23rd November 2017
See my latest article, published, today. It concerns the roots of popular music.
Published on Music in Leicester magazine.
23rd November 2017
See my latest article, published, today. It concerns the roots of popular music.
Published on Music in Leicester magazine.
This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 9th February 2016. It has been transferred to this blog (the magazine having closed down.)
The people of Leicester today eat food from everywhere in the world. That is largely because the people of Leicester come from everywhere in the world. This has not always been true. If you walk through the centre of Leicester today, you will see several kinds of people: white Europeans from a variety of origins, Asians who came here from the Indian Subcontinent, Africans and Peoples from the Caribbean, some Asians from the far east, people from the Turkish region of Asia… our population is diverse in ethnicity and cultural heritages. Our popular is so diverse that no one group has a majority.
Well, you can see straight away that Leicester’s demography has important implications for its food. In our city centre there are many restaurants and specialist supermarkets catering for ethnic foods. In our outdoor market you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world. If you want to be gastronomically adventurous and try out the cuisine of other cultures, Leicester would be a great place in which to do that.
That is where we have got to today but it has not always been so. If we start to explore the history of out city’s eating, we will find that food has changed as the people living here have changed. This great feast of culinary cornucopias has not always been a feature of the Leicester community.
Even going back 50 years in time, we would find things to be very different. Let’s start with the end of the second world war. After the war, rationing was gradually phased out. People began to find more things to eat; the shops began to stock more varieties of food products and the contents of larders became gradually more elaborate. Where did people buy their food? A lot of people would have done their shopping in Leicester’s outdoor market. The market was established in 1229 by King Henry III, who allowed an already established fair to change its day from June to February. A permanent market has stood in the centre of the city ever since. The collection of stalls was given a roof in 1971 and even today the whole area is undergoing change and reconstruction.
Between the end of the second world war and the start of the nineteen fifties, cooks had it hard. Food was meagre, supplies limited and the choice of what most people eat was limited.
In the 1950s things began to change. Supermarkets opened, new food products were introduced and tastes began to change. One thing that changes what people were prepared to eat was foreign holidays. British people started to take packaged holidays in Europe and Spain and Italy were popular destinations. A thousands of British people descended on the fishing villages of the Mediterranean resorts, holiday-makers were exposed to radially new dishes – such as Pizza, Risotto, lasagna, Paella, – and when they got back they looked these foods in the shops and gradually they were introduced into the British diet.
Another thing changed the way people cooked: the rise of convenience foods. As supermarkets grew in number and as kitchen appliances became more affordable – particularly the refrigerator and later the freezer – housewives could buy and keep a much wider variety of perishable foodstuffs. I use the term housewives because in the 1950s it was women that did most of the work in the kitchen. Men did not start to cook at home until the 1970s and 80s. One company that changed people’s eating habits was Birdseye. Clarence Frank Birdseye II is credited with the foundation of the modern frozen food industry. He was a New York businessman whose pioneering work on freezing food led to the formation of the Birds Eye brand of food products. Fish Fingers became a staple of the British diet since their invention in Great Yarmouth in 1946 (although the term fish fingers first appeared in 1900.) Many other foodstuffs began to appear in the freezers of Supermarkets, including pea, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables and the consumption of these foods was promoted by television advertising.
During the period of the 1950s to 1970s, life in the kitchen became increasingly easy as the range of convenience and processed foods grew ever larger. Continental products such as pasta began to appear in the shops and English family developed a liking for dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese and pizza. Olive oil became a common culinary ingredient – though before the 1950s it was available only in chemists shops for the treatment of ear wax.
In Leicester the Indian community developed following the independence of Indian in 1947 and the Nationally Act of 1948. As the Indian community grew so did their shops and restaurants. In the 1960s there were many shops selling the kind of spices and vegetables that would be cooked at home and the number and range of restaurants increased accordingly. Today, many people would claim that Leicester is one of the best destinations in the UK for Indian cuisine. The various communities from the Indian subcontinent might seem to dominate the city but in fact there are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, cafes and bars that existing today to serve the tastes of the people of Leicester.
Most supermarkets these days have shelves or isles devoted to ethnic cuisine; curry sauce, as a lot of people know it, has become an established product for English people, both as a dish or as an addition to fish and chips. It has become commonplace for people to ‘go for a curry’ during a night out. According to the BBC, the UK has adopted ‘curry’ as one of its national dishes [BBC Food] and about 23 million in the UK eat curry on a regular basis. But what is curry? Other than a term wrongly applied to all Indian food. If we go back far enough in history, we find that the word ‘cury’ meant simply hot food, from the French word Curie, meaning to cook. The first recipe for curry (in England) appeared as early as 1747. since it began to appear in this country, curry is a term commonly applied to any spicy sauce that could be said to have been inspired by Indian cuisine.
In England, there was an explosion in demand for European cuisines from France, Spain, Italy and Denmark. This was fuelled partly by foreign travel and partly by the appearance of programmes about food and cooking on the TV. From the 1960s onwards restaurants opened that could offer international menus to cater for the increasingly varied tastes of English consumers.
In the early 1960s shops and supermarkets started to stock an odd food product made from milk and called yogurt (or yoghurt.) It quickly became popular and sales of the little plastic pots soared. A Swiss company called Ski was a major force behind the mass production of this stuff, offering it in convenient pots with the addition of sugar and fresh fruit.
by Trevor Locke
In this series of article, published in 2016, we look at food and how its production, cooking and consumption has defined Leicester from the earliest times to the present day.
Food is important. Understanding how people cook and eat is important for historians. In order to appreciate the history and heritage of a community you must look at how they grow, prepare and consume their food.
I would argue that Leicester became the city that it is now because of food. Leicester was not put where it is randomly; Leicester is where it is because of two important factors: first it is positioned with good road links to outlying areas and secondly, it lies on the banks of a river which would have been a source of food and which is surrounded by fertile land. The bronze age settlement that was founded where the city of Leicester now stands was not then called Leicester; that name was introduced much later, in Roman times, but for convenience I refer to Leicester as the place considered in this article.
You could say the same about most cities anywhere in the world but it is a concept that is often neglected in the writings of those who have looked at the birth and origins of Leicester.
Rivers have been, of course, prime resources for early people: they provided water, a means of transport and a source of fish. The River Soar existed in pre-historic times, when people first settled around here. When people first made settlements and ceased to be nomadic hunter-gatherers they frequently chose places on the banks of rivers and built homes there. They fished, gathered wood and domesticated animals. Access to water for farming and transport was a vital element in choosing where to place settlements.
Rivers often provide fertility to the land; framers chose locations close to rivers where they could find the best soils and a supply of fresh water for their crops. In times before roads were built, rivers provided the best available means of transporting goods for trade both the other local settlements and to the sea where ships could take produce to other countries.
The introduction of farming was the biggest change to the lifestyle of common people and represented a fundamental change in the way of life of early people. In order to grow crops and keep animals, people had to change from being nomadic hunter-gathers to living in settlements. In took about two thousand years for farming to spread right across the British Isles. Instead of hunting wild animals, such as cattle and goats, people kept them in enclosures and domesticated them. Wild boar, living in the forests, were also domesticated and bred to become pigs that could be kept in enclosures, fed and slaughtered for their meat.
It was during the bronze age that people built domestic houses and began to live in settlements. This was a widespread trend on the continent of Europe and in the British Isles.
The Iron age lasted from about 750 BC to the period of the Romans, starting in 43 AD. During this period food production was organised into many small farmsteads. Life in what we now call England revolved around farming and agriculture. These small communities were able to produce enough for their own subsistence and some for trade and exchange in good years.
Crops such as barley, rye, oats and emmer wheat (a variety that was common in the ancient world) would have been grown. Sheep and cattle were kept as well as pigs that had been domesticated from wild boar. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and provided manure and hide. Horses were also kept and used to pull wagons and carts and domesticated dogs were used to help herd animals. Cows would also provide milk at the time of calving. Cattle were not eaten until they had served their life as working farm animals.
Iron age houses often hard garden plots in which vegetables were grown. These dwelling houses were largely round in shape and has conical roofs made of thatch. Inside the round house a fire would have burnt continuously provided heat for cooking and warmth for the occupants. Sometimes food was cooked in a cauldron suspended over the fire. Pots were made from clay or sometimes traded if people visited from communities where pot making was a specialist craft.
Bread was made from wheat and barley and baked in an oven. Barley would have been made into a kind of porridge. It could also be fermented to make beer. In addition to vegetables grown in the round house garden, people would have gathered wild berries, nuts and roots. In communities near to the sea or fresh water lakes or rivers, fish would be caught to add to the diet. Occasionally wild birds might have been caught for food. People at this time would have obtained honey from the nests of bees and they also used the wax for a variety of purposes. Beeswax was used in bronze casting. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Iron Age countryside was well stocked with animals, the rivers provided a plentiful supply of fish and, if the weather was good, the farmsteads and gardens produced more than enough for the local community. This abundance of food allowed people to build houses and other structures, such as barrows and hill forts. Being well fed allowed the development of rituals and ceremonies. Having a sufficient and reliable source of food allowed people to engage in religious activities and hone their hunting or building skills. Some individuals became specialists in the working of wood or metal and could do this only if there was enough surplus food to sustain them. Evidence that people of this time were making clothes, engaging in leisure pursuits, constructing structures such as henges and barrows and becoming specialist craftsmen, indicates that food production was able to support these activities.
Excavations have shown that people made looms on which to weave cloth. Thread was made from wool, which was used to make garments as well as animal hides and pelts. According to the Romans, Britons were fairly well dressed. They were able to dye their woven garments, giving them bright colours. They also had brooches, pins and other accessories and these would have been buried with them when they died. People would have also spent much of the day grinding grains with quern stones. Animals had to be fed, herded or protected if they were away from the settlements. Some evidence of gaming pieces has been found during archaeological digs.
If we want to know the life of a group of people, there is no better way to do this than by looking at what they eat and drink. Food tells us about the identity and status of people. You are what you eat. What you eat tells us something about who you are and your place in the culture of an area. The consumption of food was governed by religious beliefs and the year was divided into days on which feasts occurred and religious rituals were observed.
After buildings to provide shelter, food is the next most important thing to everybody. What people ate, the way in which food was produced, distributed, cooked and eaten, and the drinks that went with it, tells us a great deal about the community and the individuals that were part of it.
Food production provided the largest sector employment for the medieval town of Leicester. Corn would have been ground by the Lords’ millers. The town had several lords who were appointed to protect it and to administer justice. They also controlled key activities, such as the milling of corn by wind and water mills. The earl of Leicester maintained communal ovens and bakehouses from which he derived an income. Tenants were obliged to use them. These were in use up to 1399. Those who wanted to bake bread needed a licence to do so. In 1488 Henry VII ordered the mayor and bailiffs to have removed the ‘divers and many ovens’ which were ‘drawing away our own tenants that ought to bake at our common oven’. There is mention of a bread market in the fifteenth century.
Butchers shops were also found in medieval Leicester. There were 13 butchers shops in 1376. They also sold meat in the Saturday Market, which had developed in the fifteenth century. In 1279 butchers were ordered not to sell meat before noon and not to sell it after three days. Certain kinds of meat could be sold when cooked but not as raw meat. Bakers sold hens in bread and hens in paste (presumably this means pies.)
As the production and distribution of food changed in Medieval times, Leicester would have seen the emergence of markets. In fact, markets would have been a feature of life in the time of the Romans. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a macellum or market hall which now lies beneath today’s Travel Lodge. Initially produce was sold from stalls in the street and these became permanent shops. Highcross Street was a major thoroughfare in medieval Leicester. Archaeological digs have uncovered narrow buildings, some of which may have been ale houses.
How food is grown, manufactured sold, prepared and consumed tells us a lot about the social organisation, economy and culture of any community of people. If we want to get inside the life of the middle ages then we have to find out what people ate and drank.
In early medieval times, Britain was a largely agricultural society. Most of the population worked on farms and toiled the land. After the black death and the plagues, many aspects of life changed a lot and the economic, political and social life of England was fundamentally altered. By the late middle ages, there were more people who worked for wages, less of the serfdom of previous times, a growth in markets and new ways of organising labour and the productions of goods and services. Britain was still a very stratified society – there were still wide divides between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak. Within this structure, The Church, in particular monasteries and abbeys, played a role that was as powerful as it had been for centuries, following the establishment of Christianity in this country.
Leicestershire was a largely agricultural economy in the middle ages. In the city, more and more people were engaging in specific crafts and skills and, as a result, needed to buy food and drink. The era of self-sufficiency had drawn to a close for a large section of the population, most notably those living in the growing urban areas.
In medieval times, markets existed in Leicester where food and drink would have been on sale. One was held on Saturdays, close to the ‘corn wall‘ according to a map of Leicester in the middle ages.
What people ate in the middle ages was very different to the diet we are familiar with today. There were no potatoes. They did not arrive in Europe until 1536. Fish was consumed in large quantities than meat. Items such as eels, herrings (which were pickled) and salmon (which was plentiful and not the luxury we know today) were often stored and transported in barrels, sometimes preserved with salt. Ordinary people would have eaten herrings, eels or, in some places, shell-fish such as Oysters. Beef was a luxury item available only to the wealthy, who might have consumed more venison. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and carts, rather than horses. People would have eaten chicken and eggs and in some areas ducks.
The main mode of transport for food products in Anglo-Saxon times was water – by sea or rivers. Leicester is situated inland and the river Soar was described as being a slow-moving waterway choked with reeds. It was however, a town situated on the Fosse Way. Food production was largely localised.
Beer and ale would have been consumed in large quantities, rather than water. The supply of fresh, clean water to the people of Leicester would not be available until Victorian times. Water from wells or streams was unsafe to drink and people did not then understand anything about germs and microbes; there was a need to wash clothes and people but when it came to drinking the population was dependent on brewed liquids for its refreshment. This was long before tea and coffee, of course.
