Transport planning

11th October 2016

Transport and car use

by Trevor Locke

Going to the shops. Something that most adults need to do regularly; some on a daily basis. Back in the 80s there were two cars in our household and we did groceries shopping monthly. We drove to a supermarket and brought home enough produce to feed our family for about four weeks. The supermarket was about four miles away from the house. Petrol was cheap and I had a company car which was provided free of charge by my employer. How times have changed, Now I do not have a car. I take the bus into town to go to the big supermarket; if I need a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread I walk to the local shop. How we shop and where we go to do our shopping raises a number of key issues about how we plan our towns and our urban environments.

Going to the shops

Even when I do what I call a ‘main shop’ I walk around the supermarket with a basket rather than pushing a trolley. Because I have to carry it all home on the bus, I do not purchase more than I can carry – hence the basket. When the basket gets really heavy I stop buying. It’s simple but mainly because I have only myself to feed rather than getting in food for an entire family. And a cat. Apparently there are still many people who get into their car and drive to a shop they could perfectly easily walk to. So I have read. Why? Fear of being on the streets? Idleness? Habit? Who knows; have any surveys ever been done to uncover the facts about this? Which is more pressing as an issue: transport congestion or obesity? Are the British becoming a nation of fat, lazy people? If you agree with that, and many would not, we are lagging far behind the Americans on that score. Walking to the shops is good; it’s a healthy thing to do. It’s an economically healthy thing to do as well. Local shops sustain communities. Someone commented recently that ‘The corner shop has been replaced by the out of town hypermarket and a car became necessary to shop there.’ Prices are higher in local shops than in supermarkets. I know that; I have to take the bus into town to buy food because my local branch (of the same supermarket) charges more for the same products than does its city centre,  bigger branch of the same supermarket chain. Incidentally, I do not pay to use buses; I have a pass that gives me free travel so I do not have to factor in the cost of the bus fare (it would still save money to shop in town even if I did need to pay to get there.)

We all need to get around; whether this is for work, education, shopping, entertainment or visiting people, our choices of how to travel are based on time, money and convenience. Do town planners really see in that way?

What about trams?

In 2015 our local newspaper ran a story about trams. ‘The Big Question: Should Leicester have a tram system?’ reported on a design for a tram network for Leicester. Not the first time this idea has surfaced. As the article pointed out, Leicester had a tram network that closed in 1949. But then there are trams and trams. Today’s trams, like the ones that run in Nottingham, provide clean, comfortable, convenient transport. Great if your destination is near to a tram stop. A poll on the page of the same article indicated that 75% of those who voted said ‘yes’ to having a tram system. The article did not review the case in favour of trams – it just reported that a route map has been designed. Not that anyone was actually planning to start a tram network; it was all hypothetical. The response of the Leicester Mayor – Peter Soulsby – seemed to pour cold water in the idea. The bus service is Leicester is generally quite good; it depends on routes and what time you want to travel but by and large buses run almost everywhere and bus lanes play their part in keeping them moving. They do however burn diesel. That is not good. They can be expensive, in pence per mile compared to alternative forms of transport. Leicester does not suffer from the kind of inner city traffic congestion that we see in many other English cities. I can’t say how they achieve this but we do not see traffic jams much even during peak hours. There are some technical issues with fixed-line transport. Bus lanes and cycle lanes might well have something to do with the difficulty of trying to create the tracks for trams on roads that have for decades been designed for cars. Leicester’s arterial roads tend to be narrower than their equivalents in other cities. This might have something to do with the fact that traffic moves more freely. Single or two lane motorways might allow traffic to move more quickly than three or four lane motorways. It’s a strange thing about road traffic – it does not always work the way you think it would or should.

Centres and suburbs

Leicester is one of the country’s free-standing cities; as the capital of the county of Leicestershire, it is surrounded on all sides by green fields. Not even Nottingham can boast of that. Leicester is a city that sits inside a catchment area of about two million people. That is a statistic of immense importance to the economy of our city. As a key economic and social area within the East Midlands, Leicester depends on the transport infrastructure for the easy movement of people. Our city has various outlying estates and suburbs that house the majority of the resident population. People need access to the city for jobs, entertainment, sport, shopping and culture. They not only have to be able to get into the city but they have to be able to get home again after their visit. As someone who is dependent on buses, I am painfully aware of the importance of a good bus service to the prosperity of the city. With our ageing population, people are increasingly dependent on bus and train services. It’s not just the cost per mile of transport, it is also about the availability of the public transport services. The population of the UK is growing and the older segment of it is increasing, a fact that has important implications for local transport policies and provisions.

One area that has come in for much comment and debate in recent times is the availability of late night buses and trains. Like a lot of cites, Leicester depends on its night-time economy. As a city we have a very vibrant and pluralistic night-time offering, including music, entertainment, sport and culture.

The transport systems do not serve that economy well. As any bus user in this city will tell you, it is easy enough to get into the city during the day but getting home after a show or a festival or a gig is fraught with problems. Buses to outlying suburbs, villages and neighbourhoods often stop at ridiculously early times, making it impossible, for some people, to get into the city and back again. It is one thing to have a catchment area of two million people, it is quite another to make it possible for the majority of that population to make use of Leicester as a destination for entertainment or even for jobs.

Jobs and cars

As the pattern of employment changes, more and more people are becoming dependent on public transport to access employment. The jobs market is offering work but more and more of it is shift work, with the higher-paid jobs being in the evening and overnight. More will need to work beyond the current retirement age and this will increase demand for social transport. Older people may well find it increasingly difficult to run private cars and will become dependent on public transport. The rate of car ownership has been increasing with more families owning more than one car; this has been fuelled by the growth in employment for women and the need to have two cars to be able to cope with both journeys to work and to school.

Congestion is a disease

Trams might well prove to me a positive innovation for Leicester but I doubt we will see them again in my generation’s time. Meanwhile, we have to wrestle with the problem of increasing traffic on the roads for people trying to get into Leicester and those trying to get from it to other parts of the country. Road traffic in England is increasing; it has been going up over the past four years. This, according to the Government, reflects growth in the UK economy and possibly lower fuel prices. Car traffic has been going up. Light goods vehicle traffic has also been increasing; probably, I would guess, due to the increasing use of online purchasing and its consequential need for road delivery.

Over the last twenty years traffic has increased by 17/19% for all vehicle types and for cars has gone up by 12.6% and 70% for light goods vehicles, according to the Government website. Meanwhile, the use of bus services has been going down in the long trend; passenger kilometres have declined by 0.6% since it peaked in 2007. By comparison passenger journeys on light rail systems, such as trams, has reached its higher ever recorded level. The use of buses and coaches has been going down since 2010. In the same time period, the use of cars and taxis has varied by has begun to increase dramatically in recent years.

