedians. The first competition was won by Shelley Bridgman who continues to gig regularly across the UK and has helped launch the BBC search for the best script that promotes a positive portrayal of transgender characters. The 2013 winner was Marc Lucero, who regularly gigs across London and has appeared on BBC Breakfast News. On winning the competition, Marc said “I want to change the perceptions people have of the elderly and by winning this award I have proved that humour transcends age. Now we need to convince audiences that silver comedy is just as edgy and exciting as seeing the young bucks. Winning the Silver Silver Stand Up Award also proves it is never too late to start a new career.” The 2014 competition was won by comedian Peter Callaghan, who recently returned from performing as part of Old Folks Telling Jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in 2015 the competition was won by Ed de Cantor. Ed had given up performing stand up aged 40, thinking he was “too old”. On winning the competition in 2015, he said “I am completely over the moon. Winning this competition is a dream come true.”

17th September 2015

Proposals set to transform Leicester’s Market

LEICESTER’s outdoor market could be set for a stunning transformation if new proposals are given the go-ahead.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby is considering major investment in the 800 year-old market, to ensure it is fit for the future and to complement the ongoing redevelopment work in the area.

The improvements would follow the construction of a new public square on the site of the old indoor market, and the repaving of the roads surrounding it, but would take priority over an extension to the Corn Exchange building.

Initial proposals for the outdoor market are to give it a fresh new look, with improved stalls, better lighting and new signage.

The revamp could include changes to the roof to make it more transparent, and the installation of LED lighting, which would save energy and reduce costs.

Shoppers and traders will be consulted on the proposals as part of the detailed design process, and it’s expected that final designs will go to the City Mayor for approval early next year.

City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “It’s clear that the work we’ve already done at the market has made a huge difference, with the new food hall providing customers with the attractive shopping environment they want.

“The creation of a new public square and improvements to the roads and pavements around the market will really transform the area, but they will also highlight the poor quality of the outdoor market.

“I am therefore proposing that improvements to the market should take precedence over the Corn Exchange extension, which is something we could look at again in the future when we have seen how the new public square is being used.

“The market has been a significant feature of the city for hundreds of years, and we need to ensure it retains that position for many more years to come.”

Consultation on the proposals for the outdoor market will begin in the next few weeks.

Project manager Mike Dalzell said: “We have a lot of preparation work to do to move utilities and carry out necessary changes to the highways, but our aim is for construction of the new square to begin in the new year and finish by autumn 2016.”

The first phase of the market redevelopment was completed in May 2014, with the opening of the bright and airy new food hall.

The food hall has already won several awards, including Best Food Market from the National Markets Association (NABMA) and Best New Building from the Leicester Civic Society.

[Source: Leicester City Council]

28th August 2015

Everybody’s Reading

Everybody’s Reading- September 26th – October 4th

This annual festival is packed with over 140 events in 60 venues over nine days. Libraries around Leicester will be taking part, hosting numerous events – these include: local author Bali Rai will be at New Parks Library to talk about his passion for football and books; listen to scary stories and get creative with book illustration workshops at Fosse Library; at Beaumont Leys Library we have Toddler Tales with stories for younger library visitors all about Autumn Animals, and at Evington Library we have Under The Sea where fishy tales will come to life.  Watching the Detectives and John Martin (Leicester’s ‘Mr Crime’) are two of the events at Central and Hamilton Libraries for crime readers out there.

Booster Cushion Theatre for Children will also be at Fosse, Westcotes, Pork Pie and Brite Centre libraries with their show for young children and parents – Big Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

This year also sees the welcome return of BLAM!, our promotion of all things comic-related. The event at Central Library on Wednesday 30th September is a slight change to the one advertised in the brochure in that we are excited to be hosting a talk by comic-writer, Jamie Delano.

Jamie has written for 2000AD and DC Comics, as well as titles such as Dr Who, Captain Britain and Hellblazer. If you have an interest in comics, either as a reader or a writer then this event is for you.