Beer was drunk in preference to water because the process of fermentation killed much of the bacteria and other infestations that would have been present in springs and streams. Beer required supplies of grain and hops and this was an important element of medieval agriculture.
In the middle ages, the normal, daily drink of the working classes was beer or ale, much of which would have been weaker than the beverages known today. Beer and ale were fermented from malted barley, or a mixture of barley and oats or rye. Hops began to be used in the late medieval period and had been known since the time of the Anglo-Saxons. During the sixteenth century, people began to have more leisure time, especially in the urban areas. Taverns offered an alternative venue for social life (alternative to the church that is.) Apart from ale drinking, taverns also were placed where games could be played. Inns provided accommodation for travellers. They were often purpose-built premises, providing accommodation for travellers. From the fourteenth century, inns and ale houses would have a pictorial sign hanging outside (since many could not read.) Before the Battle of Bosworth, it is said that King Richard stayed at the Blue Boar Inn in Leicester. Ale houses began as ordinary dwellings, particularly where the householder made ale or beer at home.
In the fifteenth century, ale houses began to appear in both rural and urban communities. There were taverns in Roman Leicester and they were also in use in Anglo-Saxon times.
High-status people could drink wine as well but this was largely imported from Europe and would have been too expensive for the average man in the street. Grapes were grown in southern England since Roman times. Most of the wine drunk in England would have been imported from Europe, since the Roman conquest and into the middles ages, just as it is today. Wine was transported in barrels or casks. Glass bottles did not appear until the seventeenth century.
Wine would have been drunk by the aristocracy, high-status people in monasteries and wealthy merchants. In some areas cider and mead would have been available. There were vineyards in England, some mentioned in the Doomsday book, but these were largely in the south of the country. Some might have had access to mead, a drink made by fermenting honey with water. This required a plentiful supply of honey at a price that was less than barley or hops. The keeping of bees was widespread but we should not think that England was a land flowing with milk and honey.
Today, Leicester is the destination for the world’s foods, drinks and cuisines. Continental markets are held in the city centre, offering products from many European countries and in the covered market there are stalls offering fruits, vegetables and spices from around the world. some of the herbs and spices found in today’s kitchen cupboards were introduced by the Romans from 43 AD onwards. Spices were imported from the middle east, particularly caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. It was during the crusades that knights and soldiers from England would have encountered spices whilst in the middle east. With the discovery of the new world, the Americas in particular, during Tudor times, even more herbs and spices started to appear in this country, although they were often things can be afforded only by the very rich. Take sugar for example. Sugar was available to wealthy kitchens. The Romans used sugar as a medicine. It was available in the 14th and 15th centuries, though it was very expensive. The Crusaders brought sugar home with them from the Holy Land. The first record of sugar in England was made in the late 13th century. The trade in sugar lay at the root of British slavery. Plantations opened up in the Caribbean islands by the traders and merchants of the colonial era. Slaves were put to work on these plantations and countless thousands were uprooted from their homelands in Africa to be taken to the new world and a large proportion of them died on the way Sugar and spices were key products in trade from Tudor times and into the colonisation of Indian during Victorian times. These spices were very expensive and would have been kept under lock and key in medieval houses. Spicy foods were popular in the royal courts and represented one way in which the nobility displayed their wealth and ostentation.
When chocolate first came to in Britain it was consumed in the form of a drink (from 16th century.) The first cocoa beans arrived here in 1585. Coffee was introduced into England by The East Indian Company, in the 16th century. By 1675 there were more than 3,000 coffee houses in England. ( Samuel Pepys frequented the Coffee Houses of London, mentioning them in his entry of 1661). The number of coffee houses in Leicester grew in Victorian times.
Tea began to drunk in the 17th century. In 1662 chests of tea were imported by the wife of Charles II. Queen Anne popularised the drinking of tea at breakfast. England was one of the last countries in Europe to adapt tea as a drink. Tea was imported by the East India Company. Herbal teas for example were very rarely found in Leicester homes, until supermarkets began to stock them as demand increased for new things to drink, healthier options and the general trend to a more varied lifestyle.
Wine became an increasingly popular drink amongst the middle classes of England. The Romans might have been the first to established vineyards in England, though most of the wine they drank was imported from Europe. Wine, Sherry and other continental beverages increasingly became popular from the middle ages onwards as more and more people could afford them.
Lager began to replace beer in our public houses and bars.
An increasing concern with health led to the establishment of a range of foods and drinks.
Fast food has always been around in Leicester – since the Roman began to build their towns and cities and a lot of people moved in with them. The Roman centre of Leicester had a range of fast-food outlets, catering for people who needed to eat out or who could not cook food in their own accommodation. Fast food continued to be a familiar part of street life in Leicester during the middle ages.
As Leicester’s population became increasingly diversified, in the post-war era, fast food outlets began to appear offering an alternative to the long-established fish and chips shops. We saw the rise of the pizza takeaway and restaurants offering Indian and Chinese take-outs.
Today’s home kitchens have seen the staple potato increasingly supplemented by or replaced by other carbohydrate ingredients such as rice and pasta. The potato was a staple in Leicester for many centuries. Only in recent times has it been replaced by rice or pasta.
The other great staple was bread. In the middle ages bread was eaten by all classes of people, although in those times the finer variety of white bread was reserved for the tables of the rich while the loaves eaten by the poor and the working classes were much rougher and closer to what we now know as wholemeal.
Next: we will look at food in Leicester in the 21st century.
A talk given by
Trevor Locke, Chairman of Telenet
at John Storer House, Loughborough, on Thursday 5th February 1998.
Current patterns of teleworking in Leicestershire and in Europe
What teleworkers do
Nuts and bolts of being a teleworker
How they find work
Future prospects for teleworking in the year 2000
Four year of Telenet in Leicestershire
The impact of the Internet on teleworking
Teleworkers are people who work mostly at home or from home. OK in some cases they work from a small office but the key factor is that they work for clients who are some distance away – hence the ‘tele’ in telework.
Employees of companies are now  more likely to spend some time working at home and on a more regular basis. Telework is becoming accepted as one of a number of flexible working practices available to large employers.
Traffic congestion is a factor in encouraging the growth of teleworking. Commuting has become a costly practice, both in time and expenses. Traffic congestion is increasing, although here in Leicester the problem is not a very great one. The City is about average for ancient Midlands cities in regard to congestion at peak hours. Parking capacity certainly is fully stretched but not necessarily overburdened. The road network is saturated at peak hours due to single car commuters but there is a computerised parking system. The commuting flow can be traced back to several large employers, most notably the City Council itself, the Inland revenue, the Hospitals, Universities and colleges.
Teleworking is for many firms an option for some white-collar workers on an ad hoc basis (a couple of days a week). LCC does have a home working policy whereby staff who are able to do so may work at home if they need to but the practice is not activity encouraged.
The City Council activity encourages staff to walk, cycle and use public transport. The development of the Town Hall Square Cycle Centre is an example of this as are the building of the cycle routes and bus routes. Much more could be done to encourage home working and this could further reduce regular traffic flows by up to 10 per cent.
Most of the teleworkers who join the TCA (the national body for teleworkers) are self-employed and working from home. They tend to be white-collar specialists although there are also a large number of people who are home workers who might have a computer and might use it for work but they are not computing specialists – this is however a point where teleworking merges in with the general field of small business and self employment. Only a small number of teleworkers actually use a computer as their main piece of working capital – e.g. programmers, translators and web authors. Most teleworkers use a computer for word processing, accounts, some database work etc.
Teleworking is on the increase right across Europe and teleworkers are now more able to engage in collaborative projects with other teleworkers.
The Internet and competition amongst telecoms providers has meant that we have seen a decrease in telecommunications costs and an increase in the efficiency of telecoms media.
Some have described teleworkers as knowledge workers – collecting, repackaging and redistributing knowledge – but in many ways this sounds too vague. Let’s look at the list in Telwebsite: Electronic engineer, Software developer, Secretarial Services, Administration, Engineering consultancy, IT Consultant, Writer, Graphics designer, Journalist, Technical author, Multimedia author, Market researcher, Distance learning consultancy, Technical illustrator, Career management adviser, Psychometric tester, Tax adviser, Book keeper, Trainer.
There are a lot of people who have a computer at home, know how to do a bit on it and then are willing to take on any kind of assignment – loads of general administrators. Some are very vague on what they can do but are full of willingness and enthusiasm. Some have a yen to get into business and end up in those awful MLM schemes. Some just try to sell what ever they can over the phone.
Over the last four years I have tried to boil down the practice of being a teleworker to certain crucial elements:
(a) Working at home
For me teleworking is about being a home worker – working from home rather than at home – or both. I used to be out of the house most days in the week at one time – now I am spending four out of five days a week at home. That presents it own challenges – the fact that I am alone in the house all day. The fact that the office is in the home and if I cant find anything better to do I will work. I keep funny hours – common to work up to 2 in the morning and fall asleep in the last afternoon. Having two rooms solely devoted to office space is a source of friction.
(b) Finding work
I have multiple clients – up to 10 at any one time. I have constantly to be alert to new customers and I have to be all things at once – salesman, manager, operative, book-keeper.
I don’t make enough profit to employ secretaries, book keepers and salesmen though I ought to if I am to maximise the time I spend managing the business. One day I will get to that break point where I can. But I am beginning to work with other teleworkers – I am not so much a lone star as I used to be. That is very important – being able to find other people to work with and to share enterprise with them. I now have half a dozen associates – some in Leicester – one in the Netherlands. I find I am working with individuals and with larger companies.
(c) Doing the work
The biggest challenge is just shifting the vast pile of work that is always present. Having to keep plates spinning. Having to keep a clear sense of priorities – sadly, I have to say, this does always happen. I tend to do easy work in order to avoid the challenge of the really important and difficult stuff. When you work on your own you have to be able to engage in time management because you do not have anyone on your back tell you what to do.
With great difficulty! If a teleworking is a generalist – administrator – portfolio worker – they have to do a lot of advertising. Marketing is all important. Yet a lot of work comes by word of mouth. Cross-fertilisation between clients.
You have to have good communications – customers won’t bother to find you if they can’t get an answer to their phone call. Some teleworkers end up working for agencies because it’s easier – marketing takes time and money.
Teleworking will continue to become easier and will be a greater possibility for more and more white-collar workers. House builders are just beginning to realise that people are working at home and are building houses with offices or studies.
Large companies are beginning to understand the benefits for teleworking. They are training managers to manage outputs. People are moving into the countryside out of the cities – this is a topic for the Government at a time when the Green Belt is under stress.
This only exacerbates commuting pressures and costs. Soon it will be cheaper to work at home because of the high cost of car ownership and travel. More student will spend more time studying at home and that will begin to affect school age children.
We begin with the East Midlands and have focused down on the county. That is more realistic. But the constant pressures of having to organise meetings is a burden for committee members who are very with their work.
We need to know how many of our members are on the Internet. I wonder if it feasible to run the Association for people who are not on the Internet. The sheer cost of doing mailings in time and postage is too great. E-mail and web pages cost so little – they are so easy to operate – there are none of the overheads of stuffing envelopes – doing printing – licking stamps. Perhaps the time has come to say no more paper based mailings. Do we actually need to meet together face to face.
Well many of us do enjoy seeing each other. I would suggest that we need the chance to meet face-to-face but they the bulk of association activities can be done over Internet and we would achieve more if we decided to go down that route. That might lead us to opening up our membership – to see Telenet as a general vehicle for anyone who is a regular work-related user of the Internet. But perhaps that is putting the cart before the horse.
It would be a loss if there was no longer a body to represent the interests of teleworkers, to promote teleworking, to give talks on the subject, to give advice to people who want to do this.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Internet has revolutionised teleworking. It has become a standard tool of the trade. It has opened up endless possibilities. It would be impossible to go back to being without it. Just as we would not want to return to manual typewriters or to having to send all communications by postal services. Once we enjoy a technological development there is no going back. But where are we going forward? What technological advances lie ahead of us?
Document created 6/2/98 © Trevor Locke 1998
by Trevor Locke
This article forms part of a series called The History of Music in Leicester.
Chapter 1 of this series Music Today has already been published and covered the period from 2014 back to 2005.
This is part 1 of Chapter 2.
Part 2 looks at the 1990s.
In this chapter we look at the period from the early noughties (2000 to 2005) to the 1990s (taken to be the start of the Internet, roughly speaking.) As was noted in Chapter 1, all music of a particular period had its roots in the past; the music of an era cannot be understood without looking back at the roots that nurtured it at that time. Hence, our journey back through history to see how music has changed and how people’s musical tastes have been shaped and formed by what was happening to them and the people before them. The outstanding feature of the period 1990 to 2014 was the growth of the Internet.
All kinds music has depended for its growth, development and distribution on the technologies available; music in pre-technological society was exclusively live and its distribution was dependent on the printing of sheet music. Before that, it was all about oral traditions being handed down from one generation to another. All this changed with the invention of the gramophone player, the radio, television, the CD player and then the Internet. Technological development changed the way people listened to music but it also changed the musical tastes of the majority of people by giving a broader access to music. This is covered in more detail in our article Music and Technology. Peoples’ access to the Internet had two parts of it: email and the World Wide Web. In the early days of the Internet these were the two services that most people used.
The growth of the Internet, particularly from the late 90s onwards, brought huge changes to the way that music was distributed. It also allowed bands to reach a wider audience, through the medium of the world wide web. This period saw a growth in music festivals and live music venues. The advent of personalised music-playing devices, from the Walkman in the 1970s through to the iPhone’s launch in 2007, allowed listening to become a personalised experience. By contrast, the rise of the big festivals, raves and the construction of high-capacity arenas, brought back a social element to the experience of music, one not seen since the demise of the music halls in the early years of the twentieth century.