Living near transport

Access to public transport also affects housing; with the policy of demanding more and more housing in the green belt, provision of adequate transport is of considerable importance. Building housing in the green belt places more pressure on private transport if the provision of buses, trams and commuter trains is not planned to increase. Building houses and flats away from the main employment destinations, inhibits the ability of residents to either walk or cycle to work.

Where city centres have concentrations of work opportunities – particular in retail and hospitality – it make more sense to develop urban accommodation than to hope that people will be able to access affordable housing in the out-lying areas and be still able to get into the city centres to find work.

It is easy for planners and policy-makers to assume that everyone drives their own car and that public transport is just for the poor and disadvantaged. That is a widely held myth, in my experience. Policy-makers want to see a shift away from the car to other forms of transport such as walking and cycling, for environmental reasons. Leicester has pockets of poverty and one that is bound to ensure that they remain is transport poverty.

Transporting the public

Over the next decade and beyond, more people will become dependent on public transport. It is no use providing affordable housing if we fail to provide affordable transport to go with it. Car ownership is not only about being able to afford to buy and car and run it. The cost of owning a house often forces people to stop having their own transport. More and more younger aged people are continuing to live with their parents because it takes them so long to save enough money to afford the deposit for a mortgage. What limit’s their ability to save is owning a car and the costs of having to pay for a car in order to get to work or indeed to get out to do the shopping. So many supermarkets (where the best prices can be had) are situated where only car owners can get to them. Having a transport policy that meets the real needs of urban and outer-urban dwellers must be a key issue for governmental policy-makers and planners. Public transportation needs to address both the availability of buses, trams and taxis and also the fares that are charged. Short distance fares are often more expensive that long-distance ones even where flat-fare tickets are available. One reason why transport issues concerns me is the close connection between the importance of the late-night economy and the availability of transport. The strategy for developing buses services cannot pivot solely on the need for night-time travel but putting this specific issue in a broader context is, in my view, essential.

Planning Leicester

Much of what Leicester is grappling with at present, when it comes to planning and transport policies, is to do with the city centre and, to some extent, the balance of outer-urban and inner-city economics. Our city centre is fairly busy and has managed to avoid some of the problems seen in comparable cities with businesses closing down and high streets shop voids. The shopping area of our city centre is fairly small and compact; it is especially good for pedestrians with its traffic free streets. The distribution of car parking in the centre is probably fairly good – but I am not the best person to know about that because, as I say, I do not drive. If shopping in Leicester’s centre lacks anything it is variety; it is less than good when it comes to the mix of shops and range of goods that are available. Many shoppers, who are looking for something out of the ordinary, travel to other town, such as Nottingham, because they can not find what they are looking for in Leicester. The mix of retail outlets on High Streets is dwindling across the whole country. That goes some way to explaining why so many people are taking to on-line shopping to secure the items they want – small, specialist shops are just not available locally.

Analysis: LCFC victory celebrations

The Leicester City Football Club victory celebrations

Preface

This is likely to be a large article. For that reason, I am publishing the first draft and will then update it as research results comes in and as I work through various issues. It will be useful to make it available on the Internet to aid dialogue with others, rather than waiting until the whole piece is finished. This article is, therefore, work in progress.

Article published from 18th May 2016

The LCFC victory parade and celebrations of May 2016

Victoria Park crowd from the air

Monday 16th May 2016 was the day on which Leicester celebrated Leicester City Football Club’s winning the Premier League Trophy. I was there on Victoria Park watching the post-parade show and now I am writing about this event as a local historian. I have a range of other interests in it as a social movement; I do not have an interest in it as a football fan (which I am not.)

This article considers the significance of the victory celebrations, from both social and historical perspectives and draws in narratives about mass observation and the methodologies of local history. The article will look at the wider context of the event as part of a discussion of its significance.

The victory celebrations were also important as a media event. Some of my work will be to look at how the world’s media covered the event and (to a lesser extent) the world media coverage that Leicester had for the Premier League win as a whole. This forms part of the narrative of local history.

Social movements and migrations

Yesterday (16th May) was not a social movement; neither was it a migration. Having said that there are aspects of the whole event that share characteristics in common with social movements per se and with migration as a movement of people.

It is said in the media that 250,000 people were “on the streets of Leicester” to celebrate the LCFC victory. I would like to work out what proportion of those people were residents with LE postcodes compared with those who came into the city from the county of Leicestershire and from further afield. Slight anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of people came into the city by train; some of these might have started at stations in the county but it would be interesting to know what level of traffic came into the city from outside the county. The hypothesis here is day that the day was a national event.#edit

Migration is not the best word to use in this context. Movement of people might be an alternative phrase, if only because the era in which we are living is seeing one of the largest movements of people in the history of the world. This is about migration of millions of people from one country to another. This might not seem relevant to the event in Leicester but it provides a bigger picture about the ability of people to move around, access transport and find out what is happening where and when. Movement of people, travel, transit and attendance is a subject worthy of study.

The route of the event was publicised some days before the parade took place #edit The announcement of the location of the festival on Victoria Park however was given out only a couple of days before the parade. #edit. I use the word ‘festival’ to denote the mass gathering on Victoria Park that took place after the victory parade through the city centre; it was rather like a festival – having a main stage and several music acts.

This section focuses on the mass movement of people in geographical terms.

Mass observation

Both sociologists and historians use mass observation as a method for capturing data about events. I will try to find out if there was an organised mass observation of yesterday’s celebrations. #edit

What surprises me is that I knew that this event would happen right from the word go; although I had enough time to organise around it I did not do anything in advance. I could have brought together a team of people to gather mass observations on the streets during the event. I have organised mass observation projects before, in Leicester, but it did not occur to me to organise such a project for this event.

I will however search for any other projects that treat this event as an opportunity for mass observation.

What would we expect to gain from a mass observation of the victory parade? Quite a lot, actually. Even just me being there at the park, I saw a lot of things that were significant. Things that were unexpected, that meant something to me as an observer of life in Leicester. This article will eventually contain examples from my own observations and from comments scraped from social media.

One of these significant observations was the multi-ethnic composition of the crowd and presence of many women wearing hijabs. I noticed this and so did other commentators on social media.

