Watson Fothergill, Architect

Pics from wikimedia Commons

Yesterday I ventured to the other side of Trent Bridge for a talk at West Bridgford library. The topic was local architect Watson Fothergill, whose characteristic Victorian Gothic buildings can be found around Nottingham. I am particularly interested in his office building (pictured above), which can be found in Hockley on George Street. I’m hoping to include it as a stop on a tour of the area that I’m slowly working on. Fothergill was born very near where I went to school, so I was intrigued to find out more.

The talk was given by Darren Turner, himself an architect, who has taken on the task of cataloging Fothergill’s buildings. He’s even published a book, filled with sketches and as much detail as any local researcher could wish for, about the buildings that are still standing and those that have over the years been demolished.

Watson Fothergill (or is it Fothergill Watson?) and the name plate he designed for his office.
Watson Fothergill (or is it Fothergill Watson?) and the name plate he designed for his office.

Fothergill Watson was born in 1841 in Mansfield. His work dates from 1863 to around 1912 and in that time he mainly worked in and around Nottingham. In 1892 he switched his name around by deed poll, in order to carry on his mother’s family name (although it was to no avail as his own children didn’t  produce any decedents of their own.) It seems he received a large inheritance from his father in law, one of the founding partners in Mansfield Brewery, and being comfortably off never saw the need to venture much beyond the county boundaries. Fothergill was well connected locally with a half-brother on the Mansfield Improvements Commission and the influential Brunts’ Charity, which lead to several building projects.

Queens Chambers  off the Market Square, Nottingham.
Queens Chambers off the Market Square, Nottingham.

Several of Fothergill’s buildings in Nottingham have a distinctive look. Made of red brick with a striped pattern of blue, they also often have turrets, timber eaves and stone carvings. Anyone who has visited the centre of Nottingham is likely to have seen his Queens Chambers on the corner of Long Row and Queen Street, or the Nottingham and Notts Bank building on Thurland Street. You might also have passed the former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street.

The former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street, Nottingham
The former Daily Express Offices on Parliament Street, Nottingham

His office on George Street, built as a “shop window” for his work after he was forced to move from Clinton Street by the arrival of the railway, is one of the hidden gems of Nottingham. I only found it recently while exploring the “Creative Quarter”, it was recently up for sale and there was talk that it was bought by some Fothergill enthusiasts with a view to renovating it as a museum.

Pics from wikimedia Commons
Watson Fothergill’s Office at 15-17 George Street, Nottingham

The exterior is a homage to his mentors with busts of the architects Augustus Pugin, George Street, George Gilbert Scott , William Burges and Richard Norman Shaw honoured in stone. There are terracotta panels depicting architecture through the ages and masons at work on a gothic cathedral. The individuality of the design makes this a distinctive building for the 1890s, full of idiosyncratic details. This office, like many of Fothergill’s buildings, shows the influence of his travels in Bavaria and Venice, with details from European Gothic given a particular Victorian twist.

Although Fothergill is no Gaudi or Mackintosh in terms of the scale or fame of his buildings, his distinctive style has left its mark on Nottingham. Some of his buildings did not survive the drive for modernism that swept through the city centre in the 1960s and 1970s. Notable losses include the Black Boy Hotel, which by the time of its demolition had become “notorious” (according to my mum at least…). It was pulled down in 1970 and a large branch of Primark now occupies in the spot on Long Row where once it stood.

Darren Turner's book on Fothergill
Darren Turner’s book on Fothergill

 

Darren Turner’s book goes a long way to establishing a full list of extant buildings as well as clarifying the provenance of some which have been mis-identified in the past and I look forward to discovering more of them on my walks through the city.

The Nottingham and Notts Bank on the corner of Thurland Street.
The Nottingham and Notts Bank on the corner of Thurland Street.
Photos used for this post come from these informative pages on Geograph and WikiMedia Commons. They are used under Creative Commons Licence.

Glasgow Cinema City

The Regal Glasgow Cinema City

I’ve written a guest post for Walking Heads on the Glasgow Cinema City strand of the forthcoming Glasgow Film Festival.

I had great fun taking part in their Cinema City Treasure Hunt and you can still have a go with their app. Be sure to check out the exhibition at the Mitchell Library and the rest of the GFF programme.

Strange Wales: The Laugharne Weekend

“The Strangest Town in Wales” was how Dylan Thomas first described his adopted home of Laugharne (pronounced Larn – the ‘laugh’ is silent).