One other thing, that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about, was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels.
Mass broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the DIY artists – those who could record music in their bedrooms and reach a large market, usually very cheaply. This revolutionised the means of musical production, compared to the days when the production of gramophone records was prohibitively expensive for the unsigned group or individual. YouTube, Reverbnation and Soundcloud further aided the rise of self-production of music.
In 2005, Arts in Leicestershire was founded. The domain name was registered on 22nd February; this was soon followed by the publication of the early version of the Arts in Leicestershire website, which later became a magazine. The site published content on all forms of art but half its content was about music. By its hey day, over 600 pages existed on the site (covering all genres of music) and, at the height of its popularity, it had over 28,000 readers per month. The first gig reviews were published on it in 2007. This was made possible by the availability of inexpensive hosting services. In 2013 the music content was transferred to a new site called Music in Leicester. When the music content of the old Arts in Leicester website was removed from the Internet, I began making plans to re-publish the gig reviews as a book. Fortunately, I archived the whole of the Arts website to disk and then extracted all the gig reviews, hundreds of them, to a separate file and arranged them into chronological order. The resulting ‘book’ was given the working title A compendium of Leicester gig reviews; it contains a year by year account of many of the music events that took place in Leicester from 2007 through to 2013 when Music in Leicester started. The only other publication to comprehensively record live music over a period of time was The Monograph. Live music is an ephemeral phenomenon and evidence of what happened quickly disappeared. Anyone wishing to research music will find it difficult to extract material from verifiable sources.
At Leicester University, the Oral History Archive has recorded over a thousand interviews with local people and in some of them, they talk about music, gigs and the shows they went to. Music journalism often misses an important side of life – what people remember about their experience of music events. Today, music fans post their thoughts and experiences on social media every day but this rapidly disappears and there is no easy way to gather and store it for use by the researchers of the future.
Apart from social media platforms, independent websites were set up that provided information about the Leicester music scene. In 2009 Alan Freeman published a list of Leicester rock bands on his website. Arts in Leicester maintained a listing of local rock bands for many years; this captured the names of bands that were playing and sometimes where they came from and style of music they played. Analysing this data enabled Arts in Leicester to claim that ‘Leicester had more bands per head of population than most other cities of comparable size.’
It was in the mid-noughties that Facebook began to challenge MySpace as the ‘must have’ presence on the ‘web for bands, singers, rappers and music artists, alongside countless thousands of music fans who followed them. There were some early adopters, from Leicester, such as the singer and songwriter Kevin Hewick who opened an account on it in 2005. Trevor Locke also joined Facebook in the same year. Val McCoy, who was the promoter of the OBS, joined Facebook in 2007. Twitter was launched in 2006 and as its presence grew in the UK, bands started to open accounts to tweet about their activities.
Bands too began to register domain names and to use them for their own websites. Kasabian was one of the earliest UK bands to register its own domain name, in 2002, as we noted in chapter 1; Leicester bands like ICTUS, Autohype and The Screening were early adopters of free-standing websites with their own tailor-made web addresses (i.e. domain names.) Maybeshewill band registered its own domain name in March 2004.
Stayfree music, then based on offices in Conduit Street, was home to a web hosting service that its own servers in the same building. Many local bands used this service at that time.
Whilst there were a few content management platforms, a lot of websites, in those days, had to be hand-crafted using HTML code. Software, such as Dreamweaver, made the task of designing websites easier. Having been created in 1997, Dreamweaver was taken over by the Adobe corporation in 2005. Its killer function was its ability to write code whilst presenting the page in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format. Also at that time, Microsoft provided its own proprietary software called Frontpage. There were plenty of people around who could make websites for bands and artists but some musicians were savvy enough with the Internet and computers to do it themselves. The Internet provided people with a means to communicate on a mass basis, something which, in previous periods, was limited to the printed page and newspapers, along with the broadcast media.
This section looks at the period we call ‘the noughties’ before moving on to the 1990s (in part 2)
The period 2000 to 2005 saw much activity on the Leicester music scene as bands formed, gigs and events took place on a regular basis and there was a high level of activity across all areas of the city’s music industry. The growth of the Internet, from 2002 onwards, brought significant changes to the way that music was publicised and distributed; it also allowed bands to reach wider audiences, through the world wide web. This period saw a considerable growth in music festivals and live music venues. One other thing that the rise of mass Internet usage brought about was the ability of bands, musicians and singers to publish their own music, challenging the industrial supremacy of the record labels. The mass use of broadband and the popularity of first MySpace and then Facebook, enabled the rise of the DIY artist – those who could record in their bedrooms and reach a market very cheaply via the Internet.
Leicester developed a vibrant live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow. The number of live music venues increased, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed or listened to. The small venues allowed bands and promoters to put on their own gigs, hiring the venues and selecting their own line-ups of acts. Gig promoters were usually individuals who had a passion for live music and would hire bands to play in a variety of local venues. Some of them also secured bookings for bands to play outside of Leicester.
Apart from the weekly round of gigs, several large-scale events took place in Leicester, including One Big Sunday, which was organised by the BBC’s Radio 1 and took place on Victoria Park on 20th July 2003. It attracted an audience of over 100,000 people.
In February 2000, a big show was held at the DeMontfort Hall ‘featuring the very best bands from Leicester’ and ran from 2 pm to 11pm. On the advertised line-up were Saracuse (later to become Kasabian), Pendulum, Last Man Standing, The 13twelve, Marvel, Slider, Fusion, The Incurables and several others. The first Original Bands showcase was held in 2004. The band that won that year was The Dirty Backbeats. The OBS is till going today (2015). In 2006 we saw the beginnings of the Fringe Festival with its mammoth Fringe Thursday, an event that had it’s beginnings as the Summer Sundae Warm Up party. On Fringe Thursday, buses transported music fans around all the live music venues in the city.
It can be argued that such series of shows supported the local music scene and encouraged people to see bands, who might not otherwise have bothered. The value of serial events, such as the OBS, is unclear, in a long-term perspective, but each year they have created live music opportunities for large numbers of acts and the fans who went to see them. Taking part in something like the OBS is enough reward in itself, it could be said. Leicester has not developed any kind of awards recognition institution to celebrate the best of its local music; in fact, as far as amateur local music is concerned, only a handful of cities in the UK have established annual awards ceremonies. Awarding music band and singers is something that was done at national level. This might seem odd given the large number of TV programmes devoted to singing and entertainment competitions that enjoyed massively big audiences. Perhaps local recognition is not so valued as that conferred at national level. Things like Battles of the Bands have occurred regularly in Leicester throughout the noughties and 90s. As a way of organising live music, such series of gigs attracted considerable controversy from bands and fans alike. Leicester bands participated in the national competition Surface Unsigned, often with considerable success.
Compact disks and vinyl records were popular in the noughties and Leicester supported a range of retail outlets for them. Ainsleys record store, once a popular retail outlet, closed in 2004. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001. He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.
We looked at record shops and stores in Chapter 1. With the growth in digital media, sales of plastic sources of media declined but many fans still value the ability to own CDs and vinyl records and bands continue to provide them for their fans.
Leicester has never been noted for its music industry agencies but in Horus Music, established in Birmingham in 2006, later moved to Leicester which is where it is now. I ran Get Your Band On from June 2005 to November 2009; it acted as an agency for rock bands, providing training, bookings, management and bookings. GYBO worked with a number of bands from Leicester as well as supporting bands and artists from all over the UK. During this period, several people became promoters, putting on gigs and events; in most cases they were individuals. Alongside those who worked with rock bands, there were several entertainment agencies that provided a range of artists for music-related clients. What Leicester lacked in modern times was band management; people or agencies specialising in providing management, bookings and publicity services have been few and far between, given the very large number of bands and artists that have existed in the city. The majority of bands and artists had to do all these things themselves.
The year 2000 saw Darren Nockles take over the Bakers Arms in Wharf Street South, a public that had been active since the 1970s, turning it into the venue we know today as The Musician. The old Musician closed it’s doors on 31st December 2004 only to re-opened in 2005. The Donkey, a pub in Welford Road, became a music venue in 2005. In the following year Gaz Birtles began work there as a promoter. Many will have fond memories of the small venue in the city centre called The Attik. It ran from 1989 to 2006. Andy Wright, who ran The Charlotte remembers that on “16th January 2009, the police shut the doors to stop anymore people getting in and shut the bar down .. was fun that night.” Concerts were held at the University of Leicester, mainly in the Queens Hall and the DeMontfort Hall continued to put on performances by rock bands and orchestras playing classical music. Several large music events were held at The Granby Halls (demolished in 2001 to make way for a car park serving the nearby Tigers Rugby Club.) The Who played there on the opening night of their 1981 tour on 25th January 1981. Churches, including the Cathedral, also provided music-lovers with concerts of music; they kept alive Leicester’s choral tradition which started in the middle ages. It was not just venues that grew over this period. Nightclubs were also popular for those who wanted to hear DJs playing recorded tracks. MOSH nightclub opened in 2003. ‘Red Leicester’ was The University of Leicester Students’ Union Wednesday official night out from 2004 – 2014.
The first Summer Sundae festival was held in Leicester in 2001. It became one of the most important events both for national bands and artists as well as for the many local acts that played. It attracted an audience from all parts of the country. A festival was held in Abbey Park in 2002. The Abbey park music festivals played an seminal role in the development of Leicester’s music, from1981 until their demise about twenty years later. In 2009, Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey park’s bonfire night. A similar-sized crowd was present in 2014 when rising pop stars The Vamps were the headline act, supported by local artists Jonezy and Curtis Clacey. Glastonbudget festival started in 2005 (as mentioned in the previous chapter) and has continued to run every year up to the present day. Strawberry Fields festival started in 2010. Quite a few small local festivals were organised, sometimes on a one-off basis. In 2009 and 2008 Arts in Leicester reported on Summer Sundae, the Big Session festival held on Victoria Park, Glastonbudget, Fristock, and regular events that included music in their programme, such as Gay Pride, Diwali, Caribbean Carnival and the Belgrave Mela. Just over the Leicestershire border, Download attracted large numbers of people from our local area and Arts in Leicester listed the bands that played there. Batfest took place on 21st August, 2010 near Ibstock and was organised by Elliot O’Brart. Batfest was an annual event held for charity in the tiny but pretty village of Battram. The festival was primarily a music festival with a couple of stalls selling home made cakes and a raffle stall [Arts in Leicester magazine] This was typical of a large number of local music events that took place in the city and county during the noughties. Other examples included Cosby Big Love, the Braunstone Carnival (which usually featured a music stage), Glastonblaby, and the Oxjam festivals.
I cannot speak from personal experience about Leicester’s live music scene much before 2005. My very first reporter’s notebook goes back to 2006. I did not start writing about local music much before 2001; in that year I started a website called Travel to Leicester which had a section about the entertainment which visitors to Leicester could find and which mentioned gigs, bands and venues. During the 1990s I wasn’t living in Leicester; my home was outside the city in Blaby district and in those days we didn’t come into the city at night – unless we had to. It was not until November 2002 that I went to The Shed for the first time. Hence, I missed out on music, as far as Leicester was concerned, in the ’90s. I did, however, attend One Big Sunday, on Victoria Park in July 2003.
It was in 2005 that I started Arts in Leicestershire, a website that took over the content about the arts, including music from the Travel to Leicester website. I have written about the history of this Arts website, now called a magazine [Arts in Leicester] and have covered its history [Arts in Leicester]
From 2005, I really got to know the local bands. Under a heading ‘2007’ I noted many of the bands that were popular at the time. In May 2007, an extensive listing of gigs was well under way. This page showed some of the promoters that were active at the time, such as 101 Promotions which was run by Paul Matts (who previously managed the Attik live music venue.) As far as I know I wrote my first gig review in 2006, the same year that I joined Facebook; in just ten years the Internet had gone from being a fairly limited system to one that offered an array of services, many of them multimedia, and new platforms were coming on stream on a regular basis. I started to write gig reviews for Arts in Leicester magazine, together with collaborators such as Kevin Gaughan; at one time there were as many as 600 amateur bands based in the city and the county. ‘Leicester is home to over 400 working bands, playing all styles of music. Here we give a guide to our pages that are about bands in 2012’ [Arts in Leicester magazine, 2012]
The magazine also featured local bands in its Band of the Month, pages and listed of all known bands in the East Midlands from 2011 to 2013. Here is the list of bands that were given featured (band of the month) status:
The Manhattan Project, Backline, Messini Assault, Beat Club, The Utopians, Breek, Subdude, Full Circle, Forty More Autumns, Razmataz, Smoking the Profit, The Heroes, The Truth, The Chairmen (Oct 08), Kids in Cars (Nov 08), Formal Warning (Dec 08), The Steptoos (January 09), The Pennyhangers (February 09), Project Notion (March 09), Skam# (April 09), Shortwave Fade (May 09), The Waits (June 09), Kill The Batman (July 09), The Fazed (August 09), Autohype (Sept 09), Weekend Schemers (Oct 09), AstroManiacs (Nov 09), Azidify (Dec 2009), Kicking Habits (Jan 2010), Drive By Disco (early Feb 2010), The Stiggz (late Feb 2010), Iziggy (Mar 2010), Third Time Lucky (May 2010), Neon Sarcastic (June 2010), Silent Resistance (Jul 2010), Ashdowne (Aug 2010), Go Primitive (Sep 2010), The Black Tears (Oct 2010), Us Wolves (Nov 2010), Maybeshewill (Dec 2010), Skam# (Feb 2011), Glassfoot (Mar 2011), Aphtershock (April 2011), The Boobytraps (May 2011), SuperEvolver (June 2011), Rassoodocks (July 2011), The Chairmen (August 2011), Midnight Wire (September 2011), Muleta Smiles (October 2011), By The Rivers (November 2011), Arms of Atlas (January 2012), Raptusound (February 2012), Resin (March 2012) No band of the month in April, May and June 2012. Vengeance (July 2012). Smokin’ The Profit (August 2012), Axis Mundi (September 2012)
The very early Band Of The Month entries have been lost but were very limited (just a highlighted mention and not much more). Covers and commercial bands were listed separately. The magazine also published pages about new bands that had started and young bands. The news sections reported on local bands, venues and music events. Two sections specialised in coverage of African and Asian music (the latter being edited by the late Harjinder Ohbi.) There was also a page about underground and alternative music. The old website – Travel to Leicester – included details of where karaoke evenings took place. In those days these frequently featured high quality singers who attended them and sang for fun; some of them were professional artists and others were simply very good vocalists. Rock was not the only type of music to be covered; the website also had a page about jazz in Leicester and this content was carried across to the new Arts in Leicester web site when it was created in 2005. Bands mentioned in 2007 included The Eaves, Tommy’s heroes, My Amour, Taste The Chase, Ictus, Quaternary Limit, The Iconics, The Jack of Hearts band, The Beat Club, M48, Drumlins, Screwloose, The Chairmen, NG26 (from Nottingham), Proud to have met you, Manhattan Project, The Utopians, 1000 Scars, Killquicks, Sub-Rosa, Firstwave, Kid Vicious, The Codes, Ailse 13, The Elite, Backline, Silent Devices, September Flaw, Messini Assault, Half of Nothing, Rise as one, Black River Project, Internal Conflict, The Authentics, Pink Strip, Blue Light District, Breek and many more. Most of these were local bands, a few were out of town bands that regularly came to play in the city.
