Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Derby & Derbyshire’

Some years ago a brief flirtation with golf ended with the realisation that I simply didn’t have the time or motivation to become good enough at the game to make it anything other than a source of frustration. Putting that realisation aside along with my clubs it did plant a seed in my mind – that maybe once in a round of 18 holes I could hit a shot as perfectly as any professional, and I could do so on the same greens they play on using the same equipment if I so chose. In that way at least it has to be said that golf is a true meritocracy.

And so it is with photography. From its infancy photography progressed from science to profession and then with the advent of the box camera it gradually became accessible to hobbyists (or hobbits if you prefer my spell checker). Even so up until relatively recently you still needed to be reasonably well off to afford the kit that would enable you to compete technically with a professional photographer, but now all of that has changed.

Paparazzi stalking Queen Victoria circa 1870

Paparazzi stalking Queen Victoria circa 1870

The digital photography revolution has brought quality entry level equipment within reach of the masses while the increasingly media rich social and technical landscape we occupy has resulted in an exponential upsurge of people actively taking and sharing photos – many of whom would not necessarily think of themselves as photography enthusiasts. Which leads me back to the golf analogy – now anybody can pick up a camera, point it at something and (potentially) capture a picture of “professional” quality. Better still you can take photographs at almost any time or place and the results are almost instant so if you mess up the shot you just make adjustments and take it again. No penalty, no stigma and no need to dress like a clown.

Tees of a clown

Tees of a clown

(thanks to the highly enjoyable Disseminated Thought)

A number of my amateur photography friends regularly produce and share fantastic pictures composed and executed to a very high quality and I have certainly seen inferior work from people who sell their services as professionals. There are of course be a great many more people who like to take pictures but, regardless of kit, really aren’t very good at it. That includes me, and I really don’t like it.

A much-abused companion. I once dropped it off the OXO tower

A much-abused companion. I once dropped it off the OXO tower

In the pre-digital days of photography I would InterRail for a month with my modest Olympus OM10 35mm and a decidedly generous 3 pack of 36 shot colour films (yes – colour vs B&W was still a choice!). That meant I could about take 3 photos per day and it would be weeks before they came back from the developers and I knew how they would come out. Looking back now I realise that despite my general lack of skills and experience I did at least recognise the need to think carefully about when to take a precious photo and as such some rudimentary evaluation of picture composition was going on in my head. Now the temptation is to snap away like some gattling gun in the knowledge that I have no limit on image quantity, only to later discover that I have dozens of equally ill-thought out snaps.

Athens 1990 - Now you need instagram to get this faded effect

Athens 1990 – Now you need instagram to get this faded effect

For more embarrassment (and hair) I’ve scanned libraries of InterRail photos from 1990, 1991 and 1992 as a personal reminder of how photography used to be.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m swept up by the month-long Format 11 international photography festival here in my home town of Derby. It’s fun, friendly and helpfully accessible so I become a regular face at Derby’s Quad and other venues across the city. The underlying theme of the 2011 festival was Street Photography and under the tutelage of luminaries such as Bruce Gilden and Brian Griffin swathes of people prowled the streets on the lookout for people or situations worthy of capture. I gave it a go and – well, it was hard. Here’s the problem – if you hang around wielding a camera in Derby pedestrians politely stop and stay out of shot until you are done, ignorant of the fact that they were meant to be the subject.

Taking Street  Photography too literally

Taking Street Photography too literally

Since Format 11 I have only headed out with Street Photography in mind on a couple of occasions and found it hard work, until I became a regular visitor to Edinburgh which by comparison is like shooting fish in a barrel. The city has one of the most architecturally distinctive centres in Britain and attracts millions of tourists to any number of festivals across the year. In other words you have a target rich environment in which you can point a camera without arousing so much as the blink of an eye.

Auld reekie

Auld reekie

I don’t think I had realised quite how high profile this event was until I attended a Format 11 talk on Photography For The Internet and discovered myself in a room seemingly full of professional photographers with a variety of international accents. The presentation was engaging but as it went on the subject matter became more technical as was to be expected given the fact a room full of “serious” photographers had travelled from afar to be here. That’s one of the stand-out characteristics of Derby’s Format Festival – it caters for a wide spectrum of people; career photographers, amateurs, occasional snappers and people who just like to look at pictures. The event also reaches out to so many local people through the number of different venues used.

Format 13 kicks off this week with an opening ceremony and I’m looking forward to that and then the month of events that follow. With such a diverse range of activities I know there’s going to be inspiration and entertainment along the way. As ever there’s an overwhelming selection of exhibitions, talks and workshops. My pen is already circling the likes of Pictures From The Real World (David Moore), Notes Home & Blind Boys – based on the festival programme notes at least. Of course, a picture says a thousand words.

A picture of Derby?

A picture of Derby?

However, there’s one workshop I’m still waiting for, and maybe it’s something you just can’t be taught? I want a course that teaches “how to see a picture” prior to activating the shutter. I envy those with a natural ability to view a real life scene, confidently “see” the picture and then capture it, having retained and accentuated the characteristics that bring it to life. Format 15, are you listening?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Sometimes you question your motivation. Why am I standing in a site-foreman’s porta-cabin clutching a hard hat and tabard? When I booked a place on a tour of One Friar Gate Square as part of the Open Doors scheme – a building industry initiative to enable public to visit buildings under construction – it was an act of opportunism. I decide to fabricate my rationale later in the hope that it would all come together.

