Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, Albert Hall, Nottingham 10/6/16

In these post-post-modern times anything from the 1920s to the 1980s seems to count as “Vintage”. Is it all bunting and nostalgia? I went along to Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair to find out.

The term “Vintage” tends to get bandied around rather loosely and has degrees of meaning from “genuinely antique and collectable” to merely “second hand”.

Nottingham has had a healthy “Vintage” scene since the 1990s, when the kitsch emporium Daphnie’s Handbag was a stalwart purveyor of crimplene frocks, over-sized sunglasses and easy listening vinyl, at their shop on Mansfield Road. These days Daphnie’s (and many other dealers) find their home in Hopkinson, a warehouse full of trinkets, homeware, clothes and other tastefully aged rammel.*

With the demise of Trinity Walk’s Vintage To A Tea, where genuine 1930s to 1970s clothes came with the wonderful expertise of the proprietor, I was hoping to see some good examples of Vintage clothes at Lou Lou’s.

Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair is a national concern with gatherings most weekends in cities across the UK. Winner of ‘Best Vintage Fair’ in the UK at the National Vintage Awards 2015, some impressive photos in their Facebook marketing led me to go along to the Albert Hall to check it out. As an avid rammel hunter myself, my expectations were high.

There were several clothes stalls at Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair, with a good spread of women’s and men’s garments, edging towards the garish end of the dressing up spectrum. Prices were fairly high (more in line with Nottingham’s Braderie, Cow and Wild Clothing vintage stores) but there were a few genuine gems if you had the cash to splash.

The best clothes of the day were spotted on fellow fair-goers, with several spectacularly turned out 1950s ladies in evidence (full net petticoats and co-ordinated head gear present and correct) and more than one or two gents in tweeds.

loulous 2

A soundtrack of 1960s girl groups segued into Bowie as I moved between the two floors of the Albert Hall, holding at least 30 stalls. Many concentrated on jewellery and other accessories, offering a rather hit and miss selection of proper old stuff and more modern bling. For the prices, I would have preferred more focus on the original pieces, some dealers have a good eye for the real thing, others offer all their wares at a fixed price and leave it to the customer to dredge the gems from the dreck.

Several of the traders who make their day to day home in Hopkinson had stalls at Lou Lou’s, including Woolf Vintage and Arts, who had a nice line in earrings and the Forgotten Library who turn old books into clocks.

Other traders such as Derby’s Soboho, made a showing (with a lovely 1960s handbag that was sadly out of my price range) and hat designer Alice Ball entertained a steady stream of customers trying on her vintage-inspired creations.

There was more crockery and homeware than I’d been anticipating, with a good showing for Meakin coffee sets, china cups and a smattering of flashback-inducing toys. There was an air of grandma’s attic about some of these and a little more curation of the objects would perhaps justify the asking prices. A surfeit of cake stands was overshadowed by the “everything’s a pound” cups and saucers, but there were an impressive haul of cake forks and cutlery on offer.

crockery collage

The refreshment stall was mercifully free of cup cakes, serving beverages in china cups and saucers in the busy foyer. Alongside them, the Diamond Diva’s Beauty salon was setting hair in victory rolls – I didn’t spot any beehives but it was consistently busy.

Lou Lou’s seems like a really popular event, with a steady stream of people through the doors all day, I don’t know how much stuff people actually buy at such events, but plenty of folk rummaged through the displays.

*Rammel: Notts noun. Discarded or waste matter, junk, rubbish.

Exploring the Creative Quarter: A Guidigo Tour of Nottingham

http://www.picturedbylamar.co.uk/

Picture ©Lamar Francois http://www.picturedbylamar.co.uk/

These days Nottingham has thriving art and music scenes, independent shops, decent coffee and even the first independent UK book shop to be opened this century, Five Leaves Books.

Working in association with Walking Heads, my colleagues based in Glasgow, we realised that these two great post-industrial cities have much in common as they re-invent themselves for the challenges of the 21st century.