In September 2004, Kasabian released their debut album. Having started life as Saracuse, they played one of their first gigs at The Shed, in 2009. The name Kasabian became associated with Leicester, in much the same way as Arctic Monkeys was associated with Sheffield and Oasis was associated with Manchester. Engelbert Humperdinck said ‘It’s so wonderful to know that we have another up and coming big name on the horizon from Leicester. I am proud to be from Leicester.’ [Shooman, 2008] Five musicians, most of them from Blaby and Countesthorpe, formed a band called Saracuse which made an early appearance at The Shed in September 1997. The band also played at the Three Nuns pub in Loughborough and later performed at the town’s University. They also played at the Princess Charlotte in Leicester, in 1999, the same year went back to play again at The Shed. In 2005 the band performed at Glastonbury festival on the ‘other stage.’ It was Kasabian’s third single Club Foot that brought them chart success in 2004. The band won the best live act award at the 2007 NME ceremony. The band became signed to Sony Music. [Shooman, 2008]
Leicester band Roxum formed in 2005 and went on to become a very popular act on the local scene. The year 2008 saw the formation of a clutch of local bands including Neon Sarcastic, Little Night Terrors, The Chairmen, Axis Mundi, The Boobytraps, and many others. In 2009 we saw the emergence of Formal Warning, The Furies, Arms of Atlas, The Weekend Schemers – all of these bands went on to become popular on the local scene and had active careers in music. Because Arts in Leicester was an arts magazine, it could cover a much wider scope of music than rock and pop; concerts of classical music, opera, ballet and musicals were also reviewed and it made some attempt to report on music from ethnic communities, such as the Indian community. Several local bands achieved national notoriety and success. Among these we would include By The Rivers, The Displacements, Midnight Wire and These Furrows. Many other acts achieved notable successes. For example, The Heroes played at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. Other Leicester bands to play at the coveted Glastonbury festival included By The Rivers.
In July 2008, The Heroes won a competition to be opening band on the main stage at the Summer Sundae festival. ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ Guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band. [Locke, 2015]
Several recording studios have come and gone and some are still open today. Deadline Studios, in Aylestone Road, started in 2001; others include Quad Studios, in Friday Street, Yellow Bean Studios (from 2010), in Western Road, (another studio Western Studios, operated in the same premises in around the year 2006). HQ in Charles Street opened in 2012, providing a small recording room. Some Leicester bands went to Nottingham to record their music and some even to London and places further afield. In 2011 Flat Five Records was set up by the Potts brothers, in honour of their father the legendary jazz trumpeter Mick Potts. They published the work of many important bands of this period, such as Kenworthy.
References are given on a separate page.
Introduction to the series History of Music in Leicester
Chapter 1 – Music in modern times
Music and technology
Chapter 2 –
These references are referred to in the articles of The History of Music in Leicester
Berners-Lee, Tim, 1999, Weaving the web, The past, present and future of the world wide web by its inventor, Texere.
Locke, Trevor, 2015, The Heroes… in golden times. The story of a band. Book. ArtsIn Publishing, Leicester.
Miller, Colin, 2012, A degree of swing – lessons in the facts of life; Leicester 1958-64, Derby Books.
The Music Venue Trust, March 2015, Understanding Small Music Venues, a report published by the MVT, London.
Shooman, Joe, 2008, Kasabian: sound, movement & Empire, Independent Music Press.
Spellman, Peter, 2002, The Musician’s Internet: on-line strategies for success in the music industry, Berkless Press.
See below for links to the articles in this series.
This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. These articles are to be published in the magazine Arts in Leicester. The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, the focus is on the music of the people.
All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time is was performed. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music.
The articles therefore annotate the life and times of the city of Leicester through the lense of its musical activities. It is both a contribution to local history and a timeline of the development of music.
My plan is to work backwards from the starting point of 2014. How far backwards? Well, in my original plan I go back to the time of the Romans; that being pretty much the start of written history. Anything before that period would require the results of archaeology because we would then be talking about pre-history, about which not a lot is known.
The music of today (2005 to 2014)
1990 to 2005
Part 1 – the noughties (2000 to 2005)
Part 2 – the 1990s music and the rise of the Internet (1990 to 2005)
The era of radio and records (1940 to 1990)
At some point in the future, my plan is to published a book about the history of music in Leicester. This will include a much fuller and more details account that the brief annotations in these articles.
My hope is that, by publishing the brief articles, people will offer details and contributions to the final book.
Chapter 1 – Music in modern times
Chapter 2 – part 1 – The 2000s
Chapter 2 – part 2 – The 1990s
Music and technology
References (referred to in the articles)
Sunday 9th August 2015
The second in a series of articles. These articles lay the foundations for a book bearing the same title. In this respect the articles sketch and outline a more substantial work into which much more detail will be deposited. This article has cantered through the content and has omitted a great detail of detail. My aim in publishing this article (and those that will follow) is to stimulate interest in the subject of Leicester’s musical history. The problem for me, in writing these articles, is not what to leave out – but what to put in.
Imagine, if you will, that you are suddenly transported into a world where electrical gadgets do not exist. Perhaps this is our world, of today, and an alien power had beamed around the globe, rays that have disabled every small electrical appliance. We have no computers, laptops, smart phones, pads, tablets, radios, televisions… everything that we used to listen to music had been disabled. Now you are living living a world where, the only way you can listen to music is to hear it played live, in front of you, by musicians playing wooden instruments or other kinds of devices that can make sounds but without the use of any electrical power.
You are now in a world that existed before the invention of electricity. The only way you can hear music is the way that our ancestors heard it. It is always live and it is always played on instruments that are powered by the hand or the lungs of those using them. Since the creation of the very first musical sounds, that is how people heard music.
In Leicester, the introduction and mass ownership of electrical goods defined and shaped musical tastes. The gramophone, the radio, the television, the Walkman, the transistor radio and eventually the Internet changed the way people listened to music and changed access to music. Music lovers were increasingly given access to the music of other countries, cultures and eras. The depended on the introduction of either batteries or the availability of public electricity supplies. The first homes in Leicester started to be lit by electricity in 1894. The electric light bulb was invented around 1880. Electricity supplies began from around 1894 in Leicester.
What I want to do, in this article, is plot the time line of the way that electrical technology has changed the way that the people of Leicester have found and listened to music. Peoples’ access to music was revolutionised by the mass availability of the radio and the record player. Later the widespread adoption of television sets further increased access to music in the everyday lives of ordinary people. In Leicester the broadcast media, the growth of record stores and later on the emergence of the Internet, gave people more access to music than was the case when their only choice was live music venues.
Prior to the emergence of radio and record players, music was performed live and listening to it would have been a relatively rare event for the majority of people. This was changed by the advent of the mass ownership of the record player or phonograph
The record player was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison. Also known as the Phonograph or gramophone, the record player began with a rotating cylinder, being replaced by flat discs in the 1890s. It was not until the 1980s that the traditional large record was replaced by the compact disk
To begin with, the phonograph was the preserve of the rich and did not achieve mass ownership until the 1930s, when factories began to mass produce players at a price that was affordable by the average household. This happened in tandem with the mass production of cheap records.
The rise of record players gave people access to music on demand and meant that people could listen to songs far more frequently than was previously the case, when going to a live performance was the only way that people could hear music.
It was not until the mid to late 1980s that the record player would be widely replaced by the Compact Disk player. The CD became commercially available from 1982 although its mass availability in the UK would have followed a few years later. A recordable CD – the CD-ROM – came out in 1983/5. It was not until the early 2000s that the CD player began to display the widely used audio cassette player. The first commercial CD was released in 1982 but it was not until 1988 that CD sales began to overtake those of the vinyl record. In the 1980s (and probably into the 1990s) unsigned local bands would have recorded their music on to cassette tapes, unless they were wealthy enough to produce their own vinyl records. In the 2000s, bands started to produce music CDs for their fans when players became cheap enough for the majority of fans to own one.
The early 1960s saw the introduction of the music cassette, a compact tape-player which began to reach a mass market when Sony introduced its Walkman in 1979.
During the late Victoria period and early twentieth century, musical instruments became more widely available. The guitar became a popular instrument that was easy to learn and which could be purchased either new or from shops that sold them second-hand. It was in late Victorian times that pianos became affordable and many homes began to have them. Prior to that it was only the better off in society who could afford to purchase and play musical instruments. This created a sense of being able to participate in music rather than being just a passive consumer of it.
It was the mass ownership of radio receivers that really transformed access to music as well as musical tastes. In the late 40s and early 50s,when I was a child, I remember the radio being more or less constantly switched on. Our family home also had a record player which was played frequently. My childhood was filled with music. We listened to the Home Service, the forerunner of what we now know as Radio 4. Whilst all members of my immediate family owned music instruments and could play them, my main access to music was through the radio. When I became a teenager, I had my own radio and could choose which programmes I wanted to listen to; so, in this regard, my experience is typical of my generation.
The first radio transmitter was erected in London in 1922. The BBC’s Broadcasting House opened in May 1932. Radio Leicester was launched on 8 November 1967. During the years of the second world war, the television service was suspended and everyone listened to the radio (mainly the Home Service.) Programmes such as ITMA attracted 16 million listeners. The Forces Programme was launched in 1940 initially for the troops in France.
I remember Family Favourites, which started in 1945, and, having parents from a naval background, this was required listening in our home. The programme had a huge influence on my childhood and my familiarity with popular music. Other programmes, such as Listen with Mother – boosted the importance of radio broadcasting in our home and I think that was the case for a very large number of other people born in the post-war period.
In 1959 the BBC began to broadcast Juke Box Jury and DJs like David Jacobs, Alan Freeman and Pete Murray, started to become household names. New programmes started like Pick of the Pops. Music stars were born; Elvis and Cliff Richard owed their emerging popularity to the radio, as well as to record sales in the shops. The radio introduced the top 40 chart programme and, on Sunday afternoons, a quarter of the population tuned in to listen to it.
This period also saw the rise of popular music magazines and newspapers, such as The New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. Paper-based national daily newspapers also printed stories about the world of music and its celebrity stars. The forerunner of The Leicester Mercury began in 1874. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, the Mercury was a widely read local newspaper and it had begun to include photographs. When World War Two ended in 1954, the paper reported ‘Hot off the press, the Mercury captured the mood of the nation by producing a special VE. edition, while 10,000 people attending a thanksgiving service in Town Hall Square.’ Even in those days, great moments in history saw people celebrating or doing things face to face. They might have read the news but their immediate reaction was to take to the streets in large numbers.
Even though the BBC had a legalised monopoly on broadcasting, people listened to pirate radio stations, such as Radio Luxembourg and Radio London in the 1960s. The 1970s and 80s saw a considerable growth in commercial radio stations. The English version of Radio Luxembourg began as early as 1933. Radio Caroline broadcast from a ship in the North Sea, outside of UK waters.
In the years from 1933 to 1939 the English language service of Radio Luxembourg gained a large audience in the UK and other European countries with sponsored programming aired from noon until midnight on Sundays and at various times during the rest of the week. 11% of Britons listened to it during the week, preferring Luxembourg’s light music and variety programs to the BBC. [Wikipedia]
Commercial radio made its mark on the audiences of Leicester in the 1980s.
Centre Radio was the first independent local radio station to serve Leicestershire. It was based as at the lavish Granville House, Leicester, England. Centre Radio launched on 7 September 1981 in a blaze of publicity. The station’s licence was re-advertised and won by Leicester Sound, which commenced broadcasting on 7 September 1984. Leicester Sound merged with Trent FM and Ram FM in January 2011 to form the regional station Capital FM East Midlands, based in Nottingham. [Wikipedia]
With the advent of mass ownership of television sets, people began to watch rather than to just listen to broadcast programmes. As a child, I vividly remember watching the live broadcast of the Coronation (2nd June 1953) on a small black and white TV set in my parents home.
Top of the Pops started in January 1964 and for many years of my early life, this was a ‘must watch’ programme, as much as listening to the radio on Sunday afternoons, to hear the latest chart hits. Today, festivals such as Glastonbury, can be watched on the television. On YouTube there are innumerable video films of artists performing at Glastonbudget and other open-air live music events in our local area.