Friar Gate Square

Friar Gate Square

The first thing that strikes me about FGS is that it is neither a Square nor does it reside on Friar Gate. Not wanting to start the tour on a sour note I keep these observations to myself and scan the CAD elevation diagrams on the wall as we await the arrival of final participants. What can be said of FGS is that is a 7 storey office scheme targeting small businesses which is quite timely given that the successful Friar Gate Studios across the road have this week reached a full quota of small business occupants.

Can you dig it?

Can you dig it?

There’s a line of thought that this building will cast an insensitive modern shadow over the quaint old Friar Gate buildings that adjoin it and inappropriately dominate the area. There’s another line of thinking that says it’s mostly bordering the ugly inner ring road, has some design merit and will attract the kind of small organic businesses that this side of Derby needs in the fight back against the big corporate baddy Westfield at the other end of town. For me the jury is out, for now at least.

The tour finally starts and it becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be an interactive learning experience. There’s no script as such and the questions asked elicit short answers. There’s a photographer amongst our number and as we climb the levels it occurs to me that the main focus of today’s event is a publicity photo-shoot for Clegg Construction as evidenced by the attendant besuited managers. It later turns out I have been caught in one of the pictures. The cheque hasn’t arrived yet.

What's HE doing here?

What’s HE doing here?

I ask the genial site foreman whether security is a problem here, especially given the epidemic of metal thefts in recent times. He casts me a look and insists there is no copper onsite and I wonder whether he now thinks I’ve only come along to case the joint for a copper heist. Time to shuffle off and take more photos before he has me ejected

Agard Street

Agard Street

There’s no doubt the views are of some interest to a Derbian like me because while 7 storeys may not sound like much it represents a notable protuberance in a relatively undeveloped flat city like Derby. Also of interest to me is the relationship between this building and a previous muse of mine, the former Friar Gate Station. A planned second phase of FGS development includes steps up to the wonderful Friar Gate bridge although this would clearly be dependent on development taking place on the other side of the road.

Bridge to nowhere

Bridge to nowhere

Somebody is certainly going to have some unique views once these offices are complete and one of the interesting features of the construction is that window and wall come entirely as prefabricated units. The “builders” need to be trained up on assembly technique by the unit suppliers. I put it to one of the workers that this is one big Lego kit and the building project is as much about assembly as construction. He tentatively responds “yes” with the look of somebody who has been told to put in an appearance for the managers on a Saturday morning that had formerly promised better options. There was a period of my childhood when such an occupation would have seemed like a busman’s holiday but that dream has now lost its polish. This is something I realised when re-introduced with lego recently only to discover that the creative sparks that once flew when presented with so many options had been replaced by a desire to find the instruction booklet.

Windows for dummies

Windows for dummies

Finally we ascend to the skeletal top floor and it feels like the end of some platform game in cheat mode minus the baddies. It has been interesting to note that the air conditioning and lifts are in place (the lifts are installed very early on but not enabled for safety reasons) while the rest of the building is a concrete shell without walls or windows. The view – well – in truth I’m a little disappointed. It’s still Derby but just higher up. What did I expect? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain? If the management are disappointed with the view they aren’t letting it show.

Village People tribute band

Village People tribute band

I snap wildly with the abandon of somebody who doesn’t know how to frame a photo before giving in and asking the guy with the 35mm to capture me on what used to be film. Irritatingly yet predictably he proceeds to do what all strangers do when wielding my camera and take a better photo than I would have done.

I knew that one day I would reach the top

I knew that one day I would reach the top

We are heading back down now and with time running out I try to find out about any historical finds that may have been unearthed during the excavation work. Apparently there was nothing but mud, which is clearly untrue given the wealth and diversity of finds that have been unearthed in neighbouring plots over the years. One suspects they weren’t looking too hard, given the delays and costs commonly associated with uncovering artefacts on a building site. One man’s historical jackpot is another man’s loss of car park revenue. And so I take solace with a final snap of the tram lines that trace a path to nowhere in the cobbled plot of land reserved for phase 2 of development

Still here - for now...

Still here – for now…

As I understand it these lines were nothing to do with the railway but were for use by a horse drawn tram along what was once known as Short Street prior to demolition when the railway was constructed. It would provide a classy touch to leave at least some of the cobbles and track on display through a glass bottomed floor when they build the next phase. I’m not holding my breath.

The morning has been surreal and yet uninformative. I’m none the wiser as to the history of the site, my appreciation of the building industry remains pretty much unchanged and the views are OK but, well, it’s Derby. Sometimes you have to be thankful for the small and unexpected things – I got to wear a hard hat!

Read Full Post »

One of Derby’s largely forgotten treasures is on the verge of a renaissance some 50 years after it was abandoned. Under plans lodged for the redevelopment of the Friargate station area the imposing old warehouse will become home to retail outlets while industrial land along the old approaches will be used for new housing.

This brownfield site has been earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years but the completion of Derby’s neighbouring inner ring road (I wrote about this last year) was always a prerequisite for reasons of access. With the ring road complete the plans have been lodged and it is only a matter of time before the transformation begins.