The tour looks at the history of the area of Nottingham now designated as The Creative Quarter and meets some of the people who work in the varied creative industries in the area.

Lace Market Square (CQ), The Adams Building, Back Door Detail, Broadway & Birkin Building (Geograph.org.uk),

Lace Market Square (CQ), The Adams Building, Back Door Detail, Broadway & Birkin Building (Geograph.org.uk)

The tour takes in The Lace Market, Hockley and Sneinton Market including New College Nottingham, where students of art and design learn their trade, and established independent craft practitioner Debbie Bryan who takes inspiration from the Nottingham’s lace heritage. There is art from leading gallery Nottingham Contemporary and curator Jennie Syson; Find hidden gems in unexpected places, like a Morris & Co window in the largest pub in town. Dig down to the caves and secret passageways of The Galleries of Justice, one of Nottingham’s top tourist attractions and discover some remarkable stories from the history of St Mary’s, Nottingham’s oldest and largest church and find out how it is used as a creative venue today; Learn about local cultural magazine Left Lion, who bring Nottingham musicians, actors and writers into the limelight. Explore the regenerated Sneinton Market and the thriving gallery scene around St Ann’s and Sneinton.

Unitarian Church Morris & Co; Nottingham Contemporary detail (geograph.org.uk), St Marys on Light Night (Kevin Marston); The Galleries of Justice (GoJ).

Unitarian Church Window by Morris & Co; Nottingham Contemporary detail (geograph.org.uk), St Marys on Light Night (Kevin Marston); The Galleries of Justice (GoJ).

Celebrate 25 years of Nottingham media and cinema, at Broadway and find out about the “playable building” that is home to the National Videogames Arcade. Finally step through the gate of the transformed Cobden Chambers to find independent businesses getting established with the help of Creative Quarter, not to mention tales from Dawn of The Unread, where Nottingham’s literary past is woven with the many layered history of the textile and lace industries which built the grand architecture of The Lace Market…

The tour is narrated by Nottinghamshire-born Dorothy Atkinson, who you may know from her work in films made by Mike Leigh… we recorded at JT Soar, a nearby studio & music venue which used to be a Fruit and Veg warehouse.

Dorothy Atkinson at Sneinton Market

Dorothy Atkinson at Sneinton Market

The tour features archive photos from Picture The Past, who have kindly let me use images as a pilot scheme.

Photos from Picture The Past courtesy NCC. The Adams Lace Brown Room; Old Town Hall (Nottingham Historic Film Unit); High Pavement; Sneinton Market 1937.

Photos from Picture The Past courtesy of NCC. The Adams Lace Brown Room 1914; Old Town Hall c.1870s (Nottingham Historic Film Unit); High Pavement pre 1960s; Sneinton Market 1937.

The tour is available to download free on Guidigo (which is also free) on iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

Feature image photo credits: Sneinton Market Fountains Daniel Hodgett; Broadway at Night by Ashley Bird; National Videogames Arcade by Eve Bentley; Cobden Chambers courtesy of Bildurn.

Death & Chips: But I Know This City, B S Johnson in Nottingham

This weekend saw me drop everything and head into Nottingham for a series of connected events that I only realised were taking place when I fortuitously caught a tweet promoting this article in Left Lion.

Left Lion #73 November 2015

Left Lion #73 November 2015

I had forgotten or perhaps misremembered that Nottingham was the unnamed but vividly described city that features in B S Johnson’s book-in-a-box The Unfortunates. I had added this experimental novel to my very long list of “books to get around to” after devouring Jonathan Coe’s biography of Johnson, Like A Fiery Elephant some years ago, but never found a copy and it had fallen out of my mind as newer books with less dark themes had usurped my attention.

On Friday night it transpired that Jonathan Coe was to be in Nottingham at the behest of the Broadway to present Dead of Night the celebrated Ealing Studios portmanteau film made in 1945. As it turns out, the keen cinéaste Coe uses the structure of five connecting stories for his latest novel Number 11… his earlier novels What A Carve Up and The House of Sleep are among my favourites.