Live music was by no means killed off by the broadcast media and the record industry. Music festivals began to be organised in the UK, bringing a whole new approach to live music and access to bands and singers.
1989 – believed to be the start of the Abbey Park Festival – would have been influenced by the growing national scene for music festivals, the largest of which began in the 1960s. Glastonbury began in the 1970s and the forerunner of the Reading Festival in the 1960s. It was not until 2003 that Download started on the borders of Leicestershire as a follow-up to the Monsters of Rock events held at Donnington Park between 1980 and 1996.
Free festivals were held in the UK between 1967 and 1990. Some people might remember Roger Hutchinson, who who created the iconic Stonehenge Free Festival poster of 1987.
Roger developed a passion for local history and for much of the decade was busy preserving barges and canals – seemingly light years away from tripping at Stonehenge, but I think connected . Whatever Roger was involved in, he gave it his all and he was, despite not being very well in the last three years of his life, creative and positive and keeping busy, whether it was making a film about taking his dog for a morning walk , or creating his superb drawings of his beloved Leicester for the canal group.
Many people with a knowledge of music from the 1950s through to the 1980s have contributed to articles available on the Internet.
Music festivals have, since their inception, rejuvenated interest in live music. By 2010, around two million people attended music festival in the UK. National events, such as Download, Reading and Leeds festivals and Glastonbury, have attracted large numbers of music fans from Leicester. These days, we can get some ideas of this from the postings they make on Facebook and Twitter. Many local festivals have attracted large numbers of people: Simon Says…, Summer Sundae, Glastonbudget, Strawberry Fields, Cosby Big Love, Foxton Locks, White Noise, all of these have proven to be popular with the people of Leicester and Leicester shire over the years. Many other large-scale public events such as Caribbean Carnival and The Belgrave Mela have provided live music alongside their other activities.
The mass ownership of record players changed the way that people in Leicester listened to music. Previously, only wealthy people could afford to buy them. As the electrical equipment manufacturing companies began to produce ever cheaper players, more and more people owned them and also the records to play on them. This gave rise to the record retail trade in Leicester. Rockaboom opened in 1988; it joined Facebook in 2010.
Ultima Thule was established in 1989, originally in Exchange Buildings in Rutland Street, moving later on to Conduit Street. It was run by Steve and Alan Freeman.
Ten years ago Leicester was full of independent record shops and they were a recognisable feature of our City Centre. Music fans spent hours flicking through hundreds of records on a weekend looking for that special edition picture disc, admiring the album covers referencing politics, fashion – you name it. [Raegan Oates writing in The Monograph in 2013].
St. Martin’s Records, originally in St Martins Square, later moved to Horsefair Street. Martyn Pole told me that he bought nearly all his records there when when has a DJ in the early 1980s. Leicester people will remember Ainsleys, Archer Records, Back Track Records, Boogaloo Records and St Martin’s Records. HMV’s store in the High Street and Virgin Records in The Highcross centre (then called The Shires) also provided retail outlets in the city centre. After 15 years 2Funky closed in 2012. In its time it was a popular destination for record-buyers, especially those wanting the more esoteric and experimental genres of music.
The record label – as a company that published recorded music – is less important now than it has been in the past. This is due mainly to the rise of Internet-mediated sources of music such as iTunes.
The rise of the record labels and their relationship with live music created a constantly changing scene in many parts of the country during the 1950s [Firth, 2010]
What is clear is that how people gained access to, and listened to, music was dependent on, and was reflected by, the availability of technology, as far as the electrical epoch is concerned. We can therefore divide musical history into periods characterised by the technologies that gave people the music they wanted to hear. Before the invention of, and distribution of, recorded music in the nineteenth century, all music was live. As the availability of electrically-operated music players grew, so various periods of music emerged: the era of the radio, the record player, the television, the personal devise and the growth of the Internet. These all figure in the timeline that I have used to divide my account of Leicester’s musical heritage.
Firth  Firth, Simon, 2010, Journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, 1,1
by Trevor Locke
As soon as you write about today, it passes into the past. The word ‘today’ is an inherent misnomer. Today quickly becomes yesterday and ‘now’ is simply the present sliding into the past.
This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. Contemporary times are those of the immediate past. Our journey starts in 2014; and works backwards.
The reason for this is that no music ever exists in isolation; all music (like any other form of art) has its roots; it takes its nourishment from the soil of its previous periods. Music is a tree that is sustained by the music of yesterday. What we hear ‘today’ cannot exist without the music made yesterday; this year’s music flowed from last year’s music, and so on, as far back as we can try to go.
These articles lay the foundations for a book bearing the same title. In this respect the articles sketch and outline a more substantial work into which much more detail will be deposited.
The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, my focus is on the music of the people. It is right that we should take, as our frame of reference, the whole community of Leicester. The music of Leicester is, and always has been, the cultural product of a wide variety of peoples. The people of this city are not, nor have they ever been, a monolithic group. Leicester is the typical city of diversity.
All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time it was made. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music. Music of the people will always reflect the times in which it was made.
I am going to call the period from 2014 back to 2005, The Facebook Generation. Music in this period was (and of course, still is) influenced and mediated through the growing power of the Internet and, on the Internet, the social media platform of Facebook was (and is) pre-eminent.
Prior to the rise of Facebook, it was MySpace that provided musicians with their on-line existence. In 2014, nearly every band, singer, musician and rapper had a page on Facebook. From such pages, links took fans to other providers, such as Soundcloud, YouTube and Bandcamp, to name but a few of the many places in which the world of music could be found. Lists of Leicester bands, published before the ubiquity of Facebook, linked each group to its page on MySpace.
As soon as a new band was formed, a page for it was created on Facebook. MySpace was launched in 2003. Up to 2008 it was the most visited social media site in the world, until it was overtaken by Facebook.
Alongside the rise of these social media sites, we saw the growing dominance of the Google search engine. Previously, Internet users used devices such as Yahoo and Alta Vista to find things. YouTube was founded in 2005 and taken over by Google in 2006. Twitter began in 2006 and quickly became a popular item in the social media universe, with a large proportion of music acts opening accounts on it. All this is as true for Leicester and Leicestershire as it was for the rest of the United Kingdom and the world.
It was not just the bands and singers that began to colonise the world of Facebook and social media. People concerned with and involve in musical could also be found there.
Trevor Locke joined Facebook in 2006 with a personal account in his own name. He added a photo album to his account called ‘Leicester rock stars’ in 2007. Andrew Stone of the Displacements and later Little Night Terrors joined Facebook in 2007. James Shaw and Jason Westall of The Utopians joined Facebook in 2007. The Utopians set up a group on Facebook in 2007 and had a single release at The Shed, on 9th October, using social media to publicise it. In July 2007, The Utopians played a ‘guerilla gig’ at a warehouse in Leicester, the secret location was messaged to friends at the last moment. The band set up a band page in January 2009. They also had a page on MySpace. Luke D’Mellow of The Utopians joined Facebook in June 2007. An events page for the Utopians, in 2007, included a show at The Shed on 20th December 2007 and indicated 17 guests going, including musician Raj Mohanlal, the members of the band and some of their close friends. Connor Evans (of Weekend Schemers) joined Facebook in August 2008. DJ Lisa Lashes joined Facebook in May 2009. These are examples of early adopters of what Facebook had to offer.
Between 2006 and 2014, the whole music in scene of Leicester found its way into the virtual reality of the brave new digital age. Bands recorded their music and made it available on the Internet. Singers filmed themselves for YouTube. Many music artists provided tracks on Soundcloud. For local music the Internet allowed something previously denied by the music industry – self publishing and self promotion.
In 2004, the domain name arcticmonkeys.com was registered. The Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys, which formed in 2002, was signed in 2005 but before that they had established a sizeable fan-base on MySpace. Reverbnation was launched in 2006, as a site for the independent music industry. Soundcloud was started in Germany in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 it began to challenge MySpace as the main site for distributing music tracks. Bandcamp was founded in 2007.
By 2014, access to the Internet had become almost universal in the UK. The advent of mass ownership of mobile phones (connected to the Internet) began to replace the use of computers and laptops as the main devices that people used to see social media sites. Whereas access had been through computers connected to broadband, now people we spending their time on social media via their smart phones and a variety of hand-held devices. This increased the utilisation of social media.
The impact that this technology had on popular music was fundamental and far-reaching. It would be wrong to say that the Internet brought an end to the CD and the vinyl record but the significance of these media declined; music had become mediated through streaming and downloads through devices and websites such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Bandcamp were being increasingly used to provide those tracks.
The Internet had a profound effect on music of all kinds. Music venues and festivals depended on social media to attract fans and to make ticket sales – at minimal cost. Most social media is free to use and this made it possible to put on a concert and sell tickets for it as almost no cost. Gone were the days of having print tickets and pay for expensive advertising in paper-based media.
Previously paper-based music magazines and newspapers began to close down in favour of on-line versions. In Leicester, The Monograph was published on paper for a relatively brief period of time. Even though the paper was supplemented with a website, its days were numbered. It could not be sustained as a physical product in a world where advertising revenues were increasingly gravitating towards online.
Record label A&R scouts began to work more on the Internet than at music venues. Whereas music scouts once depended on attendance at venues to see and to discover bans and singers, they now had only to sit in their offices and log on to Facebook and Twitter to find what they were looking for.
Website hosting became comparatively inexpensive up to 2014. Domains names could be registered for a few pounds and the emergence of content management services like WordPress, allowed websites to be constructed without recourse to the expensive fees charged by web designers. Having a band website became an increasing possibility for even the smallest of unsigned new groups. Although social media provided the mainstream of Internet presence, bands and singers continued to maintain websites as part of creating a professional image.
The music of Leicester’s bands, singers and rappers (as presented on Facebook,Twitter and other parts of the Internet) began to take off from 2006 onwards. A few music acts started their own websites. In Leicester, there were some early adopters of customised domain names and websites.
In a list of Leicester rocks bands, published by Arts in Leicester, in 2009, links were given to each band’s website and the majority of these were on MySpace, most of them having dedicated addresses, like http://www.myspace.com/bandname.
The domain name kasabian.co.uk was registered in 2002, one of the earliest domain names to be used by a band that originated in Leicester. Someone registered thescreening.co.uk in 2004 for Leicester band The Screening. These were early adopters of the do-it-yourself breed of Internet users. By 2014, almost all of the musicians in Leicester’s rock bands had grown up with the Internet. Utilising it for their music was not difficult. Many of the city’s recording studios did well from this easy access to DIY outlets. Businesses grew up to service this market – such as companies specialising in the printing and replication of CDs. A Leicester company called Horus Music provided technical services for the publication of music.
The circumstances leading up to these developments are discussed in Chapter 2 of this series of articles.
In the period between the early 90s and today, Leicester’s music scene became increasingly dominated by music venues, including The Charlotte and The Shed. The Shed started in 1994 and is still a significant venue for rock music, especially as a launchpad for new bands and singers. In 2000, Darren Nockles became a promoter at the Musician, a venue in Wharf Street East, previously called The Bakers Arms (there was also a pub called The Barkers Arms in Blaby and that too played a significant role in the history of Leicestershire music but for very different reasons.) The old Musician closed it’s doors for the last time on 31st December 2004 but re-opened in 2005. The Musician reopened on 1 February 2005, actually smaller than before because of the repositioning of the toilets, and live music continued unabated until May.
Venues closing down and reopening was not uncommon. The Charlotte closed several times only to re-open again under a new management. In 1989, Andy Wright took over the Princess Charlotte pub, having worked there since 1985 when it was a traditional public house. It’s name changed to The Charlotte and it began to be a permanent live music venue until it closed in 2010.
Andy Wright, who once ran The Charlotte, mentions some of the bands that played there in 2006:
’22/01 Random Hand 25/01 Deaf Havana 27/01 Bad Manners 28/01 The Courteeners 29/01 Blood Red Shoes 30/01 King Creosote 03/02 Elliot Minor 10/02 The Subhumans 13/02 Robots In Disguise (From Mighty Boosh) 24/02 Rolo Tomassi 25/02 Turin Brakes 28/02 Ginger 29/02 One Night Only 06/03 Sonic Boom Six 17/03 The Rifles 19/03 Little Man Tate 29/03 Young Heart Attack 30/03 Malcome Middleton (Arab Strap) 03/04 Slaves To Gravity (again) 19/04 The Automatic 21/04 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists / Red Light Company 28/04 Dogs 30/04 Lightspeed Champion 01/05 Cud 04/05 Twisted Wheel 09/05 Spunge 12/05 Jesse Malin 14/05 Wednesday 13 30/03 The Subways 10/06 Glasvegas 22/06 Holly Golightly 25/6 Mystery Jets 26/06 UK Subs 08/07 The Business 10/07 Failsafe My Awesome Compilation 11/07 The Screening 08/08 The Dickies 21/08 The Death Set 03/09 Golden Silvers 10/09 Spear Of Destiny 01/10 Jonny Foriegner / Danananananakroyd 05/10 Iglu and Hartly 07 10 Team Waterpol 08/10 Cheeky Cheeky and The Nose Bleeds 09/10 Little Man Tate 15/10 Does It Offend You Yeah 16/10 Bromheads Jacket 19/10 Strung Out 25/10 The Long Tall Texans 26/10 Jersey Budd 29/10 One Night Only 30/10 The Pippettes 03/11 The Hunters Club 06/11 The Airbourne Toxic Event 10/11 Example 11/11 Fight Like Apes 13/11 Half Man Half Biscuit 16/11 Skinnyman 17/11 Grammatics 24/11 The View 26/11 Twin Atlantic 05/12 The Wedding Present 0712 The Holloways 10/12 Dreadzone 11/12 Streetlight Manifesto 14/12 Bury Tomorrow 18/12 Bad Manners 20/12 999/ The Lurkers 21/12 Diesel Park West. That was the quietest year of The Charlotte hence it’s closure in Jan 2009.’