The other thing I noticed were street vendors. Someone commented to me that he had seen “unemployed people selling merchandise on the streets.” In his view, many of those selling goods were people who had jumped on the bandwagon to make a fast buck. That is significant. I saw organised vendors setting up stalls from around 10:30 in the morning. Many of the shops along London road had put sales points at the front of the building, open to passers by. At last one restaurant and removed all its furnishings to create a space that could be filled with customers. This tells us something about business and commerce. #edit Micro-enterprise I suggest is something that merits study as part of what happens at large gatherings of people.

Historical significance-

Was this the largest public event ever to have taken place in Leicester?
Mass public events have taken place before in Leicester. I remember the two One Big Sunday events that were held on Victoria park, which attracted crowds of around 100,000 people.
The history of Leicester contains accounts of demonstrations, open air meetings, pageants and other events that drew large numbers of people. I will look to see how the size of crowds for past events compares to the numbers who attended in victory celebrations. This will set the event in an historical context.
The re-burial of the remains of King Richard III attracted large numbers of people to Leicester. I observed this event. There are other questions that interest me about the Battle of Bosworth, another large event in Leicester that took place 531 years ago.
How many people were involved in the battle of Bosworth in 1485? How many soldiers fought at Bosworth field? How many people saw King Richard III and his retinue depart from the city and how many witnessed the return of the dead King?
This narrative begins to unravel how events are given significance in historical analyses.

-for Leicester

How did such a large number of people find out that this event was about to happen, where it would take place and the time table made for it by its organisers. #edit. What conclusions may be drawn about the size of the crowds lining the streets and at Victoria Park?

-for England and Britain

I have portrayed the LCFC victory celebrations as a national event. It lasted for one day – as many other national events have done and it was focused in just one local area but that is not uncommon for events where the people of Britain mark something that is important for them. Was it a national event? Or, what it simply an event of national significance?

The view from the ground

How did it feel to be there? I spent most of my day walking around the Victoria park area, watching the crowds, the media, observing activities, watching the main stage… how did I feel about that? I plan to write a poem about the event. #edit As a writer I have a fairly wide scope of output, both in creative and non-fiction works.

Capturing history

History is mainly about old documents. But how is current history made? How to today’s historians document things that happen during their lifetimes?
Today’s historians have access to a wide range of media: films, photographs, news reports, comments made on social media outlets, newspapers… a must broader range of source material than was available in the past. How do historians go about capturing contemporary material to form part of a documentation of events and other aspects of history?
Social media produces a tidal wave, a tsunami, of content but it quickly evaporates and can be very difficult to recover. If we scrape Facebook and Twitter for comments, photos and observations we can quickly build up a large-scale picture of an event. We do need to do that quickly because the long it is left the more difficult it becomes to capture.
We might want to analyse such material but if we document it carefully it becomes source material for later historians to use; they might develop a new slant that we not apparent to us now.

Documenting social media

The twenty-first century saw the mass usage of social media both in Britain and in the rest of the world. That made a considerable impact on how people viewed events, happenings, processes, systems, a huge variety of observations and analyses of politics, sport, culture, entertainment, workings of the media, and so on. #edit

Marketing, trade, commerce and merchandising

Mention has already been made (above) of the large number of street vendors present at the event and of the shops, restaurants, bars and coffee houses along the route of the parade. This section focuses on the way that the event was used by a variety of commercial interests to cash-in on the celebrations.

For example:

Catering for those who enjoy slurping the faces of their sporting heroes, the “Vardyccino” was dreamt up by coffee shop owner Hamza Bodhaniya of Bru Coffee and Gelato in Leicester. Selling at £2.15 for a regular cup and £2.45 for a large, the Vardyccinno has proved popular with punters.The drink is elevated from being a mere cappuccino by chocolate powder dusted on top in the shape of Vardy’s head and upper body. [Source BBC website]

Study notes

University of Leicester, Mass Observation online

Social media 1 – Twitter

#Leicesterparade

Media coverage
BBC Leicester City parade: Clean-up after 240,000 people celebrate

BBC World on the move

Leicester city: who is riding the marketing bandwagon?

National

Mass Observation Archive

ends

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.

 

Michael Barker

Michael Baker

Retrospective

Archive article

First published in Arts in Leicester magazine on July 2012. (The magazine has now closed down.)

We discovered Michael Barker, a local artist who has produced a phenomenal output of work. We went to see his studio and saw a tiny fraction of the thousands of items that he produced over the years.

An exhibition of the work of Michael Barker can be seen at The West End Gallery from 11th March to 9th April 2016

More from the Gallery website.

Scroll down for a biography of the artist

Here is a selection of the works of Michael Barker (reproduced with his kind permission)

Train Ride by Michael Barker
Tomato by Michael Barker
Thrush by Michael Barker
Sweet Love by Michael Barker
Speed by Michael Barker
Solitude by Michael Barker
Singer Not The Song by Michael Barker
Rebbecca by Michael Barker
Pub Scene by Michael Barker
Nude by Michael Barker
Goths by Michael Barker
Wizard by Michael Barker
Gorilla by Michael Barker
Dream by Michael Barker
Clown by Michael Barker
Boulder by Michael Barker
Black Beard’s Treasure by Michael Barker

The Artist

Michael Barker was born in Leicester and studied art at Leicester College of Art where he obtained the National Diploma in Design.

He has been classed as one of the country’s top showman’s artists, being fully experienced in lettering, calligraphy and design.

It has been said that Michael Barker involves himself in too many artistic styles and that he should put all his energies into one way of painting. Through the years, Michael has always been very much against this idea and believes that he should use, to the fullest extent, all his large array of talents as an artist.

His abilities range from design work and ceramics to fine, modern and traditional styles. We do not know of another artist who has ever been able to put his own personal mark on such a variety of subjects.

This makes his work able to please most tastes. Far from being a bad thing, we firmly believe that it is just the opposite, showing just what being an artist is all about.

His works are art – full of human feeling – they are living pieces. Not, as so much art is doing these days, being slick and doing no more than what a good photographer would do.

Michael Barker’s paintings grow on you as you enjoy them more and more. Decoration, graphics, calligraphy, furniture painting, ceramics, drawings and paintings – all these subjects having unmistakably his own personality stamped on them.

We believe that Michael Barker’s work will become highly prized in years to come.

Fairground painting

An important part of Michael Barker’s art is his pictures of Fairground scenes. Fairs were, and indeed still are, an exciting and colourful aspect of English life. There are have been a few painters working on this subject matter. Michael has made this his specialty, bringing out the movement and atmosphere associated with fairgrounds. He brings to life the work of the showman and the fun of the fair.

Modern Paintings

Michael Barker’s modern pictures are an evolution of his work in the early 1960s. His ideas started with an effect of light and shadows and the play of reflections on various surfaces. Sometimes these turned into complete abstractions; into which he introduces a dream like effect; an extraordinary combination of traditionalism and modernism to create pleasing and interesting pictures. The viewer is transported from the worries of everyday life and is able to reflect on them to develop a feeling of discovery and relaxation.

Ceramics

Michael’s large artistic output includes Ceramics, whether he is making models, decorated vases or plates, his pieces display originality and creativity.

“A more interesting way”

Michael Barker told us: “I don’t want to be someone who changes art. My interests are to produce pictures that are painted in a more interesting way than those that we usually see.

“I am able to produce art works without models. I use my memory and my imagination to show subjects in a different way.

“As an artist, I enjoy paintings that are meof me. I believe that, throughout all my subjects, whether modern or traditional, my work will satisfy and be appreciated by people of all tastes. In my work there is something for everyone to enjoy.

“I just look and leave the rest to my imagination.”

The future

Michael is keen to find someone to promote his work, both his original works, his prints, greetings cards and other productions.

He is particularly interested in helping charities to raise money through reproducing his pictures in a variety of formats.

Enquiries about this can be made to the editor of this magazine.

See more work by Michael Barker at The West End Gallery

Painters

Painters

of Leicester

19th November 2015

Artists with disabilities is the focus of a new exhibition at Attenborough Arts which looks at Disability and Political activism in art.

Art, Life, Activism

Michael Barker

Michael Barker, self portrait

We do sometimes cover work by local painters and graphics artists.

See our feature article – a retrospective of the work of the Leicester artist Michael Barker

'God's last acre' by William Mathias
‘God’s last acre’ by William Mathias

Chris Mills is a Leicester-based artist currently promoted by Woodbine Contemporary Art in Rutland.

Artwork by Chris MIlls 'Forager'
Artwork by Chris MIlls ‘Forager’

The work represents a textural and chromatically intense blend of abstract expressionist influences combined with animal forms inspired by ancient Etruscan art.

Artwork by Chris Mills - 'Vital'
Artwork by Chris Mills – ‘Vital’

See more on the Chris Mills website.

About sculpture

Sculptures at University of Leicester Botanic Garden
Sculptures at University of Leicester Botanic Garden

Work from local artists

Gun Brick by David Hurrel
Gun Brick by David Hurrel

Painters and digital artists

See also:

Arts and disabilities exhibition (2015)

Writing about music

9th September 2015

Writing about music:

Choices and consequences.

This is not the first time that I have written about the perils of music journalism. Writing about bands and the performances they give can be a dangerous thing.  If you get it wrong, it backfires on your reputation as a writer. On more than one occasion I have been criticised for writing only about the bands I like. Such criticisms have come from people whose opinions are respected.  My stock reply is along the lines of ‘well if I think a band is not very good, then there is no pointing writing about them.’ Bear in mind, that (at Music in Leicester magazine) we are not paid to do this work; it is a voluntary commitment – we do it because we are passionate about music.

It has been suggested that this magazine should write honestly about all bands, whether they are good, bad or indifferent.  Sorry. But no. We just don’t have the time to provide a service of that kind; we are not a Wikipedia-type website for general knowledge about everything musical (even within the confines of Leicester.) I write about bands that I like, whose music I think I understand and whose performances tick the various boxes that I use to describe what I think is good in terms of live music. [What makes a good band?]

All those who write about gigs and bands choose which ones they want to devote their free time to.  I cannot direct people to attend certain events; if I am asked which events I would suggest, I do so, but this is not a paid job with a chain of command. Volunteer reviewers are more likely to go to a gig and write about it, if it is one they like. Apart from me, all the other writers have full-time jobs and have to fit their music interests around these.

Doing justice to a band

Having thought about it, I am of the opinion that,  if I see a band and their music fails to excite me (either because I do not understand it or because I am just not in the right frame of mind for it) then I should not write anything. It is a disservice both to the readers and to the bands if I write something half-hearted, just to give them a mention. In other words, it would be better to say nothing than write a review that fails to justice to act or set. I have a habit of turning up at a gig without having researched the bands beforehand; life is very busy and time is short, so it is easy to skip the pre-gig stuff and hope you can wing it.

How long does it take to write a review?  Well, very roughly speaking, it takes

Prep – up to 30 minutes for pre-gig research
Attend – Two to three hours to get there, see the bands and get back
Write – varies a lot but say 30 minutes on average, per band
Photos – allow 30 minutes to process photos and upload them

So, we are talking about a time commitment of between 3½ and 4½ hours. That’s just single gigs; and then are festivals… Writing time can be extended if you want to listen to a band again after you have seen them or watch any YouTube videos they have of their performances (often helps to check if you got it right.)

This calls into question what music journalism is about. I have sometimes Googled ‘gig reviews’ and gone through some of the stuff that has come up. This can be a useful exercise because any editor should want to compare the standards of his own work with that of others. One thing that stands out for me is that the best reviews (that I have read) are those that have clearly been written by people who know and understand the acts they are writing about. They have seen these acts before; they have listened to their music; they have taken some time to become thoroughly acquainted with the artists they are writing about. This makes them able to provide a justifiable and credible account of the work of that artist or band. Keith Jobey said:  “I know of a band who had a bad review (unjustified and not from MIL) about an early gig they’d played. They changed their name partly because it was being used against them. Happily they are now getting decent slots after positive MIL mentions.”

Standards are important

Looking back over my own experience of going to gigs and writing about them, one thing stands out – I have often not researched a band before seeing it for the first time. This results, in some cases, in a review of a poor standard.

Now, none of this would matter much, except that (a) Music in Leicester is one of the few places where people can read about bands and artists from our local area. We no longer have publications like The Monograph or From Dusk to Dawn and most of the websites that used to publish stuff about the local music scene have vanished. (b) I know for a fact that many promoters, venue managers and festival organisers check what we write here to get a feel for which bands are worth booking.

If there was a website that was a ‘wiki’ for all things musical in Leicester, then probably people would prefer to use that. All that music organisers have is Facebook as a source of intelligence about bands and artists – and that provides information but rarely allows for a more critical appraisal, and if they want to listen to a sample of tracks then Soundcloud and YouTube is also there. Good thought such sources can be, they provide only a partial picture. In most reviews we also try to describe how the audience reacted to what they were hearing; that is often a very important element of our reports.

There is also the issue of genre.  Some bands play music that I call ‘niche’; to do it justice, you have to understand what that music is about and that can be difficult for generalist writers.  I often see hardcore ‘screamo’ bands; I like some of them and others I do not. I have a general appreciation of this style of music but I do not specialise in it. A review of a post-hardcore gig would be much better done by someone who is really into that kind of music and knows the scene well (such as one of the musicians that play in bands of this kind.)

Responsible publishing

Publishing a magazine about music in Leicester is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. This website is not a fanzine; it might appear to be but it is not our intention to publish something that only promotes the acts we happen to like.  My fear is, however, that it appears to be just that. If this is the case, then I have not been doing my job properly. One solution to this problem is to get more people to write about more acts – to spread the net more widely. We have gone to some lengths to encourage contributions from people but the results have been less than good. Photographers are two a penny these days; but what is the point in seeing photos if there is nothing that puts them in context? Writing is not something that a lot of people go in for these days; either because of a lack of self-confidence or just a consequence of the post-literate society.

As an editor, I am delighted with the contributions made by our regular writers, Keith Jobey for example, to name but one and previously Kevin Gaughan. The problem I have is that there are just not enough people willing to go out to gigs and write them up; and in Leicester there are just so many gigs, that we can hope only to scratch the surface. As I have often said “so many bands, so little time.”

Where do we go from here?

What does this mean for the future of our editorial policy?  Well, I think it means that we have to raise our standards, make what we publish more credible and do a better job of writing about live music. The consequence will be that less will be published. Unless we can recruit more writers, that will be the result, given our current resources. Perhaps it is better to publish good quality reviews, even if they are fewer in number, than to make a half-baked attempt to cover a broad field. Bear in mind that anything that gets published on this website (magazine) stays there for all time; it is not ephemeral, it does not evaporate, it is a permanent record that stays on the Internet for as long as the site exists.

My conclusion is that we should write about a band or artist only when we have take some time and trouble to understand and appreciate their work. Given the pressures I am under, that means I will write much less – especially about the acts I have not seen before or do not know well. If a band is on tour and plays in Leicester (and the chances are they have not been here before) then they might have left behind them comments or write-ups about their previous performances. That gives an indication of what people think about them. Rather than watch a band cold (without any previous knowledge or experience) it is better to spend some time trying to get one’s head round what they do and then (when you do see them) you are more likely to write with credibility about their set.

The end of gig reviews?

As of today, I have cleared all the notes in my work book.  I have more or less finished my review of Simon Says… festival. I have cleared the decks.  It is time to make a fresh start. That fresh start should, I think, include doing the right amount of research before going to a gig. It might also include writing about ‘bands’ rather than ‘gigs.’  If you go to a show and see four bands but like only two of them, it would be better to write about those bands and say nothing about the others. (Notice I am talking to myself now.) That is not a gig review.

Recently I have been to certain gigs only because there were one or two bands that I wanted to see. I sat through the rest of the night and wrote about the others because I thought that justified my presence (on a free ticket.) I should stop doing this. The bands I do not write about may well be good bands and worthy of a positive review but that can be a hit-and-miss thing. I might not be the best person to write about them.

I think it would be better if we concentrated more on writing about bands and their music and took a more imaginative approach, including asking for comments from musicians and their fans, adding links to on-line sources so readers can make up their own minds and profiling bands to give the reader a better idea about what they do and have done.

Changing tastes

Like many people my musical tastes are changing. I know what I like. I know what fails to excite me. The range of live music that I feel impresses me is narrowing. Personally, I tend to like rock music that is popular and melodic. I do not dislike metal, punk, hardcore, etc. but I do not feel the same way about it and know less what makes some bands better than others within this context.  I should defer to others who are impressed by that other kind of music. I should not write about performances that are less than exciting (for me.) Others can do that job far better. The problem is getting other to write or even to comment.

This magazine was launched in June 2013; two years on, it is time to weigh-up its results. So, as of now, my gut feeling is that there will not be ‘gig reviews’ in any number and that what will get published are more articles about bands and singers and about the nature of our local music scene. If this provides readers with a more solid and credible coverage of music, then I might be doing my job properly.

Trevor Locke

Technical note

When reporters are sent to a gig, we ask the promoter of the show to give us free ‘tickets.’ This assumes that we are writing about the gig as a whole. If, however, to go to see one or two bands in a line-up, then we should ask the bands to provide us with tickets. If they want us to review their performances then they should provide us with the access to get in to see them. Having said that, some of our reviewers prefer to pay to get into gigs; that is their choice.

Urban transport

24th June 2015

The future of passenger transport in Leicester

It took a bunch of designers to help me find out that a tram system for Leicester will be a non-starter. The designers came up with a schematic for how a possible tramway system might look in Leicester and posted it on social media sites. There were a lot comments about the idea, both for and against. ‘The Future of The Tram in Leicester’ evoked a debate; but it was one that I had seen before. The local paper had run a story on the subject when proposals were put forward in November 2008. The news report suggested that even a basic tram system would cost in the order of £300 million (at 2008 prices.)

Public transport is an important driven for the local economy. Leicester sits within a catchment area of about two million people. Those people can go to Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough, Lincoln or they can go to Leicester. Destination choice is important for jobs, commerce, entertainment, the arts and all the other key aspects of life and economic activity. It is easy to think that the private car is the answer to everything; but, with an ageing population its importance is declining. An increasing proportion of the population will become dependent on public transport. Public transport is, I would argue, a key driver in the economy of cities but it often placed too low down on the priorities of people who plan urban areas.

The trams idea did however get me thinking about what the city might develop to replace its present public transport system – the bus. If buses need replacing. Leicester is a relatively small and compact urban area. What it needs is a way of moving large quantities of people around from the outer suburbs to the inner city. The personalised transport unit – the car – as we know it, cannot last for ever; unless they are all converted to run on electricity. Fossil fuels will not last forever.

The main objection to the tram is that it mixes cars and pedestrians. The next objection is that it just could not work given the physical layout of the buildings and the streets as they are today in Leicester. Trams might work in Nottingham, Manchester or Sheffield, though some local people have disagreed that they are all that wonderful.

What kind of transport system would work given the layout of Leicester’s inner city? A variety of options have already been tried in various cities in this country.

Could we go underground? London, Tyne and Wear, Liverpool and Glasgow has underground with their passenger transport systems. Would this work in Leicester? To answer this we have to look at the geology of what the city stands on. Even with a favourable geological sub-strata, the cost of building an underground system would be prohibitive, in today’s climate of public funding.

Could we go up? That might be a more viable solution. Put your light passenger transportation system on stilts. That presents an option which avoids mixing conventional traffic and pedestrians with a transit system.