After Dead Of Night, talking about his new book and signing copies for the faithful, Coe stayed at Broadway to present a rare screening of films by B S Johnson including the idiosyncratic documentary Fat Man On A Beach, which had introduced Johnson’s work to Coe when he was a child…

BS Johnson in Fat Man On A Beach (The Arts Desk)

B S Johnson in Fat Man On A Beach (The Arts Desk)

Fat Man On A Beach is funny, strange, confounding, silly and, with the fore knowledge of Johnson’s early demise just weeks after it was broadcast in 1974, deeply effecting.

It served as a wonderful re-introduction to the author and a fitting prelude to the following day’s event, But I Know This City a community reading of The Unfortunates organised by Excavate theatre for Being Human Festival.

Not entirely sure what to expect, my friend and I showed up at Broadway for the first chapter and began a whole day of extraordinary experiences finding readers at locations all over Nottingham.

The beginning... the first sighting of Bryan at Broadway.

The beginning… the first sighting of Bryan at Broadway.

In 25 cafes, basements, bookshops, several pubs, a parked car, a front room (on the Promenade, my dream street), inside the Council House and performance pods at Nottingham Playhouse, we found ourselves asking “Are you Bryan?”.

But I Know This City Map

But I Know This City Map (Excavate)

Rehearsed readers at each location read the loose-bound chapters of The Unfortunates and gradually the novel was reconstituted as Johnson’s memories of Nottingham, reporting on football matches, his student days and his friend Tony came into focus. Descriptions of food (memorably some chips that redeem a meal), of meetings and visits, of friends and lovers recur through the story woven around recollections of the illness and heartbreaking early death of Johnson’s Nottingham friend Tony.

Readers in L

“Bryan” in Lee Rosies, Rough Trade and Bookwise

The Nottingham of the 1960s was vividly conjured as many of the locations we visited over 8 hours (with a long break for lunch) were described.

An examination of grief and the nature of memory, The Unfortunates is at times raw and intensely moving, qualities emphasised by these intimate readings, leaning in to hear in the noisier venues, huddled around pub tables, scurrying through the freezing dark to find the last few venues…

Following Bryan all the way to the top floor of City Arts

Following Bryan all the way to the top floor of City Arts.

Back at Broadway we tracked down the last two readers, driven inside by the cold. Two more chapters read to us in the bar.

We managed to witness the final chapter (thank you Andy) and the collected props in the Broadway’s lounge and were among around a dozen people to experience all 27 chapters… including Jonathan Coe’s recording of the shortest chapter.

The end. Some of the props, collected in the Broadway lounge.

Tweets from the day #ButIKnowThisCity

Nottingham author (and Bryan for the day) David Belbin’s blog on But I Know This City of Literature.

Connecting Up London: William Morris, Architecture & Wombats

A trip to London requires planning, an ample budget and a lot of friendly sofas to sleep on. All these elements came together last week and I went in search of some refreshing cultural adventures.

For the last several months I’ve been working on something in Nottingham (that I hope to be able to tell you about soon). The project has renewed my interest in architectural history (see my earlier blog on Watson Fothergill) and sent me off in several directions.

Trying to track down the provenance of a stained glass window attributed to William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, but produced after both their deaths, led me to the local library and Fiona McCarthy‘s hefty biographies.

Having enjoyed both books, particularly William Morris: A Life for Our Time, I resolved to see some of their art and in the case of Morris, the house he built on the outskirts of London.

I had a wish list of things I wanted to see while I was in London and I managed to pull quite a few of them in along with a few other pleasant surprises along the way.

First, The Wellcome Collection, within striking distance of Kings Cross/ St Pancras and with a friendly cloakroom to relieve me of my suitcase for a few hours. I queued for a while to be admitted to a room full of coloured mist, a reboot for the senses – an art installation, States of Mind,  a prelude to a larger exhibition about “consciousness” due to start next year.