Goods warehouse

Goods warehouse

Out of bounds

Out of bounds

While I am happy to see life breathed back into the area I remain concerned about the manner in which the site is revitalised. Of course it has to make commercial sense but all too often our heritage has been irrevocably lost or besmirched by insensitive redevelopment. With redevelopment imminent I wanted to capture the Friargate goods yard as it is today before the builders move in.

I have been visiting the derelict site for a few years now to poke around the outside of the warehouse and follow the path of the lines past the old platforms up to the top of Friargate bridge.

The end of the line

The end of the line

An area once characterised by the soot and machinery of the railway industry had been almost completely reclaimed by nature in the manner of some forgotten Mayan city.

Urban decay

Urban decay

The crumbling brick and rusting iron of a decaying infrastructure had been subsumed by an urban jungle of saplings, bushes, grass and flowers.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Birds, bees and butterflies thrived in numbers here oblivious to the noise and bustle of the city centre close by, yet a world away. You could walk into this undergrowth on a sunny day and lose yourself. The foliage was so dense that it took me a couple of visits to find the platforms.

Platform before clearing

Platform before clearing

I’m using the past tense because on my return last month I discovered that the entire platform area had been cleared of undergrowth in preparation for the next stage of work. The loss of this habitat is a huge shame but inevitable and now the general layout of the site is much clearer.

Platform after clearing

Platform after clearing

On the day I visited a fashion shoot was exploiting a graffiti covered wall of the warehouse and some students were sitting in the sun reading and talking.

Art and nature

Art and nature

Very wild life

Very wild life

My mediocre research into the history of the line has turned up some interesting nuggets of information. The station opened 1878 and was called Derby Station but subsequently renamed as Derby Friargate Station in 1881. The line was built by the Great Northern Railway primarily to enable coal to be moved more cheaply in the face of Midland Railways’ transportation monopoly. It is ironic that construction of the line was carried out with minimal consultation of local Derbeans who saw swathes of land lost as the line was dispassionately carved though the heart of the town. The iconic iron bridge over Friargate built by Handyside & Co of Derby was one of the few decorative concessions to the affluent residents of the Friargate area who were vocal in their opposition to the new line. For all of our reservations now about public consultation on planning laws it seems that the wider public interest holds more weight than it once used to.

Friargate Bridge

Friargate Bridge

Bridge detailing - Derby coat of arms

Bridge detailing - Derby coat of arms

The route of the line has long captured my imagination and this interest has increased since I moved to the nearby Rowditch area in 2002. I vaguely remember the brick bridge that spanned Agard Street prior to it’s demolition in the 1970s and the line continued on past the spot now occupied by Radio Derby and then into a tunnel not far from St Helens House.

It then emerges near the river Derwent where you can still walk across the iron bridge that led to Chester Green and through Breadsall to the east. An excellent map courtesy of Andy Savage (who also has a related blog) illustrates the route and highlights a number of points of interest.

Perhaps more than anything it is the social history of Friargate station that has drawn me in. From another time but in touching distance – the echoes still resonate. The line closed before I was born but there is a living history for people of a certain generation who fondly remember catching the train to Skegness from Friargate station. I have come across individual recollections of the final years of the line but a book called “Memories of Friargate Station” by local author Susan Bourne tops my reading list and ought to provide more substance. Hopefully it is still in print.

Open plan living

Open plan living

Absolutely floorless

Absolutely floorless

Fire damage

Fire damage

Basement on view

Basement on view

The station would have been at the peak of its importance in the late 19th and early 20th century from a strategic point of view and in terms of local employment. I took it upon myself to explore my local cemetery in Uttoxeter New Road on the off-chance of finding some memorial to former workers. I love poking around cemeteries – you can learn a lot from them. Amidst this modest sized plot I predictably found memorials to war casualties, church ministers and successful locals – solicitors and the like – but railway workers were proving elusive. This came as little surprise to me as I presumed they would be low in status and wealth but all the same I expected to find a few small headstones in a corner. Finally I found what I was looking for, and I was amazed when the two memorials in question…

Gone...

Gone...

...but not forgotten

...but not forgotten

…turned out to be amongst the tallest on the plot. That in itself raises more questions than it answers, although some subsequent research on John Holloway Sanders and Matthew Kirtley reveals that they were not run of the mill railway employees but Locomotive Superintendent and Company Architect respectively.

If the redevelopment of Friargate Station and it’s surroundings pans out anything like a typical Derby construction project then it will be a long time before anything actually happens but I would implore you to visit the site as soon as possible to appreciate a piece of our industrial heritage before it is completely sanitised by the developers. From a personal perspective the more I learn about the history of this site the more I want to know.

Read Full Post »

When you have spent most of your life in and around a particular area you get a feeling when genuine change is afoot. I’m not talking about the change sometimes espoused by high profile local figures – rhetoric heavy top-down campaigns lacking in sustained conviction that may have more to do with personal agendas than the common good. I’m referring to the change instigated by or at least widely bought into by the general public.

Derby has had a reputation for being something of a shy inward looking soul. I feel it has previously defined itself largely in terms of an industrial past and perhaps falsely aspired to be like its’ “big brother” Nottingham. Fast forward 20 years and things are vastly different. There has been a massive investment in industry with the likes of Pride Park, retail (Westfield) and infrastructure with the new bus station, modernised train station and (after a 40 year wait!) the imminent completion of the inner ring road. There has also been a notable shift in the city demographic with a great influx of national and international young students swelling University numbers, feeding the economy and driving a creative small business culture. Derby is reclaiming its crown as the city of ideas.