This “beguiling island of a town”, a “legendary lazy little black-magical bedlam by the sea” has some unusual characteristics conferred by retaining the last surviving medieval corporation in Britain. It also has some impressive Georgian mansions, a ruined castle and beautiful views of Thomas’s beloved “heron priested” shore of the Taf Estuary.

sunny view from laugharne castle
View of the estuary from Laugharne Castle

Stumbling upon the Strange Wales festival weekend in spite of their rather jumbled online presence (usually there is one Laugharne Weekend, this year for Thomas’s Centenary there are three), I headed out of my comfort zone to see what unpredictable happenings were taking place.

At first it felt like a product of the special festival atmosphere, but one gets the feeling that Laugharne is like this most weekends – folks tumbling out of pubs and taking their pints into the church; the Tin Shed, casually billed as a 1940s experience doubling as a bar, handy for the gigs in the Millennium Hall.

Cate Le Bon at Millennium Hall, Laugharne
Cate Le Bon at Millennium Hall, Laugharne

The celebrated Browns Hotel, and at least three more pubs makes for an interesting route through town. The Georgian scale of many of the buildings, larger than those usually found in a similarly sized Welsh village, are the legacy of a history as a busy cockeling port and the Castle, ruined by Cromwell’s soldiers during the civil war. Eccentricity is embraced here, creativity encouraged and there is a looseness to proceedings that means nothing is ever quite on time.

On Friday I arrive in time to catch the night’s Millennium Hall gig – Sweet Baboo with some campervan inspired acoustic indie then Cate Le Bon, playing most of her album Mug Museum, the end of a long tour which leads to some hi-jinks with carrots, and a closing cover of a Thin Lizzie number which sees the band relax.

In the congregational church up the road there is a woozy late showing of Gruff Rhys’ film American Interior, where the Super Furry Animals songwriter traces his ancestor John Evans’ journey across the states in search of a mythical Welsh-speaking tribe of Native Americans.

The Boathouse, where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas lived
The Boathouse, where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas lived

Left to my own devices on Saturday, I head first to the Boathouse, the house where Dylan Thomas lived from 1949 until his death in 1953. Here he wrote some of the major works of his late career including Under Milk Wood (which Laugharne inhabitants likes to claim is based on the characters of the town). After taking in the views and old HTV documentary, I peer into the recreation of his writing shed, perched on the cliff edge and decorated with pictures of his influences and dozens of crumbled papers beneath the writing desk. A walk along tree looped lanes finds the Poet’s grave, an unassuming flimsy white cross heading a plot scattered with cheap boozers trinkets and tributes from all over the world.

Dylan Thomas's writing shed.
Dylan Thomas’s writing shed.

Back at to the unofficial festival hub, a reconditioned mobile library dubbed the Book Bus, where a few of the literati are gathered to browse through DT aficionado Jeff Towns’ collection of Dylan-iana. Then into church again to catch the last half of the 1997 film Twin Town.

Following up on his debut’s anarchic spirit, director Kevin Allen has returned to Wales to film Under Milk Wood. Here he presents a teaser trailer. Sharing some cast members with Twin Town, including Rhys Ifans, it promises to be a surreal, dream-like romp, filmed in both English and Welsh language versions. Allen takes questions from the audience, many of whom took part in the filming as extras. He claims that the somewhat bawdy play, originally written for radio, will gain a new audience from his highly visual interpretation and if he had his way the poster would bare the legend “it’s all about the shagging”.

A quick dash to the Rugby Club to catch the end of a noisy set by young Cardiff-based band Joanna Gruesome, then it’s back to Browns for a few pints with some new friends. The rest of the evening – Krautrock from two man outfit R. Seiliog and then luminaries of the Post Punk scene Young Marble Giants take to the stage for the first time since 1979 – goes by in a pleasant haze.

On Sunday, a restorative B&B breakfast and it’s back down to the explore the castle in the sunshine. An unassuming summer house in the grounds provides another writers bolt hole, once owned by Richard Hughes (author of A High Wind In Jamaica) and also used by Dylan Thomas.

"Gonzo Bookselling: 1. Find An Event, 2. Immerse Yourself, 3. Become the Story."
“Gonzo Bookselling: 1. Find An Event, 2. Immerse Yourself, 3. Become the Story.”

Hannah Ellis, the poet’s granddaughter, teacher- turned advocate of creativity in education, speaks eloquently on her hopes for a future Dylan Thomas Foundation, to bring his work to a new generation. Dylan failed at school, his imagination and creativity perceived as bad behaviour. Wandering around Laugharne, getting into mischief, exploring and going with the flow helps one realise how constrained one can be by such convention.

The unseasonal late sunshine is too bright to give up for a Wickerman-esq documentary in the church and soon the lure of golden ales and a John Martin tribute draw us back to the Tin Shed.