For more events and details on how to book plus ticket prices pick up a festival guide or download it at www.everybodysreading.co.uk

28th July 2015

New film about Children’s Comedy

Sceene from Kenton Hall's film A Dozen Summers
Scene from Kenton Hall’s film A Dozen Summers

Leicester’s writer and director Kenton Hall is behind a new film. As the website asks:

Are you 12 years old? Have you ever been 12 years old? Are you planning to be 12 years old at some point in the future? If so, then this is the film for you. “A Dozen Summers” is a comedy about what it’s really like to grow up in the 21st century. Get ready to enter the world of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, twin sisters who have just hijacked a children’s film in order to tell their own story. Or possibly one about a ghost girl who eats teachers. They haven’t decided yet.

See the website for A Dozen Summers

The film will be screened at Phoenix from 21st August

6th July 2015

Plans for riverside Development

PLANS for a major programme of work to improve access to Leicester’s riverside have been announced.

Leicester City Council has teamed up with the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to help enhance the river corridor through the city, as part of a wider programme of work to reduce flood risk.

The programme of improvements has been awarded up to £1.5million from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) Local Growth Fund, with £850,000 of this earmarked for a first phase of projects along the River Soar and Grand Union Canal due to begin over the next year.

The improvements are being match-funded by the Environment Agency, which has been awarded £33milllion of Government funding for a five-year programme of flood risk management in the city.

The Canal & River Trust has also allocated £500,000 towards the project, which will fund important maintenance, including ongoing dredging works, to help ensure the waterways are accessible, attractive and welcoming.

A new cycle link along the river between Loughborough Road and Thurcaston Road will be created, and plans are being drawn up to improve and extend the cycleway between the river and the Great Central Railway.

The Environment Agency will also undertake a five-year, £6million programme of flood relief in the Abbey Meadows area from next year. This will include culverts under Thurcaston Road and Loughborough Road, new cycle links, creation of new wetland and woodland areas, and other environmental improvements.

The Canal and River Trust will improve the existing towpath along the Grand Union Canal from the city centre to Watermead Park.

The programme also includes creating better access to the riverside at Sock Island, environmental improvements around Willow Brook, restoration of the old, redundant mill race at Frog Island, and new boat mooring alongside Friars Mill.

Read more about this

3rd July

Festival of Archaeology

Jewry Wall Museum will be hosting a series of special events as part of the city’s two-week Festival of Archaeology.

The museum will be helping to celebrate the city’s rich archaeological heritage with guided walks, talks, displays and family-friendly activities.

The 2015 Festival of Archaeology runs from 11-26 July, but kicks off with a preview event at the University of Leicester on Saturday (4 July). Staff from the city council’s museums service and volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum will be on hand at the event, offering activities including coin striking and marching drills with a Roman soldier.

On Sunday 12 July, visitors to Jewry Wall Museum can join in with a free ‘Romans and Barbarians’ day. It will include the chance to watch a Roman army on parade, see demonstrations of Roman arms and armour and strike your very own Roman coin.

There will also be craft activities, family games and an exciting finale to the event when a Barbarian warrior queen arrives on her war chariot to defy the might of Rome.

Daily from 12-26 July, the museum will run tours of Leicester’s Roman bath house, with replica objects to handle. Tours take place from 12-12.50pm each day.

On 18 July, at 2pm, there will be an illustrated talk and book-signing from Gareth Williams, curator at the British Museum, on the topic of Viking warfare in the light of new discoveries. Tickets are £5 and can be booked on 0116 225 4971.

And as a finale to the festival, the museum will host a Viking warfare day on Sunday 26 July. A full Viking encampment will be set up amidst the Roman ruins of Leicester, just as it might have looked in the 9th century, when these lands fell under Viking rule. Admission is £2 for adults, £1 for children.

Cllr Piara Singh Clair, assistant city mayor responsible for culture, heritage, leisure and sport, said: “I’m really pleased that our staff are able to work so closely with the dedicated volunteers from the Friends of Jewry Wall Museum to put on so many great events for the Festival of Archaeology.

“These family-friendly events mean everyone can get involved in celebrating Leicester’s rich archaeological heritage.”

Find out more about the Festival of Archaeology 2015

Find out what to do at Leicester’s museums

1st July

St. Nicholas Circle gets revamp

improve pedestrian and cycling routes around Leicester’s St Nicholas Circle will enter its final phase next week.