With time to wander, I fulfilled a long held ambition to find the grave stone of Mary Wollstonecraft in Old St Pancras Church Yard. This is also home to the Soane monument (the shape of which inspired the design of the telephone box – a fact I learned on my last visit to London when, unable to get into an overbooked exhibition at the British Library, I visited the unexpected delight of Sir John Soane’s Museum, of whom more later). Loose ends were starting to be tied up, it was Fiona McCarthy’s insightful biography of Lord Byron that had piqued my interest in Shelley and Mary who were known to tryst at her mother’s grave…

Soane Monument Old St Pancras Churchyard

Soane Monument Old St Pancras Churchyard

The following day I had planned to visit the V&A, whose tearooms alone are a treasure trove of Morris & Co designs, but on the way there I got distracted. I’d spotted a striking poster for an exhibition at RIBA – on Palladian architecture. Having never visited their Portland Place HQ before, I was impressed by the building and even more taken with the clean, well arranged exhibition of drawings and models.

By the time I reached Kensington, the full armageddon of half-term week in museum-land had hit and I abandoned hopes of the V&A in favour of retaining a shred of sanity. Towing a case around London limits what you can do and I fell back on one of my favourite places, which just happens to have a spacious free cloakroom, The National Portrait Gallery. I seemed to be the only person who’d read the small print and found the app to accompany Simon Schama’s Face of Britain exhibition and I let his distinctive tones guide me… The dots continued to be joined – a portrait of William Morris’s wife Jane appeared in the ‘Love’ section.

The next day, relieved of the burden of my case, I decided to pull in another visit I’d been thinking about for a long time. The Banqueting House, the last vestige of Whitehall Palace – and Britain’s first Palladian building. An exercise in well guided tourism – with not only a comprehensive audio guide, but also an eager and entertaining steward keen to talk the handful of visitors through the history of this hidden gem. Currently undergoing restoration on the outside, the stone work was originally refaced by Sir John Soane (and the connections on this trip just keep mounting up).

Inside the Banqueting House, Whitehall. Ceiling by Rubens.

Inside the Banqueting House, Whitehall.

I then took a train out to Bexleyheath and found The Red House, which William Morris and his wife had built and lived in between 1860 and 1865. Despite being there for only a short time, it was pivotal in the creation of his design business, eventually called Morris & Co and its very walls tell stories of the decorating parties held there with artists, poets and other luminaries of the period all contributing to the patterns and schemes which the National Trust are still discovering hidden under the modern wallpaper. The purpose-built house has a studio space to make even the most casual artist jealous, full of space and light. It was easy to imagine the “Topsy” of McCarthy’s biography in these rooms. I picked a windfall from the orchard and put an oak leaf in my pocket, hoping that some of the inspiration would rub off.

The Red House

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was often at The Red House, was fascinated by wombats and kept them as pets. He often drew caricatures of his friend (and rival for the affections of Mrs Morris) where the roly poly animal stands in for the artist. He even named one of his wombats Topsy. The National Trust have instigated a Wombat Hunt for The Red House’s younger visitors. Cuddly marsupials abound in each room…

The window bares the moto "Si Je Puis" - "If I Can"; Striking patterns on the ceiling: a wombat: Chair designed by Rossetti.

The window bares the moto “Si Je Puis” – “If I Can”; Striking patterns on the ceiling: A wombat lurks: Chair designed by Rossetti.

A conversation over the Wallpaper pattern books in the Morris children’s old bedroom prompted me to investigate the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and the next day I headed out to the furthest stop on the Victoria line to find a rather wonderful Georgian Mansion where Morris lived for part of his childhood.

It has been refurbished as a gallery with space for contemporary exhibitions as well as an archive of objects from his life and work. My favourite items being his extra large cup and saucer and the leather satchel he took around the country when engaged in socialist lectures later in his life.