Later, after a minimal electro set from newcomers Trwbadour, local bookshop owner and former music journalist George Tremlett is upstairs at The Cross Inn talking about his co-authorship with the poet’s widow Caitlin of a definitive biography – his involvement suggested by Ted Hughes after reading his interviews with 1970s pop names including Marc Bolan and David Bowie. Thomas was rock ‘n’ roll ahead of time and his influence had been weaving a spell over Tremlett for years before his involvement with the project. He goes on to debunk myths about the circumstances of the poet’s death and to suggest that we shouldn’t allow reputation to stand in the way of the immortality of the work.

Islet at The Millennium Hall, Laugharne
Islet at The Millennium Hall, Laugharne

Back down at the Millennium Hall, Islet take the stage banging on a variety of percussive bars, bells and drums. They are a band full of energy and invention, gestures and rhythms and it makes for the best performance of the weekend.

Gruff Rhys, this time in person, is in contrast a whimsical, witty presence and tells the story of John Evans complete with his specially commissioned puppet, through a selection of songs and anecdotes which slips from English to Welsh and back again so smoothly that it’s almost possible feel like you’re learning some scraps of the language as he goes along.

Outside, the weather has turned cold and skipping more films in lieu of a lift back up the road, the B&B beckons once more.

Waking up to one more over the top breakfast and the odour of egg and bacon, there is time for then one more look at the gloriously shiny bay before taking a bus to the relative normality of Carmarthan – so different Laugharne already seems like a fevered dream.

View from Laugharne Castle
View from Laugharne Castle

 

 

 

 

 

Queens Park Music Club Vol. 1

Queens Park Music Club

Glasgow International (GI) is in full swing and the project I worked on with Queens Park Railway Club has been launched.

Queens Park Music Club Volume 1 – a digital publication comprising artists’ responses to questions about the role of music in their practice – featuring playlists, essays, illustrations and meditations on the theme – is now available to download.

Queens Park Music Club

There was a lot of discussion about what form this collection of work should take – should we embed playlists? If so what form would they take? In the end it was settled that links to the music would be placed within the text – leaving it to the internet to provide the music – rather than curating a podcast or compiling a mix. With so many issues around copyright, ownership and piracy tied up with listening to music online it was detracting from the focus of the project. I feel it demonstrates the effect that the internet has had on the breadth of people’s musical taste – almost everything is available if you can find it, indeed we found that to be the case, with the exception of only a couple of the pieces cited in the publication.

In the end, I didn’t write for the project myself but, in researching the form it would take, I did compile a piece of my own which I present below with a Mixcloud featuring the tracks under discussion.

QPRC Playlist 1: Live Tracks by Queensparkrailwayclub on Mixcloud

Live In Concert.
 

 

*track 1* Joe Cocker  – Delta Lady (Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Live Album 1970)

“Delta Lady it is my love,” With his Sheffield showing, Joe Cocker launches the closing track his 1970 live album. I have a clear memory of the gatefold sleeve, full of circus imagery and Cocker’s sweaty, crazed, stoned, gurning face in my parent’s meagre vinyl collection when I was a kid. The sound of all the drugs the band took, all the life they were living is captured on this record.

“Rock ‘n’ roll!” Cocker chuckles, like he’s almost surprised. I remember not being allowed to play with my parents records – I must have looked at the sleeve while my dad played it on the big wooden box of a hifi. My parents had some history with Cocker, attending his early pre-fame, pre-America gigs. They tell a possibly apocryphal story about him singing while standing on a table in a working men’s club. There’s another tale that they never finish involving Cocker disappearing to the toilet mid-set, presumably partaking in some recreational pursuit that parents don’t want their children to know about.

Is this where I get my need to follow bands from?

In my head I’m at some dream-version of the gig, it doesn’t match the tour film with Cocker’s crazed battery bunny drumming dance. Worn out, one more time, feeling it. The big finish. The reprise, pushing it just that bit further. They don’t want it to end.

They’re playing so hard there’s not much left of the song – that shriek, that voice almost falling apart. No meaning left but the moment. Good live albums which capture the essential transience of live performance are rare. Live albums that make you feel like you’re at a gig are rarer still. It’s impossible to talk of ‘authenticity’ after all this is a Yorkshireman singing the blues.

*track 2* Radiohead – The National Anthem (I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, 2001)

When I hear this, I am sent back to the Buddokan toilets. When Radiohead played in Tokyo in 2001, I was there. The gig that night started early and like the other shows on that tour they opened it with The National Anthem and it felt like a threat. That bass, that noise, the whole round place shook with the shiver and the panic of it. And we weren’t even in the auditorium yet. It was the manifestation of my touring anxiety dream (I get lost, I can hear the band but I can’t see them).