The way to go is the Automated People Mover (APM) similar to the elevated monorail systems that run on a single track (as opposed to the twin rails of conventional trains.) Some monorail system are suspended beneath the track and others ride on top of it (straddle-beam and suspended monorails.) To make such systems work, there are a lot of requirements.

Two requirements must be met: the infrastructure costs and the running costs. To build a raised system you have to be able to place the stilts (or piers) in a way that will not interfere with the existing road system. Neither must the resulting structures interfere with light; they must not put existing buildings into their shadow. This suggests some kind of piers that place the trackways in the middle of existing roads using supports that are placed either side of the system on the pedestrian walkways – the pavements. This suggests a shape like an arc, although in wider thoroughfares single piers could be used.

The tracks, if we can call them that, must not be heavy. That means we have to rethink the kind of vehicles that will run on them. The units that run on the raised system must be light enough. That means doing away with two things: wheels and engines. These weigh too much. The wheel is an archaic device for allowing vehicles to be moved along without too much friction. Engines are heavy items; if we can remove them from the wagons, that makes the passenger units much lighter.

A motive method should be electric. There is no point in designing a transit system based on fossil fuels. So out goes anything to do with diesel (a) because that requires heavy engines and (b) because it is a fossil fuel. The future of transport is not about wheels or fossil fuels.

Linear induction does away with wheels and runs on electricity. A maglev (magnetic levitation) system propels wagons (carriages) without the need to have engines to pull them – the movement is caused by magnets on the trackway itself and the carriages float above the tracks – hence no need for wheels. The single beam track carries the electricity supply without the need for cables and is light enough to be supported on single piers. Such systems are also very quiet – no noisy engines, no rumbling wheels and no noisy suspensions. They glide quietly along. People can be moved either in carriages about the size of a conventional single-decker bus or in small units about the size of a conventional large taxi or minibus. The trackways are light enough to require only single pillar support piers.

The carriages must be light. They must be made of materials that are tough, hard-wearing and light. Systems like these require very little maintenance. Units of up to 100 seats should be sturdy enough and light enough to float above the tracks (about one centimetre) above the trackways even when fully loaded with passengers and luggage.

Another advantage of the maglev system is that only the section on which a ‘train’ is running needs to be powered. There is no need to run the carriages at high speeds. Most journeys are going to be over short distances. Between the outer suburbs and the inner city stops, the longest distances are of the order of three to four miles at most. Conventional diesel-powered buses stop every few yards. Most of the energy consumed by transport is speeding up and slowing down. The one thing buses do well is their ability to stop every few yards. This is another reason why the construction of the carriages must be made from very lightweight materials to reduce the energy needed for acceleration.

Having this kind of system is possible because we now have the computing power to run the motors. maglev requires microchip technology that runs at very high processor speeds. That is a feature of how linear induction works. There is constant real-time interplay between sensors and the control mechanisms.

There will have to be two tracks: one for each direction of travel, so that carriages can turn round and go back. It assumes that there will be twin tracks, one for each direction of travel – in bound and out bound – unless it is possible to run the whole thing on loops. This would require routes where single tracks only are needed but where there is in-bound and out-bound directions of travel. Unless each track has only one set of carriages which turn round at the terminus and then travel back.

Would such a system need signalling to avoid carriages running into each other on the same section of track? In a twin track system, carriages pass each other on separate tracks. It should be impossible for two carriages to run in opposite directions on the same track simply because the linear induction would make this impossible – the induction allows only forward motion. Hence the need for a second track to allow carriages travel back in the same direction and to pass carriages coming the other way. In high-speed systems, the tracks have to be far enough apart to prevent air pressure problems when two trains pass each other. Or, the carriages have to be designed to funnel pressurised air away from the gap between passing carriages. But, in an short-journey urban system – a relatively slow-moving system – this would not be a problem.

When we think about the dense inner city environment, we have more problems in designing the supports than we would have on the long, wide thoroughfares of arterial routes. The tracks could be supported, at least in narrow streets, from the buildings on either side. Attach the supports to the walls of buildings – this kind of low-weight engineering should make that possible.

The tracks would need to stand at least as high above street level as a double-decker bus or as high as the tallest van or lorry. Even if the tracks can be placed in the middle of the thoroughfare, would there be enough clearance either wide of the trackway to allow large, high-sided vehicles to run on conventional roads?

To visualise the system, I imagined what the system would look like on some of the existing arterial routes, like London Road, Welford Road, Saffron Lane, Melton Road, Narborough Road, etc. Many of these existing arterial routes are quite wide.

Even in Narborough Road, there is probably enough width to place the trackways in the middle and allow enough clearance either side for conventional vehicles. Some bridges might have to be removed. Pretty much all the Victorian railway tracks have been removed throughout the city; so, there are no disused railway that could be used. One criterion for this kind of system is that it should not require the demolition of buildings. It should be fitted into the existing layout of buildings.

It would be necessary to build the supports from metal (or other strong materials) rather than from concrete. The supporting piers should be constructed from new materials that can take the weight, not rust or deteriorate over time and which can be thin enough not to get in the way of pedestrians. At some points the tracks would have to span wide sections – where the route crosses road junctions for example. I think all this will be possible with good engineering design. Concrete is relatively expensive and has a shorter life-span than new materials based on carbon fibre or plastic materials. Many of the flyovers that were supported on concrete piers have had to be demolished because the materials degraded with age.

Carriages with wheels running on rails are heavy and require concrete trackways and piers to support their weight. Linear induction tracks are much lighter and hence do not need rails (there are no wheels) and would look more like the trackways of rides at funfairs and amusement parks. Wheel-less carriages floating silently on single tracks raised above the level of existing traffic and powered by electricity – this is what I see as being the future of urban passenger transport. Makes the conventional twin-rail tram look archaic.

Trevor Locke

Trevor Locke has a masters degree in Urban Policy Studies

MusicHistory

29th August 2014

The History of Music in Leicester

For most of this year I have been writing a book that is about music in Leicester; the first volume of this covers the years 2006 to 2013.  So far I have made first drafts of the chapters on the years 2006 to 2011. I am now working on the chapter for 2012.

The material for these chapters is being drawn from the articles and reviews of bands, singers, festivals and music events that took place in Leicester and Leicestershire and which were published in the Arts in Leicester magazine.  When Arts in Leicester website was revamped, pretty much all the music content was taken off-line and stored in an archive. It is that archive material that I am now editing into a book, which I hope to publish next year.

When it becomes available, the book will offer a detailed day by day account of live music and the happenings on the Leicester music scene.

The book, which has the working title – The History of Music in Leicester – will also have a volume that covers the music history of the city from Roman times up to the present day.

See also:

My post about local music

Local music: does it matter?

Trevor Locke asks if local music really matters

If you watch the television you might choose to watch a programme about rock music in the 70s or 80s. If music is your thing, there is no shortage of programmes in which famous musicians are interviewed and clips of bands and singers playing songs of the time are shown. These programmes are very interesting and informative but they are all about the big bands that made it into the charts.

What is largely neglected by both the media and by historians is music at the local level. It is assumed, most probably, that anything about live music in one town or city will be of interest only those who live there. Unless of course it is about Liverpool and the Beatles or possibly even Sheffield and the Arctic Monkeys or Manchester during the days of the Hacienda. These are subjects worthy of programmes or books because, in the opinion of their producers and authors, they have had an impact and influence on the national music scene.

I want to argue that music at the local level is both fascinating and important, in its own right. I would say that, wouldn’t I? After all, I have spent over ten years of my life writing about the music of Leicester for the magazine I created and now am compiling all that work into one enormous book on the subject.

Given that I am engaged in writing about local history, why is it that historians largely ignore music when they analyse and discuss the life of local communities? Local history has established itself as being an area of study that is credible and interesting, as much as the history of the nation as a whole. Local history of any kind is not just of interest to people who live in the area; those who research and write about local history like to consult works by others who are engaged in similar projects. Local history is a legitimate branch of learning in its own right. The life of any nation is not just about kings, politicians and battles. No understanding of a nation is possible without an awareness of the culture and life of people whose daily lives creates that nation. We cannot understand England without understanding the ordinary common folk who comprise it.

People who write about local history often focus on the areas of human activity that have been established in the accounts of the nation as a whole: commerce, industry and economics, politics, transport (trains and roads), women, race, battles and armies, etc. You do sometimes get studies of art or culture at the local level and that, by and large, concerns itself with pictorial art and sculpture. That stance on local history is often bolstered by the view that something at local level is of national importance. That take on history pivots around the assumption that something must have that magical national significance to justify it and give it credibility. Who arbitrates what is of national significance?

My interest is in music; my two great passions in life are music and history. So, writing about the history of music would be completely natural for me. The shelves of libraries are well stocked with books about periods of musical history, accounts of specific bands, studies of specific genres and so on. If, like me, you want to read about music in a town or city, you will have to search extensively to find anything. The shibboleth about local needing to be national haunts music and art history as much as anything other aspect of life at the level of street and town.

This situation needs to change. Historians and musicologists alike need to recognise that music has always been an important part of the life of any local community. If you want to understand what daily life was like in the past, as now, you have to look at the music that the people in a community were listening to. Art is about painting and statues, but it is also about music – and not just classical music. There are endless books about the great classical composers but almost nothing about the work of the countless men and women who have made music, composed and invented it throughout the ages at the local level. History is organised around notoriety. It is the legacy of how academia has been organised since Greek and Roman times that only the great artists and composers are worthy of study because they have defined the cultural landscape of The West, Europe, England … well of course that is true but I want to see credibility given to the study of the art and culture of common people, everyday country folk, the people, the masses, what ever you want to call them – the people whose lives come and go but leave little behind them. Historians tend to work with what is stored on library shelves. What gets on to library shelves is arbitrated by the shibboleth of national significance.

Archaeologists however are much more likely to unearth the remains of everyday life. Modern approaches to history are becoming increasingly concerned to reveal what life was like in the streets of a village, town or city. We can have a fairly detailed view of what happened in the streets of a Roman town, how food was produced and distributed, how people were housed, the tools they worked with, what people ate, how they dressed and cooked, how they were entertained and, to my mind, what music they listened to.

Delving into the history of music can be very difficult; the further back we go the harder it becomes to find remains because music just happens and unless people at the time wrote about it, nothing survives from music-making, apart from a few instruments or fragments of them that happened to be preserved in the earth. Such investigations become easier in recorded history when we can find manuscripts, writings, music scores, accounts of concerts or festivals to give us an idea of what people listened to. With the advent of film, recordings and the Internet, there is now a huge amount of material to work with if we want to write accounts of the musical culture of today or recent times.

At the local level however material about music is ephemeral and volatile. Vast quantities of videos, tracks and gig flyers flood through the pages of social media but few people see all this as being grist to the mill of historical research. Like many with an interest in music, I spend many hours of every day on Facebook, Twitter or websites watching what is going on, mainly in my own locality but also at national level. As a music journalist, my task is to watch, record and annotate musical culture in my local area.

The present is what is happening now. What happened yesterday is history.

Music, in my view, is an integral part of local history, just as much as food, buildings, clothing, work, politics, trade or anything else that forms an understanding of the life and experience of a community. This is not a perspective that I see in the output of the majority of local historians. Local history, I would argue, is the poorer for its lack of recognition of the significance of music to accounts of what happened at the local level in the lives of everyday people.

Anthropologists, who went out to study and research the life of tribes, cultures and peoples in foreign countries often recorded and noted the music that they made. They, like archaeologists, got down to the nitty gritty of everyday life and they found music in every social group they visited. Anywhere in the world. Whether it was part of religion or ritual, part of social gatherings or the transmission of culture and collective memory, or the expression of collective identity, musical activity was found everywhere that anthropologists went. From the Trobriand Islands to the high mountains of the Incas, anthropologists went to see people living their ordinary everyday lives and to record what they saw, whatever it was, and they all saw music being made.

Academically, local history shares many interests and sources with anthropology and archaeology. It is therefore somewhat odd that local historians have neglected music as much as they have in their understandings of the life of local peoples. Researching the history of music in an area can be challenging and difficult because of the dearth of source material with which to work. The further back in time that one wishes to go the less there is to work with and the harder it is to unearth. Yet, the more fascinating and informative it becomes. Music is an activity that tells us a lot about the people who make it and those that listened to it or took part in it, through religion, ritual, dance, social gatherings or just plain old entertainment. Music is a key definer of social identity; what music you like marks you out as a person. The gigs you go to are part of your social identity. The kind of music that is found in a community defines much about its culture, belief systems and cohesive tissues. The lyrics of songs are capsules of what people believe, celebrate and remember. The status given to music makers tell us something about the way a community is organised. This is as true at the local level as it is at that of the nation state.

Even when not focussing specifically on music, local history is incomplete unless it has tried to account for the everyday life of a community and that must, I argue, include how people were entertained, fed, clothed, educated and how they socialised. Music should be a topic that is always included in accounts of life at the local level. Without an account of a people’s music, the picture is inherently incomplete.

Trevor Locke

9th August 2014.

 

About this article

It might appear that I have assumed that no one has ever written about local music. I know that not to be the case because I have found studies in my own area of Leicester and have searched for and read material relating to other towns and cities in the UK, both in the form of books and articles on the Internet. The present article forms a précis for a more substantial article that I have planned. I offer it at this stage to see if I can evoke some comments or even make contact with like-minded individuals who share both my agenda and my interest in this topic.

Music Awards

26th March 2014

This is an archive post; it is not current; it’s here for the record.

archive page logo
This page forms part of out archives

LEICESTER MUSIC AWARDS

NB: the idea of the Leicester Music Awards was never followed up and nothing was ever done about it.  This article won an award: Annual Apathy Prize for 2014.

Should awards be given to celebrate the music of Leicester? This article discusses this question.

First, some background. Society in general celebrates and honours achievements in many ways. The Queen confers honours in the form of OBEs, MBEs and CBEs. Awards and prizes are given in the world of sports, the arts, films and television, literature, science, engineering and so forth.

Second, in the world of music, there are several well-known awards, including the Brits, those given by magazines such as NME and Kerrang and others which celebrate popular music generally. ‘The Barclaycard Mercury Prize promotes the best of UK and Irish music and the artists that produce it. This is done primarily through the celebration of the 12 ‘Albums of the Year’.’ Likewise there are awards made to specific genres of music, such as The Urban Music awards which ‘recognise the achievement of urban based artists, producers, club nights, DJ’s , radio stations, record labels and artist from the current Dance/R&B, Hip-hop, Neo Soul, Jazz, and dance music scene.’

There are awards for classical music, music made by young people, opera, choral music, and so forth. Some awards are given by the big national music industry organisations and some are geared to independent music. The company that manufactures Orange Amps sponsors awards in the world of classic rock as it also does for ‘prog’ music.

These are all national-level awards. At the local level, there are far fewer examples but a few do stand out.

The Liverpool Music Awards ‘honours the heroes of the music industry in our city: not only local musicians, but also those behind the scene, who facilitate and inspire others to create and perform on Merseyside. While the scope of the awards provides opportunity to celebrate musical achievements which have gone beyond the borders of our city, at their core the awards are for those who are currently active in Liverpool.’

In Brighton, the BMA is about ‘Celebrating the best independent music from Brighton and across the region.’

The Manchester Musical Awards honours the world of musicals.

In Nottingham, Nusic selects an artist of the month. The Nottingham Music Awards is about ‘Celebrating the vibrant and eclectic Nottingham Music Scene.’ The Nottingham Music Awards – also known as the Notty’s – will look to celebrate the achievements of the great musicians, singers, promoters, managers and others who play a part in what is a boom time for the Nottingham music scene.’

The giving of awards, prizes and honours is a widespread and long established aspect of human life across all fields of human activity.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicestershire published a Band of the Month to highlight the work of local bands and did this from 2008 to 2012. Later Music in Leicester website continued this by publishing a band of the month. Both also published an annual Gigs of The Year article to recognise outstanding live performances.

What would be the benefit to Leicester?

If Leicester was to follow the example set by other local cities and to create its own set of awards for popular music, what might be the benefits?

My stance on this is that there would be two sets of gains: the national and the local. It is possible that local music-markers would enjoy the recognition of receiving a gong for their endeavours and in particular new bands and rising artists could be given a boost and encouragement from such acknowledgements.

More importantly, in my view, there would be benefits for the music community as a whole. The existence of awards for music would boost the notoriety of Leicester as a centre of musical excellence. Many people have commented that music is one of Leicester’s “best kept secrets” and that much more needs to be done to gain acknowledgement of our music at national level.

In principle, such an initiative would confer benefits far beyond the confines of the city. However laudable it might be to recognise and honour musical achievement at the local level, what stands out for me is the celebration of our music at national level.

There are course a lot of dependent factors in this: not least who is selecting and judging the potential winners. Some of the judges would be local people who have followed the various genres of music in the locality but alongside these should be those who bring a wider perspective – people in the East Midlands region and those who know music at a national level. Local people patting themselves on the back might be good but if there is an equally weighted group of people with a wider take on music, who also have a part in honouring the city’s bands and artists, then this gives the whole thing added credibility.

Some awards allow music fans to vote on nominated acts but, in my mind, this counts for less than the judgement of music professionals. At national level, it might well be fine for the public to vote in large numbers for a music artist but at local level voting reduces favour to popularity and the size of an act’s following. That can be fair enough for local competitions, although some have argued that this is inherently unfair because there is no necessary equation of musical ability and local popularity.

If the choice should rest with a panel of industry experts, it is vital that there is a cross-section of backgrounds that reflects the scope of the music scene. If we opt for a generic Music Award (even one that is focussed only on popular music including rock, indie and urban genres and not classical or choral) then the judging panel must draw in those from a wide spread of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

As with most Awards, there are likely to be categories and prizes that celebrate specific kinds of music-makers, including bands, singers, rappers, instrumentalists and so on. It is possible that certain kinds of music outputs might also be worth honouring, including best recorded tune or song, best lyrics, best music video, best live performance, etc.

Where general Music Awards are concerned, most would want to honour long-established acts as well as emerging new talent. Some scope also exists to honour the music industry that brings their work into the outside world – venues, promoters, recording studios and so forth.

What I personally do not approve of is a competition in which music acts have to perform in a series of heats and semi-finals in order to gain an award. It think it is much better that judges base their approvals on performance over a period of time, look at the live gigs, recordings and output of the acts, basing their assessments on what an act has achieved over time and not on a single series of live gigs.

Is it worth it?

Any award-making initiative depends, for its success, on a range of factors that must be got right at the very start. Who will be chosen to be the judges is the most important factor, but it is also necessary to factor in elements such as sponsors, backers, financiers, publicists and a plethora of people who can contribute to the whole thing being worthwhile and successful. The kudos of being granted an award might be beneficial in itself but if the awards also confers other forms of value – cash prizes, recording contracts, publicity – then people might see it as being more widely worthwhile.

The potential down-side of sponsorship is corporate domination; independent awards avoid the kick-backs from big commercial organisations using the process for their own agendas.

The critical factors are not just who judges but what criteria they use. This has to be transparent. It’s all very well awarding a prize for the ‘best band’ but the value of that is not obvious unless the criteria is very clearly stated.

The worth of a Leicester awards initiative rests, in my view, on what the music scene as a whole gets out of it. It also has to be an annual process in which its value grows year on year.