The City has come of age, it has the new found confidence to stop following and start leading. Nowhere is this more evident than in a growing programme of cultural events that is attracting national attention, such as the maturing Derby Feste – now in its third year. And now a new addition to the local calendar is attracting national media interest. The inaugural staging of the week long Derby Gleam festival of light ended last night. I headed out on opening night to take in some of the light shows projected against local city landmarks and returned to see last nights festival finale in defiance of the near freezing fog.

Light Trail projection in The Strand

Light Trail projection in The Strand

The Cathedral Quarter light trail is attracting a diverse range of people who, like me, clutch the glossy trail guides that are being handed out around the route. I join the trail on The Strand where rural scenes are being projected against the white walls of a building. Interesting yes, but it’s a little ineffectual due to the surrounding street lighting.

Court like an Egyptian?

Court like an Egyptian?

A short stroll to the old Magistrates Court reveals a more convincing display. It’s a peaceful setting – normally this street would be deserted in the evening – and there is little light pollution. It’s tough getting any decent photos as the images scroll across the building but it works when you are there…

A courthouse projection

A courthouse projection

…although some of the images escape my understanding.

Illuminati grafitti?

Illuminati grafitti?

The strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata emanate as I walk towards the next projection against the Cathedral tower on Iron Gate. This is my favourite yet with spheres of colour gracefully rotating to good effect against this timeless structure. The music is becalming and it is striking to see young groups dressed up for a night out stop a second in temporary appreciative silence to watch before continuing onto the local pubs.

The big screen on drugs

The big screen on drugs

The Market Place has been billed as the main event tonight. The big screen has been given over to what I can only describe as a kind of Incredible Hulk hallucinatory figure. There are roaming spotlight projections against the market hall and the surrounding buildings.

Market place under the spotlight

Market place under the spotlight

Articles in the media this week have concentrated on the interactive light displays of Seeper whereby projected animations bring alive or accentuate the natural features of the targeted buildings. The building appropriately targeted here is Quad and a regular 5 minute sequence sees glowing blocks of light dance their way around the glass windows in time to a soundtrack. It’s clever stuff, if not quite as dramatic as some of the incredible displays orchestrated against other buildings to be found via the Seeper website.

The Quad comes alive

The Quad comes alive

That’s as much as I have to share with you tonight. There’s a bit more – some confusing and missing video installations down the party street otherwise known as Sadlergate, but I have devised my own liquid trail starting at the Horse & Groom so that’s your lot for tonight.

Roll on a week to the final night of Derby Gleam and the closing parade. There is a thick blanket of fog and at one point I assume it must be called off. A twitter buddy assures me it is going ahead and I head out into the cold night. There’s a lantern parade to the market place that I have missed but the climax is due at Cathedral Green so I head straight there.

Before the advent of fire...

Before the advent of fire...

The gradually thinning fog rolls over the river derwent and as people start to assemble there is a real sense of expectation. Drumming marks the arrival of a modest entourage from the market place – how these people have endured the cold for so long I have no idea. A parade float heads the procession and shivering children swing home made lanterns.

Parade float

Parade float

Attention turns to a lively display of fire twirling which takes everyone’s mind off the cold.

Playing with fire

Playing with fire

It’s impressive fare at close hand with lit batons, burning hula-hoops and (intentional?) fire breathing.

River fire display team

River fire display team

The finale of the finale is marked by a bright fizzing stream of fireworks and firecrackers.

Derby Gleam 2010 finale

Derby Gleam 2010 finale

The last embers of the firework display blink out and an evocative smell of cordite settles on the fog as the appreciative audience disperses into the night. It’s tempting to join them in some welcoming hostelry but the show isn’t over. There is the 365 day light display for those who take the time to look on a night like this…

Cathedral Green foot bridge

Cathedral Green foot bridge

Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge

Foggy outline of Cathedral from footbridge

Exeter Bridge over the Derwent

Exeter Bridge over the Derwent

Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?

Derby Silk Mill or a scene from Dickins?

Gleam 365 at St Marys Church

Gleam 365 at St Marys Church

So the festival is over for this year. Like any new idea it needs to evolve and to improve. Some of the events ran late, a few aspects of the light trail were a little hard to fathom or mysteriously absent but broadly there were plenty of plusses and the public embraced it. It is a work in progress, like Derby itself. There’s more and better to come.

Read Full Post »

It’s a grim rainy Saturday. There’s not much you can do with a day like this. Fortunately the events of Friday evening have left me in credit and so I’m sat in Quad with a coffee this afternoon recalling last nights entertainment, impervious to the days depressive qualities.

There’s so much to say about last nights epic CogMachine charity event at Derby’s Bar 1 that I’m loath to attempt a comprehensive review as I will fail to do everyone justice or adequately describe all of the performances. Instead here’s a brief selective interpretation of the light and sound that made it as far as my noggin.