The way they were playing that song at that time went beyond the dark album version, it becomes something purely physical.

My muscle memory makes me twitch, I don’t hear this one I feel it. Aggression and fear and anger and all the things I take from those gigs. It’s a feeling in the pit of my stomach.

 *track 3* The Jesus & Mary Chain – Reverence (Live in Bristol, 1992 from BBC Radio Live in Concert album, 2003)

Lying in bed with headphones on in the dark. The year my taste was formed. The Mary Chain are something forbidden, their name (to a Catholic school girl, afraid of everything) the dirtiness of their noise, the sexy confidence of it. If this was a gig, then I had to go to one.

I know now that the Mary Chain wear their influences on their sleeve, but then it was my gateway to The Stooges, to Jonathan Richman, to the Phil Spector Wall of Sound. JAMC got to me first.

I was too young to go their gigs that year, and I never got the chance to see them before they split. They’ve played a few gigs in the last few years but I they’re the last band I’m yet to see. I joke that I’ll book them myself if that’s what it would take for me to be able to see them play The Barrowland.

*tracks 4 & 5* Patti Smith – Babelogue/ Rock n Roll Nigger (Easter, 1978)

Though these are from a studio album, they sound live. When I saw her play in Amsterdam, in a moment of serendipity, she adjusted the lyrics of the spoken word Babelogue to become germane to the evening. Never having seen her before, I was astonished by her energy. I thought I got it. I didn’t really get it until that moment.

It’s a call, a summons. There was unity in the room, beyond that of a mere live music show. I am a little afraid of Patti Smith, her life force amid all her tales of dead friends is an astonishing creative power.

*track 6* The Clash – The Magnificent Seven (live in Boston 1982, from From Here To Eternity: Live, 1999)

This live album was released around the same time as Joe Strummer’s first Mescaleros album. I saw that band live, but I’m too young to have seen The Clash, they’re still a massive band in my life. This album always comes out in times of crisis. It’s a fantasy gig from several recordings making up a survey of the band’s career in a way that none of their actual real gigs would have been. Its a protective cloak, an invincible strength.

*track 7* Nina Simone – Sinnerman

Just one of many tracks I could have put in by Nina Simone, another act I will never get to see play live whose work I treasure. At this fantasy concert I am in the audience and it doesn’t matter if this was recorded in a studio or at a concert because it sounds like it’s happening in front of you. “Power.”

*track 8* Jeff Buckley – Je n’en connais pas la fin (Live at Sin-e EP, 1993)

I saw Buckley play live a couple of times, when he was being lauded for his first records. Even if he’d lived, the gigs would have been special. He was ridiculously handsome, funny, with a vocal range that none of the other indie acts of the time came close to. His studio albums have that edge of over production and “classic rock” which was against my religion, but this acoustic EP was a thing of rare beauty. Every note Buckley committed to tape seems to have been released as a “special edition” it’s a cliché, but the music is immortal.

*track 9* Talking Heads – Life During Wartime (Stop Making Sense, 1984)

This is from the album of the concert film. Not really a filmed concert, more a concert as a film. There is another Talking Heads live album (The Name of This Band Is) but Stop Making Sense is the perfection of the form.

 

20 Facts About The Barrowland Ballroom

This weekend was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and I volunteered to be a tour guide around one of my favourite Glasgow places – The Barrowland Ballroom. It’s 20 years since I first went to a gig there, and about 20 years since I first moved to Glasgow, so this felt like a good way to mark the occasion. It’s a unique place – still owned by the family who established it and the market it covers over – it has a very Glaswegian personality all its own. Here some Barrowland facts I put together for my tour:

Mrs Margaret McIver, 1955
Mrs Margaret McIver, 1955

1. The Barrowland was built in 1934 by Margaret McIver – the matriarch of a family of nine children, who originally bought the land and established the market for traders and their “Barras”. The market was covered in 1926 and completely enclosed by 1931. She instructed her builders Hunter and Clark that the ballroom “should not encumber the ground,” and it was built on stilts above the market. It was a ‘Palais de Danse’ with a big band and became the venue for the traders’ annual Christmas party.

2. Due to enormous popularity the ballroom was extended in 1938. The original sign on the roof was a man pushing a barrow, imported from the USA, it was believed to be the first animated neon sign in the UK. A flash mechanism gave the impression of spinning wheels.

002 Original Exterior 1935 City Archives
Exterior 1935, showing original neon “barrow boy” sign

3. The original building was destroyed by fire on 19th August 1958 (just a couple of months after Maggie McIver died). The McIver family rebuilt it and dedicated it to her memory. It was reopened on Christmas Eve 1960.

4. Over the stairs as you enter the present building, there is a cartwheel – from the original neon sign – is the only remaining fixture rescued from the fire.

5. The present neon sign was completed in 1985, it is possibly the largest of its kind in the UK (but no one kept the paperwork) and apparently it costs £1.10 per hour plus VAT in electricity to run!

6. An extra floor was added to the 1960 building. There are 18 vertical columns and cross beams which were added in the late 1980s to reinforce the fabric of the building and accommodate the change of use to a rock venue – 1900 people jumping in unison on the floor above.

7. On the floor of the “crush room” (the additional middle floor which houses the cloakroom, merchandise stand, toilets, support dressing room, production offices and Barrowland 2 bar) is the musical score of the opening line of ‘I Belong To Glasgow’ (written by Dundonian music hall star Will Fyffe in 1920).

The "Crush Room" with musical score on the floor.
The “Crush Room” with musical score on the floor.

8. The area by the ladies which is now closed off used to be the powder room – with alcoves and lots of mirrors for ladies to fix their hair before going upstairs to dance – some used to arrive in their rollers and put the finishing touches to their hairdos before doing upstairs to dance.

The rescued barrow wheel, from commemorative programme 1960
The rescued barrow wheel, from commemorative programme 1960

9.The production rooms and support dressing room. Donald MacLeod of Glasgow promoter CPL says “You canna trash a Barras dressing room because there’s f-all in it!”

10. When The Saw Doctors supported the Waterboys over two nights in 1989, they slept in the support band dressing room on the floor. When they later returned as headliners they requested the support room for old times sake. They’ve since headlined here 36 times – more than any other band.

11.  When Barrowland 2 was Geordie’s Byre in the 1960s, it was home to Glasgow’s first disco – with a DJ. It has been redecorated several times since and now plays host to unsigned bands.

 

12. A team of paranormal investigators spent the night in the venue and claimed that “a man called James with a scar on his face and not much of a home life” was present… according to the staff, there used to be doorman answering that description…

Newspaper advert for the Barrowland, 1944
Newspaper advert for the Barrowland, 1944

13. Upstairs in the main hall, the dance floor is made of specially imported Canadian Maple – underneath is criss-crossed batons to give the floor its springy quality. In its heyday it was considered the best dancefloor in Glasgow. The octagonal lay out is for sequence dancing so dancers can see their place on the floor. Choreographer Michael Clark was intrigued by the floor’s geometry and incorporated it into his Barrowlands Project which took place here in 2012.

14. The stage used to be on the opposite side of the hall but was rebuilt in its present position in the early 1980s. The pillars, made of Australian Walnut go round the back of the present stage.

Interior 1960, from the commemorative programme.
Interior 1960, from the commemorative programme.

15. The oak prize boxes that used to flank the stage – for all manner of games and fun that the band leaders used to involve the audience in – are now in the People’s Palace.

16. In the 1930s, throughout the year the ballroom was rented to bandleader Billy (Bobby?) Blue and the Bluebirds who held regular dances, but canny Maggie McIver saw the queues for the dance nights and could see there was money to be made. She approached the drummer Billy McGregor to form a big band of his own and work for her. And so Billy McGregor and The Gay Birds become the house band. They continued to be the house band well into the 1960s.

17. The Ballroom was rediscovered as a rock venue in the early 1980s, after a stint as a roller disco – when Simple Minds choose it as the location for the video for their song ‘Waterfront‘, filmed there in 1983.

18. The stars on the walls of the main dressing room are often taken as souvenirs by bands – so often that the staff now make their own to replace them. David Bowie is alleged to have one in the bathroom of his Paris home.

19. The crew, many of whom came over from The Apollo when it closed in 1985, include Bill Gunn aged 66 – they’re famed for being able to get even the heaviest of gear up all the stairs without a lift.

Ticket for Simple Minds, 1983
Ticket for Simple Minds, 1983

20. The Barrowland’s first wedding took place on Saturday September 21 2013 (in the middle of the Doors Open Day weekend) when author Nuala Naughton married Dave.  The ceremony took place in the dressing room and the reception was held in Barrowland 2. Nuala’s book, Barrowland: A Glasgow Experience, was launched over the weekend and is the source of a few of these stories, it also contains a list of all the acts to have played at the venue since the relaunch in the 1980s.

 

Thanks to all at the Barrowland, especially General Manager Tom Joyes, the hardest working man in Glasgow!