WM's Satchel; Extra Large Cup & Saucer as provided by the Burne-Joneses: Bob & Robert Smith Topsey

WM’s Satchel; Extra Large Cup & Saucer as provided by the Burne-Joneses: Bob & Robert Smith Topsey

Above all, Morris seems to have been someone who possessed great enthusiasms, about poetry, art, fairness and fellowship. The gallery does a great job of bringing these to life. The accompanying exhibition documenting Bob & Roberta Smith’s campaign to save arts education for children chimed well with the themes of Morris’s own life and the continuing relevance of his ideas.

I headed back on the Victoria line to Pimlico and Tate Britain, to wallow in the room full of paintings by Rosetti and Burne-Jones.

tate

The evening ended up with a visit to an old friend in Deptford – where there are so many stories and secret places it will need a blog all of its own…

Saturday began with a trip to Borough Market, a walk along the Thames (pausing to look in at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and taking a ride in the singing lift at the Royal Festival Hall). Tea in the Crypt at St Martin’s In the Field (another Palladian building), then using up the last of my energy for one more exhibition – Goya: The Portraits at the National Gallery, which was crowded and expensive but still impressive.

Manchester Walking Tours & Whitworth Art Gallery

I took a notion to go to Manchester and see the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the newly re-opened Whitworth Art Gallery before it closes on May 31. While I was in the city I braved the rain and hail to walk a couple of routes of the Manchester Walking Tours app.

I started with the Architecture Highlights tour – having downloaded the app at home, it was a case of zipping up my waterproof over my headphones, burying my phone in my pocket and heading out into the streets to discover and rediscover some of the key buildings of the city. The tour is trigged by GPS and takes account of your position, as you hit each location, the relevant information plays.

manchester buildings

New York Street, Manchester Art Gallery, The Free Trade Hall, Great Northern Warehouse.

Along the way I learned about buildings including the Portico Library, The Midland Hotel, The Free Trade Hall and the Beetham Tower.

After an hour of rain dodging I found a shop/ cafe on the edge of the Northern Quarter called Oklahoma, it appealed to my love of all things colourful and kitsch. If I had a shop, this is probably what it would look like!

Later I picked up the route of the Cultural Tour, which at 150 minute was considerably longer that the first one. Narrated by 6 Music DJ Mary Ann Hobbs, it takes in a wide variety of locations and was compiled by local tour guides. I explored the Northern Quarter and then found that the route crossed over with the Architecture tour. Having the GPS tracking you for over an hour absolutely kills an iPhone battery, and as I needed my phone for meeting friends later and I wanted to get to the Whitworth in time to see some art, I hopped on  bus down Oxford Road.  As the GPS locates you and triggers the tour when you reach each point of interest, I was able to miss out a section and pick up the trail further along.  This method takes a little getting used to, and is frustrating if you need your phone for anything else during your day out, but once I got used to moving about to find the exact spot that set off the commentary, the system worked. I need a pedometer-powered battery charger…

The Whitworth Gallery has reopened after an extensive refurbishment, and it is quietly impressive. The majority of the open plan space was taken up by a solo show by Cornelia Parker, the show included one of my favourite pieces, the exploded shed – Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991).

cornelia parker

Work by Cornelia Parker: War Room, The Distance: A Kiss With Added String, Cold Dark Matter, Thirty Pieces of Silver

After an impromptu night out with Manchester friends, I crashed on a sofa and returned the following day to pick up the section of the Cultural Tour that I missed. The Cultural Tour added a little more to the story of the Bridgewater Hall, where I found the intriguing  “Talking Statue” of Halle Orchestra conductor John Barbirolli voiced by Timothy West. Apparently there are more of these statues around, it’s a really good idea well carried out and I’d like to find the rest of them.

I carried on following the tour route to see the site of the original Hacienda club, the newly opened Home arts centre and then stumbled upon the headquarters of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. I don’t know much about Burgess beyond ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but this little place is home to a library, archive and a cafe- bookshop providing a little haven from the bustle of Oxford Road.  I’ll definitely have to go back to Manchester for more exploring.

manc 3

Music Pavement Northern Quarter, Beedham Tower & Bridgewater Hall, the back of the Hacienda building, Rain by Lemn Sissay – Oxford Road.