The ambitious £1.7milllion scheme has already seen improvements completed on the south side of the busy junction. Wider pavements and a new cycleway have been constructed from Peacock Lane to St Augustine Road, where a lane of traffic has been removed.

A new cycle lane has also been created on the Southgates northbound slip road, and work to create a new entrance into the award-winning Castle Gardens is almost complete.

The project will now move on to the Jewry Wall side of St Nicholas Circle from Monday (6 July).

Existing footpaths will be widened and re-laid with high-quality block paving to create a joint-use footpath and cycleway. The number of traffic lanes will be unchanged on this side of the roundabout.
This stage of the project will also see the Harvey Walk footbridge, which spans the roundabout passing between the NCP car park and Holiday Inn, taken down. Work to create a new surface-level footpath in its place will take place next year.

The scheme is part of the Connecting Leicester programme and will create more attractive routes from the city centre to attractions like Castle Gardens, the Roman Jewry Wall and St Mary de Castro Church, which all lie outside the 1960s ring road.

22nd June

Reading for everyone

The programme for Everybody’s Reading festival is very, very close to being finalised. With a multitude of events taking place all over the city, there is definitely going to be something for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of free events taking place in libraries, cafes, community centres and many more.

Highlights of this year’s festival include an exclusive schools only performance from Countryfile and Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton at one lucky school in Leicester, as well as children’s book-themed days at Gorse Hill City Farm, smelly perfume poetry workshop from the people who brought Lush to the High Street, crime writers, story tellers, poets and so many more workshops, exhibitions and readings.  There will be loads of opportunity to get involved with something to do with reading!

Everybody’s Reading 2015 runs from Saturday 26th September until Sunday 4th October 2015. Everybody’s Reading is a nine day festival taking place in over 80 venues across Leicester City including community centres, schools, cafes, bars, arts venues, libraries and museums.

The festival, now in its fifth year, is organised by the School Development Support Agency (SDSA) and is an off-shoot of the ‘Whatever it Takes’ initiative (see separate bullet point for more information on this initiative). The aim of the festival is to get Leicester reading by encouraging people to hear and attend spoken word, poets, authors and community writers.

Find out more from the Everybody’s Reading website

23rd June

The Damask Rose

A CENTURIES-old local tradition as kept alive when the Lord Mayor of Leicester attended the Damask Rose ceremony on 24th June.

The Lord Mayor, Cllr Ted Cassidy,  marked the annual custom when he received the symbolic peppercorn rent of a Damask Rose and four old pennies from the landlord of O’Neill’s, a pub in  in Loseby Lane.

The Lord Mayor said: “This is a local custom that dates back hundreds of years and I am delighted that we are continuing and protecting the tradition.”

Steve Thorn, landlord of O’Neill’s Leicester, said: “We here at O’Neill’s are happy to keep up this long-standing tradition and hope we can build on it in the future.”

Dating back to the 1600s, the Damask Rose ceremony survived until 2001 when the O’Neill’s chain took over the pub. The former Lord Mayor, Colin Hall, was instrumental in re-instating the ceremony in 2010.

In keeping with tradition, the Damask Rose ceremony takes place to coincide with the Feast of St John the Baptist and representatives from the Gild of Freemen of the City of Leicester will also be present.

11th June

Magna Carter celebrated

THE 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta was marked in Leicester with a packed programme of events. From Saturday, 13th June, people were able to find out how the medieval charter helped lay the foundations for the democracy we know today – and could learn how a baron with links to Leicester helped ensure the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215.

A an exhibition at the Guildhall – featuring a reproduction of the British Library’s copy of the Magna Carta – revealed the origins and impact of the charter, while an event at Leicester Market, on Saturday 13 June,  included medieval butter-making, traditional sweet-making and an appearance by the medieval rat-catcher.

The medieval Guildhall  – Leicester’s first town hall – hosted a Magna Carta day on Sunday, 14th June, when the Lord Mayor of Leicester talked to visitors about his role and local democracy, after musical performances from comedian Anthony King.