A quick disclaimer – my photos are mostly crap because the low sunlight at the start of the gig ruined the light balance on-stage, while later on the consistent low light resulted in high noise levels in the pictures. I may also have confused the chronology of events. And the facts. So as long as you aren’t too bothered about words or pictures this blog’s for you. Don’t act surprised – you must have read my stuff before…

The early birds to Bar 1’s rather unique covered outdoor performance area were privileged to see The Three Tenors kick off proceedings with some atypical pop material. There is a level of suspicion about the true identity of this super yet somehow normal trio. Crucially it’s a sign that I need to drink a lot more beer for this evening to start making any sense.

The Super Normals?

The Super Normals?

Next on – Neon Sky for their first performance as a 5-piece since recruiting a new drummer and bassist. They sound as if they have been playing as a unit for years and they deliver some fine songs new and old worthy of a headline billing before too long. I have special admiration for Kev on bass who wears a truly massive iron cog around his neck for the entire set without missing a note but is presumably feeling a tad stiff today.

Neon Sky

Neon Sky

The place is starting to fill up and newcomers are being gently persuaded to buy tickets for the Raffle Of Shame by the resplendently attired Ms Mischief. A myriad of embarrassing object de tat mostly donated by people on condition of anonymity obscures a trestle table – imagine a jumble sale in Room 101 and you are in the ballpark. People crowd around to pick out the items they most covet in the event of their number being called in the draw later on. There are also some extra-terrestrial looking cakes for sale.

Sweet temptations

Sweet temptations

I’m in and out of the bar area chatting, restocking my pint glass with Buddy (named after Bar 1’s infamous resident pooch) but manage to catch most of the evenings recitals from the spoken word line-up. There’s an intimate recital from talented local writer Aimee Wilkinson that captures you in the moment, a fun and punchy poem about men from charismatic Mo Pickering and then professional storyteller Simon Heywood grasped the audience in his hand with a tall tale from Ireland.

Somehow I have managed to miss the evenings top billed wordsmith Mark Gwynne-Jones. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Was I chatting too long at the bar?

The words have met with a full stop for the evening and musicians return to the stage. Oh dear – I’m really not giving the acts the attention they deserve but I can tell you that Richard (Biff) Birkin did some very chilled things with a guitar hooked up to a some electronic gubbins via foot pedals while “woodland folk musicians” The Face That Boils Itself delivered a set that matched their nomenclature defying name in it’s avoidance of any usefully recognised genre. I think I need to hear them again – especially if they bring along the much talked about wood saw to accompany the double bass. Do they do woodwork on stage? How does this work exactly?

The evening is nothing if not eclectic in terms of the spectrum of performances, but there’s a rich seam of artistic talent that shines through from first to last. I’m in fear of reaching a point in the evening when what I’m seeing and hearing starts to make sense, because then I’m in real trouble.

It’s not all mayhem or madcap – there is some welcome sanity in the form of enormously talented singer songwriter Jo Lewis. I’m captivated. Like all the best musicians she does the simple things so well. There’s an album in the pipeline and if it captures the essence of tonight’s performance it can only be a success.

Jo Lewis

Jo Lewis

The Super Normals are reprised for a few home grown comedy numbers that go down well with the increasingly populous audience. There’s an assault on Paul McCartney that is pure Half Man Half Biscuit and a rumbustious Cockney square-up. As my partner in grime tonight @Walkerama observes it’s crying out to be an Edinburgh Fringe act. I don’t know though, they just need a little more confidence on stage…

And now – the much awaited Raffle Of Shame. I can’t under-state how much effort and love a number of people have poured into organising this event but even so I hope nobody would begrudge me for singling out Ms Mischief who has worked tirelessly for five months to bring everything together so successfully. The Raffle Of Shame is a case in point. In fact it is the point really since this will bring in the majority of funds collected tonight for MacMillan Cancer Relief.

There is a flurry of number calling, people scrum around the table to get first grabs on the many precious things. Some lucky punter walks away with part of a costume worn by The Fonz when he did panto a while back.

It’s mixed news for Neon Sky. Guitarist Matt is (a little too) overjoyed to claim a Billy Ocean single (when the going gets tough) on vinyl. He is undeterred by the fact he doesn’t own a turntable. Before anybody asks, the B-Side has an instrumental version of the A-Side. This sort of ephemera is sadly lost on the post-vinyl generation. Meanwhile vocalist Jo misses out on the Spirograph she had repeatedly begged for during their earlier set. Them’s the rules missy – tis but a game of chance.

It’s my turn to visit the tresle table. There’s only one choice. The fools before me missed it but I know it’s there. One strives for literary fulfillment. In England the tourists flock to “Shakespeares County” and I can only presume the borderline to California is way-marked with “Pammy’s State” signs.

Almost everyone has a novel in them...

Almost everyone has a novel in them...

It’s a novel by Pamela Anderson. Keep reading the previous sentence – it won’t make any more sense. Of course, when I say “Pamela Anderson” I mean her ghost-writer, presumable so-titled because something terrible happened to him and his soul is now forever trapped in between this writing assignment and the next.

An example of the attention to detail that has gone into the event: Each raffle item is accompanied by a brilliant Certificate Of Provenance that documents the physical dimensions of shame (241 x 160 x 30mm) the Gauge of Shame (15 out of 10) and a description (“A novel, no Really a novel by Pamela Anderson”). Not only has this documentation been painstakingly crafted by Ms Mischief but it has then been personally verified by independent arbitrator Aimee Wilkinson.