The Soundhouse opened in 2010, in Southampton Street, behind the old offices of the Leicester Mercury, Prior to that the premises operated as The Queen Victoria pub and it was here that bands played from time to time. The Soundhouse has, since it started, operated as a specialised live music venue with a stage, sound desk, dedicated PA system and professional stage lighting.
The Donkey, in Welford Road, became a live music venue in 2005. This large pub provides a weekly programme of live music and many notable acts have performed there.
A cafe in the High Street – The Crumbling Cookie, rose to become one of the foremost venues for live music when it opened its room in the basement, called The Cookie Jar.
Alongside these small venues, the music life of the area benefited from the shows and concerts provided by the De Montfort Hall. A large proportion of the city’s music lovers attended shows there by national, if not world class, bands and artists.
Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Opening in 1915, it was built as a training hall for the army in World War I. Having stood dormant for three years, the City Council pulled it down as it became an increasing cost burden. During the time when it was used as a large arena for rock concerts, it hosted shows by The Rolling Stones and Louis Armstrong among others.
It was not until 2010 that Leicester was to acquire a large-scale venue for music, with the opening of the O2 Academy in the grounds of the University of Leicester. One of the acts to perform on the opening night was Professor Green.
Prior to the opening of the O2, the University of Leicester students’ union held major rock concerts in the Queens Hall. The oak-panelled room now forms part of the O2 complex, being the medium-sized of three rooms, sometimes referred to as ‘O2.2’. The main hall of the O2 has a capacity of 1,450 and the smallest room – now called The Scholar, holds around 150.
Curve theatre opened and since then has provided a regular programme of musicals, dance shows and concerts. In the bar area, there are regular performances by singers and small acoustic groups.
Not far from Curve is Phoenix, the arts centre and cinema that has a large cafe area where live music concerts have been held from time to time. The names of both these venues have dropped ‘the’ from their titles. Phoenix hosted a series of shows, held on Saturday lunchtimes, mounted by Manic Music Productions. These shows were a showcase of talent for young music artists.
One of the larger venues in the city centre was The Firebug. It originally operated as The Firefly but changed its name to avoid confusion with another establishment. Gigs are held in a large room on the first floor, although music has also been put on in the ground floor bar area, on certain occasions. Upstairs the room has a stage with fixed lighting and there is a PA and sound desk operated by experienced sound engineers.
A venue called The Auditorium operated in the markets area of the city centre. Its premises originally served as an Odeon cinema and later a bingo hall and in its time it was one of the largest capacity centres in the city centre. The Auditorium music venue opened in September 2010. One of the best-known acts to perform there was the rap artist Example ( Elliott Gleave.)
The Exchange Bar opened, 20 January 2011, in Rutland Street. In its basement room live music events are held on a regular basis.
The Australian-theme bar Walkabout once hosted live music events. Standing in Granby Street, close to The Turkey Cafe, the bar closed in May 2015. The bar was part of a chain of venues operated by a company called Intertain. During the periods when live music was held in the bar, about one gig a week was usually held and often local bands were booked to play there.
In a large room above Walkabout bar, the venue Sub91 operated between its opening night in August 2010, when the show was headlined by The Damned through to its closure in December 2011.
The Music Cafe, in Park end Street (off Braunstone Gate) has been putting on live music gigs for many years. In 2005, Leicester organisation Get Your Band On put on a rock night there with Ictus, The A.I.Ds, No One Knows and Glitch. At that time the venue changed it name to The Music Cafe from its previous title The Jam Jar.
Many pubs in the city centre held live music events throughout the period 2005 to 2015. These included Time Bar (adjacent to the railway station), The Barley Mow in Granby Street, The Turkey Cafe (which held weekly open-mic nights), The Queen of Bradgate (in the High Street), Cafe Bruxelles (also in the High Street), O’Neills the Irish-themed pub in Loseby Lane, the building that housed Superfly and various other venues (on the corner of Wellington Street) and even Leicester’s longest established gay bar The Dover Castle has been known to put on live music events. One time gay nightclub Streetlife, now serves as a venue for music shows (though not for the gay community.)
During the period when records were the usual media through which recorded music was heard, Leicester had a variety of record shops. Ainsleys record store closed in 2004. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.
Several other record shops in the centre of Leicester are remembered, including Back Track Records and Boogaloo, and in current times HMV, 2 Funky and Rockaboom records. People remember Revolver Records, Cank Street Records, Virgin records, BPM, Archers, Reef, Chakademas, Pliers, MVC, Village Square, A G Kemble, Archers, A T Brown, Brees, Dalton & Son, The Record Cellar, World Records in London Road, and Carousel.
Mention has already been made of the importance of the Abbey Park festival, to the music of Leicester. Since the end of its era, several other annual festivals have grown to being important event in the musical calender of the city and county. The Abbey Park Festival, events between 2003 to 2005 formed a significant milestone in the development of the city’s festival-level live music.
The first Glastonbudget festival was held in 2005. Bands that played at the very first event included To Hell And Back, Meatloaf tribute band, Ded Hot Chilie Peppers, One Step behind (Madness tribute), Oasish and The Jamm. In 2006, the Glastonbudget Festival started to put on local original bands such as The Authentics, Ugli, Jack of Hearts, The Stiff Naked Fools, Ego Armalade, Proud To Have Met You, Platinum JAR and Ictus. by 2007, many more local original bands (called ‘new acts’ in the programme) played at Glastonbudget, including bands such as Ictus, Patchwork Grace, Skam#, The Mile, Subdude, Jack of Hearts, Black River Project, Utopians, Squid Ate Lucy, Codes, C*Bob, Purple and the Rains, Playing at Glastonbudget was for many of the new and original bands was a premium achievement.
The first Summer Sundae festival was held in 2001. The event is also called The Summer Sundae Weekender although when it started it lasted for only one day. It grew to become an important national event for indie and alternative music band sand artists. The festival was held in the De Montfort Hall and its surrounding grounds and lasted from Friday to Sunday. The last event was held in 2012 when the festival was brought to an end. Apart from acts of national standing, many local bands played on its various stages and along list of Leicester acts can be drawn from its programmes. All of the acts that performed throughout the life of the festival have been documented on Wikipedia. In July 2008, for example, Leicester band The Heroes won a competition to be the opening band on the main stage at Summer Sundae. A report at the time said: ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ The Heroes guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band.
The same building and its surrounding grounds are now the location of Simon Says… a music festival that employs a variety of stages as well as the main stage of the DMH. The first event was held in 2013.
The Hand Made Festival established itself as a major music event in Leicester’s yearly round of events. This festival also started in 2013, filling the gap, it is said, left by the disappearance of Summer Sundae.
Several general annual festivals also provide live music. At the Leicester Belgrave Mela, music was always present. When the event began to be held in Humberstone Gate, a large main stage included a day-long programme of music, singing and dance. The programme offered a mixture of classical Indian acts alongside the contemporary stars of Bollywood and the broadcast media. Mela events always had some kind of live music.
Leicester Gay Pride always provided a live music stage, since they began to be held at Victoria Park. National music acts performed as well as local artists. The festival site also included a dance tent in which DJs played recorded music.
Each year the Caribbean Carnival provided a large amount of music throughout the day. The parade had many floats on which were mounted sound systems to supply the dancers behind with the music for their routines. On Victoria Park, there was a main stage featuring singers and bands.
The City Festival began to provide music stages during its week-long programme of activities. In 2014, the stage in Humberstone Gate provided local artists with slots, the bands and singers being nominated by the local live music venues.
Alongside the festivals, a variety of other events have been held in Leicester, either annually or on a one-off basis. In June 2002 there was an event called Music Live that involved more than one thousands performers across six stages. A Golden Jubilee stage was held in Humberstone Gate and a Youth Music stage was situated next to the Clock Tower. World music was represented at a stage in the Town Hall square and classical music was provided at The New Walk Museum. Local bands that played included Ist, The Splitters, Stiff Naked Fools and many others.
In July 2014 the Leicester Music festival was held at the Tigers rugby ground. This ambitious event put on a number of big-name acts including Professor Green, Billy Ocean, Katy B and Tinie Tempah. Several local bands and singers also got to perform on the outskirts of the event but the only band to get a main stage slot was Violet Cities. They played because they had won a music competition called Play@LMF which had been organised to selected one band to play at the festival.
Several smaller festivals had established themselves by 2014 as part of the annual output of live music in the city. These included the Western Park festival, the Riverside festival, the Oxjam event, a music stage at the Foxton Locks festival and Cosby Big Love.
Just across the border, Download attracted a large attendance from Leicestershire’s music fans. One of the big national festivals, a few local bands got to play there on the smaller stages.
Strawberry Fields Festival took place each year in the Coalville area of the county. Founded in 2010, the festival has always provided openings for local bands and artists alongside big national acts and names.
In addition to festivals, some large-scale one-off music events have also been held in the city. Kasabian’s home-coming gig, held on Victoria Park, attracted a massive audience in 2013. The BBC held three events on Victoria Park, each attracting a crowd of around 100,000 people. One Big Sunday was in Leicester in 2001, promoted by BBC Radio 1, with Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Nelly Furtado, Dido, Victoria Beckham, Faithless, Craig David and Jamiroquai on the stage. A similar event also took place in 2002 and again in 2003. The stages provided platforms for the kind of big-name acts broadcast by Raio1 but there was no attempt to engage the services of any local bands or artists. The Abbey Park Bonfire nights featured live music and attracted some of the biggest crowds seen in the city; in 2009 Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey Park and a similar size of audience saw Jonezy and Curtis Clacey performing in a line-up headlined by The Vamps in 2013.
The totality of the supply of music – from the musicians of Leicester to their fans – was enormous between 2005 and 2014. In addition, many big name acts played in the city; touring bands came here to perform, music from acts of national importance was delivered at a range of venues and festivals and the small venues supplied a weekly offering of gigs. All of this represented an economy.
Leicester developed a live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow in size and number. As the number of live music venues grew, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed, bands and artists began to put on their own gigs. It became possible for bands and singers to hire a small venue and promote their own shows (although this has always been the case historically for all types of music in the city and county.) From 2005 and up to 2014, many promoters took on the business of providing live music gigs, just as they had done in previous decades. Some of these became established names in the city; such as Wakeup Promotions, run by Paul Collins and Dreaming in Colour Productions, run by Elisabeth Barker-Carley. Many other names were found in this sector of the local music industry, some well respected for their work, others less so. It was a totally unregulated market, restricted only by the general laws of the land and the requirements laid down by the local authority for public events. The rise (and fall) of the larger venues (O2 Academy, Sub91, The Auditorium and so on) provided new opportunities for promoters to put on shows. Big name acts were booked at play at these events, together with a wide variety of local bands and singers.
Alongside live music we have already pointed to the growing economy of allied services, such as rehearsal rooms, recording studios and shops selling instruments and spare parts for them. In London Road, Sheehans music shop was a notable outlet for instruments, strings and other music-related merchandise. In Lee Street, Music Junkie became a well-known retail outlet. In the western side of the city, Narborough Road’s Intasound was the favoured shop for many musicians. Stores selling records and CDs were many, including national chains such as HMV and a variety of small, independent shops dotted around the city.
Recording studios too became a key part of the music economy. Yellow Bean Studios in the Narborough Road area established a widespread reputation and Deadline studios in Aylestone Road. In the city centre, HQ (opposite Primark) provided a small recording room, much favoured by solo artists. Quad Studios, in Friday Street, provided a range of services and was one of the long-established destinations for bands wanting to record their music with the aid of professional sound engineers.
With many hundreds of bands and singers in the area, the music economy flourished. Demand remained strong throughout this period, fuelled by the ambitions of a large market of amateur bands and singers, rappers and musicians who funded their musical aspirations from their own pockets, in the majority of cases.
Broadcast media also saw many ratio stations playing local music. Between 2005 and 2014, BBC Radio Leicester provided air-time for many local music acts. Changes in policy meant that local music diminished in significance from 2014 onwards. Independent stations such as Takeover and Demon FM played an important part in giving exposure to local music acts. Some very localised stations also provided air play for local acts, such as Hermitage FM in the north west of the county. Radio 2-Funky was available on-line and this radio station was probably the best for hip-hop, Funk and African and Caribbean sounds. With the rise of broadband on the Internet, Podcasts began to make an appearance as an alternative to live broadcasting. John Sinclair (previously a radio presenter for the BBC) began a series of regular podcasts featuring local bands and artists.
Music publishing had a chequered history during this period. The only paper-based magazine devoted to local music that ran for an appreciable length of time was The Monograph. On the Internet Arts in Leicestershire provided a magazine-style website from 2005 onwards until it was replaced in 2013 by Music in Leicester, having split off its music content from the remaining outlet devoted to the arts and history. In 2014 a project called ‘Leics TV ‘ was started. Leicestershire TV stated on its web site: ‘The aim is to make Leicestershire the most video connected county in Britain.’ Its founder, Rob Potter, said “The way we consume TV is changing. Technology will allow us to watch what we want, when and wherever we choose. Other than the big budget and mass audience films and programmes, most TV will be online content that we can easily search for on platforms like Leics.tv that meet our needs and interests”. A general arts and creatives magazine From Dusk to Dawn also featured music and musicians during its lifetime as a paper-based outlet.
Many music-related websites were founded from 2005 up to the present day. Many people remember that Pineapster was, in its day, the foremost website and forum for local music, a position that it held until the rise of Facebook.
Leicester’s music economy comprised venues, festivals, music stores, a wide range of services for bands and singers, media broadcasting, publishing and specialised services catering for the needs of musical acts. One thing that the local area lacked was professional music management. Very few individuals became music or band managers. It is true that many people acted as the managers for bands and singers, but this was almost always in a part-time capacity. Many bands were managed by the parents of musicians in them. The creation of music management agencies in the area was almost unheard of.
It is difficult to give a reliable and credible picture of Leicester’s music economy between 2005 and 2014. Few surveys were ever undertaken to provide quantitative data. In July 2012 a report was published by Leicestershire Music Education Hub. One of its stated aims was: ‘The Hub will also act as an advocate for music education, encouraging participation in music and providing innovations in delivery locally to improve music making for and by children and young people.’ Leicester-Shire Music Education Hub was a partnership of over 30 organisations as well as all schools, both Local Authorities and the Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service. National and regional partners included The Philharmonia Orchestra, The Darbar Arts Culture and Heritage Trust, Sinfonia ViVA and Soft Touch Arts Ltd. Other partners range from charitable trusts, community arts organisations, small businesses, national providers of music equipment and technology, colleges and choral groups, the report stated. Holding a wide brief, where music was concerned, the report was mainly concerned with education. Ambitious though it was, its impact is unclear and little data was provided about music in the local community. The inclusion of Soft Touch arts linked it to the community; this organisation had an important role to play throughout this period and included music alongside a wide range of other youth-related activities.
The music economy was amplified by the existence of a number of night clubs. The role of Streetlife has already been referred to above. Many people will remember places such as Mosh and The Fan Club as being destinations where recorded music was played by DJs and very rarely these venues also put on live bands. Mosh opened in 2003 and was, at one time, a very popular choice for the city’s students.
In addition to the regular gigs offered at the eight to ten permanent live music venues in this period, a variety of events were held that attracted large audiences to hear bands and singers. In particular, the Original Bands Showcase (known as the ‘OBS’) ran from 2004 through to the present day and resulted in one band becoming the overall winner in each year. The OBS was organised by VJT Promotions; a similar series called obsUnplugged was also organised, each year, to feature singers, acoustics groups and solo artists. Early on its time, OBS heats were held at The Shed music venue; more recently, all its events have taken place at The Musician. Other competitions and battle-of-the-bands type series were also held. Mention was made earlier of Play@LMF, in which bands competed for a place at the Leicester Music Festival in 2014. Several such events were held at The Shed and at the little cafe used as a music venue from time to time – The Pavilion on Victoria Park. A series called Empire Band of the Land was held; it was an independently promoted series of shows that took place at a variety of venues. These competitions had a varied effect on the music economy and their role within it has been controversial. It could be argued that such series of shows increased audience attendance at the venues in which they were held and that this was of benefit to the local music economy. In many cases, participating bands were required to sell as many tickets as they could for their performances as part of the deal. A series called Wanna Be A Rockstar was held at The Shed, promoted by David Norris. Also at The Shed, the Glastonbudget Music Festival held its annual auditions and, at these shows, organisers selected the bands and artists they wanted for their festivals. One of the requirements of these auditions was that a band or act should demonstrate its popularity by selling at least twenty tickets for their performance. It can be argued that such events increased ticket sales at venues, but this could have had a detrimental effect on other gigs held on the same nights. A considerable amount of debate has taken place about the pros and cons of such live music events with people being for or against them, in principle.
I have written before on the subject of Leicester’s music economy; see for example my article The economics of local live music, published in 2010 on my blog.
also in that year I wrote an article: What makes a good live music scene?, in which many of the issues concerning the local music industry were discussed on my blog.
So far I have focused on what might be called ‘western rock music’ and have not talked about the music of the many other cultures that contribute their own music to the life of the city. In particular, the Indian community is very music-friendly and large numbers of events took place that featured Indian bands and singers. Bollywood in particular played an important role in the music life of that community. Leicester’s African and Caribbean community played a major part in the existence and development of the city’s music both locally and at national level. in November 2013, the film 40 Years Of Black music in Leicester was celebrated with its premier at Phoenix arts. A review of this was published by Arts in Leicester.
A number of Leicester born artists, or those that came to live in the city, contributed to recognition of our local music, during this period. Sam Bailey (who lived and worked in Leicestershire) won the popular television series The X-Factor in 2013. In the programmes that were broadcast in the run-up to the final show, she was seen talking about her job as an officer at Gartree Prison. Although Sam was born and grew up in London, she moved to Leicester and was resident here at the time she won the show.
Many other famous names in music are associated with Leicester and Leicestershire. Engelbert Humperdinck has frequently been quoted as a resident of the county. Kasabian is a world famous band, whose members – in particular Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno – attended Countesthorpe College. The Displacements, at one point signed to Rough Trade Records, came from Blaby. Many local bands went on to have careers of national importance; including, for example, Family, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Showaddywaddy, Diesel Park West, Gypsy, Cornershop, The Dallas Boys, Prolapse and many others. Laurel Aitken, the singer, lived in Leicester. John Illsley, the bass player from Dire Straights, was born in Leicester. Lisa Lashes, the internationally renown DJ lives in Leicester. Jon Lord was born in the city and was a noted musician and composer, best known for forming the band Deep Purple. Mark Morrison achieved notoriety as a singer. The list goes on and many distinguished musicians, singers and bands were listed on the web page published by Visit Leicester in their list of famous people
A singer who lives in Leicester, Carol Leeming, has become nationally renown for her music as as well as for her contribution to literature and the arts.
The achievements of these artists, connected with Leicester, has contributed to the national significance of the city and county and this has had a positive impact on the local music economy.
During this period, Leicester (and its surrounding county) had many bands; so much so, that I once said that Leicester had more bands per head of population than any comparably-sized city. Between the years 2005 and 2014, I published lists of bands from Leicester.
As part of the Archive Project, I plan to publish lists of bands from previous years. For more about this see Music in Leicester.
Lists of Leicester bands are hard to come by on the Internet; the lists published by Arts in Leicester magazine and later Music in Leicester are a rare resources for those who are interested in contemporary bands from the city and county.
Some of the articles in this series will refer to specific bands. Providing a comprehensive analysis of bands would be an exhausting exercise. One resource (for those interested in Leicester bands) for the period 2013 to 2015 would be Music in Leicester website.
In Leicester bands play all genres of music; including, for example, indie, pop, metal, ska, post-hardcore, hard rock, reggae, punk, pop-punk, jazz, blues, electronica, psychedelic… there is hardly a style of music that is not presented in what local bands play.
Alongside rock, music acts also play hip-hop, rap, acoustic and other musical genres. Leicester is also home to many singers and solo artists whose music ranks alongside those of bands. For both live and pre-recorded music, Leicester has an outstanding and prolific offering.
This article has cantered through the content and has omitted a great detail of detail. My aim in publishing this article (and those that will follow) is to stimulate interest in the subject of Leicester’s musical history. This interest will, I hope, lead to more information being submitted that can, eventually, be added to my proposed book on this subject.
If readers wish to contribute anything, I suggest that the best way of doing this is to log on to Facebook and post to my personal page
I have also made a group on Facebook called Leicester Music History, where information is posted about the progress of my work and other contributions are welcomed.
References referred to in the articles are given on a separate page
In my next article in this series, I will be looking at the period 1990 to 2005.
[This article was published on 7th August 2015. It was subsequently updated on 21st August to add some new material and to to make some corrections]
Music and technology (an article that forms part of this series)
What’s On In Leicester
News about the City Festival and Cosmopolitan Carnival
22nd October 2014
By Trevor Locke
If you really want to understand a community, look at the food it eats. What people eat, how they eat and where they eat will tell you a lot about their culture and style of life. In order to eat, people had to produce food and that involves farming. The methods that people used to organise farms (or any kind of agriculture) tells us a lot about the social and economic organisation of the community, as well as the kind of lifestyle lived by common people (as opposed to high status individuals and soldiers.) How they cooked, the utensils and pots they used give us real insights to what life was like in the past.
Pottery is one of the key indicators to dating in many archaeological digs. Interesting though the accounts of the Roman invasion may be, we must not loose site of the fact that several thousand men would have had to eat whilst marching or manning forts. When they were camped awaiting a battle, the armies still had to attend to the basic need for food and as we know, well-fed soldiers make better fighters than half-starving ones.
What did the Roman do for us? Well, for one thing they introduced many new varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain crops and some new animals, such as the rabbit. They gave us wine to drink. They gave us roads so that supplies could be moved more easily and quickly. The invading legions needed a constant supply of food and were very good at organising supply chains and depots. The way that food production was organised in Britain changed during the time that the Romans were here but before they arrived farming was already well established.
When the Romans invaded, in the first century, they already knew that Britain was good at farming. In the early years of the invasion, the armies were dependent on fresh local meat and vegetables. As the Romans established themselves here, and more and civilians came over from mainland Europe, they started to grow the kind of vegetables they were used to. The vegetables introduced to Britain included garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. In the early years of Roman occupation, however, we have to understand Iron age food and farming to appreciate what the conquering soldiers initially had to sustain them.
During the pre-Roman period, food production was organised into many small farmsteads. Life in what we now call England revolved around farming and agriculture. These small communities were able to produce enough for their own subsistence and some for trade and exchange in good years. Crops such as barley, rye, oats and Emmer wheat (a variety that was common in the ancient world) would have been grown. Sheep and cattle were kept as well as pigs that had been domesticated from wild boar. Cattle were used to pull ploughs and provided manure and hide. Horses were also kept and used to pull wagons and carts and domesticated dogs were used to help herd animals. Cows could also provide milk at the time of calving. Cattle were not eaten until they had served their life as working farm animals.
Iron age houses often had garden plots in which vegetables were grown. These dwelling houses were largely round in shape and had conical roofs made of thatch. Inside the round house a fire would have burnt continuously providing heat for cooking and warmth for the occupants. Sometimes food was cooked in a cauldron suspended over the fire. Pots were made from clay or sometimes traded if people visited from communities where pot making was a specialist craft. Bread was made from wheat and barley and baked in an oven. Barley would have been made into a kind of porridge. It could also be fermented to make beer. In addition to vegetables grown in the round house garden, people would have gathered wild berries, nuts and roots.
In communities near to the sea or fresh water lakes or rivers, fish would be caught to add to the diet. Occasionally wild birds might have been caught for food. People at this time would have obtained honey from the nests of bees and they also used the wax for a variety of purposes. Beeswax was used in bronze casting. The archaeological evidence suggests that the Iron Age countryside was well stocked with animals, the rivers provided a plentiful supply of fish and, if the weather was good, the farmsteads and gardens produced more than enough for the local community. This abundance of food allowed people to build houses and other structures, such as barrows and hill forts.
Being well fed allowed the development of rituals and ceremonies. Having a sufficient and reliable source of food allowed people to engage in religious activities and hone their hunting or building skills. Some individuals became specialists in the working of wood or metal and could do this only if there was enough surplus food to sustain them. The ability to produce surplus food was an essential prerequisite to large-scale construction and the development of specialist crafts. How food is grown, manufactured sold, prepared and consumed tells us a lot about the social organisation, economy and culture of any community of people. If we want to get inside the life of the iron ages, then we have to find out what people ate and drank. It was the Romans who introduced many new food stuffs into the British Isles.
The Romans brought many new herbs into Britain such rosemary, thyme, bay, basil, savoury and mint for cooking and some that were used in brewing or for medicinal purposes. Bear in mind however that native people who were poor and not Romanised would have seen comparatively little change to their eating habits – compared to the wealthier, more high-status individuals who would have mixed with the Romans and would have been invited to their dinner parties held at villas. The Romano-Britains would have eaten some of the new foodstuffs that had been introduced from Europe.
These were the people who would have drank imported wine. In the earlier part of the Roman period, most wine would have come from Spain but later on it was imported from France and the Moselle valley. There is evidence that vines were established in Britain, though we do not know for sure if they produced wine or if they did, in what quantities. We know that medieval monasteries had vines and were engaged in the production of wine. The Romans restricted the production of wine in this country until 277 when these restrictions were lifted. There is evidence of a villa vineyard at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire and grape pips have been found at a number of sites elsewhere. ‘Vines then were certainly grown in Britain, and there is no reason why wine should not have been produced from them’, writes Frere (1987.) Beer was also produced in Roman Britain and the size of some of the drinking vessels found in at some military sites suggests that it was consumed by the army. ‘This beer was priced at 4 denarii a pint in Diocletion’s price-edict’ (Frere, 1987.)
The Romans introduced many vegetables into Britain including garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. They also brought over new varieties of apples and better strains of wheat. Feeding the Roman armies required the supply of large amounts of food. Grain was an important commodity and bread was part of the staple diet of soldiers.
People ate with knives (the fork was not widely used in this country until much later on, in the 18th century.) Having said that, knives were not a normal part of Roman tableware. They preferred skewers for picking up small morsels or used spoons that had pointed handles. The Romans did have forks, they were used as cooking utensils rather than for eating. Spoons were widely used and a large collection of 4th century spoons were found in Thetford, with another group being found at Hoxne – in a hoard that also included pepper pots and spice containers. The Romans spiced their food with black pepper, coriander, poppy, celery, dill, summer savoury, mustard and fennel. They had recipe books, although the most famous of these did not arrive until after the fourth century. The Romans ate, at formal meals, lying on couches arranged on three sides of a square, the fourth side being open to allow slaves to serve dishes on to a low table in the middle. Villas had their own dining rooms.
Wealthy Romans organised elaborate banquets at which many courses of food were served. People were expected to dress correctly at dinner. A wide variety of foods were eaten in pre-Roman Britain but both farming and cooking would have remained much the same, after the first century, for the poorer peoples who had less access to Roman wealth. If we can accept that the people who lived in Britain prior to the coming of the Romans were Celts, then the process of Romanisation would have affected such people in different ways, according to geography and to social and economic status. High-status individuals would have become roundly Romanised, adopting the manners and dress of the culture into which they were drawn.