On Monday 15th June there was an opportunity to meet Baron Saer de Quincy – the rebel Leicester baron who helped ensure that King John accepted the terms of the Magna Carta. Baron de Quincy was joined by musicians from the Medieval Music Wagon at the special event at Leicester Market on Monday – the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The event also celebrated the standardisation of weights and measures – enshrined in the Magna Carta – with a selection of old Leicester weights, measures and scales on display in the window of the market’s customer service centre.

“The Magna Carta enshrines many of the things we take for granted today, particularly the rule of law and the principle that nobody can act above the law,” said City Mayor Peter Soulsby.

More news updates will follow in due course.

 

Cultural Quarter

Leicester’s Cultural Quarter

The Regeneration years

by Trevor Locke

March 2015

The area in Leicester’s city centre that is known as The Cultural Quarter, has undergone substantial changes since it received its title. The area was called St. Georges, after the church that still stands in the vicinity. The area was urbanised between 1741 and 1857.  In 1989, St. Georges was designated a conservation area which was enlarged in 2003 and again in 2010. The area was at one time an important focus for industry and commerce and many factories and warehouses dominated the streets.

Urban regeneration

The run down St. George’s area with its many empty factories became the haunt of drug addicts, homeless people and criminals. The approach of the Council was to attract private developers to come in and bring all these empty factories back into use. The Exchange Building in Rutland Street (the former telephone exchange), Queen Street Apartments, St. George’s Mill, The Fair Brothers building at Alexandra House, and other city centre properties became flats and apartments for the growing number of students coming to the new De Montfort University as well as the growing number of young professionals finding working in the city’s growing design, digital and arts businesses. The large factory at the end of Wimbledon Street was converted into apartments known as St. George’s Mill.

The St. George’s area was transformed from one of run-down, empty factories and warehouses into one of residential, leisure and small business opportunities. On the outskirts of the area, the old Charles Street police station was converted into swanky offices.

City Council review

In 2008, the City Council undertook a review of what it called ‘The St. George’s Conservation Area.’  The Council, at that time, had 24 conservation areas.  The city was at the time complying with requirements to regenerate the inner city and had formed a regeneration company to do this. St. George’s had been designated as a regeneration area in 1989. In 2000 central government published its Urban Regeneration white paper. All across the UK, city centres were becoming run down and many large buildings became empty as businesses moved away or lost trade to foreign competitors.

As businesses went bust (or lost their trade to foreign competition) or moved away, Leicester inner city became increasingly run down and blighted.  Many of the once prosperous hosiery and knitwear factories became empty. The Council began to develop a vision of making the St. George’s Conservation Area into a ‘Cultural Quarter’ – the name that is now bears. The area was noted at that time for its ‘fine heritage of Victorian buildings.’ Not all the properties in the St. George’s area were fine; many were commercial slums and a number of these were demolished to make way for the site now occupied by Curve (which opened in 2008)  and Phoenix, the two flag-ship construction projects that are the icons of the Cultural Quarter.

Some interesting buildings

Curve

Curve designed by Raphael Vignoly
Curve designed by Raphael Vignoly

The centre piece of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter is CURVE, the name given to the new multi-million pound theatre designed by internationally renowned Rafael Viñoly Architects. Curve was the only new Theatre to be built in Europe in recent times. Opened by HM The Queen in November 2008, the building was given a prestigious award by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). It cost a staggering £65m to build and fit with the latest state-of-the-art equipment. With a main auditorium limited to 800 seats, critics saw the new theatre as being too small to attract many of the larger shows that now go to centres like Birmingham and Nottingham. Lauded by local councillors as “world class” and “iconic”, Curve now has a international reputation for its own productions and for touring shows.

The Church of St. George

1823-7. Architect William Parsons. Chancel built 1879 by Sir A. Blomfield. After a fire in 1911, the church was  restored by W. D. Caroe. The building is constructed in Ashlar in the  Perpendicular style, comprising: nave, north and south aisles, chancel and west tower with porches on each side. The aisles have battlements and crocketed finials at angles, gabled buttresses between tall windows with curvelinear tracery. West tower with twin ogee arch bell openings and clock face below in panelled frieze, panelled angle buttresses in three stages each gabled and topped by crocketed finial, pierced battlements. The tower originally had a spire. The galleries inside were destroyed in the fire of 1911 and not rebuilt. A place of worship with Grade II listing, it is now in use as a Serbian Orthodox place of worship in the centre of Leicester.

Deuce House

Deuce House in a building that stands at the corner of Wimbledon Street and Southampton Street. The name Wimbledon Street is said to commemorate military exercises by the Leicester Volunteers on Wimbledon Common around 1860. Sir Henry Halford was a Leicestershire man who formed a company of volunteer soldiers. He was also the first Chairman of the Leicestershire County Council. He was present at the formation of the National Rifle Association in 1861 at Wimbledon in London.  Originally it was built to house Deuce Designs, a knitwear company. The business that installed their factory in Deuce House must have associated Wimbledon with tennis (rather than with Rifle Shooting). Today the building contains 20 residential apartments. The planning application to convert the empty former hosiery factory into flats was put to Leicester City Council in May 1999.  The application was for the conversion of an existing four storey factory to 17 self-contained flats.  The applicant was a Mr. R. Ekaireb of London. The application was granted in July 1999. At the time the property was in Castle Ward. Deuce House overlooks both Wimbledon Street and Southampton Street; the latter was named after Lord Southampton (1804 to 1872). Previously it was called Brick Kiln Lane (up to 1843.)

The Atrium

In September 2000, another London-based company (Royalstone) applied to the City Council to convert an existing factory in Morledge Street, into 62 flats (car parking to be included.) The Application was approved in December 2000. The large three storey building in Morledge Street was converted into apartments called The Atrium.

Wimbledon Mills

In 2002, an application was made to convert another of the Wimbledon Street factories into flats.  This was known as Wimbledon Mills. This project was to provide 24 self contained flats between Deuce House and the next building down called, in the application,  ‘the former Cygnet hotel’ but later known as the Central Hotel the address of which is given as 57 Rutland Street (which at one time served as the Kosova Reception Centre.)

The Rowley Building (Queen Street Apartments).

In Queen Street, the large factory (The Rowley Building)  was converted into what we now call the Queen Street Apartments.’ It was formerly the knitwear factory of R. Rowley & Co, established in 1867 and was housed in this building from 1913 to 1999. The Rowley Building was home to R. Rowley and Co. Ltd which was established in a small building in Queen Street in 1867 by the 21-year-old framework knitter Robert Rowley. The warehouse burned down in 1911 and was rebuilt in 1913. The building was bought by Courtaulds in 1960s and closed in 1999. During the 1950s the company began to struggle with the decline of its fully-fashioned stockings and fully-fashioned knitwear departments following changes in fashion. In 1962 the family connection of the firm was severed with the retirement of the grandson and chairman of Rowley, Leslie C. Robertson, and in 1968, in common with wider trends of conglomeration, Rowley’s was bought out by the textiles giant Courtaulds. Masterminded by Frank Kearton, Courtaulds aimed to build a massive vertically-integrated textile empire consisting of a variety of textile businesses across the country, and later abroad. By the end of 1968 Courtaulds controlled around 20 per cent of the hosiery industry in Britain, and owned thirteen firms in the Greater Leicester area.

With reinvestment in plant, equipment and maintenance Rowley’s weathered the general decline in the hosiery industry experienced during the 1970s, and did not follow the movement of others out of the city centre to suburban industrial estates. This only prolonged the eventuality of decline, however, and by the 1990s the company struggled to compete with the lower production costs of the newly industrialising countries of the Far East. Courtauld’s payroll rapidly decreased from 80,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 1986 then to 20,000 in 1994 as the group began to shutdown unprofitable subsidiaries. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Rowley’s was a victim of these redundancies until finally, in 1999, the Queen Street location was closed altogether.

J. Herbert Marshall Music Depot

This building was constructed in the late 1870s for the wholesale and retail bookseller James Marshall. Not long after, in the 1880s, it was taken over by his son Joseph Herbert Marshall and used as a showroom for his piano wholesale business; its distinctive and impressive Victorian shop-front still survives today. The building now houses the Helsinki Nightclub.

The LCB Depot

The LCB Depot, B Block
The LCB Depot, B Block

The 1960s Leicester City Bus Depot at 31 Rutland Street was converted into a centre for business and the arts and now functions as The LCB Depot. It opened in July 2004. Not far from Curve and The Athena, is another new building, The Leicester Creative Business Depot. Converted from the entrails of the Leicester City Bus Depot, the two-block site now offers offices and studios for arts and creative businesses and organisations. It was in fact the birthplace of Arts in Leicestershire, when we had a studio there, three years ago (in the block shown in the above picture.)

Run by the City Council, the complex features rentable spaces, a cafe, an exhibition hall and meeting rooms. The project proved popular and nearly all of the units were filled within two years of the opening. The building housed the Leicester Comedy Festival and the organisers of the Caribbean Carnival were also based there for a while.

Makers Yard

Much later on, an old hosiery factory was converted into starter units for arts and crafts business – Makers Yard. The listed building is the oldest surviving hosiery factory in the East Midlands. It’s been sensitively restored into 10 studios which house a growing creative community of artists and designer-makers. In 1854 John Brown built a warehouse on the site and rented frame knitting machines. In 1862 Brown completed a complex of buildings and another warehouse. The hosiery industry was initially dominated by male workers, but women became a large portion of the work force when men left to first in the first world war. In the 1960s Leicester’s hosiery trade boomed and the city was said to ‘clothe the world.’ In the 1980s the building became known as the Charnwood Hosiery Factory. In 2002 the building became empty. It was granted Grade II listing status in 2006. As part of £1.05 million project – funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Leicester City Council – building was refurbished into a creative workspace. Period features such as cogs, wheels and original paintwork were retained to enhance the creative industrial feel of the building.

The Central Hotel

The one building that has escaped these developments is the Central Hotel, at the end of Rutland Street. Since being used as a hostel for refugees, it has stood empty and continued to be a blight on the area.

Phoenix

Phoenix, cinema and arts centre
Phoenix, cinema and arts centre

The new digital media centre, not far from CURVE, attracted sceptical comments about its location. The quality of its facilities and the inventiveness of its programmes is beginning to pay off. The centre in Morledge Street cost over £21 million and is a multi-use project including a cinema, work spaces for media businesses and apartments.

Athena

The Athena
The Athena

Standing right by the side of Curve, is The Athena Theatre. Converted from the 1938 Odeon Cinema, the Athena bears all the hallmarks of the Odeon Style of the 1930s. The re-vamped venue opened in 2005 and has a capacity of nearly 1,300 and now caters for shows, exhibitions, conferences and dinners.

Manhattan34 bar

Manhattan34 Bar
Manhattan34 Bar

Opened in September 2011, Manhattan 34 bar in Rutland Street is styled around the theme of the prohibition era in the 1920s. Run by Roop Kahlon and Chris Baker, the venue has a ground floor bar area and a basement room downstairs. Roop and Chris say they are “two of Leicester’s longest standing bartenders”. The ambience is fresh, clean and themed around the ‘roaring twenties’ in New York. Even the clocks are set to Manhattan Time. Hopefully they don’t call time by them! “No, we open and close according to Greenwich Mean Time”, Roop said.

The Soundhouse

The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011
The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011

At the back of the Leicester Mercury building stands one of Leicester’s new breed of live music venues. Occupying what used to be the old Queen Victoria public house, in Southampton Street, The SoundHouse opened in 2010 after an extensive refurbishment.
The old pub used to put on live music but the sound system and staging were less than adequate. The building stood empty for a couple of years, until new landlords moved in and invested in a considerable upgrade of the facilities, to turn it into the vibrant live music centre that we see today. A new stage was built, new production lighting was was fitted and a permanent sound system was installed. Whilst the main body of the building still retained the ambience of the twentieth century (and in some aspects, Victorian) pub, the performance area took on a whole new lease of life. In 2015 several refurbishments were made to the bar area.

Some of the material in this article was drawn from the old Arts in Leicester Magazine, articles published between 2011 and 2013.

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