Provenance of shame

As it happens I have a pocket full of raffle tickets and few more of my numbers get drawn but why would I return to the table? It can’t get any better after all.

The evening is about to reach its climax. Thomas Truax has been part of the crowd so far this evening. Heaven only knows what he has thought of some of the sights & sounds so far although in truth any man that makes his own band members out of bike wheels and TV-aerials probably isn’t going to be phased by anything. I did have a brief chat to him earlier and he said he was enjoying the evening. He also said he recognised me from my Sidewalk Café blog (I promoted tonights gig in a former Truax venue in Manhattan a couple of weeks back) and he was tactful enough not to ask why I did it. Or maybe it all seemed reasonable. Who knows…

The stage is set and Thomas opens with one of his classic tracks “Prove it to my daughter” courtesy of his Hornicator.

The Hornicator

The Hornicator

It’s clear that some people in the audience know what to expect and are loving it while others are just trying to take it all in.

Party People

Other home made instruments featuring tonight include the Cadillac Beatspinner, Scary Aerial, the BackBeater and the Stringaling.

Cadillac Beatspinner

I’m not even going to try and describe these other than to say he manages to coax viable music out of them. Sometimes it’s funny (eg: Inside The Internet, Why Dogs Howl) other times it’s soulful (I put a spell on you). He is a performer in the truest sense and thinks nothing of running through the crowd with his guitar unplugged to perform Full Moon Over Wowtown. Once you are over the sensory overload you realise his act is not just steampunk gimmickry but he writes and performs exquisitely.

Thomas playing - a guitar?!

He must be on stage for a good hour and he winds up with a great new-ish track Bee Hive Heart which takes surreal to a whole new level.

Thomas Truax - he does things differently

Once again it’s genius and the appreciative crowd applaud accordingly. Afterwards he is generous with his time chatting to anybody who wants to talk. In a final act of selflessness he contributes the profits from his album sales tonight to the charity pot – this from a headline act that has performed for free on the night.

Some time later as he heads out the door there is a general consensus that he needs to be rebooked as a matter of urgency. People will gladly pay to see him and it would be great to have him back.

The evening isn’t quite over for me. I’m introduced to the still remorseful previous owner of Pammy’s novel. Such is its shamefulness that she feels it necessary to explain herself. She didn’t buy the book – it was given to her. Now she has passed it on and naturally she doesn’t want anybody to know about her sordid secret. I open the cover and sure enough there are scribblings inside to prove it was indeed an uninvited gift. Don’t worry – your secret is safe with me Alessandra.

One final twist awaits me as I head towards the exit at 2am. A gentleman by the bar is wearing with some pride a badge he acquired in the raffle.

Tims shameful contribution

It’s one I contributed and I explain that I picked it up two weeks ago from a flea-market in Hells Kitchen, New York. You see, my conscience really is clear because I bought it intentionally for the raffle. Oh dear – it seems now I’m also trying to justify my actions. Time for a swift exit.

Read Full Post »

My week so far. Returned from New York on Monday after an 18 hour journey with little sleep. Jet-lag on Tuesday but back to work; body zombified, mind aslumber. Knackering football on Wednesday – an act constituting my first exercise in two weeks but feels like two months. Thursday – a nice quiet night in – surely!

Then it dawns upon me that I have agreed to be guest of honour this evening at a very special event where I have a ribbon to cut and a speech to make. OK, that’s a little licentious. Technically I have been blagged an invite to this auspicious VIP preview by a (now also very special) friend with a slightly less illegitimate claim to be in attendance. It starts at 6pm. It’s 5pm now. Can I make it? While the rest of my body said no my mouth went and said Yes please and due to the lack of proportional representation asserted by my physiology the mouth got the nod. What an earth am I talking about?

The Greyhound is an iconic Derby pub, situated on the beautiful Friar Gate stretch of Ashbourne Road. Or at least it was until four years ago when it closed. But now it’s back…

The great and the good await the grand opening

The great and the good await the grand opening

Furthermore, it’s not just back – it’s new, improved, better than ever. You see The Greyhound has a fabulous pedigree. It was built in the 1600s and served ale to its first customers in 1734. The thick stone walls and ancient wooden beams have played witness to many fascinating events and people over the years. In recent decades the inn has arguably been one of the two best known pubs (The other being The Wardwick) situated on the famous “Derby Mile”. I know these things because I have drinking history in these parts and also because I’m holding the press release issued to all the listed guests on entry.

The Greyhound returns

The Greyhound returns

My last visit was probably 5 years ago and I remember what a charismatic albeit tired place it was. That the lighting was poor was a bonus because the sticky beer infused carpet, stereotypical lumpy off-white pub wallpaper and nicotine stained ceiling were not its best features. The beer garden was nothing more than an old brick wall enclosed patio with a few bench tables, accessed via a dark brick corridor. It’s closure, along with a number of other pubs on the mile, was symptomatic of the diminishing returns for publicans in the face of the economic downturn and cheap supermarket booze, plus I dare say the lure of new city centre pubs.

That’s all history. Today the pub is reborn and we have Trevor and Paul Harris of the Derby Brewing Company to thank for this divine intervention. This organisation and these people are brewing deitys in this city. I’m sure many people aside from myself would be happy to see Trevor enshrined as a latter day patron saint of beer.