The common people, on the other hand, would have clung on to their culture and would have had less access to the opportunities offered by the Romano-British economy. Most of what we know about the process of Romanisation comes from the archaeological evidence rather than from written records, certainly for the first four centuries of Roman occupation. The Romans had an early influence on dining and cooking, as we can see from the variety of plates, dishes, bowls and cooking vessels which have been found and a lot of these were being made by local craftsmen (Frere, 1987.) The Britons had developed a taste for Roman food even before the Claudian invasion. Kitchen pots were being made here in the first century. The quantity of amphorae found around the country indicates that large quantities of wine and olive oil were being imported, suggesting that its consumption was not limited to the aristocracy.
In the countryside the peasants were using Roman coins to buy pots and some of them were working on farms established by the Romans. Some peasants began building rectangular houses to replace their traditional round houses. The Romans ate from clay vessels – bowls mainly – but the wealthy also had glass goblets and wine jugs. Pottery-making centres flourished in places where there was a supply of suitable clay. ‘The more utilitarian domestic vessels were produced in a great number of local potteries, both large and small, all over the lowland zone and father north where clay and fuel were available’ (Frere, 1987). As the Roman army did not normally make their own pottery, they awarded contracts to local pot-makers, particularly those in the Midlands. Kilns in certain regions were producing pottery on a large-scale for both the military and civilian markets, from the time of Hadrian onwards. Finds at digs have used shards from such pottery to date the layers in which they were found. Replicas of such vessels have been constructed in order to show archaeological students how to identify such fragments.
It is well known that the Romans were good at supplying water. Britain is always seen as being a wet country in whose countryside there is an abundance of water. In prehistoric times people tended to settle close to rivers and it is was no exception that Ratae (now called Leicester) was established on the banks of the river Soar. During the second century, the Romans built the famous baths in the centre of Ratae and these consumed considerable quantities of water which was supplied through leats – channels constructed and maintained to ensure was in constant supply. Running water was supplied to the baths and public lavatories. In Britain’s wet climate there was a plentiful supply of water through springs, streams and wells. People did not drink water as this would frequently be contaminated. Although water was required for cooking, washing and cleaning, people drank wine or beer, a practice that continued through to the middle ages. Wine was commonly mixed with water rather than being drunk ‘neat’.
The Romans also built canals such as the one we now call ‘Raw Dykes’, parts of which still exist here in Leicester. It was a channel that brought water into the town of Ratae and was constructed in the first century AD. It is not clear whether it was a canal or an aqueduct but it does seem to have played some part in bringing water into Ratae.
We now move on to looking at some of the food stuffs that would have been consumed in Britain between the Iron age and medieval times and during the Roman era.
Milk was produced on farms and small-holdings. Cows had been domesticated for many centuries, as were goats. Those who kept milking cows also made butter, yogurt and cheese, as a way of preserving milk. Cows were rarely slaughtered for meat (they were primarily working animals) as they provided milk which was a valued foodstuff for making cheese or curds and whey. Cheese had been available in Roman times. Because milk could not be kept fresh, its production and distribution was localised. The production of butter, in some areas, was for use as a cosmetic rather than as a foodstuff.
Bread was made from flour that was milled either by wind or water power. In more ancient times grain was ground by hand using circular stones. Different qualities of bread were made, the coarser variety being consumed by poorer people and the finest white flour reserved for high-status individuals. White bread was made from wheat but only the wealthier farmers were able to grow the wheat need to make the finest quality of flour. Rye and barley were more commonly grown to make bread for the peasants, the farming people. If this was in short supply, beans, peas and acorns could be added to bulk it up.
It was common for small-holdings and farms to be situated outside of walled cities, such as Leicester, and the supply of food produced in the more remote rural areas depended on the quality of local roads and the speed with which perishable produce could be brought to the urban markets. Common vegetables included cabbage, root crops, some plants that grew wild in the countryside and some fungi, such as wild mushrooms. Potatoes did not arrive in Britain until after the discovery of the new world, several hundred years after the period being considered here. Beans and peas formed part of the staple diet of soldiers and peasants. In the towns, poorer people might well have bought the equivalent of ‘fast food’ and takeaways which were a feature of Roman life in urban areas. Pulses and root crops were common in the diets of the poorer classes. Peasants ate pottage – a kind of soup or stew made from oats or bran, to which beans or peas and other vegetables and herbs were sometimes added. In winter, turnips or parsnips would be added. Roman soldiers also ate a kind of porridge made from wheat, to which a variety of vegetables might have been added.
Apples would be in supply in season and were crushed and the juice was drunk or made into cider. There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. After the Roman occupation of Britain, many orchards were abandoned due to invasions by Jutes, Saxons and Danes. Fruit was often dried to increase its shelf life as a way of preserving fruit after its season had passed. Some dried fruit was imported from Europe, such as dates, figs and raisins. Most fruit was cooked, rather than eaten raw; people were discouraged from eating raw fruit and vegetables as these could carry pests and diseases.
Cattle were used to pull ploughs, carts or other movable objects. They would not be eaten until they died naturally or their useful working life had come to an end. Pigs could be killed and eaten for their meat. They were cheap because they lived in the woods and found their own food and, unlike cows, did not require to be fed with hay or straw. These were not domesticated pigs but wild boar. In some communities mutton would have been available. Meat was preserved by smoking it. In larger kitchens, joints of meat would have been hung in the chimney so that it would be smoked from the wood fire below. Horse meat would have been consumed in Roman times. Horses however were expensive animals to feed. The capture and slaughtering of animals for cookery and meat consumption depended heavily on the availability of wildlife. Birds, fresh water fish and four-legged wild animals (including Deer and Rabbits) formed a large part of the meat diet of upper-class people. Alongside wild animals, there was husbandry of deer and pigs in the forests. Only wealthy Romans would have eaten venison and wild boar. The solders ate things like chickens, eggs, apples and olives. Archaeologists have found records of food supplies being ordered for the army. Bread formed part of the staple diet of the Roman soldier. Ovens have been found when excavating forts. Salted bacon was something that soldiers could take with them when going on long marches. Butchered cattle and sheep bones were also found when excavating Roman forts.
It is believed that rabbits were introduced into Britain by the Romans. The remains of a two thousand year old rabbit were found at a dig in Norfolk. A mosaic was found at Chedworth in Gloucestershire that shows a man holding a hare and wearing a hooded cloak, typical of those worm by the native British. On the same site a stone carving shows a hunter with a dog and a stag. British hunting dogs were known to the Romans and prized by them. The Vindolanda Tablets give information about the kind of food eaten by Roman armies. We find references to bread, meat, wine and olive oil. The Romans believed in a well-fed army. Amphorae were imported to supply olive oil, wine and fish sauce (garum.) The Vindolanda soldiers also enjoyed beer. Beer was being brewed over here as the Romans became established. We know this from the archaeological evidence. The Vindolanda tablets, found in the excavations at Hadrians Wall, indicate that soldiers drank large quantities of beer. The bones of cows and sheep were found in the digs. They also needed pepper and salt and certainly the pepper would have been imported. Brown Samian pottery from France (then called Gaul) was also found, including bowls and cups, dishes and jars. Pottery was also made over here, including the black type that came from Dorset and fragments of this have been found in many parts of Britain. A wide variety of pottery fragments have been unearthed at Roman sites around Britain. Hunt cups have been found decorated with pictures of dogs chasing a hare. They had large cups for beer and small ones for wine. There is evidence that soldiers had to wear the right kind of dress when attending formal dinner parties.
Sausages were also available, particularly in the towns, where they were sold in the streets, either in shops or by street vendors. In the larger towns, many houses lacked facilities such as kitchens. Many of the urban inhabitants depended on food which they could buy at shops and bars which sold hot bread, pastries, pies and a product that resembled our modern day beefburger which was eaten with bread (Wilkinson, 2000.)
Game, birds and fish
The aristocracy – people of high status – would have dined on wild birds such as partridge or woodcock. Wild animals and game were hunted, as well a deer, and much of this atcivity was ritualised. Hawks were also used to hunt animals. Chickens have been domesticated since very early times and supplied eggs, alongside those collected from the nests of wildfowl. Records indicate that eggs were widely consumed. Pigeons and doves were domesticated and kept in cotes that were common in both monasteries and farms and sometimes in the larger halls (in the post-Roman period.) Both birds and their eggs were eaten in the middles ages. In settlements within reach of the sea, shell fish would have been eaten and it is thought that they were kept fresh, whilst being transported, by being placed in boxes containing water.
Inland, fish would be caught in rivers. Oyster shells have been found at numerous Roman sites. It has been suggested that live oysters were transported in tanks of water (Frere, 1987.) Excavations of villas, towns and forts reveals shells of oysters, whelks, cockles, mussels and limpets. Oyster shells were found at the excavations in Bath Lane in Leicester – which is not exactly close to the sea. Fish ponds were constructed where fish could be kept. These could be expensive to maintain. Eels were the most common fresh water fish that was consumed, although other wild fish could also be caught in rivers and lakes. Some smoked or salted fish, from seaside areas, and some shellfish, were sold in inland towns that had good connections to the coast. In Leicester, shellfish remains have been found that originated in the coasts of Essex.
Pots and utensils
From the bronze age right through to the middle ages, most cooking was done in pots made from clay. These were made in specific parts of the country and then distributed by traders. Pottery fragments, found in archaeological digs, help to date the layer being excavated. Most cooking was done over an open fire. Roasting large amounts of meat on a spit was found only in the kitchens of rich people. In towns, houses did not have kitchens; those that had fireplaces would have had some method of heating pots, placed near to the fire. People in towns would obtain food from a market; there was little or no land in the town or city for them to grow their own produce.
People whose houses had no cooking facilities were dependent on buying hot food from specialist shops. In larger Roman towns, many of the poorer people lived in apartment blocks in which there were no kitchens. They had to get their food from shops and street vendors – they were dependent on takeaways. In some of the wealthier houses bronze cooking pots would have been used. The cauldron was used as a cooking put since the Iron age. A group of iron cauldrons was found in the UK in 2004. They could have been used for boiling meat or for heating beer or mead to drink at feasts. They were in use from the late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age (1200 BC – 600 BC). Glazed earthenware was common for items such as jugs and jars. Vessels made of leather, waterproofed with pitch or beeswax were also used and a few examples have survived.
Spices, Herbs and Sauces
Roman cooking used Garum – a kind of fermented fish sauce that might have been imported from mainland Europe. Spices were brought over from Europe – such as pepper, cinnamon and dried ginger. The invading Romans were not all from Italy. Only the upper echelons of the army, high status civilians and high ranking offices would have come from Rome itself or from other parts of Italy. The Roman armies included people from France, Spain, North Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the Roman Empire. The people of Roman Britain were a cosmopolitan lot. Like people today, these people would have yearned for the kind of food they were used to in their homelands. During the period of Roman occupation of Britain trade in spices developed. In barracks, soldiers cooked for themselves. This created a demand for spices and herbs and in some of the military bases the local people were allowed to come in and sell food and produce.
Almonds (Grown by the Romans and imported into England by them.)
Apples (The Romans introduced new, sweeter varieties into Britain)
Asparagus (Native to the Eastern Mediterranean, cultivated by the Romans, it did not become popular in Europe until the 16th century.)
Blackberries (Gathered from wild bushes since pre-historic times. Since ancient times they were used as a medicine)
Broad beans (flava) (Known to the Greeks and eaten in Europe since ancient times)
Cabbage (Grown by the Romans)
Celery (Used by the Romans but not used widely in Britain until the 16th century.)
Cherries (Introduced into Britain by the Romans.)
Chickpeas (Eaten by the Romans and by people throughout Europe)
Grapes (Used by the Romans to make wine which was imported into England from European vineyards, in large quantities, in Amphorae)
Hazelnuts (Wild nuts were gathered from Neolithic times, although they were native to Asia, they seemed to have spread across northern Europe)
Herbs (Plenty of wild plants grew in Britain and the Romans introduced some of their own that were not native species before they arrived)
Honey (Honey from wild hives would have been gathered in pre-historic times. In the middle ages monasteries had bee hives)
Leeks (Grown by the Romans who introduced them to England)
Lemons (Found in England from around 1494, they became popular in Europe and were used by the Romans)
Lentils (Eaten by the Romans)
Lettuce (Known since ancient times, it was eaten by the Romans)
Leeks (Eaten by the Romans)
Olives (Native to the Mediterranean, they were imported into England by the Romans and Olive oil would also have been imported in Amphorae)
Pears (Native to Europe, they were grown in the middles ages. Eaten by the Romans)
Plums (Grew wild in Europe and later cultivated by the Romans)
Raspberries (Cultivated by the Romans and grown in England from the middle ages)
Strawberries (A wild plant in Europe, used in Roman times as a medicine) Sugar (The Romans used sugar as a medicine)
Walnuts (First grown in Persia, they were cultivated by the Romans and spread throughout Europe, including Britain)
“A taste of history – 10,000 years of food in Britain” by Black.
“Overseas Trade” by H. S. Cobb
“English Trade” by L.F.Salzman “Agriculture and Prices, Vol 4. 1401-1582” by Thorold Rogers
“Eight recipes from Around the Roman Table – Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome” by Patrick Faas.
“Food and Cooking in Roman Britain: History and Recipes”, by Jane Renfrew, English Heritage, 1985
“Britannia – a history of Roman Britain (third edition), by Sheppard Frere, Routledge, 1987.
“What the Romans did for us”, by Philip Wilkinson, Boxtree, 2000.
History of Leicester Part 1 – The Romans in Leicester
Aethelflaed – queen of the Mercians