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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Reference to all these articles are given on a separate page
Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester
I am revising my book on housing policy in the UK, taking into account some of the changes that took place earlier this year in the autumn statement and new policies emerging as a result of the political changes, particularly in the Labour party.
Once I have finished the revision, I plan to offer the book for publication.
My novel Holiday (working title) is now in its final draft. I plan to seek a publisher for it early next year.
The novel tells the story of a group of English teenagers who go on a package holiday to Italy in 1966. Holiday mixes moments of humour with poignancy, light-hearted frivolity with catharsis, and silliness with seriousness, into a heady cocktail of anecdotes, images and stories. It unravels the complexities of youth, the struggles of adolescence and the clash of cultures with the adventure of discovery in a foreign land. It deals with sexual awakening and the start of the transition from childhood to adulthood.
18th August 2015
I am writing about …
I write about a lot of different things. During August and September I am doing the following work:
House Bricks: I am revising and updating the series of four articles I wrote for Arts in Leicestershire magazine on the history of house building and current housing policy issues. The new version is being completely revised and updated. When finished, I hope to have this published as book by a publisher. Read my introduction to the original series.
The Trench is my second novel. Its story is about a live music venue, in the 1980s, the bands that play there and the people who go to it. It is a work of fiction but melts together a range of experiences that I have had in venues across Europe. When it is finished I will offer it to literary agents for publication.
Holiday: is my first novel. Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of a group of teenagers who go on a packaged holiday in Italy. It dwells on various themes: adolescence, the clash of cultures, European art and religion, the age-gap, and the experience of growing up, sexual awakening and adventure. When it is finished I will offer it for publication.
The History of Music in Leicester: is intended eventually to be a book, this is currently being published in chapters on Arts in Leicester magazine. The first chapter is already available online. This was followed by chapter two which deals with the period from 1990 to 2005. I am now working on the third part of the series, which looks at music between the end of the second world world and the beginning of the 1990s. I hope to publish this in October.
The History of Leicester, my magnum opus, covers the history of Leicester from the present day back to Roman times. Its perspective is the built environment and it looks at two thousand years of habitation through the buildings that people constructed and the houses in which they lived. This will eventually become a book; before then a variety of articles will be published to supplement those already on Arts in Leicestershire magazine.
The History of Food: is an article intended for publication in Arts in Leicester magazine. It traces the development of food, farming, distribution and the economics of food production and how cooking is a vital part of the local history of a community. It is part of the History of Leicester series.
The Economics of live music: having already written on this subject before [Locke, 2010] I am preparing a follow-up article which delves more deeply into the economics of the local music business. In this article I look at how live music venues are struggling to survive in an age of digital music consumption. See my article on the economics of live music, from 2010.
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.
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
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 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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.