A brief history… (click on the DBC link for full details)

  • Trevor rescued the vacant Brunswick Inn and transformed it into a legend. He brought a fabulous old inn back to life (it originally opened in 1842) and started to brew some of the best award winning beer you will find anywhere. His achievements were recognised in 2001 when the pub won the title of UK Beer Pub Of The Year.
  • Founded The Derby Brewing Company, produced yet more tremendous award winning ales and sold them via numerous local pubs and supermarket outlets.
    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental

    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental

  • Sold up and rescued another superlative old (1862) pub The Royal Standard in Derby which he converted into arguably Derbys hottest real ale venue (aka “The Brewey Tap”) – no mean feat in a city blessed with a many tremendous pubs, local real ale breweries and tipples. It won the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award in 2009.
  • Acquired The Greyhound transformed it into what we are seeing for the first time today. After one evening here I have a sneaky idea where the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award is going in 2010.

Can you see a trend here? Iconic old pubs in distress. Sympathetic re-imaginations. Amazing beer. Packed out.

Tonights invited VIPs (plus me) are marvelling at the complete transformation The Greyhound has undergone within a barely plausible three (?!) months. Transformation is the right word – the venue is bright, accessible, attractive, seemingly more spacious and yet it retains it’s sense of history and charm. This isn’t an identikit chainy style redecoration. There is a stylish coherent brand, thanks in large part to the considerable design input of Derby designer Martin Hyde. Characters from his darkly humorous Dead good Kids theme pop up on signage, stationary and in decorative contexts: they subtly fuse themselves into those old walls and beams. It’s not the safe or conventional option but boy does it work!

Drinks Menu

Drinks Menu

Dead Good Kids - great fun!

Dead Good Kids - great fun!

First impressions on entry – a bright front lounge with clean lines served by a curved bar. Feet moving freely on an attractive old stone floor – no more unsticking of shoes from an ancestoral peat bog style beer soaked carpet. Onward to the seemingly extended rear lounge with a continuation of the curved bar.

View of rear bar

View of rear bar

Graham the Greyhound watches thirstily over the punters.

Graham the Greyhound looks on

Graham the Greyhound looks on

And if this wasn’t enough you realise that the unaccustomed visibility in this area is courtesy of natural light with a long glass door section opening up on hot days (like today) onto the sun-trap of a courtyard. Indoor and outdoor come together.

The courtyard (if that’s the correct term) looks so clean and inviting. The brick walls appear to have been blasted and remortared. The space seems to have been extended substantially with the removal of … I can’t remember what exactly, but there is a cleverly retained and opened up chimney structure that suggests a room has been demolished.

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice

The subtext here is quality and style. This is the kind of space you want to meet friends in, to spend time, to talk, drink and chill.

A toast to Mine Host

A toast to Mine Host

Just add people. Build it and they will come. And when the doors open to the eager public at 8:30 they come in great numbers. And behold, it is rammed. I realise that my intentions to do photographic justice to the place have just gone down the pan because it is no longer possible to get a clear photo of anything!

Things are heating up

Things are heating up

The truth is that since the champagne reception and BBQ I have spent over 2 hours doing important networking and drinking so I could present this report with the integrity and authority it deserves. You will have to make do with the few lazy shots I took when it was still light and there was room to move. You will for instance have to envisage the triumphal roof terrace that takes this already formidable hostelry to (literally) another level. For some reason I managed to get a shot of the old roof slates but not the terrace itself.

A night on the tiles

A night on the tiles

And then it went dark and the imaginatively illuminated chimney stack took on a character of its own.

Chimney after sunset

Chimney after sunset

Everybody bar none is staggered with what has been achieved here. I’m not the least surprised because Trevor and Paul have long since proven their innate understanding of brewing, hostelry and the Derby drinking public. I hear a voice saying that the Greyhound was an obvious choice – the history, the location (students, office workers and the city centre nearby), but nobody else came forward to take on the challenge and it is hard to imagine anybody else pulling off the venture with such flair and attention to detail. It’s going to be a deserved roaring success. I will be back. Regularly.

It’s 10:30pm. I’m shattered. Again. Still. I have enjoyed a wonderful evening with some great people while quaffing the sublime Mine Host – a new light summery ale courtesy of Derby Brewing Company. I have work tomorrow. Thank you and Good night!

Friday. Tired. Strange that. Another lovely hot sunny day. No plans tonight – I can relax at last! Must just post this blog entry while it’s fresh and current and then I’ll chill.

Midnight – finished. Bugger.

Read Full Post »

First we discovered fire, then somebody invented the wheel and now finally – after what seems like a similar wait – Derby has it’s new bus station. A brief recap. The previous station was built in 1933 and while not without a hint of art deco charm it was hopelessly unfit for purpose when it was closed in 2005 in preparation for work on the new facility. There was a fierce and at times comical campaign to keep the old station open on a range of hotly disputed grounds, culminating in a protestor literally taking up residence in a caravan on the ROOF of the old station. I always felt this was strangely poetic after hearing one objector defend the old station on the grounds of “how good it looked from the air” – an unhelpful factor when you are exposed to the elements & trying to find out where your bus departs from.

