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.