Old Derby bus station - plus caravan

Old Derby bus station - plus caravan

Five years (!) later and the new bus station is set to open this weekend. Being Derby it obviously comes with yet more drama; various delays; scope change in response to the global financial meltdown; a burst water pipe that flooded the station a week ago. Oh, and the seemingly trivial revelation that the station toilets will cost 20p to use. The quoted rationale is that it is a small nominal fee that will help cover costs and deter people from entering and misusing the facilities, which on the face of it doesn’t sound too unreasonable. It is the wrong decision. Let me explain why…

We like to think of Britain as a civilised society. Our country has invented or championed many social innovations that have earned us a reputation for civility and that to this day leave legacies to the former colonial areas we exploited to our own ends. I remember visiting Sri Lanka and listening to locals talking with genuine pride and enthusiasm about the enduring legacy of road, rail, school and health infrastructure left behind by the British Raj, although they diplomatically failed to mention the fact we nicked their tea & spices. Oops – sorry. Here’s some tourist pounds instead.

New Derby air terminal. I mean bus station.

New Derby air terminal. I mean bus station.

There can be no doubt that following the industrial revolution the nation entered a rocky but golden age of social reinvention, moral introspection and intense philanthropy that to some extent still informs our present day expectations and attitudes.

George Cadbury - hirsute philanthropist & Curley Wurley inventor

George Cadbury - hirsute philanthropist & Curley Wurley inventor

We have learned to expect certain minimum standards in the provision of education, health, civil liberties, democratic governance, etc, etc. These baselines are funded through our system of tax and ensure everyone gets basic healthcare, a right to schooling, bin collection, street lighting and so on. Not everyone agrees on where the baseline should be set or what an acceptable cost is (or profit if the service has been privatised – GRRRR) but I suspect there is a fairly broad consensus that there should be a baseline. The alternative would be a purely market driven society where no money means no medical treatment or education. There are people who would be happy with this every-man-for-themselves scenario and it seems that we have a continual fight on our hands to recognise and protect what we have.

On a related note I was taken aback by the massive opposition the Obama administration faced when trying to get their health bill passed to grant all citizens access to (very) basic state health provision in the year 2010. The argument seems to boil down to the wealthy “haves” not wanting in any way to fund the “have nots” that they might crawl from the bottom rung of society; aspire to more than survival; to have dignity.

So, to the crux of my argument. As I see it social provision falls into three tiers:

  • Mandatory – full provision
    Non-optional services we should all be entitled to that are fully funded by tax and free at the point of delivery.
    eg: Non-lifestyle healthcare, education fees upto school leaving age, access to public toilets
  • Mandatory – infrastructure provision
    Non-optional services we should all be entitled to that where a basic universal requirement is funded by tax and then consumers are charged on the basis of personal usage/consumption
    eg: Water, Electricity, Phone, Transport infrastructures. (Your tax pays for the roads. You personally fund your choice of transport)
  • Personal choice
    Optional services we can take or leave but must fully fund ourselves.
    eg: Sky TV, subscription to Viz comic, Breast implants (I can see a couple of arguments for funding this through tax…)

In summary any basic common requirement for our civilised communal existence whether a “complete” service or an enabling component of “infrastructure” should surely be paid for up front by tax. The real focus should be on where we draw the lines between these three tiers – it is this that should form the basis of public debate and not the side show issues the political parties would rather have distracted us with. Much easier to respond to the symptoms of a problem (eg: a one-off tax on bankers bonuses) than deal with the underlying issue (eg: the absence of any meaningful controls within the banking sector).

Toilets are non-optional. We all need to use them (apart from Noel Edmunds). Are we as a society saying that only people with money (however little) can use public toilets? Are we saying that only people with the right change can use public toilets? That is what the local authorities are inferring – is this their official guidance? Are they seriously telling people they should pop into pubs/cafes/shops and use the facilities there and if so what do those businesses have to say? Are we meant to “hold on” – pregnant women, small children, elderly people or even (dare I say it) healthy young males, and if so is this advice sanctioned by the British Medical Association? I’m guessing the City Council wouldn’t tolerate hordes of people using the Derwent as a means of relief, so which of the aforementioned options are they recommending?

Likely response from local businesses

Likely response from local businesses

Yes it costs money to provide a public convenience and yes we expect to pay for it. But let’s pay equally, fairly and up front via our taxes. Let’s afford all of our citizens the dignity they deserve and regulate our civic affairs with a little bit of class. This is not an optional service in the same way that brakes are not optional when you buy a car. Yes, people may have less disincentive to use the toilets for drug taking, vandalism, etc – but that’s a separate problem to be addressed on its own merits. We don’t ban young people from walking the streets with mobile phones just because they may be more vulnerable to mugging. The Daily Mail will no doubt come around to this suggestion soon.

Grafitti

Yung pEpul init, wot doin grafiti. No respec. Sawt it out daily mail – bang us 2 rites bro

When all’s said and done the current debate may just be about public conveniences but dig a little deeper and what’s at stake are the values we are demanding from those that administer our public affairs. These are the same values that determine whether or not your children go to a disfunctional school, whether your local hospital is clean or whether private organisations are given free reign to charge whatever they please for essential fuels.

I know people have different opinions on this matter but there is one thing we can all agree on – we can’t trust local or national authorities with their vested political and personal interests to look after our needs with impartiality.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »